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Found 33 results

  1. Black Thursday? (can we find another color? I'm going with Gray Thursday.) ~lw3
  2. Sorry, Orlando. Y’all had y’all’s turns already. TANK WARS! It’s the final head-to-head Tank Battle for our Atlanta Hawks. They won’t have another chance to tack onto another Tankompetitor’s win tally after today’s game against the Orlando Magic (6:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Florida). I’m on travel today, but you all know the relevant particulars, ahead of this game. We already know the Prime Objective. Hopefully, our Competitanking Hawks do, too! This one's not for all the marbles, but it is for a LOT of ping pong balls! Happy Easter! And Let’s Go Magic! April Fools! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  3. “I’m sorry to have to break the news to you, Baze. But, we’ve traded away your fashion sense for future cash considerations.” “Hail! Hail! The Gang’s All* Here!” Wait, is that “Hail!”, or “Hell!”? No matter, because around 95 percent of your Atlanta Hawks remain Atlanta Hawks, now that the smoke has cleared following a wild-and-woolly NBA Trade Deadline day. As they prepare to swoop in on the Orlando Magic for Tank War Z (7:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Florida), Many Hawks Fans have a pressing question for the Basketball Club: “What the Heck Do We Care, Now?” In past seasons, the Hawks would raise fans’ hopes for a deadline deal that might somehow raise our postseason profile in the LeBronference, only to deflate those aspirations by settling for stuff like a pre-waivers lunch date with a retiring Antawn Jamison. 2018’s deadline was shaping up to be a different beast altogether. Atlanta was armed with an array of veterans, both young and old-but-healthy. They could conceivably be flipped for future prospects, as-yet-undrafted or otherwise, in what would send a clear “win-later” signal, one that Many across Hawksland have waited to hear. Alas, like GMs of the past, Travis Schlenk don’t gotta dance. He makes money moves! Atlanta’s sole roster casualty turned out to be the lightly-used Luke Babbitt, the sole reason for the asterisk above. His return to Wade County, plus another smoke-and-mirror deal with Washington, amounted to meager salary savings which have no bearing upon the Hawks’ nightly competitive capacities on the floor. Now the scene shifts to buyout negotiations for Schlenk and Company. But during that period, and beyond, a critical light also shines upon Mike Budenholzer, as fans wait to see just how much more conniving the Hawks’ head coach is willing to get. The Budenhustle of old involved convincing opponents that ceding offensive rebounds and loose balls meant that they had an upper hand during games. The current challenge for the Budenhustler involves literally giving those teams that upper hand, and maybe a forearm. That’s not going to be easy. Have you not seen what horror shows Memphis, Sacramento, and Phoenix have been throwing out there to play allegedly professional hoops, lately? That’s to say nothing of Orlando (17-36), who did, to their credit, step up to finish off the pipe dreams of the defensively destitute Cavaliers on Tuesday here at Amway Center, but still have that, “Aww, shucks” mentality about them. “Aww, shucks, we’d be making a playoff run right now, but there’s no reason to hurry back Nikola Vucevic, our leading rebounder who’s been out since Christmas with a hand injury. Same goes for you, lottery-pick Johnathan Isaac (sprained ankle).” “Gee willikers, take your time, Terrence Ross (MCL, tibia), on the shelf since December 1.” “What’s the rush, Aaron Gordon? Save your energies and heal that hip. Maybe you can dunk over some mascots next year!” “Gosh, Jonathon Simmons, if I had dropped 29 points in a single half on LeBron and ex-Friends, I’d probably be nursing a bum ankle too!” “Hmmm… whaddya say, we take hairdo-of-the-franchise Elfrid Payton, gift him to Phoenix for some second-round picks, and then see what happens! Jiminy Crickets, he might help the Suns win a game or two!” You don’t need to see the Whiteboard to figure out what shenanigans these post-Hennigan Magic are up to. Yes, technically, Orlando is looking to win it’s third straight game, like the Hawks (17-37), and its fourth in five outings. But in reality, Frank Vogel's charges are going to try to “soldier on” the way Red Panda might do with a busted hand-me-down unicycle. The Hawks, to this point, have tried the nobler approach. But going forward, it is going to take more sleight-of-hand from Coach Bud than merely stowing away Dewayne Dedmon and John Collins behind Miles Plumlee on the depth chart, or benching Dennis Schröder at the close of games. There is one thing that might slow the Hawks’ roll “up” the standings in the near-term, and that is the upcoming schedule. Tonight’s game initiates the second and final time that Atlanta plays five games over the course of seven calendar days. The last such series was in December, when Atlanta beat these Magic at Philips Arena (a 117-110 win, despite Vooch’s 31-and-10 effort and Simmons’ 29 points) before dropping four-straight, including a road loss at Memphis. On the back end of this particular quintet, Blake Griffin’s Pistons will bookend a game in Milwaukee with the Greek Freak next week. While that sounds encouraging to Some Fans, there is the sobering reality that the Hawks are coming home to Whoop. Some. Cavalier. Hiney, in tomorrow night’s game. With that in mind, this game is as important of a “Nice Try” opportunity as the Hawks will have before them all season. Magician guards Shelvin Mack and D.J. Augustin will have to look like world-beaters, or at least not like themselves-beaters. Former lottery prize Mario Hezonja (last 5 games: 15.2 PPG, 57.1 3FG%) must continue to look like the future star Orlando thought they drafted in 2015. For significant stretches, Bismack Biyombo ($17 million per year, probably through 2019-20) must look like anyone other than Bismack Biyombo. Arron Afflalo can’t be out here finding out what happens When Keeping It Real Goes Wrong. And Evan Fournier ($17 million per year, probably through 2020-21) must look the part of a man who is thrilled to be stuck in O-Town for the foreseeable future. If most of those things don’t transpire, then the Hawks can play their B-game, as they did at home with the Grizzlies on Tuesday, and still find themselves moonwalking their way to victory this evening. Which, if any, of these events unfold hinges on the player combos Coach Bud fields on the court tonight. The Gang’s All* Here! Great… now what? Go Morehouse! Go CAU! and Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  4. Get you a head coach that can do This. Here comes the Payne! Former Atlanta Hawks first-rounder Adreian Payne will be back in the building, the latest G-League call-up by the visiting Orlando Magic (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Florida) graces us with his presence at Philips Arena. Payne’s promotion from Lakeland became a necessity because of a concussion sustained by Aaron Gordon in the third quarter of last night’s 103-89 home loss by the Magic (11-6, 5-10 on road) to the shorthanded Nuggets. As was the case in Wednesday night’s 110-106 OT victory over visiting Atlanta (5-19), Orlando was gashed again by a second-unit. Denver’s Kenneth Faried and Emmanuel Mudiay dissected a Magic bench crew that shot a collective 4-for-20 from the field, including Wednesday’s late-game hero D.J. Augustin (1-for-6 FGs, 0-for-4 3FGs vs. DEN). Augustin (quad contusion) himself is questionable to play tonight, perhaps joining Evan Fournier, who injured his ankle in Wednesday’s extra frame, Jonathan Issac and Terrence Ross on the shelf. Nikola Vucevic (21 points, 17 rebounds, 4 blocks, 1-for-5 3FGs vs. DEN) and Jonathan Simmons (21 points, 9-for-17 FGs vs. DEN) need better support from the rest of the starting cast, especially Elfrid Payton (33.3 FG% last 3 games; 3-for-11 FGs and 4 TOs vs. ATL), and the reserves to pull off a road win. On the second night of a back-to-back, look for meaningful minutes out of former Hawk Shelvin Mack (team-high 9.1 assists, 1.9 TOs per-36), who has been used sparingly over the past seven games. Head coach Frank Vogel’s crew is familiar with these next-night road games, winning their first two (at Cleveland and New Orleans) in October before dropping their last three (at Denver, Philly, and Charlotte, all by double digits). After leading the NBA in the first few weeks of the season, the Hawks have slipped out of the top-ten in free throw percentage (78.8 team FT%, 11th in NBA), the misses becoming more precious for a team that doesn’t draw a lot of trips (28th in FT rate). Dennis Schröder has to find ways to feed his superior free throw shooting wings, notably Kent Bazemore (team-high 3.5 FTAs per game, 80.7 FT%) and Marco Belinelli (94.2 FT%), in the paint, weakening Orlando’s similarly-depleted front line with foul trouble while improving the likelihood of padding the scoreboard in Atlanta’s favor. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  5. Oh, where have you gone, Patricio Garino? Need an eraser to wipe clean that wretched second half by the Atlanta Hawks on Monday? Their hosts tonight, the Orlando Magic (7:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, Fox Sports Florida), may be the last people to ask for help. The above snapshot, taken last April by temp-job baller Patricio Garino’s agent in the Magic War Room, was the coup de grace for neophyte GM Rob Hennigan. The worst five-year stretch in Orlando’s short history (132-278) came under Rob Hennigan’s Apple Watch. To be fair, that mark should have come during the expansion years, but for a pair of fortuitous lottery bounces. But despite out Otis Smithing Otis Smith, the Whiteboard Warrior left behind a glimpse into the team’s mindset for the offseason to come. Orlando would be on the hunt for “Hybrid” 3/4s, and “Spread Big” 4/5s to buttress head coach Frank Vogel’s roster of up-and-coming yung’uns. With Hennigan gone, the job fell to John Hammond, formerly of the Bucks. Milwaukee never fully turned the corner under Hammond’s Swatch (240-318), either, the nadir coming in 2013-14 with his Bucks having a 15-67 mark and the league’s worst attendance. But Hammond managed to do two things right. No, signing Miles Plumlee to a four-year, $52 million deal in 2016 was not one of them. One season before unceremoniously ditching Larry Drew, Hammond managed to heed his new head coach’s advice just long enough to snatch up Giannis Antetokounmpo, before the Greek Freak leaked down to Atlanta’s draft spot. He also used one of his second-round draft picks in 2016 to pluck the reigning Rookie of the Year in Malcolm Brogdon. For those draft moves, he gets to start fresh in the Magic Kingdom and pick up where Hennigan left off. The Hawks have three of the Magic’s “Spread Big” Whiteboard targets, with Travis Schlenk having retained Ersan Ilyasova and Budfave big man Mike Muscala over the summer while also wooing Luke Babbitt to the nest. The only player on the entire Whiteboard that Orlando was able to attract was Central Florida native Marreese Speights. The former Clipper accepted a one-year, $2 million deal as a short-term backup for Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic. Like Hennigan, Hammond realized that “Hybrids” like Paul Millsap would cost a pretty penny, so he chose to draft and develop one instead. Orlando used their lotto pick on Jonathan Isaac, the Florida State star and IMG Academic. Isaac is raw and skinny but showed some promising flashes before getting shelved in mid-November with a sprained ankle. The rookie may already be his team’s best defender already, Bismack Biyombo included. Their biggest free agent acquisition came at the wing, enticing Jonathon Simmons after the swingman was set free by the Spurs. Inserted fully into the starting lineup after a recent knee injury sidelined Terrence Ross, Simmons struggles without the team-oriented Spurs defense around him, but still adds to Orlando’s ambrosia of lengthy players that can get buckets in bunches. The Magic were some Cool Story Bros for a while, Vogel’s troops marching out to a 6-2 season start while awaiting the return of starting point guard Elfrid Payton. Alas, shortly after Payton returned, Orlando (10-15) took a nosedive, a nine-game losing streak and a 2-11 stretch sliding them down the Eastern Conference all the way toward the basement where Atlanta (5-18) presently resides. Since November 1, only the Clippers have held a worse defensive rating than Orlando (110.7 D-Rating), necessitating Herculean efforts by their offensive stars just to have a shot at victory. Vucevic hung 34-and-12 on the Knicks at MSG this past Sunday, but in a 5-point victory facilitated by the injury absences of Kristaps Porzingis and Junior Hardaway. Here at the Amway Center last week, the Magic needed 40-and-12 out of Gordon (who found out from the Whiteboard that he might get dangled in a deal for Philadelphia’s Dario Saric) to fend off a star-studded but struggling Oklahoma City squad. Including Monday’s 104-94 loss in Charlotte, ten of Orlando’s last 13 defeats have come by double-digit margins: by 22 at home to the Bulls, by 19 in Philly, by 40 at home to the Gobert-less Jazz. The nine-game losing streak began with an 18-point loss in Denver, and this week, the Magic get to sandwich a home game with the Nuggets between matchups with the Hawks. The Magic’s depth is hampered at the forward and swingman spots by the unavailability of Ross and Isaac. Veteran pickup Arron Afflalo, Speights and the disappointing Mario Hezonja are all getting mere spot minutes under Vogel. For Atlanta, pulling off a second-straight road win will require big games out of struggling starters Kent Bazemore (39.2 FG%, 35.5% last seven games) and Taurean Prince. Baze is almost the perfect foil for anyone hoping for a Hawks playoff push. While he remains committed to following Mike Budenholzer’s command and driving to the rim, he isn’t strong enough of a finisher (29.4 paint FG% beyond the restricted area) to draw extra defenders inside. And some of his passes (5 TOs in two of his past three games) leaves one to think he’s seeing Antoine “The Sixth Man” Tyler out on the floor. Like Prince (101.6 O-Rating, 12th-lowest among active players w/ 30+ MPG), Kent will serve his team better for now by keeping the ball moving, or finding catch-and-shoot spots against a tepid Orlando perimeter defense (39.9 opponent 3FG% since Nov. 1, 3rd-highest in NBA), without wasting time and possessions by putting the ball on the floor. Despite the Hawks being shorthanded up-front, Miles Plumlee and ex-Magician Ersan Ilyasova will have little problem fending off a Magic team that settles for one-and-done basketball (since Nov. 1: NBA-low 8.9 second-chance points per-48). Getting the ball quickly to Atlanta ballhandlers in transition, off defensive rebounds and turnovers, should give the Hawks an abundance of chances to score. Only the Hawks (26.3 opponent APG) allow themselves to get wined-and-dimed more frequently than the Magic (24.9 opponent APG, 2nd-most in NBA), so it is incumbent on Payton (career-high 6.8 APG, 39.1 3FG%), ex-Hawk Shelvin Mack (career-high 34.6 assist%), and D.J. Augustin to overwhelm Atlanta’s Dennis Schröder and Isaiah Taylor in properly setting up and finishing offensive plays. Fortunately for the Magic, the rest of the Southeast isn’t exactly running away with the division, and Hammond has no interest in panic moves like Hennigan made in 2016 when he shipped Tobias Harris to Detroit for Ilyasova and Brandon Jennings. Yet the upcoming slate of games is set up for Orlando to get themselves back in the Eastern Conference playoff pack. If they fail to get it done, will it already become time to head back to the, ummm, drawing board? Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  6. “No, seriously, this is the farthest I could get distance myself from Rob.” ((Would-be gamethread, it was gonna be Schröder'd anyway because I was stuck at the movies. ~lw3)) “We tried. What we tried wasn’t working. So now, we’re just going through the motions until it’s over.” The above could apply to the Atlanta Hawks’ occasional approach to playing games, to swinging deals and making roster moves through the trade deadline, or to competing in the Eastern Conference. It could just as easily apply to the Orlando Magic’s approach to this whole season. 21-win Magic in the air! There were no designs on having the fourth-worst record in the NBA when the season got started for the Magic. Now, with Dwight Howard and his Atlanta Hawks back in town (7:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Florida in ORL), it’s hard for Orlando to lay out a blueprint to fans for what comes next. Tank mode? That’s what the prior four seasons were for. Out of five lottery picks (three among the top-five), only Dunk Contest flop Aaron Gordon and Mario Hezonja remain standing down in the Tragic Kingdom. Two plum talents were shipped to OKC for Serge Ibaka, who in turn was shipped this month to Toronto in exchange for Terrence Ross and a late first-rounder. The fifth lotto draftee, Dario Saric, was shipped (back) to Philadelphia along with a 2017 swap option back on Draft Night 2014 for Elfrid Payton. Saric’s career-night came at Payton and the Magic’s expense just a couple weeks ago, the rookie registering a career-high 24 points plus eight boards to help the Sixers eke out a 112-111 comeback win. And with Ersan Ilyasova out of the way, Saric will be given even more time to shine in Philly. Even the second-rounder Orlando threw into the Saric deal (which became the Knicks’ rookie center Willy Hernangomez) is showing more upside than Payton. Now in his third season, Elf’s scoring is naturally up, but his assist-making (career-low 5.6 APG) and perimeter shooting (26.6 3FG%) has managed to be almost as bad than it was in prior seasons. Forced out to the wing while Ibaka was here, Gordon (28.9 3FG%) has been only marginally better, even though perimeter shooting has never been his forte. His free throw shooting has unacceptably plummeted (career-low 64.7 FT%), making it harder to justify him as a banger or a slasher in the paint. But he’ll be shoe-horned back into the starting 4-spot with Ibaka gone, as the Magic try to make use out of Ross (4-for-17 FGs in his Magic debut on Thursday) and Evan Fournier at the wing positions. So where does Orlando (21-38) go from here? Tanking for tanking’s sake won’t helped the Magic due to the risk of continued blown decision-making from the front office. And it won’t help the beleaguered Frank Vogel, who instantly becomes a lame duck coach the minute Orlando’s top brass finally elects to do away with GM Rob Hennigan (team president Alex Martins vows not to shake up things until at least after the season ends). Vogel’s best bet is to allow the young core of Gordon, Payton, Nikola Vucevic (team-high 25 points but 8-for-20 FGs vs. POR on Thursday) and Hezonja (4-for-5 FGs vs. POR) to sink-or-swim together, with the occasional spark from Ross, and hope there is enough defensive support to pull off a few wins and give Magic fans a sliver of hope going into next season. That murky future doesn’t really include any of Fournier, Bismack Biyombo, D.J. Augustin, C.J. Watson, or Jeff Green, yet only Green’s contract comes off the books this summer. Counter-intuitive to the urge to go young, Vogel also needs to keep his vets productive enough to maximize their off-season trade values and further relieve what is, presently, the ninth-biggest salary load in the NBA. The maddening schism between playing-to-win and losing with a young core played out for Orlando in Thursday’s home loss to the Blazers. Orlando built up a 14-point lead early in the second half, only to have it evaporate due to a 35-17 disadvantage in the fourth quarter. Payton and Augustin could do little to keep the Blazers’ Damian Lillard (17 4th-quarter points) in check. The Magic guards should have continued trouble tonight dealing with Dennis Schröder, who found himself getting additional rest after being suspended mere hours before last night’s abomination against the heat. The Menace’s offensive efficiency against Orlando is the second-highest (min. 2 games played) versus any Eastern Conference foe this season, averaging a season-best 10.0 APG (3.0 TOs/game) to go along with 18.0 PPG in three meetings with the Magic. His five steals are also the most against any NBA club thus far. Thanks largely to Schröder, Atlanta exhibited some rare mastery of a lower-ranked team during their last matchup at Philips Arena earlier this month, a 113-86 Hawks victory. Howard and Paul Millsap flustered Orlando’s front line, a reversal of fortune from the December game at Philips when the Magic seemed to get any shot they desired. In the February game, Atlanta outrebounded Orlando, 48-33, including a 10-7 offensive rebounding edge despite the Magic missing 14 more field goals in the game. Keeping the Magic cool from outside will be crucial to putting them away decisively again. Orlando was a blistering 15-for-34 on threes in their December victory against the Hawks, but just 16-for-55 in their last two contests with Atlanta combined. Properly contesting Ross and Fournier without fouling will go a long way to avoiding a repeat of Friday night, where the Hawks (32-25) held Miami to 23-for-62 shooting on two-pointers, and 13 free throw attempts, but was still run out of their own building in a 108-90 loss. Orlando’s next most frequent perimeter shooter, Jodie Meeks (40.4 3FG%) remains sidelined with a sprained thumb, and no one else aside from Augustin (36.4 3FG%) or Damjan Rudez (35.2 3FG%) makes more than 34 percent of their shots, contested or otherwise. The Magic are 6-31 (one win since January 1) when shooting below 35 percent on threes. Orlando ranks 23rd in O-Reb%, and that is inclusive of Ibaka’s contributions. His replacement, Ross scores in bunches, but is usually a binary-code contributor in other categories. Continuing to box out Vooch, Biyombo, and Gordon (5 O-Rebs vs. POR on Thursday) ought to minimize the Magic’s extra-chance opportunities. So, of course, Hawks fans should expect the opposite of what Mike Budenholzer’s team needs to do to stay competitive and defeat the teams they need to beat. Coach Bud always projects the persona of being smarter than the average bear, but he has few answers when his team starts playing like Boo-Boo. The work it takes to keep Coach Bud’s team middle-of-the-pack is enviable to clubs like Orlando, but smoke-and-mirrors is never fun when his own team is choking from the smoke. We’ll simply have to wait and see if Schröder’s return is enough for Atlanta to put off their inevitable 16th double-digit defeat of the season for another day. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  7. C’mon, Don’t Treat People’s Donkeys Like That, Evan! Fever dreams? Or nightmares? These days, Atlanta Hawks fans are seemingly left with no other options. Here come the Hawks, back in the Highlight Factory after a triumphant, double-digit, come-from-behind mad dash to the finish line on the road. Atlanta got a huge, confidence-boosting shot from Tim Hardaway, Jr. (an electrifying career-high 33 points @ HOU on Thursday, 23 in the 4th) to seal the deal and right a listing ship. Surely, with a hyped-up home crowd in the stands, they’ll make quick work out of the slip-sliding Orlando Magic (7:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Florida in ORL), right? Well, if you’ll remember, that was the grand plan back in December, too. Rewarded with three days off after a big win in Milwaukee was secured by a Hardaway triple, the Hawks waltzed onto their Philips Arena floor on December 9, and could only look on as four Magicians (Serge Ibaka and Evan Fournier; Elfrid Payton and Jodie Meeks off the bench) pulled 20-plus points out of their hats in a 131-120 Orlando win. The 131-point tally by Frank Vogel’s new club was the most run up on the Hawks by any opponent in regulation this season, or in any game since March 2008, when Stephen Jackson was literally lighting it up while playing for Nellie’s visiting Golden State Warriors. In December’s fateful meeting, Magic field goals were scored at a season-high 58.6 percent clip (highest by an ATL foe since January 2008; worst at home since March 2005; incl. 15-for-34 ORL 3FGs), and buttressed with a sterling 4-to-1 assist/turnover ratio (36 assists; Orlando piled up 37 of ‘em almost exactly a year ago to sweep a home-and-home). For their part, Atlanta hit over half of their shots, and missed just two of their 21 free throws. They got 4-for-5 three-point shooting from Kyle Korver, double-doubles from Dwight Howard and Dennis Schroder, nearly a third one from Paul Millsap, while fans had the oft-desired TNT combo (Tim ‘n Thabo) in the starting lineup. Yet the reserves’ inability to help the starters make stops resulted in the Hawks inhaling Orlando’s fumes at the ends of each half. The lesson seems to be, do not go into games feeling too smug on the heels of a notable victory. But the Hawks haven’t proven that they get the gist just yet. Days after that disappointing defeat to the Magic, Atlanta avenged a recent lousy loss in Toronto, then returned home the next day just to lose to division-rival Charlotte. An encouraging win in OKC was followed two days later by a dispiriting home loss to Minnesota. Big plays to earn the W in New York, then a big 23-point letdown two nights later in Detroit. Huge late-game comeback in Chicago; huge 26-point setback two nights later against the Wizards. 4 OT thriller at home against the Knicks; 23-point killer three days later in Miami. Despite a winning record, inconsistency and instability have been the pattern for these Hawks (29-21) for a while. It has to be maddening, not only for the players, the staff, and the fans, but the opponents, too. The teams that “got got” by Atlanta’s comeback kids during games (Bucks, Bulls, Rockets, etc.) are actively re-assessing their lot in life. For others, trouncing the Hawks seems to feel like you might have earned the Kiss of the Spider Woman. Toronto’s high-octane offense torches Atlanta by 44 points; they’ve petered out a dull 16-15 record since. Detroit dusts off the Hawks by 36, then go 9-13 before beating them again, this time by 23 before losing three of their next four. Since beating the Hawks soundly on the road, the Pelicans have gone just 14-21; the Lakers rose to 9-9 with a big win at Staples, before going 8-27 the rest of the way. And what good did that monumental December win in ATL do for Vogel’s crew? 11-15 wasn’t terribly far out of the playoff picture, certainly enough to hang around with a little momentum. But that momentum never materialized. When the Hawks left Amway Center on January 4, Atlanta’s payback 111-92 win (no Magic scorers above 15 points this time) dropped Orlando to a water-treading 5-6 since the previous matchup. The Magic’s ship has been taking in that water ever since, winners in just four of their last 15. Even after outlasting those crumbling Raptors at home last night, Orlando (20-32) sits just a half-game from 14th place in the East. “False sense of hope. I admit, I was fooled. Thought this team would be way better than it is.” That’s a sample of David Baumann’s tweeted opinions in the past few days. Baumann was sort of the “Jerome Jurenovich” host for the Magic for years. But these days, he gets to speak his mind, and he doesn’t hold his tongue. “…the last four seasons (the Magic) were expected to be bad. This year, (with) $ avail to blow, had a chance to finally be decent.” Baumann goes on with his e-lamentations, echoing much of the Magic fanbase sentiment that, even with Orlando just 4.0 games behind the 8-seed, declining to strike while the playoff iron was hot has left their team well behind the 8-ball. “By failing to make a deal by the end of December, (GM Rob Hennigan) essentially waved the white flag on this year… there's not a single player that any casual NBA fan would pay to go see play in person. (Although) the kids love (Aaron) Gordon (because) of dunks.” Such biting commentary would smart Hennigan, except his ears are too sore to notice, what with all the phones ringing in his office these days. The glut of bigs he acquired over the summer has not helped the crowded-out Gordon (42.6 FG%, 29.3 3FG%, 63.1 FT%, 4.6 RPG) advance his game at all. Vogel’s shifting to accommodate Hennigan’s maneuvers also have continued to frustrate Nikola Vucevic (14.1 PPG and 47.5 FG%, down from 18.2 and 51.0 FG% last year; DNP vs. ATL on Dec. 13), who has seen his playing time plummet from prior seasons. Now, Hennigan’s pining for a deal to come along that might help him cover up his free agent miscalculations (Ibaka, Bismack Biyombo, Jeff Green). The right deal(s) could perhaps re-energize a fanbase frustrated about a team that’s bound to miss their fifth-straight postseason since Dwight departed for La-La Land in 2012, a team that’s on pace to be worse than the 35-47 outfit that Scott Skiles quit on, a squad that is just 9-16 at Amway after last night’s win. And here you thought the Hawks (14-10) struggle at home. Atlanta’s Dennis Schroder is due for a bounceback effort, after underwhelming outings for most of the past week (last 4 games: 32.2 FG%, 14.3 3FG%, 1.8 RPG, one steal total, 6.3 APG puffed up by 15 dimes in four overtimes vs. NYK). With John Wall and Kemba Walker bound for the Big Easy soon, Schroder is left to prove he can dominate matchups with the lower plankton of the division and conference. Doing so requires a commanding fullcourt performance from the jump against Payton (6.0 APG, 2.1 TOs/G, 28.4 3FG%; 3-for-3 3FGs, 14 assists and 2 TOs vs. ATL on Dec. 13). That is essential if the Hawks intend to shake off their own customary first-quarter cobwebs (NBA-worst 16.9 first-quarter TO%). One member of the Magic quartet that lit up the Hawks in December didn’t make a return trip. ATLien Meeks (team-high 40.4 3FG%) is repairing sprained thumb ligaments and remains out indefinitely. He joins fellow shooting guard C.J Wilcox (knee) on the shelf. Against Orlando’s depleted backcourt, things are lined up for Thursday night’s superhero, Hardaway (1-for-6 3FGs vs. ORL on Dec. 13), to escape his own phone booth at home (last 6 games at Philips: 22-for-68 FGs, 5-for-30 3FGs). Elevated to a starting role with Thabo Sefolosha (groin) still questionable to play, THJ extended his shooting woes at the Highlight Factory with 15 missed shots, including nine missed threes, in the 4-OT affair with New York last Sunday. He did manage to reach 19 points with the help of 9-for-12 FT shooting, and added 8 assists and just one TO to the mix. But his and Schroder’s missed freebies sure could have come in handy when Atlanta needed to keep Carmelo’s Knicks calm in the clutch. In his penultimate performance as a Hawk, Korver could hardly buy a bucket in Orlando. But in that January 4 game, he dished out 7 assists, matching Schroder and keying an all-around bench effort that was much improved from the team’s prior game against the Magic. Atlanta reserves Mike Muscala, Hardaway, and Malcolm Delaney combined for 13-for-19 shooting from the field (5-for-7 3FGs). Sefolosha’s injury has forced Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer to turn to his rookies, and DeAndre’ Bembry (5-for-6 FGs) sure put the accent on the Hawks’ table-turning 113-108 win in Houston. Bembry forced tough shots out of James Harden in the fourth quarter and snuck in for unguarded scores around the hoop. Kent Bazemore also played a role in helping deny Harden the ball at critical junctures of Thursday’s comeback. Bembry (43 minutes in past two games) and fellow rookie Taurean Prince may continue to see upticks in floortime if they continue to produce on the defensive end. With or without Sefolosha, Bazemore and the Hawks’ wings will need to remain active to cool down Fournier (16.7 PPG; 10-for-11 2FGs vs. ATL on Dec. 13), the Magic’s leading scorer. Orlando managed just 9-for-28 shooting from the perimeter against the Hawks last month, unable to keep up with the marksmanship by Bazemore (3-for-3 3FGs) and Atlanta (10-for-19 team 3FGs). Vogel will resort to using Green, Gordon, and Ibaka around the arc to pry Millsap and the Hawks’ defensive bigs out of the paint. It’s hoped that doing so will free up Payton and Fournier on drives, and Vucevic for post-up opportunities. However, Howard did a solid job staying at home on his defensive assignments, contesting without fouling, while also beating his man down the court to open up the Atlanta offense with superior shot opportunities in the paint. More of the same from the former Magic man would help the Hawks keep their distance tonight. For the Hawks, building from a big road win and taking care of business in front of the home crowd will help their fans sleep a little easier tonight. With a long night awaiting us on Sunday, we Atlanta fans sure could use the help. Rise Up! And Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  8. Stupid Head Coach Tricks! How much have the Atlanta Hawks learned? Beginning with tonight’s affair in Orlando against the Magic (7:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Florida in ORL), the forthcoming 4-game road trip should be quite revelatory. The Hawks pulled off the trifecta in its homestand this past week, culminated by a stunning overtime victory over the daunting San Antonio Spurs. Prior to that run, though, confidence seemed to be at a new low, the Hawks sandwiching a narrow escape in Denver with two offensively poor defeats at the hands of the Timberwolves. Atlanta is giving out hints that it’s ready to pull ahead of the middling pack in the LeBronference. To do that, they need to begin stringing together convincing road victories, not just last-minute scrambles and mad dashes in the fourth quarters. They must especially perform consistently well against sub-.500 teams. The road trip ahead is full of exactly those kinds of teams. After Orlando (16-20), the scene shifts tomorrow to New Orleans (14-22), and both opponents have already flummoxed the Hawks in Atlanta. After that, bottom dwelling teams in Dallas (11-24) and Brooklyn (8-25) await the Hawks’ arrival in the coming days. The Hawks will get a chance to boost two elements that will factor into the East playoff race: their records on the road (currently 8-9, worse than Orlando’s 9-9), and versus the West (currently 5-9, same as Brooklyn’s). The Magic know all about the up-and-down basketball Atlanta patterned in December. A seemingly corner-turning victory in San Antonio on November 29 was followed by a loss in shorthanded Memphis two days later. That was followed by an encouraging three-game road winning streak, and then, a three-game losing streak. Then, a big 131-120 win in Atlanta was followed by a home loss to the Clippers the next day. Then a win, a loss, a win, a loss, a two-game win streak, a two-game losing streak. That means Orlando’s road win on Monday against the Porzingless Knicks could serve as a harbinger, either as a loss tonight versus the Hawks, or the extension of another win streak that artificially inflates hopes around the Magic Kingdom. The Magic pulled out the victory in New York without the continued services of Evan Fournier (17.8 PPG). Orlando’s leading scorer has been out for the past five games with a bruised heel. Whether Fournier (likely to play) starts or not, the Magic hope for a repeat performance from replacement starter Jodie Meeks, who eclipsed the season-high 20 points (4-for-6 3FGs) he contributed back home in the ATL last month with 23 points on a Hardaway-esque 6-for-7 3FGs on Monday. Meeks’ sharpshooting allowed backcourt mate Elfrid Payton (career-high 14 assists @ NYK, tying his output @ ATL) to penetrate and pepper the court. Against the Knicks, half of those 14 assisted baskets were within five feet of the rim, and many more involved dishes to open shooters from 16 feet out. Were it not for Magic coach Frank Vogel’s concerns about team defense, the effort against the Knicks was good enough to maybe earn Payton and Nikola Vucevic (13 rebounds, 5 O-Rebs @ NYK) their starting gigs back. It’s not clear that the move is working, anyway, as Magic starters’ D-Rating dropped from 102.0 (10th in NBA) to 109.3 (24th in NBA) since Elf and Vooch were relegated to bench status. While they are reserves, the duo is still averaging more minutes than replacements Bismack Biyombo and D.J. Augustin, and Vogel seems hesitant to change that. Derrick Rose and Brandon Jennings were of little use defensively against Payton and Augustin, but Atlanta’s Dennis Schröder ought to be more up to the task. Schröder (19 points, season-high 13 assists @ ORL on Dec. 13) has certainly begun to blossom as an offensive player, but his defensive imprint still leaves much to be desired. Dennis (1.2 loose-ball recoveries per game, 7th in NBA) has registered just 3 steals just once this season, back on November 25 in Utah, and registered no swipes in four of his past eight contests. After helping secure multiple defensive rebounds in nine of his first 11 appearances, Schröder has mostly deferred to the forwards and centers in three of the past ten games. Schröder (last ten games: 20.2 PPG, 49.4 FG%, 7.1 APG, 3.0 TO/G) will continue to excel for the Hawks (14-5 when his D-Rating, bball-ref formula, is 113 or less, incl. 5 wins in a row) when he makes his presence felt at both ends of the floor. Without the ability to get stops, Atlanta and Orlando (9 player TOs, season-high 58.6 team FG% @ ATL in December) may again engage in the freewheeling, AND1-mixtape style of ball that is to neither Vogel’s nor Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer’s liking. The Hawks could not force the Spurs into a lot of mistakes, but along the way to victory on Sunday, Atlanta did not commit many of their own (11 player TOs vs. SAS). In addition to Schröder, expect a more active and assertive on-ball defensive effort out of Paul Millsap (32 points, 13 rebounds vs. SAS), whose streak of games with at least one steal ended on Sunday at 13. Millsap and Howard tightening things up around the rim, plus active hands from Thabo Sefolosha and the Hawks’ guards and wings beyond the paint, should be enough to cool the Magic down. Much of Atlanta’s defensive lapse versus Orlando in the prior game was attributable to the bench brigade. The Magic made 13 of 15 shots within 5 feet of the rim in the first half, many of those beginning with Mike Muscala trying to hold the fort in place of Dwight Howard, and ending with Elfrid Payton, Jeff Green, and Meeks feasting. Moose’s minutes are down, but his on-floor impact has improved of late (+27 combined plus/minus in last two contests), Coach Bud adding a dash of Kris Humphries to help lessen the load. Buoyed further on offense by Tim Hardaway, Jr., if the bench can stop hemorrhaging opponent points, we’re likely to see a fine start to Atlanta’s road trip. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  9. LOTTERY TREADMILL BY: ORLANDO MAGIC, PRICELESS How much would you pay to go win 30-35 games? That’s an uncomfortable question facing the Orlando Magic, who come into Atlanta on a sudden downturn to face the Hawks (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Florida) for the first time in the regular season. One franchise has been an NBA Playoffs participant for nine seasons running; the other is desperate to avoid stretching their string of postseason absences to five years. One team is the closest to being under the salary cap line ($5.1 million over) among the five teams in the Southeast Division. The other team is $7.5 million further over the cap ($12.6 million over) -- highest in the division, third-overall in the East, eighth-overall in the NBA. All the above statements are contradictory. It was June 2012, and both the Hawks and the Magic had caught a case of Spurs Fever. When the 2011-12 season ended, both organizations chased after executives of the Western Conference leaders in San Antonio. Seeking a fresh start, Orlando hired the fresh-faced Spurs’ director of basketball operations Rob Hennigan, at age 30 the youngest GM in the league. Eager to rebuild without a full teardown, Atlanta, in turn, zeroed in on the Spurs’ VP of basketball ops, Danny Ferry, hiring him just days later. Under Ferry, out went Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, Josh Smith, the VetMins, and coach Larry Drew. In came Mike Scott, Paul Millsap, Lou Williams, Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll, coach Mike Budenholzer, Dennis Schröder, Thabo Sefolosha and Kent Bazemore. Out went Ferry, eventually. But a lot of his low-budget gambles paid off, and the Hawks not only sustained themselves as a postseason mainstay, they reached the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in their history. While the Johnson deal made Hawks fans pull up a chair to the Ferry feast, it was the alleviation of the incessant Dwightmare in Orlando that made Rob “You Blind” Hennigan the NBA’s hotshot wunderkind. Within two seasons of the four-team deal, the Lakers (Dwight Howard) and the Sixers (Andrew Bynum) were already suffering from Buyer’s Remorse, while the Nuggets (Andre Iguodala) had squandered whatever gains they had made. Hennigan further pilfered the Nuggets in 2014 by giving Arron Afflalo back in exchange for young gunner Evan Fournier. Further, Orlando had lucked their way into obtaining the prize of the Dwight mega-deal, their future stud center: Nikola Vucevic, a double-double machine! And just look at all the lottery picks coming their way! Atlanta hasn’t drawn a lotto pick since 2007; the Magic have had five such picks in the past four seasons. Under Hennigan’s watchful eye, the future seemed so bright! Well, the future is here, and it’s become blinding to Magic fans. Ferry’s 2013 coaching hire has outlasted even his tenure and gained a Coach of the Year nod while picking up where Ferry left off. At the same time, Hennigan’s Magic stalled under the direction of former Spurs acolytes Jacque Vaughn and James Borrego. Taskmaster Scott Skiles dragged the Magic to a 35-47 record last year, but quit after the season, and was so fed up we may need to convene a search party to find him today. In season #5, Hennigan is on coach #4: former Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel, who is adamant about putting a defensive imprint on a roster lacking in that department ever since bidding adieu to Howard. About all those lottery picks. The Magic drafted Victor Oladipo, Aaron Gordon, Euro-stash Dario Saric, Mario Hezonja, and Domantas Sabonis. Saric was swapped on draft day for their point-guard-of-the-future, Elfrid Payton, whose collegiate reputation as a plus-defender (like Bazemore, a former Lefty Driesell Award winner) hasn’t translated to the pros. Oladipo and Sabonis were sent packing (with Ersan Ilyasova) to Oklahoma City, Orlando in turn receiving Serge Ibaka (1300 blocks since 2009-10, most in NBA; Dwight 4th with 1010) in its quest to prove it’s serious about becoming defensive-minded. Oladipo and Sabonis are thriving as starters with the Russellaires, while Ibaka has become more of a three-point bomber (career-high 40.7 3FG% on 3.2 attempts per game) than an on-ball defender. First Gordon (career-low 41.3 FG%), and now Payton and Vucevic have been benched under Vogel, while Hezonja is being bubble-wrapped in search of trade partners. Speaking of trades, December 15 ushers in the availability of many more players on NBA rosters to deals, specifically summertime acquisitions like Bismack Biyombo, Jeff Green, and D.J. Augustin. Ibaka and Biyombo were brought on to show the fanbase the team is serious about spending cash to win, and (after sending Tobias Harris to Detroit for Ilyasova and Brandon Jennings last season’s deadline, a move suspected as having been ordered from on-high, above Hennigan) finally dead-serious about defense, Green and Augustin notwithstanding. But in the process, the duo of Ibaka and Biyombo (plus Green) have managed to crowd Gordon and Vucevic out of meaningful minutes. While the team D-Rating finally began to pick up in recent weeks (103.5, 12th in NBA; 16th last season), the O-Rating has fallen through the floor (98.0, below everyone but Philly’s 96.8). Just weeks ago, the Orlando Sentinel’s Brian Schmitz opined that Hennigan's plans have, “flopped as spectacularly as New Coke, pay toilets and ‘Zoolander 2.’” New Coke… ouch! Atlantans don’t need that reminder. The team that’s third-highest over the salary cap in the East now sits 11th among the conference’s 15 teams, slightly ahead of 12th-seed Washington. This, after having lost three games in a row, including allowing 121 points in a Saturday night home loss to 9-15 Denver. Further, the Magic’s 10-15 record has been puffed up by a weak schedule (league-low 45% winning percentage among played opponents, as per PlayoffStatus.com), so things could get worse soon. These days, Magic fans are straining to recall just what was so bad about Otis Smith. “A big build-up has been replaced by a big letdown,” said Schmitz. Hennigan, who received a Jeff Fisher-lite contract extension in 2015, now stands on the shakiest ground for an NBA GM anywhere outside of New Orleans (although at least Dell Demps has a shield in Ferry now). Hennigan’s desperate to swing some deals, soon; as of this Thursday, every player aside from leading scorer Fournier (re-signed this summer, trade-restricted until January 15; career-low 36.4 3FG%) will be immediately on the block, before CEO Alex Martins considers putting Hennigan’s job on it instead. Atlanta has been working through offensive struggles of its own, as a recent dip slipped them into a momentary tie with the Magic in the standings. Hawks fans and players alike have ample reason to want a widening of the 2.5-game gap between the two teams, for reasons that go well beyond the former Magic franchise star who now suits up at center in Atlanta. Hennigan spent the past two offseasons at the OPM (Other People’s Money) ATM, and at least once, his maneuvering has cost the Hawks. He swung for the fences in 2015 by flying up to Atlanta, ringing All-Star Millsap’s doorbell, and offering him a long-term max-contract. The Hawks’ scramble to counter-offer Millsap cost them precious time once Toronto rolled into town, too, and pried Carroll free. The Magic had no interest in acquiring Sabonis in the 2016 Draft, but they did have an interest in keeping the stretchy big man from falling into Atlanta’s lap. Picking right in front of the spot their division rival had recently traded up into, Orlando snatched up Sabonis and shipped him to OKC for what is shaping up to be a one-year (or less) rental of Ibaka, whose $12.25 million contract expires this summer. As per at least one media report, they were also trying to stick mouse ears on Bazemore, one of many teams coveting the rising swingman in free agency before he chose to stay in the ATL. The first team to call Baze this summer, the Milwaukee Bucks, could only watch on Friday night as their top free agent target was on the sideline, sore knee and all, doing his best Tony Manero impression. That’s because, against all convention, his Hawks were committed to Staying Alive. Bazemore was rooting his Hawks to a 114-110 victory, featuring the improbable erasure of a 20-point Milwaukee lead, the biggest comeback win in the NBA this season. In this pace ‘n space era of NBA hoops, 20-point deficits are becoming the new 10-point deficits. Orlando knows this well: they beat Philadelphia last month after falling behind by 18. Yet the Hawks (12-12) should not grow accustomed to digging such holes for themselves, with the intention of somehow triumphantly crawling out. This win was improbable largely due to the Hawks’ inability, once again, to get the full offense in gear, up until the third quarter. This particular bounceback was made possible by the continually improving play of Schröder (career-high 33 points; 17 in the opening quarter, 8 in the final one), the steady mind of Millsap (23 points, 14 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 blocks), and the team’s collective recognition that sound ball movement and off-ball player movement are what grant their offense advantages from one game to the next. “The level to which our activity dissipates when we’re not making shots is… you can’t do that in this league,” Coach Bud noted to the AJC and postgame reporters. Another woeful first-half outing (3-for-17 3FGs) was flipped with 8-for-13 3FG shooting in the third-quarter, and 8-for-13 2FG shooting in the pivotal fourth. All eight of Atlanta’s major participants logged at least two assists in Milwaukee, seven of the octet with at least three. Half of Howard’s two dimes turned out to be the most momentous of the game, setting up Tim Hardaway, Jr. with a corner three that finally wiped out the deficit and had Bazemore nearly splitting the inseam of his skinny pants in jubilation. “Bazemore said at halftime, this could be a turnaround for our season,” noted Hardaway to the AJC. “It just shows with the resiliency in this locker room and playing for each other, it’s at an all-time high right now. We need it more than ever after having that tough stretch.” Atlanta (12-12) also could use some consecutive non-game days to recuperate and regroup; they haven’t had any since November 13-14. Three off-days precede tonight’s game with the Magic, and two more follow ahead of a challenging road-home back-to-back with the Raptors and Hornets. The time off may have been enough to have Bazemore, this past weekend’s Ring-of-Honoree up at Old Dominion, out of leisure suits and in uniform for today’s game (currently listed as probable). But the recovery period has given the starting small forward time to study and recalibrate after a struggling start to the season (career-low 35.8 FG%; 29.1 FG%, 3.4 RPG in his past ten games). Sefolosha (41.4 FG%, 18.8 3FG% in last ten games) has been similarly poor in recent weeks on the offensive end and, like point guard Malcolm Delaney, gets caught up in trying to score in isolation when times get tough. But Thabo’s ability to rebound, pick off passes, and defend bigger and taller opponents has made him a more favorable play than Kent alongside Hardaway, whose defensive work is beginning to reap dividends (minus-6.3 opponent differential FG% on defended shots, 7th-best among NBA guards and wings w/ min. 10 games & 5.0 opponent FGAs per game). Sefolosha also avoids turning the ball over, which helps all the more when he’s actively involved (last two starts: 9 assists, 1 TO) in Atlanta’s ball movement schemes. Opponents have gathered a team-high 9.3 offensive rebounds per 36 minutes with Bazemore on the floor (13th-most in NBA, min. 15 games played). When he returns as a starter, Baze’s willingness to apply his wingspan in ways that help Howard and Millsap minimize opponents’ extra chances will enhance his, and the team’s, defensive effectiveness. Bazemore’s shot mechanics may be hampered by the anticipation that he’s going to miss the field goal attempt. Kent has seven offensive rebounds in his last five games (five O-Rebs in the prior 17 games). In four of those recent games, at least one of his offensive rebounds came from following his own shot. Those missed shots ranged from 2 to 24 feet, three of them from 15 feet out, and that says nothing of the second-chances he pursued but didn’t get. Teammates have also gotten into the act of chasing the rebound after an expected Bazemore miss. Adherence to Budball dictates not just taking the open shot created within the flow of the offense, but getting back in defensive position as priority over chasing follows, no matter how inaccurate the shot becomes. Kent’s own confidence in his offense will improve if he’s focused on execution as he was coached, instead of acting in anticipation of poor results. The Magic (33.3 team 3FG%, 71.2 FT%), like the Hawks (32.3 3FG%, 70.7 FT%), have not been sharp shooters from the perimeter, or the charity stripe. But while Atlanta is a much surer shot inside the arc (51.1 2FG%, 5th in NBA), the same cannot be said of Orlando (46.2 2FG%, 29th in NBA). The Magic’s cause could be helped if Vucevic would shoot better than 52.9% within 3 feet of the hoop, and if Vooch, Ibaka, and Gordon would grow less enamored of long 2-point attempts. But Howard and the Hawks will be ready to turn probable rebounds into transition points at the other end. Vucevic is questionable to play due to a back contusion sustained last week, while Biyombo has been hampered by an injured shoulder. Schröder and Delaney will work to thwart drives by Augustin and Payton, the latter’s field goal percentage dropping precipitously away from the rim (63.4 at-rim FG%, 31.2 FG% from 3 feet out). That’s part of what has prompted Vogel to turn instead to Augustin in the starting lineup, but the pairing of Augustin and Fournier in the backcourt has the Magic leaking oil on defense. Neither put much pressure on opposing guards, and their funneling of ballhandlers into the teeth of the Magic’s shot-block-hungry front line (5.6 team BPG, 4th in NBA) tends to leave somebody open. Orlando has allowed at least 109 points in the past four games, putting its offensively inefficient team behind the 8-ball, especially against higher-paced teams. Small forwards have feasted on the Magic in each of their last three losses, a good sign for Atlanta’s struggling shooters. And while Orlando last won in Washington a week ago, they had few answers for the speedy John Wall (52 points on 45 total shot attempts). Atlanta will want no repeat of the prior two regular season meetings with the Magic. The back-to-back defeats in February included a low-percentage buzzer-beating jumpshot by Vucevic in Orlando, and a 117-110 overtime loss the next day in Atlanta. Orlando had not won two straight in over a month before those victories, and while the wins seemed to be a pick-me-up, ending a similar three-game skid, the Magic would not win two in a row again for another 45 days. That second loss had Orlando eroding a 20-point deficit of their own (Hawks up 28-8 in the first quarter, 71-53 midway through the third), and OT was forced by a 29-18 Magic advantage in the fourth quarter. Vucevic, Payton, Fournier, and even Hezonja piled up a combined 26 points in the paint in the rematch, something Howard will seek to minimize in keeping the Magic from evening up their road record (6-7) this season. The Hawks need this win tonight to keep the vibes positive, but also to keep the Magic trending downward. After all, nobody needs Hennigan around next summer drumming up new schemes to stick it to the Hawks again. For once, let’s make Hennigan pay. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  10. Jodie moves a little closer to home. ~lw3
  11. ~lw3
  12. “I Want to Wake Up in a City That Never Sleeps (totally not a trade request, btw)…” After getting Fournier’d by Nikola Vucevic and the Orlando Magic in a Super Bowl matinee, it’s already time for the Atlanta Hawks to lace ‘em up again, this time with a meeting at the Highlight Factory (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, NBATV, Fox Sports Florida) where they’ll serve up a nice dose of payback to their division rivals. Maybe. Team President-by-Coup Mike Budenholzer does seem to hold some endearing solidarity with the many contemporaries in his NBA coaching profession. With his own position fairly secure no matter what the Hawks spew on the floor these days, you are left to ponder whether Bud is stealing losses away from hopeless, floundering opponents, as a means to maybe re-instill confidence from their coaches’ higher-ups, however fleeting, and preserve coaches’ paystubs for just a little longer. From Jeff Hornacek to Derek Fisher to Lionel Hollins to… probably soon, George Karl and maybe Sam Mitchell and Scott Skiles… is Coach Bud trying to break their falls? Do these courtesy wins serve as parting gifts? Or are his conciliatory Bud Waves more of an insidious, kiss-of-death kind of deal (David Blatt, your thoughts)? Just over a decade ago, it took a loss to the Hawks to guarantee you’d get fired soon. My, how times have changed. We’ll get a greater sense of whether we’re onto something as Scott Skiles’ team rolls into Philips Arena with unexpectedly lifted spirits. The Hawks (30-23) especially love to giftwrap victories to bad teams missing key players, and yesterday’s win for the Magic (22-28; 3-15 in 2016) without their leading rebounder, forward Tobias Harris, was no exception. Harris (ankle) remains questionable for tonight, which is probably good news for the Magic against the Hawks. Sunday’s contest was more of a Bizarro World Hawks game. Without Harris available to push them around, the Hawks turned into the second coming of Moses Malone, crashing the glass for a season-high 18 offensive rebounds, the most by any Hawks team since Larry Drew was running the show back in December 2012. Of course, when you’re shooting 38.5% from the field (incl. 34.9 2FG%; Atlanta’s 0-9 when shooting below 40%), you have to at least look like you’re trying, lest anyone catch on to your charitable ways. Then the Hawks neutralized themselves further, failing to pressure Orlando’s backcourt tandem of Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo, into mistakes until they decided to make things entertaining, once Thabo Sefolosha’s lucky buzzer-beater concluded the third quarter. Sloppy play, no open shot-making, no transition buckets… but copious offensive rebounds? What’s going on around here? Al Horford (5-for-15 FGs, 6 rebounds in 35 minutes) must have been thinking of the hundreds of poor fans in the stands that would love to be anywhere but Amway Center as The Big Game approached, just a couple hours away. There’s no other logical reason why, with only Payton standing before him, he’d flub a layup with 80 seconds left that would have brought the Hawks within a point of the lead. The Magic had not held a team below triple digits since losing 96-87 at home to Philly nearly three weeks ago. And yet here was Atlanta, sitting tied at 94 apiece with under a minute to go, still poised to back their way into a victory that would even up their road record. Kent Bazemore (23 points, 3-for-5 3FGs) had a horrifyingly bad start on Sunday, thanks largely to the officials, but used his six offensive rebounds to kickstart his game. After Paul Millsap’s dime to Baze tied things up at 94, and after Baze drew the offensive foul on Vucevic at the other end, Horford must have gone all Sarah MacLachlan in his All-Star court mate’s ear. Haven’t these Magic fans suffered enough? For the price of a cup of coffee… So, Hawks miss shots, get boards, miss shots, Millsap (5-for-14 FGs in 34 minutes) short-rims a shot within 5 feet of the rim with 2 seconds left. Timeout Magic, Vooch gets the ball back, ba-da-boom, ba-da-bing, game, blouses. Magic fans go home happy for once, Bud Wave, end scene, fade to black, Lady Gaga croons the credits. Back home at Thrillips, consumer confidence among Hawks fans has ebbed, and those that show up tonight aren’t going to feel quite so cordial toward Skiles’ plight. If Bud’s Fix isn’t in, it will show by way of an effort from the bench that was non-existent yesterday (2-for-17 FGs, not counting Thabo’s lucky shot). It was hard to outplay Orlando’s reserves (4-for-18 FGs, 2 assists), but Atlanta managed to find a way. Dennis Schröder (lacerated chin, reportedly) was held out of the entire fourth quarter yesterday, but will be counted on for anything better than the 1-for-7 FGs, one-assist-in-13-minutes output he contributed. Mike Muscala (2 blocked shots since December 12, both in the same game) managed to sit out the final frame as well, and without Tiago Splitter (hip, out until after the Break), Moose’s presence needs to be felt at both ends of the floor. Improved play from this pair will limit the need for excessive floor time today from Jeff Teague (team-high 24 points, 3-for-5 3FGs, 5 assists, 5 TOs on Sunday) and Horford. This will be the final home game before the Hawks end the pre-All-Star break schedule in Chicago, where the Bulls are struggling defensively, and suffering through injuries to Joakim Noah, Nikola Mirotic and Jimmy Butler. Wait a minute… is Fred Hoiberg’s job secure? Is that “In the Arms of an Angel” I’m hearing? Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  13. Voted “Most Likely to Quit Trying to Look Like Rajon Rondo.” We’ve seen plenty of times this season when our Atlanta Hawks have to pick up an easy spare, and roll out a gutterball in the neighboring lane. That’s whether it involves blowing anybody-on-one fast breaks, or playing down to the level of a bad team on a losing skid. So the home-and-home series on back-to-back nights with the struggling Orlando Magic (1:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, Fox Sports Florida) is the furthest thing from a sure shot. Including a loss in ATL on MLK Day, the Magic have gone just 2-15 since January 1, a scale of futility matched only by the Phoenix Suns. Of course, half of the Suns’ wins came courtesy of embarrassingly poor play from the Hawks just a couple weeks ago. Orlando is also just 1-8 in the Dirty South Division. So, naturally, this two-game series is setting up to be a barn-burner. Thanks to a great 19-13 start, the MLK Day loss only dropped the Magic to 20-20 as they remained in the thick of the playoff chase, an impressive 4th in the East. But like a Lake Eola jogger, Scott Skiles’ club finds itself going in circles, and they’ve been getting lapped by one Eastern Conference team after another. Half of Orlando’s wins in 2016 came last Sunday at home, thanks to a red-hot Boston Celtics team that shares Atlanta’s 30-22 record. Since that victory, the past week included road losses in San Antonio and OKC, and Friday’s home loss to their old coach Doc Rivers’ Clippers. They held fourth-quarter leads, however, against both the Spurs and Thunder before melting late. So the good news is, it isn’t like they’re not competing and forcing the action, primed to trip up opponents that don’t bring their A-game. As an additional silver lining, Orlando can’t sink below the plankton of the East (Nets and Sixers) no matter how badly this slump is, and a spirited string of victories puts them right back in postseason play, as they’re just 4.5 games behind the 8th-seed. Getting up off the canvas for the Magic won’t be possible until center Nikola Vucevic and point guard Elfrid Payton show they’re willing and able, respectively, to defend at their positions and involve their teammates at the other end. The duo share the a net rating (-18.8 points per 100 possessions) in calendar year 2016, the second-worst in the league (after Hawks’ basketball snatcher Tyson Chandler and P.J. Tucker in Phoenix). That includes an NBA-worst 90.4 O-Rating, and they’re tied with Toronto’s Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas with the second-worst D-Rating (110.5) among 1-5 pairs. For the NBA’s reigning record-holder for assists in a single game, Coach Skiles is learning it’s actually easier to do than to say. Payton’s struggled through injuries in the past month, but his passing marks (5.6 APG; 5.4 since January 1) have slipped since his All-Rookie 1st Team season (6.5 APG). He’s also struggled to stay in front of his man, or even produce turnovers with help defense. His 2.2 steal% (incl. 9 steals in 13 games since January 1) is way down from the 2.9% that ranked 5th in the NBA last season. Skiles’ first move is to shift Victor Oladipo (37 points, 4 assists, no turnovers @ OKC last Wednesday) to the point, or at least allow him to dominate the ballhandling duties. Oladipo has not been as much of a turnover machine as he was in his rookie season, but both he and Payton are prone to making egregious mistakes in crunch time. Both players could have their hands full today with Atlanta’s Jeff Teague. After a season-long struggle, Teague could be in line to earn Eastern Conference Player of the Week (58.3 FG%, 58.3 3FG%, 90.0 FT%, 19.3 PPG, 5.0 APG, 2.3 TOs per game, 1.7 SPG) with a strong effort today. Orlando’s leading scorer and rebounder, Vooch will get his obligatory double-doubles (10-and-11 @. ATL on MLK Day; 20-and-11 vs. the Hawks on Dec. 20). But despite Skiles’ push to get more active hands out of his center, Vucevic still looks like a crossing guard as opponents drive into the paint and opposing stretch-bigs plop copious jumpers from outside. Vucevic is a poster child for America's Budball victims. The Magic grabbed 11 offensive rebounds in last month’s game in Atlanta, yet they only managed 81 points, a season-best for the Hawks defense. Mike Budenholzer’s troops allowed the Pacers to nab 16 more O-Rebs and 5 more D-Rebs on Friday night, but it only served to make things interesting in a 102-96 win. That victory raised Atlanta’s record to 16-8 when they give up at least 12 offensive rebounds, 14-14 otherwise. He hears it from fans and a former Hawks coach that accuses him of playing with cement shoes around the defensive glass, and he hears it from the guy with a statue outside Philips Arena that he doesn’t take advantage of drives against slow-footed bigs like Vucevic. Yet Al Horford (62.5 TS%; 5 O-Rebs in his last 7 games) adheres to his head coach’s demands. His 21 heroic points against Indiana on Friday were the most he tallied since Jan. 9. Getting Horford lots of open looks and encouraging him to drive to the lane and get to the line will keep Vucevic and the Magic bigs guessing all day what he’ll pull out of his hat. A strong Teague-Horford combo should be enough to have Orlando looking forward to Super Bowl prop bets by game’s end. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  14. “…one day, on the red hills of Georgia…” It’s “A Day On, Not a Day Off” for millions completing service projects around the country and, particularly, in the hometown of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Many volunteers will then choose to sit back and relax at Philips Arena, getting serenaded by Regina Belle-Battle, and hoping their Atlanta Hawks won’t take a day off against the Orlando Magic (5:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, Fox Sports Florida, NBATV). If They Could, Orlando fans would Make It Like It Was back in December, when the Magicians went 10-5 (after starting out with what was already an impressive 9-8 record) and earned Scott Skiles an Eastern Conference Coach of the Month nod. Going 13-5 between Thanksgiving Eve and New Years’ Eve, the best mark in the East during that span, had the O-Town faithful feeling they’d entered A Whole New World, at least one different than the seasons after the Stan Van Gundy era came to a close. That was before a 1-6 skid this month, interrupted only by a road win versus Atlanta’s last vanquished foes, the Brooklyn Nets. On the whole, the 20-15 start has the Magic all set to eclipse their 25-57 record from last season, the high-water mark of the prior three seasons. But fans who recall the abbreviated success of James Borrego last season know that things can de-escalate quickly. Over the past six calendar years, Orlando has overcome the Hawks just once in 11 road trips to the ATL. Without a road win over a team with a current winning record, the Magic would love a victory against their division-champ rivals to start turning things back around. But they would have to do it while dealing with a lot of moving parts in the backcourt. The Magic offense has gone “poof!” ever since point guard Elfrid Payton (5.8 APG, 8th in the East), hobbling since mid-December, was shelved a couple weeks ago to heal an ankle bone bruise. Victor Oladipo slid into Payton’s spot and has shot the ball well lately (70.1 TS% last five games). But ball movement has not quite been to Skiles’ liking, as if there’s anything that Skiles likes. Only the Nets (94.7 points per 100 possessions) have a lower offensive efficiency in January than Orlando (95.2 O-Rating in January; 104.9 O-Rating in December, 1st in East; 19.3 January O-Reb%, last in NBA). Just as concerning for the Magic has been the lack of transition-scoring opportunities since Payton starting having issues with his ankle. Steals per game have gone down from 9.3 in December to 5.7 this month, while opponent turnovers declined from 15.3 last month to 11.3 in January. Payton returned and played briefly in the Magic’s loss in London versus Toronto, but Oladipo sprained a knee taking a charge during that game and is now out indefinitely. It was Oladipo’s fourth-quarter heroics that allowed the Magic to nearly pull a big win out of their hat against the Raptors in London last Thursday, before falling short in overtime. Sidelined since November, guard C.J. Watson had a setback in his plans to return from a sore calf and is also out indefinitely. Shabazz Napier has been under the weather as well, prompting Orlando to nab D-League star Keith Appling over the weekend. Despite the intercontinental flights, Payton’s ankle should be well-rested following a four-day layoff that allowed the Magic to scout two Hawks games. Elf’s return allows Skiles to field his December starting lineup again, but expect to see a lot of rookie Mario Hezonja backing up both Payton and Evan “Never Google” Fournier. In Orlando back on December 20, the Magic shot just 4-for-12 from deep against the Hawks and proved to be no match for the Alabaster Blaster. In perhaps his last successful long-range shooting display, Kyle Korver went off in the second half and finished with 6-for-8 three-point shooting for a team-high 19 points, including the game-winner with 44 seconds left, as Atlanta seized back the lead to edge the Magic in a 103-100 victory. Korver was joined off the bench by Mike Scott (3-for-5 3FGs, 15 points vs. ORL Dec. 20), who can be can’t-miss so long as he isn’t, like, dunking or anything. Orlando will try to counter with Fournier, Hezonja, and a suddenly-struggling Channing Frye (42.2 3FG%, 7th in East; 15.4 January 3FG%). But Skiles must also encourage his array of supporting-cast bigs (including Aaron Gordon, habitual Hawk Killer Jason Smith, and Andrew Nicholson) to get out on the perimeter defensively and keep Atlanta from figuring out which Hawks have a hot hand. Aside from Oladipo, the Magic shot just 4-for-16 on threes in London on Thursday, and despite out-shooting Atlanta over the course of the season, their January swoon of 31.1 team 3FG% ranks just 25th in the league. The last time Skiles’ team needed a sharp-shooting mid-season boost, his Bucks shipped a hardly-used Tobias Harris to Orlando in exchange for a half-year rental of J.J. Redick (you, too, Gustavo Ayón and Ish Smith). It’s safe to assume Skiles won’t let Harris get away so easily again. Now the highest-paid Magician on the payroll, Harris has been a delight for those trying to forget the last guy who wore #12 in the Magic Kingdom. His scoring is down to 13.6 PPG from 17.1 PPG last year, but that’s in part because Skiles implores Harris to de-emphasize scoring and model the versatility of stretch-forwards like Paul Millsap and Chris Bosh. Tobias’ interior shooting is at a career-best 51.9 2FG%, while he is also posting career marks with 7.2 RPG and 2.1 APG. Fan voting for the All-Star Game in Toronto concludes at the stroke of midnight tonight, ushering in the coaches’ voting phase. Coaches, like the fans, vote in two guards and three frontcourt players, but they also elect two wild cards from each conference. Isaiah Thomas has argued his case since the season started, and John Wall has been carrying the Wizards through adversity all year. Jimmy Butler and Kyrie Irving are locks whether they start alongside Dwyane Wade or not, and you can’t leave Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan out in the cold. Thus, the coaches will be inclined to grant both wild card spots to guards, leaving guys like Atlanta’s Millsap (2nd in East in PER, 3rd in per-48 Win Shares and Box Plus/Minus, 4th in VORP) and Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic (4th in East in FG%, 9th in PER) in a squeeze play for three precious frontcourt slots. Despite the surge by Carmelo Anthony to the third starting spot in the East, Andre Drummond is too tough a case to snub. There’s plenty of love for his fellow yung’uns Kristaps Porzingis and Hassan Whiteside, while Pau Gasol and Chris Bosh get their Lifetime Achievement sentiments. LeBron James has a lot of pull to get His Guys in, so it will be hard to keep Kevin Love out, especially since then-first-place Atlanta got four All-Stars last year. Then, there’s the dismissive You Had Your Turns Already attitude toward mid-market semi-stars. That means for guys like Sap (career-highs of 18.5 PPG, 3.5 APG, 1.3 BPG) and Vooch (career-best 2.8 APG; 20 points and 11 boards vs. ATL on Dec. 20), the only way to keep NBA coaches’ rapt attention during the voting period is to play well in a winning effort. The Hawks’ powerful forward is the team’s only entry deserving consideration, but Do it All Paul will fall quickly into injury-replacement territory if Atlanta keeps dropping games to the Knicks, Hornets, Bucks, and Magic of the world. We’re at the midway mark of the season. If, back before Halloween, someone were to tell you the Hawks would not be firing on all cylinders, struggled hitting threes and keeping opponents below triple-digits, had several returning All-Stars either regressing or playing inconsistently, and had not yet worked any newcomers into prominent roles in the rotation while on pace for “just” 48 wins… yet still would be sitting on top of the Southeast Division (ahead of perpetually-hyped Miami and Washington) and 1.5 games out of second in the East, you would begrudgingly take that scenario, especially given a roster that has reached the midway point relatively healthy. Now the fun begins. Can Al Horford (one rebound, offensive, in 23 minutes vs. BKN on Saturday) string together a couple productive weeks of basketball in a row, or at least a couple games? Can Jeff Teague (7 assists, 1 TO vs. BKN; 37.3 2FG% in January) and Korver (1-for-6 FGs vs. BKN) slip out of their respective cocoons, especially defensively in Teague’s case? If not, will Coach Bud turn even more toward bench options like Dennis Schröder (15-and-10 plus 1 TO vs. BKN, first double-double of the season), Tiago Splitter and, dare we say it, Tim Hardaway, Jr.? And would that necessarily be a bad thing? As the February trade deadline approaches, does GM Bud have any tricks up his sleeves? Might continually underwhelming play shake him out of “We Like Our Group” mode? Winning 60 or even 50 games isn’t as important as building positive momentum toward the springtime. But an impressive home win over a team like the Magic, ahead of a modest four-games-in-six-nights West Coast swing, would signal to Hawks fans that there is, indeed, something good on the other side of that mountaintop. Happy MLK Day! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  15. ~lw3
  16. "So, our producers Google Image'd your surname, Evan, and here's what they found..." Way too busy again for a preview of this evening's tilt between the visiting Atlanta Hawks and the Orlando Magic (6:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, SUN Sports)! Chime in at will! See you in the Squawkchat! (PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: Evan's nickname is "Never Google," and for good reason. Do NOT, under any circumstances, Google Evan's last name. No, seriously, do NOT! I see you over there thinking about it. Stop that right now! Think about basketball! This is your final warning!) ( PSA PART II: Here's a safe-click explanation as to why... http://www.sbnation.com/lookit/2015/11/4/9668830/orlando-magic-evan-fournier-never-google-SERIOUSLY-DO-NOT-DO-IT-I-SEE-YOU-THINKING-ABOUT-IT ) Let's Go Hawks! ~lw3
  17. Poor Victor got World Peace'd. Can somebody put some little pandas on Metta's elbows? ~lw3
  18. And so, it begins. ~lw3