• Hawksquawk.net

    Atlanta Hawks community, for the fans, by the fans

    lethalweapon3
     
    Don’t choke, Robin! At least, not today!
     
    Kinda busy downtown today, eh? I’m way too immersed in March Madness (Go Georgia State!) and Atlanta United’s home debut to get too deep into this afternoon’s other contest, the Tank War between our Atlanta Hawks and the visiting Chicago Bulls (3:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, WGN in CHI). So, let’s stick to tidbits!
    No more Holidays for Justin! The Commish isn’t big-letter Stern anymore but he issued a small-letter stern warning to Chicago for ostensibly “resting” otherwise healthy guys like Justin Holiday (DNP’d for 4 consecutive games) and Robin Lopez for days on end. So expect to see the former Hawk in the starting lineup. Despite elevated usage the 28-year-old swingman may never see again in his NBA career, Holiday has been a wayward shooter all season long (37.9 FG%). But he did feast on Memphis cooking (5-for-5 FGs) in a Tank War win over the Grizzlies earlier this week. The Bulls (22-43) have won their last three versus the Hawks, including both games so far this season. They won handily in their last visit to Atlanta, a 113-97 edge led by Lopez’s 20 points (9-for-13 FGs). In just his first week of NBA action this season, Zach LaVine struggled from the floor but still managed to grab a team-high nine defensive rebounds. In that January game, Holiday, Jerian Grant, Ryan Arcidiacono, Denzel Valentine and Bobby Portis shot a combined 12-for-19 on threes, freeing up Lopez and rookie star Lauri Markkanen to do their damage on the interior (17-for-29 2FGs). Contributions off the bench from the soon-departing Nikola Mirotic weren’t really needed. Chicago’s starters combined for just 5 TOs between them, usually a recipe for disaster for the Hawks (20-46). Coach Fred Hoiberg’s crew enjoyed a season-high 62 rebounds (incl. 18 O-Rebs) against the Hawks in Chicago way back on October 26, yet still found themselves clinging to a 91-86 victory, thanks to Marco Belinelli finding a fourth-quarter hot-hand. Dewayne Dedmon (10.5 RPG vs. CHI this season) and John Collins together in the starting lineup should make it tougher for Lopez (18.0 PPG vs. ATL this season) and Lauri (16.5 PPG, 8.0 RPG vs. ATL) to get easy buckets and putbacks today. The Bulls’ only legit injury was to glue-guy Paul Zipser (foot), who is listed as doubtful for this contest. The Bulls have been lousy on the road (7-25), but most of those beatdowns have been out West (1-12). On that note, their next Tank War comes later this week in Memphis. Go Bulls Go! We can expect to see plenty more of rookie second-rounder Tyler Dorsey, among the few bright spots for the Hawks during Friday night’s 112-87 loss in Indiana (3-for-8 3FGs). There’s no need to pull a Bulls and DNP leaders like Kent Bazemore, or Dennis Schröder (18.0 PPG and 2.0 SPG vs. CHI this season) all week long, when Coach Bud can simply ramp up the minutes and flatten the learning curve for Dorsey and Isaiah Taylor.  
    Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3
    lethalweapon3
     
    “INDY FACE!”
     
    Taking care of business versus the Atlanta Hawks at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, for the second time in fifteen calendar days, should be of utmost importance to the Indiana Pacers (7:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Indiana). Hopefully, it won’t be necessary for the visitors to impress the value of this game upon the hosts.
    The Pacers (37-28) are nearly at the high-water mark of where I could’ve expected the Hawks (20-45) to reside, under an absolute best-case scenario in this transitional NBA season. They’ve enjoyed a star turn from a young guard taking his lumps as he learns to lead a team on the fly (Victor Oladipo; Dennis Schröder), and continued, if unsteady, improvement from its longest-tenured contributor (Myles Turner; Kent Bazemore). Plus there has been better shooting (Bojan Bogdanovic; Marco Belinelli), veteran savvy (Thaddeus Young; Ersan Ilyasova) and emerging players that served as luxuries off the bench (Domantas Sabonis; John Collins).
    Mix in some experienced coaching talent (Nate McMillan; Bud) and the Pacers have almost maxed out their conceivable success in the aftermath of their All-Star’s pre-season departure (Paul George; Paul Millsap). That should be cause for celebration in Hoosierville, especially for a team that eschewed the notion of tanking and has won seven of its past ten games, situating themselves within a mere 1.5 games of 3-seed Cleveland. Yet Indiana knows their last three defeats were the kind that should not have been left on the table.
    They would be in that third-seed spot right now, but for losses to three teams that are outside-looking-in at the moment in the playoff picture. Two were bad road losses in consecutive contests, at Dallas and Atlanta, the latter a 107-102 loss on February 28. Their most recent setback was here at the Fieldhouse in a 104-84 defeat at the hands of Utah, the Pacers’ biggest home loss since mid-November.
    To the Pacers and their fans, the reward for this fantastic voyage ought to be a first-round series that starts in their homecourt, not on the road in Toronto, Boston, or Cleveland. Continued step-backs versus non-playoff competition like Atlanta won’t put the cherry on their season-long sundae.
    Four of Oladipo’s seven-worst games shooting from the field (based on TS%) have come in the seven Pacer games since his return from the All-Star Game. The two worst of his season were in his past two contests, at home versus Utah and division-rival Milwaukee, the latter a 92-89 grindfest where the Pacers simply had to hang on to fend off a late Greek Freak onslaught and obscure Oladipo’s career-high ten turnovers.
    His other two worst off-shooting nights were against these Hawks, including Atlanta’s last visit here on February 23. Victor combined to shoot 14-for-41 FGs against Atlanta in the past two games, including 9-for-25 (1-for-9 3FGs) on the Wednesday before last.
    On occasions like on the 23rd, when he got some help from teammates like Young (9-for-16 FGs, 5 steals), fill-in starter Cory Joseph (7-for-12 2FGs, 4 steals), plus Sabonis (8-for-11 2FGs, 5 O-Rebs), and the trippy Lance Stephenson (5-for-7 2FGs, 8 assists) off the bench, the Pacers can cruise versus lesser competition.
    But then there are Off-adipo nights like the 28th, when Indy compounds bad, unbalanced shooting with sloppiness (season-high 24 player TOs; only other time committing more than 16 since December was 17 vs. ATL on  Feb. 23) and a failure to box out (six O-Rebs by Mike Muscala on 2/28, matching ATL’s total on 2/23 by himself). When that happens, the Pacers can find themselves losing to anyone, even a Hawks team that is now, officially (as per Elias Sports Bureau) the most inexperienced in the NBA (estimated 1.6 average years of service as of  Feb. 27).
    McMillan will likely have some experienced help on hand ahead of tonight’s matchup. Usual starting guard Darren Collison (5.3 APG, 1.3 TOs/game) had arthroscopic knee surgery before the All-Star Break, but plans to contribute off the bench tonight. To help with rebounding and frontcourt depth, the team recently acquired former 76er Trevor Booker, who debuted for the Pacers against Milwaukee.
    The fine folks at Bleacher Report took a beating from discerning fans this week. They attempted to call out the Hawks resting Bazemore, for the first time all season, back on March 4th as symbolic of “a massive tank problem” getting out of control throughout the league. This was a mistake almost as egregious as ESPN omitting the once under-utilized Collins (team-high 14 points @ TOR, tying Baze; 57.8 FG%, 5th-highest among qualifying rookies in NBA history) from their 25-under-25 list this week.
    Hawks fan-writers Bo Churney and K.L. Chouinard were foremost in taking the B/R writers to task for their lazy observation. “(Baze) resting, the same Bazemore who had otherwise only missed a single game this year,” chastised Churney to B/R, “caused you to make a video about the NBA’s tanking ‘problem.’” Churney noted astutely, “The Hawks still won that game. This is either a you problem or blatantly misleading journalism.”
    Most observant NBA fans concur that Atlanta has been about as forthright and above-board as anybody in the lottery game about their approach to this season. Here, there are no teammates harming their own cause by punching each other in the nose; no premature, fly-off-the-handle coach firings; no coaches sitting otherwise healthy talents for weeks on end; no coaches feuding with ten-year vets and sending them home to stew while still collecting a paycheck.
    Belinelli was still hooping dutifully for this team when Memphis sand-bagged Tyreke Evans. Ilyasova was still hoping to stick around, at least until after a Payne-ful trade deal with a contender proved impossible to swing. On and off the court, this hasn’t been the atmosphere of blatant white-flagging that we’ve seen in other NBA locales. “Some teams may be dragging their feet,” Chouinard sub-tweeted regarding the B/R hit-piece video, “but pacing (Baze) for 79 games instead of 81 isn’t it. Look elsewhere.”
    If the Hawks’ meager efforts result in a top-tier draft pick, that’s swell. But their insistence on getting younger, giving otherwise wholly inexperienced players a chance to show how they might become NBA regulars with real minutes and strategic development, has been straight-forward from the moment Tyler Cavanaugh started getting steady floor time back in November, if not before.
    Everyone from the Suns to the Warriors can vouch for the fact that Coach Bud’s Hawks are not mailing games in, certainly not from tipoff. They have entered the fourth quarter of their past four games no more than six points behind their competitors, including Tuesday night, where they held a hotly-contested one-point lead at Air Canada Centre before finally letting go of the rope for the Eastern Conference-leading Raptors.
    While oft-critiqued as a sign of tanking in broad daylight, Budenholzer’s decision whether to ride with his leading scorer, Schröder, in the close of contests hasn’t decisively affected the outcomes either way, especially when one considers that the point guard’s defensive deficiencies aren’t always on the court, either.
    The Hawks have been ceding more points since the All-Star Break (112.2 opponent PPG, up from 107.8 pre-Break). But that has been mostly a function of a hike in turnovers (18.3 post, 14.8 pre) and a propensity for fouling rather than properly contesting, especially in away games (33 opponent FTAs @ TOR; 0-14 on road when allowing 25+ FTAs).
    Despite a great season thus far, the Pacers’ fans (and, Some Others) hope this team has learned from the last Hawks game that resting on their laurels is premature, at best. If Indiana sits back and fails to attack Atlanta’s less-experienced playmakers, move the ball, and secure defensive rebounds, they will again find themselves like many of Atlanta’s opponents, looking up at the second-half scoreboard and wondering: “Who are these guys? And why are we still in a dogfight with them?”
     
    Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3
    lethalweapon3
     
    “Sure, Taurean! I can hug DeMar, while you take another game-winning shot!”
    **God’s Plan Starts Playing**
     
    Happy birthday to you, Malcolm Miller! How about this… you get to be an NBA starter, with the Eastern Conference leading Toronto Raptors, on the very day you turn 25! Don’t worry, though. Your birthday matchup is just against the lowly Atlanta Hawks (7:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Sportsnet One in TOR). The only way to mess this up is to show up on the floor in your birthday suit!
    A lot of things had to happen to allow this 6-foot-7 product out of Holy Cross to hear his name announced during introductions at the Air Canada Centre. All-Rookie candidate OG Anunoby has been on the shelf this past week with a sprained ankle. Norman Powell has struggled mightily and is undersized for the position anyway, and Raptors coach Dwane Casey doesn’t want to overtax veteran swingman C.J. Miles just yet.
    So, filling in the space that once was prescribed in past seasons for DeMarre Carroll now goes to Miller, a two-way player who spent last season in Germany, the prior year in the D-League, and missed Summer League and preseason due to ankle surgery. In his first start on Sunday against Charlotte, Miller managed a rebound in 13 minutes while generally staying out of the way of Toronto’s efficient offensive lineup (110.9 O-Rating, 4th in NBA; 112.6 since the All-Star Break).
    Casey can afford to leapfrog Miller up the depth chart not only because he has an All-Star backcourt featuring DeMar DeRozan, the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week (20.8 PPG, 59.5 2FG% since Feb. 26), and Kyle Lowry, but also since he doesn’t want to tinker with, probably, the best bench unit going right now in the Association.
    As per basketball-reference, the 5-man lineup of Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, Miles, Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl has been outscoring foes by 25.9 points per 100 possessions. It’s Casey most-utilized lineup not including the usual Jurassic 5 starters, and it has been dazzlingly effective.
    That’s even without Powell, who has been atrocious (39.6 FG%) since returning from an early-season hip pointer. The third-year guard parlayed a decent shooting effort and some momentous plays during last year’s playoffs into a four-year, $42 million extension deal that comes due next season.
    Barring some wild trades, literally every Raptor returns in 2018-19, and Toronto’s Coach of the Year finalist is at wit’s end trying to find a rotation spot that makes Powell playable, even versus downtrodden teams like the Hawks. “I feel for (Powell) because it’s nothing he’s done wrong,” Casey told Sportsnet radio last week. “It’s just the guys in front of him have played so well and executed… at some point, we’re going to need Norm in that rotation somewhere. It’s nothing he and (ex-Hawk Bebe Nogueira) have done wrong.”
    The Hawks have already been molly-whopped on three occasions by the Raps, losing by average final scores of 110.3-89.6. Yet it’s not the double-barreled blast of Lowry and DeRozan that has made the difference, nor the frontcourt tandem of Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas, when these teams have faced off.
    In each contest, Atlanta has found itself submerged by at least one of those Toronto subs: Poeltl and Siakam in November’s 34-point home defeat, by Wright and Poeltl in a 13-point road loss the following month, and by VanVleet filling out the box score line (19 points, 4-for-6 3FGs, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, 3 blocks) in under 19 minutes when last these teams met in January, another decisive 15-point win for the visitors at the Highlight Factory. The Raptors have mixed in sound perimeter defense on Atlanta’s most obvious threats, with steady ball control on their own end, to keep the Hawks comfortably at arm’s length.
    Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer had just begun dabbling with John Collins and Dewayne Dedmon in the starting unit with Kent Bazemore, Taurean Prince and Dennis Schröder back on November 25. And together they did well, for about a quarter. Then the mostly unheralded Raptor reserves, plus Powell, stepped in and wrested the momentum away for good in Toronto’s resounding 112-78 win.
    But Atlanta’s starting-five have been drinking milk and getting stronger. Either that, or they have a steady, healthy first unit growing better accustomed to one another under the tutelage of Hawks U.  As per nba.com stats, among 23 Five-Man Lineups playing at least 50 minutes together since the All-Star Break, the starting quintet for Atlanta’s 13.0 Net Rating (and 62.0 TS%) ranks 6th-best in the league. Only Philly’s Death Lineup of Simmons, Redick, Covington, Saric and Embiid have fared better in the East.
    The Hawks (20-44) can hear all the Tangst from their fanbase, the “Let’s Blow, Hawks!” chants all the way back home, south of the border. And, yes, the notion they might earn their first two-game win streak in a month is fairly far-fetched. But they play tonight in search of a more competitive outcome versus top-notch competition like Toronto (45-17, NBA-best 26-5 at home), particularly on the road, where their own 5-25 record is tied with the Grizzlies as the league’s worst.
    Achieving a closer outcome will require continuing what has worked thus far among the starters, keeping careless turnovers to a minimum and committing to score at least free throws off the rare live-ball turnovers Toronto (14.5 opponent points per-48 off TOs, 4th-fewest in NBA) coughs up. Then, it will be up to T-N-T (Tyler and Taylor) and the M&M Boys (Moose, Miles, Morris and maybe Magette, in place of the ankle-hobbled Malcolm) to keep whatever leads or small deficits the starters managed to gain from spiraling totally out of control. Atlanta’s bench brigade (with Delaney) shot a balanced 18-for-36 from the field versus the setting Suns this past weekend, but they’ll have to be better defensively and in transition to keep up with the Raptor reserves.
    Toronto allows just 24.9 three-point attempts per game, a league-low despite playing at a modest overall pace. But the Raps also will be leaning on the birthday-boy to help hold things down in transition with Anunoby sidelined (note to Bud: no need to start any international incidents this time, okay?). So Baze (DNP-TANK vs. PHX) and Sunday’s “hero”, Prince, will want to scamper down to the corner 3-point spots and help open the floor up for Dennis and the bigs.
    Taurean’s 22 points (6-for-8 3FGs) led the charge in the Hawks’ oddly captivating 113-112 win over hand-down-man-down Phoenix on Sunday. And Prince tried his best to rename this town Taureanto during his last trip here, going off for 30 points (19 in the second half; 5-for-6 3FGs), plus 10 boards and no turnovers, to help make the final score closer than it really was. For Miller and the Raptors’ swingmen, will they find blowing Prince off his perimeter spots, and out of the paint, is as easy as putting out a candle on a cake? Make your wish, Mr. Miller.
     
    Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3
    lethalweapon3
     
    Me watching Iguodala guard Baze in the clutch.
     
    TankWars, baby! While the Atlanta Hawks and the Phoenix Suns tempt fate in this Sunday matinee at The Highlight Factory (3:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Arizona), a question rages… who gets your vote for the Tank LVP?
    To qualify for the prestigious Least Valuable Player on a Tanking Team Award, your pick has to have 40 Ls under their belt or, alternatively, played in at least 45 games and have at least twice as many losses and wins. Oh, and they have to kinda be ballin’ outta control.
    The Grizzlies’ Marc Gasol and the Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki would be right near the top, but with all their experience in the league, they get the Honorable Mention treatment LeBron gets at MVP time. Among NBAtank youngsters with 40 losses, Atlanta’s John Collins has the best Player Impact Estimate score (12.3 PIE), with his teammate Dennis Schröder (11.6 PIE) right on his tail.
    But the Tank LVP, for my Bitcoin, is Phoenix’s Devin Booker. A 16-33 record on the floor is pretty bad, but his Suns (19-45) are a much-worse 3-12 without him around. Armed with high usage (5th in NBA) for obvious reasons, Book (25.2 PPG, 9th in NBA; career-high 4.8 APG, 38.2 3FG% and 88.6 FT%) does all he can to keep the league’s most off-kilter shooting team (NBA-low 49.4 team eFG%) relevant offensively. The problem for me (well, for Some Suns Fans, really) is that Booker is threatening to disqualify himself for this honor.
    Today, Booker should have little problem grabbing a fifth consecutive 30-burger, his next one tying the great d*ck Van Arsdale (41) for the most in Suns franchise history, and ex-Sun greats Charles Barkley and Charlie Scott for the most consecutive games. This past Friday, as his Suns Competitanked to their heart’s content in a 124-116 home loss to OKC, Devin The Dude crossed the 4,000-point scoring mark. It should be noted, this is the first season he could buy a Lime-A-Rita to celebrate such a feat, without a fake ID. Only Bron and Kevin Durant were wetter behind the ears when they passed 40K.
    Collins (6-for-7 FGs vs. GSW on Friday), Schröder (27 points, 9 dimes vs. GSW) and the Hawks have a chance to further spoil Booker’s shot at Tank LVP today. Collins and Dewayne Dedmon would have to do their best not to exploit a depleted Suns line that has been without would-be incumbent starter Alan Williams (meniscus tear) all season long, and without Tyson Chandler (neck spasms) since the All-Star Break.
    Top-ten lottery plums Alex Len, Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss remain standing in the frontcourt, as does swingman Josh Jackson (19 points, 7-for-10 2FGs vs. OKC). But the likelihood they’ll someday become lottery prunes on Phoenix’s watch is what can happen when teams get hopelessly mired in Tankopolis.
    Booker can focus more on attacking and shooting, now that he has a steadier option sharing the backcourt with him. The Suns used a 2018 second-rounder to swing a Trade Deadline deal for Elfrid Payton, and while he hasn’t changed his hair, you can’t say, “But She’s Got a New Hat!”.
    Payton’s giving it his best Lonzo Ball impression, averaging 17.1 PPG, 7.5 APG and an eye-opening 7.8 RPG as a Sun, despite lackluster shooting from the floor (28.6 3FG%). Elf notched a triple double in just his third game with the Phoenicians, surpassing Connie Hawkins as the fastest Sun to accomplish that. Against OKC, his fourth double-doub in just eight Suns games consisted of 18 points and 10 boards.
    Payton, Booker and sixth-men Troy Daniels and Tyler Ulis, don’t really have the defensive chops to hold other teams back, not even Atlanta, who maintains an NBA-worst 93.7 O-Rating since the All-Star Break. Tank MIP candidate T.J. Warren (career-high 19.5 PPG), who returned Friday from a tailbone injury earlier in the week, will do his best to try to keep Kent Bazemore (career-high 29 points versus the Warriors) from smelling himself once again. But he’ll be splitting time between trying to patch up the Suns’ interior woes (47.5 opponent paint PPG, 4th-most in NBA) and keeping Baze at bay.
    Schröder and Bazemore each had 20 points apiece in Phoenix back on January 2. But it took a flame-throwing Booker (12 points, an assist, and a steal in the final 150 seconds of play), some sketchy decisions from Schro and Baze, and the first of many bad-hair-days this calendar year from Taurean Prince (would’ve been 3-for-14 FGs vs. PHX, but for a game-saving dunk block by Chriss; 0-for-5 2FGs and 5 TOs vs. GSW) to convert a 99-89 Hawks advantage with 2:53 left into an improbable 104-103 “win” for the Suns.
    Atlanta built up that late lead with the help of Ersan Ilyasova (team-high 21 points) and Marco Belinelli (16 points), both of whom are in the City of Brotherly Shove now. The Hawks will try to make up for that displaced offense with Collins, now a starter in place of Ersan, and bench guys, like Isaiah Taylor and Malcolm Delaney, who were all virtual no-shows against the Suns. The Hawks might have pulled off the “win” against the Warriors on Friday if they had measurable support from their reserves (six players, combined 5-for-15 FGs, 9 rebounds and a steal vs. GSW).
    Warriors, Celtics, Kings, Suns. Phoenix is one of four NBA teams, and only two Tank Squads, with a better record away from home (10-21 on the road, 9-24 at Talking Stick). Today, Some Fans will hope the Suns will eventually find a comfort zone at the Highlight Factory. With the outcome to this afternoon’s game hanging in the balance, and with Booker at the line shooting crucial free throws, he shouldn’t be surprised to hear Hawk-fan echoes bouncing off the cavernous Philips Arena walls. LVP! LVP! LVP!
     
    Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3
    lethalweapon3
     
    “Is Joe a schlub? Maybe. But he’s OUR schlub, fans, c’mon!”
     
    “BOOOO! SELL THE TEAM, YOU MORON! YOU SUCK!”
    Barely two seasons into his tenure, things weren’t going terribly well for the owner of the reigning world champion Golden State Warriors, who pay our Atlanta Hawks a visit tonight (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Bay Area in SFO). Only six years ago this month, Joe Lacob approved the trade-away of the Warrior fans’ heart-and-soul.
    A second-round pick who would become the NBA’s Most Improved Player two seasons in, Monta Ellis was the long-term investment that, by his seventh season, seemed to be paying off, the occasional moped incident aside. Fans unilaterally understood, if ever their team could arrive at the elusive Shangri-La known as the NBA Finals, or even just the playoffs, it was essential to build the roster around a high-scoring, playmaking guard like Ellis. Alas, Dubs, Inc. didn’t seem to share that sentiment. Not exactly, anyway.
    At the trade deadline in March 2012, Monta, the reigning Western Conference Player of the Week, was sent packing to Milwaukee, in exchange for the talented and occasionally upright center Andrew Bogut. The trade didn’t necessarily spoil a possible playoff run, what would have been just the second in the franchise’s prior 16 seasons. The last one, in 2007, was a magical carpet ride guided by Baron Davis, and Ellis was looking the part of an heir apparent once Davis bolted for L.A after the following season. The momentary success from the 2007 We Believe season never sustained itself.
    The playoff appearance before that one was in 1994, back when the fellow being honored at halftime on this cool March evening, Chris Mullin, led the charge. This night was supposed to be about Mully. And it was, right up until Lacob tried to partake in the good vibes, after Mullin thanked the crowd, to reveal the jersey banner. By then, We Believe had become We Berate.
    “Now that we got that over with…” Lacob snidely remarked, after allowing the din of disdain to die down once he grabbed the mic. “Today is about history… and respect.” Bump that! What kind of history had Lacob (and his even more-reviled predecessor, Chris Cohan) built up with to earn respect from the long-suffering ticketholder mob? Where’s the respect for Monta? BOO! Keeping his speech in line with pro-wrestling heel protocol, Lacob interrupted himself and put the mic down, in fading hope that the crowd might encourage each other to simmer down. Not happening.
    The Guest of Honor stepped forward to try and save Lacob’s forlorn face. “Sometimes, change is inevitable,” Mullin remarked, speaking somewhat directly to the elephant in the room. “It’s gonna work out just fine.” When the good-cop approach didn’t work, the one guy in the arena with a Warriors championship ring took matters into his hands.
    “Show a little bit of class!”, derided Rick Barry, incidentally one of the least classiest greats in the history of the league. Yeah, Rick, we’ve been down this stay-classy road already, take your pleas down to San Diego. “This is crazy! Seriously! C’mon, you’re doing yourself a disservice!” No, Rick, trading away a 25-point scorer that you’ve developed over seven years for a potentially washed bag of bones? THAT is a disservice. BOO! HISS! HISS!
    It was amazing the Warriors’ brass ever got through the ceremony. But you could see how their dedicated fanbase was past its boiling point. They had been sold bills of goods on draftees Chris Washburn, Mitch Richmond, Tim Hardaway, Chris Webber, Joe “Yes, we tanked for him” Smith, Adonal Foyle, Antawn “Shoulda Just Kept Vince” Jamison, Jason Richardson, Mike Dunleavy, Ike Diogu, Patrick O’Bryant, Ekpe Udoh, all of them top-ten NBA picks spanning 25 years. Each, including Mullin, was the lottery pick that was supposed to help the team turn the corner toward NBA greatness. They’ve endured the handing of the franchise keys to C-Webb, to Run TMC, to Spree, to Tawn, to J-Rich, to B-Diddy.
    It’s now 2012: Old Man Kobe and the Lakers are running laps around these division “rivals”. The once-equally downtrodden Mavericks just won a title, and even the Clippers – the Clippers! – are finally starting to get their act together. The latest Warriors Savior is gone, and everyone is still tapping their toes, pointing at their watches.
    One guy who couldn’t make it to these proceedings? Wardell Stephen Curry II. The third-year guard had just suffered yet another ankle injury days before, this one season-ending. Say, couldn't we have just traded one bag-of-bones (Curry) for another (Bogut) and kept Monta around?
    Guess who was in the building that day? Klay Alexander Thompson. The rookie hadn’t started more than a game yet. Nice fella, he just can’t carry a team anywhere. Lose just a couple more games at the end of last season, and we coulda had Jimmer instead! Darn that Curry kid, out here spoiling things.
    All this losing, all this pseudo-tanking, all this cycling through middling talent. When, pray tell, are we going to draft ourselves a real, bonified Savior? This was Warrior fan thinking in 2012, when the notion of Splash Brothers was still in the nascent stages.
    What if Lacob could have told the crowd: “Listen, I know you’re unhappy. But that broke-down guard we drafted a few years ago? He’s gonna win back-to-back MVP awards, and soon! Your Savior is still here on the roster, folks. He’s gonna join forces with our mid-tier lotto rookie, from this past year, to form a backcourt tour-de-force the world has never seen before! Your next NBA Finals MVP? I got a guy named Schlenk upstairs who will be bringing him over in a couple years.”
    “That center you’re all bitter-beer-faced about right now? What if I told you him getting injured is the ONLY reason you fall one win short of a three-peat? In a season where we win over 70 games! 70! We'll be half-a$$ing it and still be 48-14 six years from now!"
    "This very summer, people, we’re drafting one of the greatest defensive non-centers of all time… in the second round! Not only that, how about this: that player will help us woo a future league MVP to become our MVP of our NEXT victorious NBA Finals… you know, the one after the LAST Finals MVP, who will still be here?”
    “Show of hands, who wants to sign up for all that? Okay? Then, all of you, shut your pieholes, give it a minute, and thank me later! Go f’n Warriors!” Mic drop. Banner raise.
    There will be no scintillating analysis of tonight’s Hawks-Warriors matchup. Not on this glorious March afternoon. But I do want Hawks fans, particularly the skeptics about management, ownership, and The Way Forward, to look at the Dubs not through the prism we see them in today, but the looking-glass Dubs fans peered through, unapprovingly, just six years ago.
    A rebuild of our beloved Hawks (19-43) remains the right move. But we should all understand by now, tear-downs and rebuilds can be tenuous, cyclical, frustrating, and downright exhausting. They usually don’t pay off quite the way you anticipate, if they do at all. Just ask a Warriors fan. Not one of these new-jack johnny-come-latelys flaunting jerseys in Philips Arena today, no. Talk to the older-school supporters, the ones who foresaw Monta Ellis’ abrupt departure as a harbinger of yet another decade full of terrible things to come.
     
    Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3
    lethalweapon3
     
    “Is THIS Your King???”
     
    Soon, legions of amped-up fans will fill into their seats, building up a decisive advantage for Atlanta’s home team. Of course, we’re not talking about our dear Atlanta Hawks, although they will benefit tonight from a few less opponent-cheering fanboys in the Philips Arena seats, what with the Indiana Pacers in town (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Indiana in Hoosierville). No, that will instead be the scene around the corner in a couple weeks from now, as Atlanta Unites in lockstep around its Soccer Club.
    The fever pitch out on the pitch will take time to replicate on the Highlight Factory hardwood. But Travis Schlenk and company exude confidence that an offseason or two of fine-tuning is all it will take to turn Atlanta Hawks BC into a similar sensation as Atlanta United FC. In the meantime, noted futbol savant Dennis Schröder remains at center stage, trying to figure out if his best shot-making teammates headed to The Benz early.
    Marco Belinelli, Ersan Ilyasova, Luke Babbitt. Three veterans that sunk more than one three-pointer per night, each at a 37-percent-or-better clip, each while donning the chartreuse-and-red. All three are in new NBA locales as of this evening. In that trio’s place, we’ve got no-frills second-rounders and G-League-caliber talents (Andrew White, Tyler Dorsey, Isaiah Taylor, the status-questionable Malcolm Delaney, the rehabbing Tyler Cavanaugh, etc.) figuring things out on the fly.
    This, all while big men Dewayne Dedmon and John Collins try their hands at long-distance sharpshooting for the first time in their natural lives, and while Taurean Prince (24 points, 4-for-11 3FGs vs. LAL during Monday’s loss; 16.3 3FG% in last six games) and Kent Bazemore (last 2 games: 0-for-5 3FGs, shoulda-been 8-for-11 on 2FGs but for Miles Plumlee) chuck-and-duck to their hearts’ content.
    For a player who thrives almost exclusively on the offensive end of the floor, there is little wonder why Schröder, whose 24 years of age now serves as the median on the team, exits February averaging a mere 4.0 APG, down from a monthly peak of 7.0 per game back in December and inclusive of a whopping four total assists in his first two appearances since the All-Star Break.
    While flawed himself, Schröder’s own shooting percentages are on an uptick (February: 43.7 FG%, 29.4 3FG%) compared to the nadir from the previous month (January: 40.2 FG%, 24.2 3FG%). They’ll have to continue improving for Atlanta (18-43, last in the East, 0.5 games behind Orlando) to stay in contention for occasional victories. That’s true even here at Philips, where Dennis is markedly more comfortable calling his own number (Home games: 46.5 FG%, 31.3 3FG%).
    What Hawks fans could once boast of as the NBA’s “Best Bad Team” (not the same as, “The Best Team at Being Bad”), using statistical metrics or even just eye tests, is no more. Certainly, not with the departure of three veteran shooters from the roster, supplanted by youngsters with replacement-level skillsets. But that doesn’t mean they no longer have a shot against playoff-caliber competition. The Pacers, who just soundly defeated the Hawks in Indiana just last Friday, know this about as well as anyone.
    Some Fans will be heartened to know that the Mavericks are 19-42, and not a league-worst 17-44, thanks to a pair of victories over the Pacers, most recently Monday’s 109-103 win in Dallas on Monday. To this point in the season, coach Nate McMillan’s crew has fattened up its win tally with an NBA-high 30 games versus teams with records presently below the .500 mark. Yet 9 of those contests have ended in defeat, including the Hornets, Lakers, Bulls, Knicks, and their playoff-hungry division rival Pistons (three times).
    The only subpar team on the docket for Indy (34-26, still just 2.0 games behind 3-seed Cleveland) in their next ten games are these Hawks, who return to the Fieldhouse for another rematch on March 9. The Pacers know they must take care of business before the competition ramps up, especially on the road, as demonstrating a knack for pulling out away-games matters at playoff time.
    But as was the case against the Mavs this week, when the Pacers are sluggish at contesting shots (53.8 opponent FG% in road games, tied-9th-highest in NBA; Dallas’ Doug McDermott and J.J. Barea combined 7-for-9 3FGs on Monday) and forcing turnovers (just 10 Maverick player TOs on Monday, matched by Prince and Schröder alone last Friday), when the starters find themselves over-reliant on Victor Oladipo scoring in the clutch (40.4% usage, 8th among active players; 26.3 clutch assist%, 7th among those top-8 players), and when their reserves fail to help rebound the ball (seven bench boards on Monday, matched by the Mavs’ Salah Mejri alone), they could find themselves on the wrong side of the scoreboard versus Betty White and Liz Taylor, never mind Andrew and Isaiah.
    Oladipo led the Pacers with 13 of their 38 fourth-quarter points, but they failed to get stops when it mattered and came up short, granting their otherwise distracted opponents 41 points in that final frame and thus spoiling a promising outing from Myles Turner (24 points on 10-for-14 FGs, 3 blocks and 11 rebounds) after his lackluster start against Atlanta last weekend.
    “We didn’t have enough energy and enough fight to get out too fast,” said Cory Joseph, still filling in for Darren Collison as a starting guard, to Monday’s postgame media, “and they (Mavs’ shooters) were knocking them down.” Pivoting to his team’s next game, Joseph had no problems seeing a nexus. “(Atlanta) doesn’t have a great record,” he noted, “but they’ve got a good team that plays together, plays hard. They’re a young team, so we’ve got to bring a lot of energy.”
    If the Pacers play to their strengths, as they are capable, they will have little trouble keeping Schröder and the Hawks at bay. Alternatively, if their gameplan relies on Plumlee scoring some own goals on their behalf, they could find themselves in late-game trouble yet again. As Atlanta United fans are aware, you don’t want to let an important outcome, in a game versus an inferior opponent, come down to penalty kicks.
     
    Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3
    lethalweapon3
     
    “Bean burritos again, huh?”
     
    While Tanxiety is sweeping across the fanbase of the Atlanta Hawks, they’ll sit shoulder-to-shoulder at Philips Arena, tonight, with fans of the Los Angeles Lakers (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Spectrum SportsNet in La-La-Land), one of several organizations whose fans are suffering from a bout with Tank Fatigue.
    Hawks fans will come to understand this in a year or five, but it does wear fans out to hear, one year after the next, that everything is riding, once again, on the ability to draft the likes of Julius Randle, D’Angelo Russell, and Brandon Ingram in forthcoming drafts, that the next heralded collegiate wiretap subject is all that it will take to bounce back into legitimate playoff contention. Never mind what was decreed in the seasons prior.
    Once said draftee arrives in town, Savior Watch goes into effect, where all the hopes that the old rookie doesn’t veer off into Mediocreville or Busttown, gets shifted and foisted onto the new guy. Everything from a rookie’s shot mechanics to his Snapchats get monitored and scrutinized intensely, playoff-starved fans desperately seeking signs of a clear corner-turning toward super-stardom.
    The present Flavor of the Year, of course, is Lonzo Ball, who plays his first game at Philips Arena tonight. Ball missed 15 games leading up to the All-Star Break to heal an MCL sprain, and he was rested on Saturday (second night of a back-to-back for the Lakers) as part of his injury management plan.
    Coach Luke Walton’s club doesn’t have to sweat over lottery positioning this season, a product of the organization’s all-in gamble in 2012 to try pairing Kobe with whatever remained of Steve Nash. So rather than pressure to lose with youth on the floor, there is pressure to win, but not to do it with detritus like Luol Deng, Corey Brewer, or Channing Frye on the floor.
    Up until now, the Lakers have gotten about as much production, from one year to the next, out of their non-lottery selections (new Cavs Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance, Ivica Zubac, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart) as they have from their more touted rookie prizes. But this isn’t acceptable any longer. Los Angeles (25-34, 7.5 games behind 8-seed Denver, 10-5 in last 15 games) is under the gun to somehow make a mad dash toward the playoffs, and Walton must find a way to do it with his newest prize pupil, Ball, leading the way.
    Everything has been Lonzo-centric all season long, but especially now. How does Walton work Ball back into a steady rotation, with Ingram (18.3 PPG, 5.6 APG this month) playing arguably the best basketball of his short career in a point guard role? With All-NBA second-teamer-turned-panic-button victim Isaiah Thomas (17 points @SAC off the bench on Saturday) insisting he deserves to be a starter, no matter the circumstance? With the 6-foot-5 Hart (8.0 RPG, 48.7 3FG% this month) rebounding out of his mind, even more effectively than Ball (3rd among all rookies in RPG)? With Georgia native Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (season-high 34 points, career-best 8 3FGs @ SAC) emerging as a go-to guy?
    On top of all that, can Walton pull it off without drawing unwelcome Big Baller Beef, yet again, from Lonzo’s pops? Los Angeles is coming off consecutive wins over a pair of lottery-bound teams (vs. Dallas, at Sacramento) to start their post-Break schedule, and they intend to make it a trifecta tonight. Lonzo was instrumental to the Lakers ending a nine-game slide back on January 7, his team-high 10 rebounds, three made triples, and six assists helping Los Angeles cruise past the visiting Hawks, 132-113. But if the returning Ball isn’t the player making a splash, soon, and/or if his team regresses, the Lakers’ staff and brass run the risk of having to stamp out another PR fire.
    Turnovers (15.3 turnover%, 5th-worst in NBA, just behind the sloppy Hawks’ 15.4%) and sketchy defense (119.6 opponent PPG in last 5 games) have long been problems for the oft-erratic Lakers (1st in pace). Ball and the Lakers’ young stars must mature and stabilize themselves quickly, particularly tonight, if they intend to end Dennis Schröder (27 points, 10-for-19 2FGs @ LAL on Jan. 7) and the Hawks’ home game streak versus Western Conference clubs at eight.
    While KCP helps patrol the perimeter, Los Angeles’ interior defense must be strong enough to keep Schröder and John Collins (15 points in 21 bench minutes @ LAL) from piling up points in the paint (LAL opponents 48.4 paint PPG, 2nd-most in NBA) at their expense.
    The Lakers’ fans have tired of being Processed meat, and they’re eager to see if they indeed have the Next Magic / Next Kobe on their hands, or at least if they have enough quality talent to entice a free agent superstar to wander onto the team this summer. The time for the Lake Show is now. Their tank has reached the end of the road, and the purple-and-gold-clad fans at The Highlight Factory need to know: Are We There, Yet?
     
    Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3
    lethalweapon3
     
    “WHO doesn’t want us to win, you ask? The Tank People! They! THEY!!!”
     
    As both a Buck and a Hawk, Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson played a valuable role in the Atlanta Hawks piling up losses over the years. Will his son continue that hallowed tradition tonight?
    Making his season debut for the host Indiana Pacers (7 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Indiana), Glenn Robinson III returns to Bankers Life Fieldhouse just in time to haunt the Hawks.  In March of last season, as Papa Dog looked on from the Philips Arena stands, he ran to the left corner to catch-and-sink a buzzer-beating three-pointer that stole a win away from a Hawks team that was hungering for playoff seed-boosting victories.
    A Gary, Indiana native, Robinson, 2016’s Slam Dunk champ, returns after preseason ankle surgeries curtailed what was shaping up as a promotion following the negotiated departure of former star Paul George. Pacers coach Nate McMillan intends to limit GR3’s playing time to ten minutes at the outset. But if the game gets tight late against a Hawks team (18-41) bearing the league’s worst road-game and in-conference marks, and playoff implications hang in the balance for Indiana (33-25), the temptation for Coach Nate to deploy his newest closer will be high.
    There were over half-dozen Eastern Conference teams that I questioned coming into this season, playoff-promising teams with flaws that might have them instead hanging with the Hawks by season’s end. But the Pacers have done the best to overcome my healthy skepticism.
    Arriving from OKC via the George trade, Victor Oladipo (career-high 24.4 PPG) has taken the vacated leadership mantle with an exuberant attitude, earning his first All-Star nod in the process. The fifth-year pro’s shot accuracy (53.5 2FG%, 38.1 3FG%) and defensive production (4.8 D-Rebs/game, 2.1 SPG) are blowing away prior career-bests (49.1 2FG% and 36.1 3FG%; 4.1 D-Rebs and 1.7 steals per game).
    No longer having his usage sucked away by mediocre Magic players or MVP winners in OKC, Oladipo’s emergence as an efficient offensive threat comes right on time for an Indiana club that would have been fine settling for a short-term recession, like the Hawks, but is now budding with confidence they can be much more than the first-round-exit fodder they’ve been during George’s final seasons.
    Oladipo is the clear top-banana. But, as was often the case when George was the star, Indiana stands out by having a constellation of second-tier talents taking turns in the role of Oladipo’s #2 offensive sidekick. At times, it’s Victor’s fellow arrival from OKC, Domantas Sabonis (want to insta-peeve a Magic fan? Say these words: Serge Ibaka Trade), who continues to show a mastery of rebounding as a sixth-man (team-high 8.2 RPG in 25.3 minutes/game). Other times, it’s longtime veteran Thaddeus Young, who has been the NBA’s MMP (Most Median Player) for years.
    On occasion, it’s Indiana’s leading assist-man, Darren Collison, who has been a steadying influence (5.3 APG, 1.3 TOs/game), but remains out for another week following arthroscopic knee surgery a few weeks ago. If you ask Lance Stephenson (32.5 3FG%), he’ll tell you he’s the main sidekick, or maybe even the headliner. Myles Turner ought to be that guy, but the young third-year center continues to struggle with post strength and consistency. The current leading wing-man for Oladipo has been Bojan Bogdanovic, who has become the Pacers’ second-leading scorer while shedding a season full of struggles with his jumper (last 7 games before the break: 19.1 PPG, 47.6 3FG%, 87.5 FT%). Robinson will only add to the plethora of options for McMillan to pair alongside Oladipo.
    With Collison out, the Pacers’ star will have to pick between defending Atlanta’s Dennis Schröder and sticking to the wing and leaving that assignment to current starter Cory Joseph (15 points, season-high 11 rebounds @ BRK on Feb. 14). Tending to Schröder could create some openings along the perimeter for the Hawks’ Kent Bazemore (3-for-4 3FGs vs. IND on Dec. 20; 64.3 3FG% in his past 3 games). Baze was rested along with Dennis during the Hawks’ pre-Break finale, a 104-98 loss in Detroit that was way more thrilling than it should have been for the Pistons.
    At least for today, Mike Budenholzer’s Hawks will have a depth advantage at the point, even without Malcolm Delaney (knee), who started and matched Isaiah Taylor (questionable, sprained ankle) with seven assists in Detroit. Tyler Dorsey (6 assists @ DET), DeAndre’ Bembry and newcomer Andrew White will also help with moving the rock, on behalf of the Hawks offense. Picked up by the Pacers on a 10-day deal during the break, guard Trey McKinney-Jones and will try to help alleviate his teammates on the defensive end.
    Atlanta’s 105-95 home loss to the Pacers on December 20 came without Dewayne Dedmon (last 3 games: 61.5 FG%, 42.9 3FG%, 13.7 PPG, 10.0 RPG), who will try to create mismatches around the paint against Turner and Al Jefferson. If Turner’s mid-range game isn’t on-point, it could be a long day for the Pacers’ frontline against Dedmon, John Collins and Ersan Ilyasova.
    The Hawks will have to do a better job of pressuring the Pacers into turnovers. They managed to produce just 9 player TOs, tied for a season-low, when Indiana visited back in December. Getting stops and creating more transition buckets are what often helps the Hawks narrow gaps against superior competition.
    A trip to Dallas is sandwiched by the home-and-home series between these two clubs. These are clearly winnable games for the taking for Indiana, who gets the Hawks three times over the next 15 days. Having won three straight before the Break, the Pacers are a mere two games out of the East’s 3-seed, where Cleveland currently resides. But they are 4.5 games in front of the playoff-hungry Pistons, and even closer to Milwaukee and Philadelphia, opponents who are on the horizon as the calendar turns to March. That makes the next three games imperative for Indy to navigate through, without any slip-ups.
    Oladipo is the obvious choice for the Pacers in a tight fourth-quarter affair. But if Atlanta continues hanging around at the Fieldhouse, and Victor gets bottled up in the clutch, to whom might McMillan turn, to save the day once again? “Get Along, Little Doggie…”
     
    Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3
    lethalweapon3
     
    PICTURED: Ad promo for future Atlanta Hawks head coach, circa 2003. Random Detroit Piston in foreground.
     
    Yadda yadda yadda, Atlanta Hawks visit the Detroit Pistons tonight (7:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Detroit), blasé blasé…
    ATTN: TANKFAM! Listen, I need you some of you fellas and fellettes to take a quick break. In that spirit, here goes a few interesting weblinks, to humor you while you step aside.
    In my I-got-no-spare-time-left time, many know that I double as the Smithsonian of poster-dunk archivists. So, the first sideshow is one of your favorite ex-Hawks, on one of your favorite teams (at least TODAY, they are), getting dunked on in the closing seconds to lose a game! Blowing it in the closing moments of a game, eh? What a novel concept.
    The second distraction is an article about an ex-Hawks’ Triple Double That Never Was. Bonus Hawks-affiliated Trivia, from this article: before this lame attempt at getting a last-second rebound, who was the previous NBA player to mess around and notch three-straight triple doubles?
    The third item to tickle your fancy is that same ex-Hawk (the subject of an upcoming “Where Are They Now?” thread over in the Seniorsquawk forum, sometime during the All-Star Break) in his current habitat. Here, he’s trying to demonstrate to viewers that he’s still got it, yet still finds a way to come up short! Say it with me: “He’s trash!”
    One more Pistons-Hawks Trivia item. This same ex-Hawk’s jersey number, with the Pistons, was previously worn (one season before him) by which other former ex-Hawk? Answer is in link #4 below!
    Grab a Kit Kat bar or something (V-Day candy is at a steep discount, right now! Just sayin’!), check out the links to kill time, and then meet us all back here in a few minutes, making sure to skip the bolded language in the Spoiler below! Tank You Very Much!
    (1)    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lWu93oxeYM8
    (2)    http://www.espn.com/nba/news/story?id=1781342
    (3)    http://www.espn.com/video/clip?id=19967819
    (4)    https://www.basketball-reference.com/teams/DET/numbers.html
    *
    *
    * ((no, really: Tanksquad, get the Hawk outta here. Move along, now. Git! Git!))
    *
    * ((and keep scrolling past the bold stuff in the Spoiler, Tankamaniacs. That’s not for you!))
    *
    *
    *
    *
    * ((shhh… they’re filing back in here. Everyone, look busy!))
    *
    *
    In conclusion, I’ve discovered the best home remedy for getting rid of a boil down there is to… what? Ohh, hey! You’re ALL back! Welcome back, my Tank Legionnaires!
    It’s crazy about that ex-Hawk, huh? No wonder the guy we got in the 2004 draft, along with that ex-Hawk via an infamous trade, never got to wear #5 for Detroit… they’re obviously waiting to retire that other cat’s jersey! I’ve always wondered, remember when dude went with the platinum blonde number, up top? Did he steal that look from Eminem, or vice versa?
    Anyway, yeah, our current slate of Hawks gave us all a grand ol’ time last night in Brewtown, and Some Hawks Fans can only hope that a desperate Motown team will be up to the task tonight.
    The Pistons’ Week of Living Dangerously began here at Little Caesars Arena last Friday, in a deflating loss to Blake Griffin’s former employer. No worries, they thought, as a bounce-back win in Atlanta is right around the corner!
    Unfortunately for the Pistons (and Some Fans), somebody forgot to gameplan for Dewayne Dedmon, who moved up to the top line and put up a career-high 20 points, plus 13 boards and 3 steals, as the Hawks blazed to a 118-115 win in its Sunday matinee. No biggie, Detroit thought, since they were coming right back home, where they had previously swept a five-game homestand!
    Oh, but here’s the thing. The first of those five wins were against the Cavs, who were obviously drunk even before Kevin Love exited that contest early in the first quarter with a busted hand. The next four opponents who sauntered into the Pizza! Pizza! Palace had each previously played just like the Hawks did yesterday: on the road, on the first night of a back-to-back. By the time the Pistons returned from ATL, they were greeted by a Pelicans team that only needed a night off.
    Detroit found themselves getting roasted, 118-103, by a New Orleans team that was starting, at center… Emeka Okafor (six O-rebs in under 14 minutes)! That really needs to be the last 2004-era reference in this thread. A rising sixth-grader back when Okafor got drafted, that Anthony Davis kid proved to be quite a handful, too.
    That new-car smell wafting from the pre-owned Griffin (last 3 losses: 38.6 FG%, 21.7 3FG%) is wearing off rapidly. Stan Van Gundy is predictably ringing alarm bells ahead of this rematch with Atlanta (18-40) that soon, they won’t be able to sniff the playoffs, either.
    “You just can’t limp into the break,” SVG told the Detroit News, the postgame interviewers and, presumably, his team, after the latest loss dropped the Pistons to 27-29, 2.5 games behind the 8th-seeded heat and fading fast. “We need to get a win and keep ourselves as close to this thing as we can, to have a chance to make a run.” No, he’s not talking about a “run” at Jaren Jackson, Jr.
    Van Gundy knows that another humbling defeat tonight, at home, in the finale before the All-Star Break, could prove disastrous for his team. Not nearly as disastrous for Michiganders as, “We’ve secretly replaced the fine water they usually serve with gruel we piped in from the Flint River. Let’s see if anyone can tell the difference!” Still, another L would be calamitous enough for the long-term prospects of the coach-slash-executive’s tenure with the club. The burden question: do the rank-and-file on the Pistons’ roster share that sudden sense of urgency?
    If they do, then they’ll have to come up with a scheme that keeps Griffin and Andre Drummond from getting gashed by opposing front lines (I forgot to mention New Orleans’ Nikola Mirotic, who showed off his nose-for-the-ball with 21 points and 12 rebounds against Detroit off the bench on Monday).
    Opposing bigs with some semblance of an inside-outside game have left Piston defenders unsure whether they were coming or going. That includes Atlanta’s Ersan Ilyasova, who is eager to put the lowlights from Tuesday night’s 97-92 thriller in his original NBA hometown on the back burner. Also a former Piston, Trillyasova added to Detroit’s misery on Sunday with 19 points, hitting half of his four three-point attempts while being one of four Hawk starters ushered to the charity stripe for six or more free throw shots (7-for-7 FTs).
    Atlanta was granted a season-high 37 freebie attempts by the Pistons, and they are a gaudy 9-4 when they climb above 110 points in games this season (2-18 when they score 100 points or fewer, as was the case yesterday). Detroit also allowed the Hawks to convert on 28 of 49 interior shots (57.1 2FG%), rendering the fantasy-friendly defensive figures from Drummond (25 points, 10 D-Rebs, 3 blocks @ ATL on Sunday) as ultimately empty calories. Off the bench in Motown, when Stan calls your name, who will Be There? James Ennis? Anthony Tolliver?
    “There were four, five, six loose balls when nobody goes on the floor,” Van Gundy lamented after the loss to the Pels. “There are three or four times we don’t get back, and people are behind us defensively. Times when we’re not pulling in on the roll man. Those things are inexcusable when you’re trying to win… We allowed our offensive play, our frustration of missing shots and just different things going on throughout the game to really get away from our defense. That’s kind of what we anchor ourselves on.” Yeah, kind of.
    To turn the frowns around town upside down, keeping Ish Smith, the point guard struggling in a starting role until Reggie Jackson returns, from incessantly switching onto Dedmon and Ilyasova would be a good start for Detroit on D. The Pistons did manage to keep Atlanta’s wings cool from the three-point line on Sunday. But given that one of those swingmen is Taurean Prince (good luck on Friday!), who’s been Cooler than Whip (last 3 games: 1-for-19 3FGs), that’s no great shakes for the fellows from Great Lakes.
    To be fair, new Clipper Avery Bradley’s presence is sorely missing. But instead of rushing out just to contest TP, Piston swingmen Reggie Bullock and Stanley Johnson need to stay home, helping the bigs around the paint to slow the rolls of Dennis Schröder, John Collins (good luck as well, especially versus Embiid!) and Dedmon to the hoop.
    Staying true to Nique’s “K.Y.P.” mantra, the Piston point guards (Smith and Jameer Nelson; ten combined personal fouls on Sunday) should hang out closer to the elbows, enticing the whirling dervish Schröder to hone his craft as a perimeter shooter instead of a toast-burning driver.
    There will be no more Malice at the Palace, as years of management ineptitude has sapped the Detroit fanbase of excessively passionate ticketholders, both inside and outside the city limits. But one can anticipate a little Animus at the Arena if these Pistons drag Detroiters through four more wretched quarters of basketball and break some playoff-starved hearts on, of all days, St. Valentine’s Day. Hell hath no fury like a spurned lover, dragged to a bad basketball game on a holiday night, pelting the arena floor with half-eaten Russell Stover chocolates. Or, so I’m told.
     
    Happy V-Day to you and yours! and Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3
    lethalweapon3
     
    **RECORD SCRATCH**
    ((Freeze Frame))
    “Yup, that’s me. You’re probably wondering how I ended up in this situation…”
     
    Think fast… who still has the worst road record in the NBA? And who still has the most in-conference losses in the NBA? That’s right, it’s your Atlanta Hawks, still in the running to be awarded as the NBA’s Best Bad Team. Tankamaniacs will hope those two facts hold by the conclusion of tonight’s game in Milwaukee, as the Hawks take on the rejuvenated Bucks (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Wisconsin), and tomorrow’s in Detroit.
    Since sacking Jason Kidd, back on January 22, and handing the coaching keys over to longtime assistant Joe Prunty, the Bucks have won eight of their past ten games. They want to formally establish themselves as an upper-echelon team in the East (2 games behind 3-seed Cleveland), not one scrapping just to remain above the playoff line (4.5 games ahead of 9-seed Detroit). They still have quite a bit of work cut out for them.
    While the past ten games for Milwaukee (31-24) have been encouraging, propelling the club well above the .500 mark, few of those contests involved playoff-bound opponents. Their two losses during this stretch were at Minnesota and here, at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, against Miami. Of the eight victories, two were against the LOLKnicks, two versus the Nets, and the rest against the Suns, Bulls, Sixers and Magic. A schedule that easy might have been enough to preserve Kidd’s jerb, had he lasted that long. That schedule also would have caused members of the Illtankanati to chew their fingernails raw, were it assigned to Atlanta (18-39).
    The Bucks are navigating their way into the All-Star Break with depth challenges in the front and back of the lineup. A quad tear is sidelining ATLien and reigning Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon, probably through mid-March. Also, not returning to the floor until after the Break is Matthew Dellavedova, as a sprained ankle will keep him from wrecking anybody else’s for at least the next several weeks. Prunty has granted backups Sterling Brown, Sean Kilpatrick, and ex-Hawk Jason Terry upticks in floor time to help compensate.
    Starting center John Henson has been in-and-out of the lineup with a sore hammy and is unlikely to play today. Jabari Parker returned to action last week after a one-year injury hiatus. But his minutes have been closely monitored, and he sat out Saturday’s 111-104 win in Orlando since it was the second night of a back-to-back. Prior to the Trade Deadline, the Bucks shipped Rashad Vaughn and a 2018 second-rounder to Brooklyn to acquire Nets starting center Tyler Zeller, in hopes of buttressing the front line.
    From the coaching staff to the roster, that’s a lot of moving parts for a club aiming at a playoff slot with first-round homecourt advantage. The good news is the All-Star Break is right around the corner, and they have a probable win to pursue tonight.
    Even better news is that guard and salon expert Eric Bledsoe (last 4 games: 22.0 PPG, 42.9 3FG%, 7.0 APG) is beginning to display some consistency, while swingman Khris Middleton (last 10 games: 19.6 PPG, 39.5 3FG%, 1.6 SPG) is rounding into form at the right time. The best news is they have Giannis Antetokounmpo playing, as Tim Hardaway, Jr. would concur, in a whole other stratosphere (last 9 games: 26.6 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 5.2 APG, 36.8 3FG%).
    The Greek Freak will continue moonsaulting over his competition; coaxing him into settling for mid-range jumpers all night will be a tough ask for Atlanta defenders. But the primary challenge for the Hawks this week is to figure out how not to leave behind their A-Game at The A, particularly against stout competition (sorry, Knicks).
    Without the dulcet tones of Ryan Cameron serenading them from courtside, the Hawks (5-22 on the road) tend to shy away from things coach Mike Budenholzer preaches. They’re more apt to take shots inside the 3-point line (64.7% road 2FG frequency, 14th in NBA; 60.7% at home, 27th), and more likely to rush up a contested shot, or over-dribble and get sloppy (1.38 road assist/TO ratio, 25th in NBA), than seek out the extra pass (66.8 home assist%, 2nd in NBA; 57.7 road assist%, 13th). Away from home, Atlanta is less likely to box out (72.7 road D-Reb%, dead-last in NBA) and more likely to foul (20.6 road personals per-48, 10th in NBA) in lieu of properly defending shooters and ballhandlers.
    In his first meeting with the Hawks this season, Bledsoe will try to use his speed and strength to overwhelm Dennis Schröder and the Atlanta guards. The Hawks tempt opponents into deploying roll men, although the Bucks’ bigs like Giannis and the brick-handed Thon Maker (13 points @ ORL, 3rd-highest this season) are low-usage in this area. But Bledsoe is better off seeking out perimeter kickouts to Middleton and Tony Snell, as roll-man plays have become a losing proposition for the Hawks’ opposition.
    Only Detroit (8.1%) has been summoned to defend P&R roll-man action as frequently as Atlanta (8.0% of opponent plays). Yet opponents on these plays have been bottom-10 in both eFG% and FT frequency, scoring at least a point on just 47.8 percent of their chances (4th-lowest in NBA). Further, Atlanta has been forcing roll-man turnovers (8.3% of possessions) more often than they’ve committed shooting fouls (7.6%). The 1.01 points-per-possession the Hawks allow has been superior to more vaunted defenses like Utah (1.03) and San Antonio (1.06), despite being attacked by offenses more often in this regard than all but one other team.
    The inverse of this has been the Hawks’ offense for the P&R ball handler. Eschewing post-up plays almost entirely (only 49 points by Atlanta players all season), Schröder and the Hawks’ ball-handlers attack on the P&R more than any other outfit (22.1% of possessions). Yet only the Lakers have done worse at finishing on those plays (42.2 FG%, 29th in NBA; 36.9% Score Frequency, 28th in NBA) while the turnover frequency gets elevated (17.2 TO%, 8th-worst in NBA).
    Milwaukee’s defense cranks out a turnover on 21.3% of Ball-Handler possessions (3rd-best in NBA) and 11.0% of Roll-Man possessions (tops in NBA). Atlanta’s transition defense will have to be primed and ready, especially for Parker and Antetokounmpo, when the predictable P&R turnovers show up.
    Schröder, Kent Bazemore and Taurean Prince accounted for 17 of Atlanta’s 27 dimes, but 10 of the Hawks’ 16 TOs during their 117-106 home loss back on October 29, a game where Milwaukee built up a 19-point cushion through the opening three quarters of action. Giannis (33 points, 11 rebounds, six assists) and Middleton (27 points, 9 assists) carried the proceedings with the help of cameo appearances from the inactive Henson (9 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 steals) and the since-departed Vaughn (4-for-6 3FGs) off the bench.
    Even with the departures of Marco Belinelli and Luke Babbitt, Schröder (28.3 3FG%) has his next nine active leading-scorers on the Hawks all shooting above 35 percent beyond the 3-point line (but for Tyler Cavanuagh’s injury, it would be ten).
    Even Prince’s downturn (0-for-14 on threes in three of the last four games, kicking Orlando aside), with his sketchy mechanics needing work, has him sitting at 37.9 3FG% for the season. DeAndre’ Bembry sits right at 35.0 3FG%, a shade behind the experimental John Collins (35.3 3FG%).
    With his hands off the wheel and TMZ out of his hair, this two-game road trip may be an ideal time to get Bembry back up to speed at both ends of the court, certainly before Tyler Dorsey (double-digit scoring in past four games) cannibalizes his minutes. Getting a rotation that can stretch the floor and build advantages over opposing bench regimes should be one of the Hawks’ objectives going forward.
    Whichever of the leading scorers-slash-assist-men, Giannis or Dennis, finds the open man more effectively on forays to the hoop Is likely to find their team at an advantage through most of this game. Which team you would prefer holding that advantage, of course, is entirely up to you.
     
    Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3