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    Atlanta Hawks community, for the fans, by the fans

    lethalweapon3
     
    “I don’t know what to do with my hands!”
     
    In preparing a quick preview for this game between the Detroit Pistons and your Atlanta Hawks (3:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Detroit Plus), several times, I’ve confused this afternoon’s opponent with the LA Clippers. Just a couple weeks in, I imagine Blake Griffin’s teammates are still trying to envision him as a Piston, too.
    That’s how inextricable Griffin is from an iconic persona the former #1 pick of the Clippers built up over seven-plus pro seasons. The LA-era franchise leader in points scored, and SportsCenter highlights rendered, put that long-forlorn NBA franchise on the proverbial map. He won’t bear that kind of burden in the Motor City, but he will have to help re-entrench their team’s Bad Boys reputation, perhaps Eddie Haskell-style, while making them more consistent winners. Going from glitz-and-glam to grit-and-grease, Detroit is having a hard time figuring out what to make of their new star, too.
    He’s like a pre-owned model infused with that new car smell. His introduction has been infectious for the Pistons (27-27), who were sliding toward the Hawks and the NBA abyss just weeks ago but, after winning their first five games with Blake around (all at home), are threatening to push several Eastern Conference rivals out of the postseason.
    Opponents are still scratching their heads a bit, too, and that drawn attention has allowed Griffin (21.0 PPG, 25.0 3FG%, 7.0 RPG and 6.2 APG as a Piston) to serve as a catalyst for enhanced production by several of his teammates. Andre Drummond has been punishing the paint with more freedom around the glass (19.7 RPG in last six games). Stanley Johnson (15.0 PPG in last six) is playing with fewer burdens, while Reggie Bullock (51.5 3FG% in last six), Ish Smith and Anthony Tolliver have been burying perimeter jumpers with fewer closeout defenders around.
    The Pistons did slip up against his old team at home on Friday, the bench overwhelmed while trying to keep a rejuvenated Lou Williams in check. Also, the frequency with which Detroit’s offense gets bogged down when neglecting to move the ball has not been lost on its head coach.
    “Even though we've been winning,” Stan Van Gundy remarked to media, after Detroit managed just 15 fourth-quarter and 39 second-half points in the loss to the Clips, “we have that dilemma of how we're going to get Blake the ball and not be standing around watching.” They need a win today at the Highlight Factory to keep pace in the conference standings with the Sixers, who are reportedly stocking up for a playoff run with bought-out Hawk Marco Belinelli, the heat and the Pacers.
    For Griffin, he’ll have to demand the ball, early in the clock, and move the ball when the Hawks’ defenders coalesce around him, a strategy that worked wonders for LeBron James (new career-high 19 assists, 10th career triple-double in a 123-107 win @ ATL) and his “shorthanded” Cavaliers on Friday at Philips Arena. This task had been Drummond’s (196 assists, already more than double his career-high) to this point in the season, but he now has Griffin to key the offensive attack from positions all across the halfcourt floor, while he returns more fully to the low block.
    With teammates like Undulating Star Taurean Prince (0-for-9 3FGs, zero assists vs. CLE on Friday) struggling mightily on many nights, Dennis Schröder has been compelled to go it alone lately on offense (last 5 games: 20.2 PPG, 16.8 FGAs/game, 28.6 3FG%, 95.8 FT%, 4.2 APG) to mixed results. The temptation will only be higher, relative to Friday’s game, as he is less likely to have Griffin switched onto him, allowing him to feast against the likes of Smith, newly-acquired Jameer Nelson, Dwight Buycks (questionable due to illness) and Langston Galloway (5-for-9 3FGs @ ATL on Dec. 14).
    Atlanta’s starting lineup combined for 67 points but a mere eight assists (one of those dimes from the lightly-used Miles Plumlee) against the Cavs, however, and it’s on their floor-leader to model the importance of the extra-pass to the Hawks offense. When Dennis (10 assists, 2 TOs, 3-for-7 FGs vs. DET on Dec. 14) calls his own number against the Pistons’ block-averse defense, he must finish his got-heems off the glass, or else Atlanta will be perpetually one-and-done.
    Handling Drummond (19 rebounds and 8 assists @ ATL on Dec. 14) and Griffin will be a tough task for Plumlee and the Hawks’ frontline. They didn’t have Dewayne Dedmon for the last meeting against the Pistons, and Atlanta’s backup pivot will be hopeful for a big game after posting a pair of duds (combined 3-for-13 FGs and 6 boards) at Orlando and versus Cleveland.
    SVG has vowed to find a way to get his star frontcourt more rest. But Jon Leuer is out for the season, and Griffin’s fellow ex-Clipper Willie Reed remains suspended by the league through the All-Star Break. Further, the Pistons have Released The Boban to the Clippers, and second-year pro Henry Ellenson has yet to impress. One can expect an uptick in playing time for backup big Eric Moreland, especially if the Hawks’ bigs and paint drivers can get the Piston star starters in foul trouble.
    Detroit (9-16 on the road; one road win, at Brooklyn, since Dec. 15) has extra motivation to get into the playoffs, following Blake’s acquisition. The 2018 first-rounder they sent LA is only 1-4 protected. They don’t want to hand Blake’s old team a lottery pick. By the time May comes around, they want to find themselves challenging teams like the Cavs in the playoffs, not vying with teams like Atlanta (17-39) for a top-4 draft talent. As for the Hawks, it’s just the latest in a string of opponents facing a Must-Win scenario at The Highlight Factory. Ultimately, it’s up to them to determine which ones they let off the hook.
     
    Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3
    lethalweapon3
     
    “You like Brazilian music?”
     
    Our Hawks played the Competitank to perfection last night in Orlando (Dewayne Dedmon Stepback FTL!). Their reward is a trip back home to Atlanta, where The King, LeBron James, and a smattering of his subjects on the Cleveland Cavaliers have been waiting for one final head-to-head tonight (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Ohio).
    Aside from LeBron, who are left standing after “The Purge: Anarchy” unfolded off Lake Erie? The remnant Cavs making the trip down from the Buckeye State include a handful of vets: J.R. Smith, Tristan Thompson, Jeff Green, and ex-Hawks Kyle Korver and Jose Calderon.
    The new arrivals should help transform the locker room from something less like “Grumpy Old Men”, to something more resembling “Romper Room”. Cavs’ GM Koby Altman, who pulled the trigger on deals dispatching Isaiah Thomas, Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose to distant NBA locales, hopes the net effect will be positive for the homegrown star he can only hope will stick around a bit longer.
    “I think we’re going to get a rejuvenated LeBron James, and that’s the key,” Altman said to USA TODAY and media reporters, going so far as to invoke the always-popular C-word. “We were worried that what was going on, on the floor, and the Culture on the building, we thought we were marching a slow death. The window we have with LeBron and this time, it was the time to do something and have some sustainability going forward… I think we’re going to be fun, athletic, and exciting to watch.”
    Which direction that George Hill, Jordan Clarkson, Rodney Hood and Larry Nance will collectively nudge the Cavs, relative to Boston, Toronto and the title contenders out West, is anyone’s guess. But as was the case versus Minnesota, the directives to ensure a chance at victory remain the same. Don’t waste LeBron’s valuable time having to come help with the man who keeps beating you off the dribble. On offense, get the ball to LeBron, and clear out to the perimeter awaiting further instruction. Step up on the floor, or in the locker room, only when LeBron calls upon you to do so. This King’s newest subordinates will be far more apt to take heed.
    While Cavs coach Ty Lue would appreciate having the recipients from Cleveland’s mega-trades available, they’re still clearing physicals and stuff. So, it appears likely he will have to make-do with youngsters like Cedi Osman, Ante Zizic, and a pair of “European”-sounding two-way contractors (London Perrantes, John Holland) to fill in the gaps.
    T-Lue (2-1 against ATL) would also appreciate winning the season series against Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer tonight, something his reigning Eastern Conference champs could not accomplish last season (1-3 against ATL in 2016-17). He’ll start Calderon and Smith, plus Osman (the energetic rookie’s first NBA start) and Thompson alongside You-Know-Who.
    It’s hard to suggest any team featuring James (career-high 17 assists in a 123-114 win vs. ATL on Dec. 12) is “shorthanded”. But victory tonight for Lue’s “shorthanded” assemblage would help build much-needed momentum, after LeBron’s overtime heroics on Wednesday staved off a potential fourth loss in Cleveland’s past five games. As road games in Kyrie’s Boston and Russ’ OKC are forthcoming, the Cavs (31-22, 4.0 games ahead of the East’s 9-seed) might as well kickstart this road trip with a win streak.
    The Hawks might still get out-gunned tonight, but they won’t be out-manned. The only absences include future MARTA straphanger DeAndre’ Bembry, inactive since returning from a groin injury, and Tyler Cavanaugh, who will sit through the Break while rehabbing a tough ankle sprain he suffered up in G-League Erie. Everybody else is in decent shape for Atlanta (17-38), and trade-deadline holdout Marco Belinelli will be rested and ready to show NBA title contenders like Cleveland what they’ll be missing.
    The only intrigue for the Hawks will involve seeing whether Dennis Schröder can regain his resolve after getting the ShMackDown from former teammate Shelvin Mack late in last night’s game. While the Cavs’ roster is shallow, Calderon (4-for-5 3FGs vs. ATL on Dec. 12) and his help defenders will do what they can to get under Schröder’s skin and force another second-half short-hook from Coach Bud.
    The good news for Dennis (benched in the fourth @ CLE on Dec. 12) is that James will be needed more in the frontcourt and will spend less time creating mismatches at the point guard spot. Schröder will have to regularly and swiftly find Kent Bazemore (6-for-10 3FGs @ CLE on Dec. 12), Taurean Prince (8-for-10 FGs @ CLE) and whichever Hawk shooters spring open, of which there will be many, against Calderon, Korver, Thompson, Green, Smith and the G-Leaguers. Cleveland’s defensive woes won’t vanish right away.
    While Some Fans will have their eyes on one of the Hawks’ 2018 draft picks, there’s another one more likely to be impacted by tonight’s outcome. LeBron’s buzzer-beating jumper on Wednesday moved the Hawks’ Wolvespick (#25… man, another Adreian Payne deal would’ve been nice yesterday!) to within 1.0 games of where the Cavs reside on the Tank Rank, at #24. Another slip-up or two by Minnesota could scooch that Wolvespick up past not only Cleveland’s, but emerging Milwaukee’s.
    Considering that, you can forgive Some Hawks Fans for being doubly supportive of another “Nice Try” effort by the Hawks (no home wins vs. East foes since Dec. 27) in front of the home crowd. As for the folks showing up to The Highlight Factory in whine-and-gold tonight? Don’t mind them too much. They’ll probably be wearing #23 jerseys in wholly different colors this time next year.
    Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3
    lethalweapon3
     
    “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, the Magic 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
    lethalweapon3
     
    “Uh-oh… better get MAACO!”
     
    Not much to say, aside from… Tank Wars SZN!
    After Sunday’s perfect-storm of sketchy reffing, stellar passing, and Knickscraft of the purest quality in the clutch, Some Fans of our Atlanta Hawks are looking ahead with trepidation at the next pair of games, beginning tonight with the Memphis Grizzlies (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast in ATL and MEM, 92.9 FM) in town.
    After today, there’s the Rumble in the Bungle on Thursday, as the Hawks (16-37) visit the Magic (16-36) just a few hours after the trade deadline expires, in the scramble for the NBA’s worst record heading into the All-Star Break.
    I’ve got nothing, really, to alleviate Those Hawks Fans’ anxiety. Previewing almost every angle ahead of today’s Grizzlies-Hawks matchup, figuring out some way this game, played before a Tuesday night Philips Arena crowd of mausoleum-like quality, doesn’t conclude with a Hawks W has me looking like the lady in that GIF with the mathematical signs and equations floating all around her.
    The starting back-three replacement coach J.B. Bickerstaff throws out there, as it stands, consists of second-year Wayne Selden, rookie Dillon Brooks, and swingman Andrew Harrison. That’s not as disastrous a story as the West Memphis Three, but still, how can any NBA team fathomably underperform that trio?  Never mind that knee issues might sideline Selden today, shifting one of Mario Chalmers or Ben McLemore to the top line. The burning question, above, persists.
    I legit thought “Myke Henry” was some affectionate nickname for JaMychal Green, the starting power forward who got strung along by Memphis’ front office throughout 2017 restricted free agency. But no, there’s an actual Myke Henry, bearing no relation to the World’s Strongest Man. This undrafted rookie guard out of DePaul and the G-League is with Memphis on a two-way deal, and the ink had hardly dried on the contract before even he found himself getting 15-25 minutes a night.
    Franchise star Mike Conley struggled to stay on the floor and is gone for this season. McLemore (recently returning from a knee injury) and Chandler Parsons (injured again, not much better when he’s not) have exemplified every red-flag warning waved before they were signed to unwise deals.
    The Grizzlies needed all of Tyreke Evans’ 22 points just to eke past the Hawks, 96-94, at FedEx Forum back in December. But Evans has now been put on ice, so as not to diminish his value prior to the trade deadline. That pretty much leaves Gasol (8 TOs vs. ATL on Dec. 15, career-low 41.6 FG%, career-high 2.7 TOs/game), the 33-year-old former All-Star center, on an island all to himself. Big Spain has to deal with Big’s Pain behind him on the depth chart, too, as Deyonta Davis (knees) is out of action tonight.
    Memphis broke out to a spiffy 5-1 season start, before the Grizz lost their Fiz during a 4-22 stretch. While Evans was making his case for an All-Star bid, though, they did manage to go 9-8 between late December and the end of last month, and they had to be heartened by the first two contests during this four-game Eastern road trek that concludes today, losing by four at Indy and by two in Detroit on back-to-back nights. They were even down just a point through three quarters in Toronto on Sunday afternoon. Yet without Reke available in the clutch, they just don’t have enough horses offensively to string victories together.
    Memphis (18-34), who returns home to deal with red-hot Utah tomorrow, has been Grit without much Grind. Dead-last in pace, they will hack opponents to death (NBA-high 23.3 personals per game; 26.2 opponent FTAs per game, 2nd-most in NBA), specifically those that dare attempt to set plays up inside the perimeter (NBA-low 26.0 opponent 2FGs/game). The departure of former mainstays like Z-Bo and Tony Allen have done little to erase the team’s long-held reputation for being terrible perimeter shooters (35.3 team 3FG%, 25th in NBA), and that poor marksmanship is now bleeding inwards (54.2 team 2FG%, 20th in NBA) as well.
    As expected, given the opponent’s game-planning, the going was tough for Dennis Schröder as a scorer during his last meeting with the Grizzlies (5-for-18 FGs), but he made the most of his trips to the line (7-for-8 FTs; Isaiah Taylor 5-for-6 off the bench) while distributing the ball well (11 assists, 3 TOs). So much as a moderate day from Schröder directing the Hawks offense (15-for-33 3FGs @ NYK on Sunday; 31-for-34 FTs @ BOS on Feb. 2) will be sufficient to put the Beale Street Bears in hibernation.
    As Atlanta has not gone the route Memphis has gone with Evans, Atlanta’s playmakers should have their full offensive array at their disposal. This is quite possibly the Hawks finale for several players, including Sunday’s “hero”, Kent Bazemore (4-for-7 3FGs @ NYK; 19.3 PPG, 52.2 3FG%, 1.8 TOs/game in last 4 games), Dewayne Dedmon (14 rebounds @ NYK), and Ersan Ilyasova (back in the starting lineup, after missing Sunday’s game with an illness). All veteran trade targets will be hoping for a strong potential-farewell performance and a pleasant, if a bit subdued, send-off from the Highlight Factory crowd.
    Seventeen combined consecutive postseasons come to an end this April for these two clubs. But upon closer inspection, Atlanta and Memphis appear to have divergent means of sinking toward the NBA bottom. Unlike the Grizzlies, the Hawks chose not to gamble on big contracts, for their 30-ish incumbent veteran stars, in hopes of another shot at a playoff run. Unlike the Hawks, the Grizzlies have made many questionable first-round selections in recent years (backup forward Jarell Martin the sole first-rounder since 2008 who has stuck), and they did an even more questionable job developing them.
    Unlike the Hawks, the Grizzlies grew skittish as the losses piled up, and reneged on their mutual commitment to build with their head coach. And unlike the Grizzlies, the Hawks’ beneficiary from the NBA’s wild 2016 free agency period might wind up paying his team dividends. That it is Atlanta that has been looking up at Memphis in the standings to this point, and not the other way around, is a testament to the strength of the Hawks’ Competitank. But how much longer can that situation be sustained? Some Enquiring Hawks Fan Minds want to know.
     
    Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3
    lethalweapon3
     
    “Coach tells us they’re sending you to Cleveland!... Not to play, though, just for a weekend vacation. All expenses paid!”
     
    Afternoon Delight! At least, that’s what the New York Knicks are hoping for with the Atlanta Hawks in town for an early Super Bowl Sunday tipoff (12:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, MSG Network in NYC) at the so-called Mecca.
    I’ve long been a bit presumptuous about Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek, stemming from his years quietly toiling away in Phoenix and Philly, and then his latter years in Utah, rubbing his face before free throws to say hello to his kids watching from home. He seems like a swell guy! At worst, he looks like an actuarial scientist! I, for one, cannot imagine what magic words Coach Horny could ever utter that would prompt me to loft a towel over his face. Nevermind saying whatever unkind words the banished Joakim Noah laid in his direction.
    The Oscars are getting dished out about a month from now, and Noah has been wasting his time not earning any statuettes. C’mon, Lenny Cooke was a classic! Even Spike’s Da Sweet Blood of Jesus was underrated! Like latter-day Lenny, I would love for Oscar-winning producer Noah to come in from the future, letting Joakim know his true full-time, Hall-of-Fame professional career is right around the corner. Go ahead and retire, then make your tens of millions per year doing something way more productive than standing around and cussing out Hornacek for “only” getting five minutes against the Warriors.
    Fans of the Knicks would greatly appreciate Noah exiting stage left soon, so they can more fully turn their attention to another uncomfortable contract. A back-to-back pair of power outages from the perimeter (combined 0-for-12 3FGs) has ex-Hawk Tim Hardaway, Jr. entering today with the worst three-point shooting percentage (32.6 3FG%) of his five-year career.
    At least he’s young, though. Junior has ample time to turn it around, and try as he might today against his former team, it will take more than one afternoon to do so. With $70.95 million coming his way over this and the next three seasons, it’s not like he’ll be singing “Goodbye, Manhattan”, anytime soon. Some sports fans from his prior NBA home will be cheering, in hopes that Hardaway is the most successful product of the Michigan Wolverines’ athletic department today.
    Hardaway’s three-point attempt as time expired went long on Friday night, leaving him unable to salvage a 92-90 loss at Milwaukee, sealed when Enes Kanter was left Holding That L after the Greek Freak’s game-winning layup sailed over his head.
    While Kanter has been an offensive rebounding revelation for New York (15.7 O-Reb%, 3rd in NBA) in a featured role, his contract represents the most realistic means by which the Knicks can create some cap flexibility, if they’re not stuck picking up the tab on his $18.6 million player option this summer. As for franchise-face Kristaps Porzingis (career-high 23.0 PPG, NBA-high 2.3 BPG, 58 points in two games vs. the Hawks), his veteran extension is right around the corner. So, with the Knicks already saddled with Timmy’s deal, it’s essential for them find a way to move on from Kanter and Noah, soon.
    One challenge lottery-dwelling seller-teams have as the trade deadline approaches: their players know this may be their final time playing together. They want to look good in case they are on their way out the door, if in part hoping that Golden State or some top-flight title contender is somewhere marinating over acquiring them. This applies to Knicks like Courtney Lee, the Knicks’ minutes-leader whose 42.6 3FG% and former defensive reputation may seem appetizing to opposing GMs, and Willy Hernangomez, the once-exiled All-Rookie 1st Teamer who is suddenly getting playing time.
    The conundrum also applies to most members of the Hawks, particularly age-28-plus veterans like Marco Belinelli, Ersan Ilyasova, Luke Babbitt, Miles Plumlee, Dewayne Dedmon and Kent Bazemore, as management expressed their objective to get younger in preparation for the future. All except the then-injured Dedmon appeared in the Hawks 111-107 loss at MSG on December 10. Plumlee’s point-blank bucket giving Atlanta a brief lead late in the third quarter before Doug McDermott surged the Knicks ahead for good.
    Dennis Schröder was benched for the final eight minutes of that game, in favor of Isaiah Taylor. But with Belinelli, Ilyasova, and Bazemore combining for the Hawks’ final 13 points in the last two-and-a-half minutes, Atlanta closed the gap to two with seconds to go before Porzingis’ free throws iced the game.
    It was good to see Schröder playing well in the opening half of the Hawks’ 119-110 loss in Boston on Friday (25 points for the game, 8-for-8 FTs), along with Taurean Prince at least momentarily shaking off his cobwebs (31 points and 8 rebounds). It took a Kyrie-less Celtics team to break through with 41 third-quarter points to turn the tide, and a fuller defensive effort today could once again make this game a close-to-the-vest affair.
    If Noah wants to troll hard, he’d be smart to spend Super Bowl Sunday with Jimmy Dolan’s pal Charles Oakley. Closer to home, perhaps we’ll see Matt Ryan and Julio Jones prepping for a party together. Hey, Julio, catch this jumbo bag of Tostito’s… oops!
     
    Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3
    lethalweapon3
     
    “Twenty bucks says Justin has a wardrobe malfunction this Sunday. Deal?”
     
    Oh, hi there! For a while there, I was worried the lights weren't coming back on here on the Squawk. So no fancy-schmancy preview of tonight's contest between our Atlanta Hawks and the host Boston Celtics (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Boston) tonight, where it appears I might get to put a few "Ewing Theories" to the test!
    Instead a few Twitter links to help whet your appetite for what could be a Terry Rozier vs. Malcolm Delaney showdown.
    Hawks Game Notes from the Mothership are always available here: http://www.nba.com/gamenotes/hawks.pdf
    Welcome back! and Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3
    lethalweapon3
     
    “NOW, ONCE UPON A TIME, A HAWK AND A HORNET LOVED EACH OTHER VERY MUCH…”
     
    We already know the dealio with those Charlotte Hornets, the host Atlanta Hawks’ opponent tonight (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast in ATL, Fox Sports Carolinas in CLT) for the second time in a week. So in lieu of scintillating pseudo-analysis, I’m going to take a rare moment (yeah, right) to hop on the soapbox and Squawk about… proper pronoun usage.
    “We” are Tankamaniacs, for all intents and purposes. This season, “we” are resigned to desiring the team we root for to play hard, but fall short, more often than not, much like last Friday’s nice-try defeat in Charlotte. Our Hawks hung with the Hornets for the better part of four quarters and even seized a one-point lead with under three minutes to play. Our Hawks dared those Hornets to save the day and avert another momentous collapse in front of their home fans. And Charlotte obliged, rattling off 12 unanswered points, with Dwight Howard making crucial stops without (getting caught) fouling, to happily close the proceedings at the Cable Box.
    Our team’s nightly foes, unfortunately, are not KITT. Opponents aren’t equipped with some Turbo Boost button whenever the occasion calls for it. Sometimes, a somewhat-sucky Dennis Schröder will get trumped by an epically suckier Jeff Teague. Other times, his wayward shooting proves no match for a totally off-kilter Donovan Mitchell. Our team can leave perimeter shooters open all night long, as was the case in the three losses prior to Monday’s win over Minnesota, but they are not obligated to place the ball in the basket for them.
    “We” know, deep down, that this team, on its worst day, is not the worst NBA team ever designed by man. It is not, structurally, the least-competitive collection of players in the Association, with its Not-Worst coaching and player-development staff guiding the way. We’ve known these things since October. Yet “we” feign surprise and disappointment as we stray further away from 0-82 with each occasional victory, perhaps only because rivals like Orlando seem to be Competitanking harder, keeping their lead players on ice while pushing MVP candidates to post 60-point triple-doubles just to beat them.
    “We” are Hawks fans, now and into the future. “We” are not the Atlanta Hawks themselves. “They,” the 15-plus-man roster, hear all this “we”, and as far as “they” are concerned, “We” is a Nintendo game console. When “we” talk about how “we” need to lose every game, every night, “we” might as well be speaking French. Oui-oui!
    “They” are responsible for suiting up and preparing to square up with Warriors of the Golden State variety, not placating us Warriors of the Keyboard variety. “They” are True to Atlanta for as long as they’re here. But there’s that old adage about ensuring you give yourself oxygen, first, before passing the mask on to your neighbors.
    Individually, to a man, “they” are employed by the NBA, and would like to maximize their value to their future teams, be it the Hawks or somebody else. “They” are being watched and scrutinized by 29 other clubs on a nightly basis, and they don’t benefit from scouting reports that say, “Hey, this fella is a pure Tank Commander. It truly takes effort to suck as bad as him. He’ll be perfect for throwing games and getting our team to 20-62!”
    “They” would prefer to be around to support next season’s Hawks rookie star, to demonstrate that, together, they could be instrumental in swiftly turning around this intentional recession. “They” want to play right alongside 2018-19’s rook, perhaps come off the bench to give him a breather, to help him properly acclimate to Budball and the pro lifestyle, to fill his Kia up with popcorn and send him on daily Krispy Kreme runs. What “they” don’t want is to be summarily supplanted on the team, or in this league altogether, by him, whoever he becomes, however we acquire his services.
    “We” need to give Coach Bud and company a break. By most statistical measures, this should be the fifth-or-sixth-worst team right now. But as things stand, the Hawks (15-35) enter today with:
    The most in-conference losses (24) of any NBA team, including three more than Orlando, who have now gone over a month without their leading rebounder and longest-tenured veteran. The worst road record (4-20) in The Association, two full games worse than the Magicians, who nearly made it three last night. The most losses (14) versus NBA teams currently carrying losing records. That includes Charlotte (20-29), who had no intention of being one, yet would be 13-games below-.500 if not for two rope-releases courtesy of the Hawks so far this season. Despite their we-try-hard motif, 21 losses by margins of ten points or more, only one fewer than Phoenix and Sacramento, and three more than anyone in the East (Orlando, having played just one fewer game than Atlanta, has only 18). According to Playoff Status, the third-worst remaining schedule of opponents (behind only the Wizards and Knicks, neither of whom are pretending they’re not “Tanking”), based on winning percentage. Instead of balling out in the G-League, or overseas, random, unheralded guys named Delaney and Cavanaugh are granted 15-to-20 minutes a night, cutting their teeth no matter the quality of competition. Meanwhile, the team’s best three-point threat from the wing has been DNP-CD’d 15 times already.
    Everyone from Dennis Schröder, Kent Bazemore and Taurean Prince, to Malcolm Delaney and Isaiah Taylor are given ample opportunities to dig their way out of their own funk on the live floor, catching the hooks only when they mentally stray too far from Bud’s gameplan. The most obvious potentially-productive frontcourt tandem, including a would-be Rookie of the Year candidate, gets minutes off the bench, because Miles. Plumlee. Is. Starting. NBA. Basketball. Games.
    This season has been a master-class, conducted by Atlanta’s coaching staff, in how to underwhelm without making it blatantly obvious. They are fostering potential first-or-second-units of worthy NBA talent for the future that can occasionally win games right now, especially when opponents play down to, or below, their level. When opponents get low, we don’t just fight to get lower. That’s commendable, not excoriable.
    To reach the objective “we” Tankamaniacs ardently demand, the Hawks could have done simply offered some vet-min contracts to “me,” “you,” and “Harry.” It’s not like home attendance would get much worse, anyway. Maybe dish out some ten-days to 2Chainz, Migos and Hot Sauce when they’re in town to liven up a homestand or two. Let Nique draw up some plays where we move the ball from side-to-side, as he’s wont to suggest. And then, just sit back, and hope for the best… or, the opposite.
    But the Hawks aren’t interested in disposable contributors that can only seem to master the dark art of blowing chunks harder than everybody else. Yes, the degree of difficulty in overachieving will be raised, depending on what Travis Schlenk and “Hawks, Inc.” have up their sleeves in the coming week. But while players like Bazemore improve under our auspices, figuring out how to come through consistently (not comically) in the clutch on both ends of the floor, he raises either his value to current team, or the value of the return from any NBA team that covets his services.
    All of “them” provide a day-round utility to the Hawks organization that’s greater than the banality of “us” tracking final scores in hopes of the once-in-a-lifetime chance of maybe getting Nerlens Noel, Markelle Fultz, or the upstart SportsCenter wow-maker of the moment. None of “them” should be ruing the days they failed to “Chokafor for Okafor,” or “Yield for Hield”. That task is left for “us”.
    “We” are free to say, “We needed to lose this game!”, every night. That’s fine, so long as everyone uttering that understands who “we” does, and does not, include.
    Bidding “adieu” to all the “we” talk until after the game. That’s enough speaking French for today. Because… it is time, once more, for Tank Karaoke!
    It’s that Ol’ Skool Hip-Hop Edition, baby! Yo, you know how we do out here in The A.
    We got our Soul Brother #2, DJ Special Ad Wes Wilcox on the Ones and Twos. We got our Dookie-roped virtuoso G-Hill tickling the ivories as only he can. And, as always, Buddie Down Productions on the mic, bringing the bars, and the heat, straight from the street.
    You head-bobbers all know when to chime in. One. Two. Three. Kick it!

    Take Ilyasova. Take Ilyasova!
    **BELLY, BYE-BYE!**
    Here’s Ilyasova. Grab Ilyasova!
    **HEY! HEY!**
    Here’s Ilyasova. Get Ilyasova!
    **BELLY, BYE-BYE!**
    Here’s Ilyasova. Take Ilyasova!
    ((Dip to Verse 2!))
    Di-phy-si-cal-i-ty-di-di-di-dah-di-day
    **AIY!**
    All you sucka GMs, won’t you offer up some trades?
    **‘CAUSE?**
    Here go some “credit” from BUD-One
    **BO!**
    Come get your “credit” from BUD-One…
    To get a great draft pick, I need my team to stink
    So step up and get fleeced by WHO?
    **GM TRAVIS SCHLENK!** That’s him!
    He knows your barely-playoff squad is out here desperate for some
    **SAVIORS**
    Our cricket tacos come in Spicy Cajun
    **FLAVOR**
    That’s why we got no need for bland Derrick
    **FAVORS**
    Stretch out your slop and then we put them all on
    **WAIVERS**
    Twenty minutes nightly go to Isaiah
    **TAYLOR**
    Don’t need Howard back; that dude is soft as Teddy
    **RUXPIN**
    Nicolas Batum? He’s only good for steady
    **CHUCKIN’**
    Danny Ainge and Daryl Morey need to quit they
    **BLUFFIN’**
    Take Muskie in the morning, Cho; we’ll throw you in a
    **MUFFIN**
    My Team Prez woo you so hard, you’d think it was
    **SEDUCTION**
    Relieve me of Babbitt, come get Dewayne Dedmon
    Me second-half rotations you just con’t understond
    Ty Dorsey over **here**, DeAndre’ Bembry over **there**
    Clear out the lane, and watch my rook, Collins, get some
    **AIR! AIR! AIR! AIR!**
    **Ooooooooooooooooooo-oooh**
    What’s the matter with you, GM SVG?
    Don’t you know, you’re desperate, much?
    What’s the matter with you, GM Presti?
    Sam, swing a 3-way with Milwaukee Bucks!
    No, Fournier can’t help you out; don’t be a reacher
    You’re better off with Baze and his wack UA sneaker
    That Plumlee gonna get shopped, ‘n Schröder’s hookah bar flopped
    It’s all blowin’ smoke to meeeee
    Everybody’s talking ‘bout Delaney’s box score
    But he’s still playing fine to meeeee 
     
     
    RIP Rasual! and Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3
    lethalweapon3
     
    “Aww, c’mon Bud… I’m tryna tell you… they don’t serve Fellini’s Pizza out here!”
     
    Okay, Minnesota, you’ve had your fun. Now, cut it out. You and Houston, both.
    Sorry, Tankamaniacs, but it is Must-Win time for our Atlanta Hawks! There are only a handful of games where the Hawks genuinely can help their fans’ long-term cause by winning, and tonight’s tilt with the Timberwolves is one of them (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports North in MSP).
    You’ll remember that last season, the kings of The Process, Philadelphia, fell eight games short of securing the number-one draft lottery odds. The Sixers ended the season with lotto slot #4, slipped to #5 once the ping-pong balls bounced, then used a pick swap with Sacramento to sneak up to #3. But that still wasn’t #1. How did they wind up with the exclusive rights to select the youngster with the bulky shoulder and the free throw yips? They still had assets in their bag to sweeten any possible deal to move up.
    While it is a tall order, the Hawks might improve the quality of their draft assets with victories in their three games remaining versus the T’Wolves and Rockets. Atlanta holds Minnesota’s first-round pick thanks to the nifty 2015 move to deal 2014’s #15 pick Adreian Payne, whose attempt at directing a sequel to Love and Basketball in his dorm room apparently didn’t go over very well, before that first-round banana could change color from green to brown.
    That Wolves pick is lottery-protected, but 45 wins is all that should be needed to sew up a playoff spot out West, and there is little reason for this game to be among the baker’s dozen of requisite Ws for postseason-starved Minnesota (32-20).
    From Memphis to Sacramento, NBA teams are sending all the signals they reasonably can to make it clear they’re fighting for the bottom-dwelling lottery spot. Even after losing three in a row, Atlanta remains the hottest team over the past ten games among the NBA’s bottom-five. But even if the Hawks fail upwards a little, they have assets that no other bottom dweller, save for Phoenix and Philly, has at their disposal to creep up a spot, or three. Many of the lottery teams will need to pull out multiple rookie plums out of this draft pie, not just one good prospect, to begin turning things around, and they will be keeping Travis Schlenk’s cellie buzzing. “U up?”
    Schlenk and Company can package one, or both, of those low-first-rounders owed by Minnesota and Houston, and even a high second-round pick. In case LeBron World falls to tatters, Atlanta’s got a top-10-protected potential lottery pick from Cleveland in 2019 as well. They could even use some permutation of those three lower picks to ascend to the middle tier of this draft. It’s apparent, sadly, that the Rockets’ first-rounder will hover around the high-twenties through the end of the season. So, it would be nice if the Wolves’ low-first (presently at #25) could somehow slide up into mid-1st territory.
    No awareness of that strategery makes it easier for the Hawks (14-35) to pull off a fifth-consecutive win over a Western Conference opponent tonight, although one can forgive Minnesota if they’re a bit preoccupied, with playing in Toronto tomorrow and navigating whatever travel issues await once they return home for Super Bowl Weekend.
    Coach Tom Thibodeau’s club is 3-5 on the front end of back-to-back series, most recently losing last Wednesday in Portland the day before traveling to Golden State. They’ve only swept one of their seven back-to-backs, a homestand against Dallas and Charlotte back in early November. Even if the Hawks rev up the Competititank and fall short tonight, they can at least tenderize these Wolves on behalf of the Raptors.
    Thibs’ reputation of riding his star players for heavy minutes precedes him. True to form, Jimmy Butler (team-high 21.7 PPG, career-high 50.4 2FG%) places 5th in per-game minutes among active players, while Andrew Wiggins (career-low 50.8 TS%) is 10th, and Butler’s fellow All-Star, Karl-Anthony Towns (career-highs of 9.2 D-Rebs/game, 40.0 3FG%, 83.8 FT%), ranks 14th. 32-year-old Taj Gibson (career-high 33.7 MPG), a Thibs acolyte, is essential for keeping the Wolves’ sketchy team defense (24th in D-Rating) from falling through the floor.
    Also logging career-high floor-time under Thibodeau: former Hawk floor leader Jeff Teague (33.4 MPG), who turns 30 this June. As was the case with Dennis Schröder during Jeff’s latter years in Atlanta, Teague at least has a precocious up-and-comer backing him up in 21-year-old Minnesota native Tyus Jones (6-for-8 FGs, 5 assists, no TOs in Saturday’s home win vs. BKN).
    Jones has held the fort capably as a starter, with Minnesota going 6-4 during Teague’s injury absences. The elder guard is under contract through at least next season, but Jones’ vastly improved defensive production (2nd in Defensive RPM, 5th in total RPM among NBA PGs, as per ESPN) has many wondering how soon the heir will become apparent.
    Versus Atlanta, Thibs will be as inclined as ever to go deep into his rotation and rely on his bench corps in the middle frames. Minnesota will turn to Jones, Gorgui Dieng, future MMA star Nemanja Bjelica, and the irrepressible former Hawk Sixth Man of the Year Award winner, Jamal Crawford, the 37-year-old who would actually like to be on the floor a lot more often (18.9 MPG, lowest since his 2000-01 rookie season). Former North Clayton High and Georgia Tech star Marcus Georges-Hunt has also been seeing more than mere mop-up duty lately.
    Coach Bud will likely showcase more of North Star State native Mike Muscala (career-high 6.3 PPG, 44.1 3FG%, 3.6 RPG, 1.2 FTs/game, and 0.6 SPG all you GMs out there!)  Hawks fans can expect to see more of guard Tyler Dorsey, who acquitted himself as well as anybody (team-high 14 points, incl. 6-for-7 FTs, plus 4 assists) on Saturday against the Wizards, not only tonight but especially after the trade-deadline smoke clears.
    For the Hawks’ starters and reserves, the key task is simpler said than done: under no circumstances do you foul Crawford (team-high 89.9 FT%; 18.7 PPG last 3 games). Jamal okey-doked a Blazers defender last week to extend his personal record to 52 four-point plays in his career. Keeping Crawford, Butler and the Wolves (NBA-high 19.7 FTs/game) away from the charity stripe can short-circuit their offense and keep the Hawks in the running, even during Atlanta’s more scattershot-shooting phases (27.9 3FG% in Saturday’s blowout loss to wide-open Washington; under 35 3FG% in four of last six games).
    Facing his former mentor after two consecutive clunkers, Dennis Schröder (30.8 FG% last 2 games) should be able to collect some more gotheeeems and lob-dimes versus a Minnesota squad that can be porous around the rim (NBA-worst 67.0 opponent restricted-area FG%). That should be the case if Dennis smartly uses screens and DHO’s to grant himself space from Teague and/or Butler, and if the action from bigs like John Collins, Dewayne Dedmon and Moose is strong enough to draw Towns (1.5 BPG) further away from the hoop.
    If Atlanta can continue to even up the points in the paint (only a 36-38 deficit versus the Wizards) tonight, and if the Hawks do a better job of closing out on shooters without fouling, they can give the Timberwolves a run for their draft slot. I mean, money.
     
    Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3
    lethalweapon3
     
    Black-and-Volt-Green-Black-and-Volt-Green-Black-and-Volt-Green-Black-and-Volt-Green…
     
    Sure, the Atlanta Hawks laid an egg in the final minutes of last night’s loss in Charlotte, after its revved-up Competitank finally ran out of gas. But as they return home for a quick run with the Washington Wizards tonight (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, NBC Sports Washington), there’s a different egg-laying bird I’m concerned about.
    There’s a strong likelihood that whoever’s name follows the words, “THE ATLANTA HAWKS SELECT…” this summer, will be our Goose for the foreseeable future. He’ll have his share of flaws and setbacks and disappointments. But just like the Wizards’ John Wall and Bradley Beal, just like DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento’s former hope now residing in New Orleans, our Goose will be counted on to periodically lay some Golden Eggs.
    It’s going to be on our Hawks, to make sure we don’t succumb to our rapacity, that we don’t kill the Goose.
    Alvin Thibodeau Gentry is having a sobering egg-free breakfast this morning. His Pelicans were midway through their first full season with Cousins playing alongside Anthony Davis, another unique frontcourt talent, albeit one with a tenuous injury history. And here they were, with the playoffs in their sights, knowing they cannot win games without one of the two All-Stars on the floor, if not both.
    Monty Williams – Monty! Williams! – Gentry’s predecessor, got canned in New Orleans, after following the owner’s directive and reaching the playoffs for the first time in four years with 45 wins, only to get swept by the one of the greatest teams of all time in the opening round.
    That championship team’s lead assistant, Gentry, was wooed to The Big Easy, and has failed to get more than 35 wins in the past two seasons. Even in 2016-17, with Cousins in tow for the back half of the season, and the oft-injured Davis playing over 70 games for the first time, the Pels finished at 34-48, seven games behind the 8-seed.
    Out of desperation, Gentry had both the 24-year-old Davis (36.3 MPG; 41.0 in last eight games) and the 27-year-old Cousins (36.2 MPG; 39.0 in last 10 games) logging career-high amounts of playing time, his Pelicans cranking out some of the shiniest Golden game-orbs the NBA world has ever seen. No rest days for Cuz, no, as it’s the game he DNP-CD’s that might cost this team a playoff spot. Pels GM Dell Demps wasn’t helping either – which one of Omer Asik, Asik Ajinca, Cheick Diallo or Solomon Hill are you resting these two stars to play?
    Now, Gentry is down one Goose. He’ll be inclined to ramp up the Golden Egg production of Davis to help compensate for the Achilles-tearing loss of Cousins. And while don’t know when, we will know how that will turn out.
    Cousins’ fellow collegiate Wildcat, Wall had his own durability issues in his early career, but as he started cranking out All-Star bids, and after his team added lottery talent like Beal and Otto Porter, his long-dormant Wizards finally began to peak.
    Now at 27 years-old, Wall’s third head coach, Scott Brooks, wants to keep his All-Star point guard fresh for the postseason. But as Washington’s bad road losses continue to pile up – by 23 in Dallas, by 24 in Charlotte, by 35 in Brooklyn, by 14 at Philips Arena, all since mid-December – and as the value of playoff seeding becomes clearer, Brooks is starting to ramp up Wall’s floor time.
    Wall’s 34.1 MPG is his lowest average since 2012-13, but it’s up to 36.7 in the games since Atlanta tripped up the Wiz 113-99 back on December 27. His per-minute production hasn’t improved (20.3 points, 9.7 assists, 1.4 steals) since last season, but Brooks isn’t about to squander a first-round upper-seed – a place where Washington (26-22), not Miami, should be – by leaning on the likes of Tim Frazier, Jodie Meeks and Tomas Satoransky.
    Beal hasn’t managed a full slate in his five prior NBA seasons, but Brooks is relying on BB-gun to play a career-high 36.1 MPG (39.2 in his past 12 contests). His ramped-up production was good enough to earn him his first All-Star appearance next month. But what happens to Washington’s chances in the East if either of Wall or Beal blows a gasket from overuse?
    I’m often right there with critics of Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer for metering out his newest Goose. Crank up the playing time and start John Collins (20.3 MPG, 2.4 personal fouls/game in last 21 games; down from 23.0 MPG and 3.7 fouls/game in first 21 appearances), and Johnny Bap’s First-Team All-Rookie and ROY award-nominee credentials would become much clearer to a national audience.
    But Coach Bud and the Hawks have grander schemes in mind than just wowing Hawks fans from one game to the next amid a season of recession. Sure, you might be tempted to insert a struggling Dennis Schröder late in last night’s game in hopes of sewing up a victory, just as Cousins was in late, fighting for rebounds to save the Pelicans from yet another crushing loss in the waning moments on national TV. But in winning those kinds of battles, what wars do you risk losing?
    If our Hawks (14-34) play their cards right with this year’s and the next year’s batch of rooks, with a focus on proper conditioning, treatment, and carefully-monitored development, then we could be setting ourselves up for something truly Golden down the road. Alternatively, the way Washington and New Orleans have been handling their Geese, chances are the eventual results won’t be everything it’s cracked up to be.
    Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3
    lethalweapon3
     
    “Soulless Boy, Kill’em!”
     
    “I wanna kill them.” That’s the desire Dwight Howard professed during shootaround to the local rag about his most recent ex-team, the Atlanta Hawks, who pay him and his Charlotte Hornets (7:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast in ATL, Fox Sports Carolinas) a visit tonight. Well, that’s not very hospitable, D12!
    Unlike the Hawks’ last opponent, Howard (20 points and 15 rebounds in a 109-91 win vs. ATL back on Oct. 20) and the Hornets have been struggling to establish a killer instinct. There’s no better time to start figuring out how, than when you’re sitting five games below the playoff line and facing the prospect, tonight, of finishing closer in the standings to a team with the NBA’s worst record than to the 8-seed.
    We’re all fortunate nothing literally happened to Steve Clifford to add to his starting center’s “coach killer” persona. Clifford’s a tough guy, as noted by Woj at ESPN: he returned to coach the Bugs against the Hawks in November 2013 just a few days after getting stents inserted. But a lingering sleep deprivation problem, one that long preceded Dwight’s arrival in the Piedmont, produced aggravating headaches that eventually made it impossible for Coach Cliff to function, never mind roam the sidelines in a high-pressure vocation.
    But Coach Cliff has those headaches beat, or so he tells us. His team has been doing its best to re-induce that malady, both from him and the folks who populate Spectrum Center. Only the Nets and the Hawks have as many home losses among Eastern Conference clubs so far. And my land, some of these losses. Last Saturday night’s wresting of defeat from the jaws of victory, versus division rival Miami in front of the home crowd, had even Yours Truly’s milkshake-sucking vein popping out between my eyebrows.
    “That’s how you become a team that wins two and loses one, like we have been,” said Clifford to the Charlotte Observer and the postgame media of his Hornets (19-27), who have won six of their past ten games, but haven’t won three-straight since back before Thanksgiving. “Just a total lack of concentration, intensity, technique, and understanding who the hell you’re playing against. It’s terrible. Terrible.”
    The blow-by-blow of that loss, where Charlotte blew a 10-point lead in a manner of ten minutes, low-lighted by a five-point lead evaporating in the space of four seconds during the final minute, is too excruciating to recollect here. Yet the Hornets could have salvaged the game in overtime, had Dwight not made it his mission to “kill” Miami’s Kelly Olynyk with a senseless foul with just 0.2 seconds remaining.
    Even with Clifford chewing his team out, the Hornets went out and walked the tightrope just two nights later, sad-sack Sacramento narrowing a 20-point Charlotte lead to just three with 85 seconds left. The Kings got cute with Hack-A-Howard, and Dwight (53.4 FT%; 53.3 FT% last season w/ ATL) made them pay by sinking both freebies. Moments later, his offensive rebound off a way-too-familiar missed jumper from Nicolas Batum (40.8 FG%; 28.8 3FG%), and a defensive goaltend on his putback, saved Hornets fans from wanting to tear the arena down with their teeth.
    Those nervous fans caught a break Wednesday as the Hornets (minus-5.6 fourth-quarter Net Rating, 26th in NBA; NBA-low 44.7 fourth-quarter eFG%) played from behind for most of the game against the Pelicans. But chances at victory were dashed shortly thereafter, by Dwight barreling into Anthony Davis for an offensive foul, then by a pair of bad passes from Kemba Walker, who senses that his time as the face of basketball in the Queen City is fleeting, despite assurances from His Airness to the contrary.
    Now the Hornets (6-13 on the road) simply want to wrap-up their homestand at 3-2, before embarking on a stretch of seven away-games in their next eight, including next Wednesday at the Highlight Factory.
    A key reason they’re even in some of these contests to begin with? Marvin Williams is no more an ugly duckling from the perimeter. The feathery touch on the stretch-four’s jumper has been on display the whole season, the Hawks’ former corner-shot lamppost shooting a career-best 44.4 3FG% (4th in NBA, two spots in front of ex-Hawk Al Horford).
    Without Marvin’s consistent shot on a squad shooting just 44.2 percent from the field (28th in NBA), defenders would be easily clamping down on Kemba (41.9 FG%, lowest among top-20 NBA shooters) and Dwight (3.0 TOs/game) and getting stops. Walker generally takes care of the ball, but the Hawks (NBA-high 18.7 points per-48 off TOs) will look for Dwight to get sloppy with careless dribbles and excessive physicality away from the play. The Hawks will deploy his trade counterpart, Miles Plumlee, and charge-sponge Ersan Ilyasova to help throw Howard (6 TOs, 5 personals vs. ATL in October) off his game.
    Charlotte allows the third-fewest points-per-48 off turnovers, in part due to Kemba’s ballhandling, but also because they have Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Batum to get back. Carolinian Kent Bazemore and Taurean Prince (just 13 minutes in the blowout loss vs. TOR on Wednesday, no assists) can get out on the break, but they should be prepared to find Dennis Schröder (25 points, 11-for-19 2FGs @ CHA in October) and other shooters on the floor as passing options to finish offensive plays with buckets and trips to the line.
    Lost in Atlanta’s blowout loss to the Raptors on Wednesday was the effort of Rising Star John Collins, who grabbed 16 rebounds and rejected four shots over 26 minutes, generally ignoring the scoreboard as the Hawks cut Toronto’s lead in half to close the contest. He’ll try to show he’s grown by leaps and bounds since last October, when he fouled out of his second game in just over 15 minutes of play.
    Hawks fans are free to ignore Dwight’s murderous mindset coming into this evening’s affairs. The Hornets aren’t so much obsessed with slaying opponents, these days, as they are merely surviving fourth quarters without humiliating themselves.
     
    Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3