“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!