“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!