• Hawks at Cavaliers

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    “You’re just NOW finding out about Bobby Caldwell?”


    Dennis Schröder was about to have one of those quarters. He’s no Reggie Miller, but hey, seven points in 50 seconds! On the back end of a back-to-back, a tiring Knicks team was proving increasingly hapless trying to keep his layups off the glass. Their hard-earned fourth-quarter lead shrunk to a precarious two points. The Garden natives were getting restless.

    And at that moment, Mike Budenholzer recalled Luka Doncic’s 33 points versus Olympiacos. “Dennis! Come sit by me.”

    Such is life these days for Schröder and the Competitanking Atlanta Hawks, who will strive to stay close… but maybe not TOO close!... to the burgundy-hot Cleveland Cavaliers (Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Ohio).

    Dennis, and Taurean Prince, know the deal, though. If Coach Bud is benching you or chewing you out on the sidelines during stoppages of play, it’s only because he cares. He cares enough about you, at least, to know that you’re an integral part of his team’s future, and that how successful he becomes is tethered to how much you improve – as a playmaker, a defender, a floor leader, a team-oriented competitor – over time, and how well you sustain that improved play during games.

    So, don’t expect Schröder (career-highs of 20.4 PPG, 6.4 APG, and 49.3 2FG%) to come home and kick his hookah over getting yanked at critical junctures. Sure, he was 9-for-12 inside the perimeter on Sunday evening. But why was his counterpart, the shoulda-been Hawks backup Jarrett Jack, going 6-for-8 from the field for the Knicks and getting to the line with ease? Struggling as he might be, why is rookie Frank Ntilikina getting the most open three-point look he has seen in his young life?

    Neither Isaiah Taylor nor Malcolm Delaney performed even marginally better as a ballhandler, but that’s beside the point. Budenholzer wants to see his core starters applying tangible defensive pressure, and that wasn’t the case in Gotham. The Hawks induced just 12 team turnovers out of a previously frustrated New York team on Sunday evening, and Atlanta was outscored off turnovers 25-9.

    Dennis knows the deal, that he and Taurean (17 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists @ NYK) are getting the treatment Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili once suffered, and endured. If Bud’s not flinching at your errors and oversights, it’s probably because you’re not going to be around here for terribly long or, otherwise, because you’re out there Bazemoring.

    At the other end of the spectrum, one NBA team has been soldiering on without a former league MVP, and doing just fine, since it’s not the only one on their roster. The Cavs (19-8) won 13 in a row before incurring the Wrath of Oladipo last week. Having righted the ship, coach Tyronn Lue’s club is out to establish a whole new streak after outlasting Embiid-less Philadelphia on Saturday.

    Cleveland eked out the 105-98 win over the Sixers without either of Kevin Love (hip) or Tristan Thompson (calf). Both big men are likely to suit up tonight against the Hawks (6-20), playing enough minutes that Mr. Do-It-All, LeBron James (30 points, 13 rebounds, 13 assists vs. PHI), won’t have to live up to his MVP-worthy name.

    Love had 25 points and 16 boards (6 offensive) in the Cavs’ 121-114 win in Atlanta on November 30, allowing LeBron (24 points, 12 assists @ ATL) and his old running buddy Dwyane Wade (19 points, 3-for-5 3FGs, 4 steals off the bench) to give the Hawks something light. James will spend the evening deciding who he’d prefer to troll defensively, Schröder, or Ersan “Can’t Miss” Ilyasova (10-for-11 3FGs in past two games).

    Another well-intended target of Coach Bud’s short-hook, John Collins (shoulder) is healthy enough to take a pool dive in the snow for 400 bucks, but the Hawks’ brass wants him to get some practice in before returning to full competition. Johnny Bap will be right down the lakeshore from Quicken Loans Arena, in G-League Erie, making it tougher on the Hawks’ Ersan Ilyasova, Miles Plumlee and Tyler Cavanaugh to keep Cleveland out of the paint.

    Atlanta allows an NBA-high 14.2 second-chance points per-48. New York outscored Atlanta 50-44 in paint points during Sunday’s 111-107 win, a gap that was only widening before Schröder near-single-handedly popped the Knicks’ balloon.

    Dennis (27.5 PPG vs. CLE, most vs. any team played at least twice; 7.0 APG) has not had to keep up offensively with the likes of Cleveland’s Isaiah Thomas (hip, out for at least another week) or Derrick Rose (bone spurs, out maybe for good), and he doesn’t have Iman Shumpert (knee surgery) around to keep him from wrecking shop via dribble penetration. But with LeBron not having to pack the paint, and with Thompson back, Dennis will find the forest in front of the hoop to be a little thicker, so he’ll have to contribute in ways beyond collecting gotheems, especially on the other end of the floor.

    If Schröder plays his cards right, he’ll scare the bejesus out of the Cavs once more tonight. And at that moment, he’ll get his congratulatory sideline towel. And then, maybe we’ll get to see if Josh Magette can "provide a spark"!

    Let’s Go Hawks!


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