Saint That a Shame?
Our Atlanta Hawks seek to make it two Ws in a row for the just second time… **gulp**… this season, as they face a resurgent New Orleans… **cough, ahem**… Pelicans team (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports N’Awlins) at The Highlight Factory.
New Orleans… **giggle, snort**… comes in after a huge overtime win in Boston tonight, looking for… **smirk**… their fourth straight victory for the first… **lol, lmao**… okay, I’m sorry, Hawks fans, bear with me for a minute.
We interrupt this game thread to ask a very important question.
AINTS fans! Where y’at?
Spectacularly blowing a lead with 61 yards of defensive room and only ten seconds left? Who Dat? More like, Who DOES Dat? No, seriously, what happened, y’all?
New Orleans, Lose-iana: were you not the townsfolk who couldn’t seem to mind their own dadgum business, with all the incessant 28-to-3 jokes? Banners flying over that substandard Mercedes Benz stadium that’s domed so nobody inside can see them, Lame halftime dancers on the field pepping up their fans by forming some midgame score from a Super Bowl their team didn’t even participate in (y’all fans remember making it to a Super Bowl, right? I know, it’s been a minute.)
Wide receivers rocking pregame tees with the score in black-and-old-gold? As if that score had anything to do with you? All those “28-3 Merry Xmas” signs? Well how now, brown cow? “24-23 0:10 Happy MLK Day!” There’s a five-letter word Antonio Brown has for this, but I’m forgetting, what’s it called?
There’s no telling which millennium we’ll be in when the Falcons win their first Super Bowl. But when it happens, please, Atlanta, don’t let it blow up our coaches’ heads the way it does Sean Payton’s. Seriously, what is it with this guy? One little Bountygate-fueled Lombardi Trophy, and now his head is all inflated like a Foxboro football. Choke signs at Devonta, really? (I know, you got selective amnesia about that, Seanie. I would, too!) Postgame chest-chopping Dirk Koetter (WOO!), of all people, like you’re Ric Fricking Flair?
You’d have thought an inflated-head coach would have learned his lessons, after acting pretend-tough and getting humbled by the Falcons AND the Bucs. But no, not you, Petty Payton!
As the final seconds ticked on what should have been a stone-cold lock Aints victory, Showoff Sean got caught taking a moment to turn toward the Vikings fans (Minnesota, we owe you guys at least twice now) and gloat, mocking them with their own “Skol!” chant. Then Marcus Williams, perhaps inspired by his coach, does a Ric Flair strut of his own, instead of properly defending a simple out-route to Stefon Diggs. I promise I won’t strip down like D’Angelo and show off my one-pack flab, but I must turn to ask you, Coach: How Does It Feeeeeeel?
Your Big Easy town has ONE major sports championship. Guess what: we have one too! And Atlanta got its trophy fifteen years before you. But you would never know it from hearing us open our big yaps, would ya? Take a hint, stay in yo lane, and get the Falcon over yourselves!
Okay, that’s off my chest. Now, where were we… oh yeah, it’s their basketball team that’s coming to town. I wonder how many Saints will be watching the Hawks instead of preparing for the Eagles.
As if the Philips Arena seats weren’t going to be vacant enough for a midweek January tilt between the Hawks and Pellies. There’s more than one transplant troll who was all set to show up tonight bearing those unbearable 28-3 signs, decked out in black-and-shiny-gold attire, strutting around with a parasol behind Jerome and The Stinger for his soon-to-be NFC Champions.
Now? Yeah, the frigid, icy weather outside is matching their Aint-fan souls on the inside. Where their etouffee-eating butts would have been, expect a few additional empty chairs on display as these NBA teams take the floor.
Okay, okay… onto the Pelicans. Don’t let the Aints’ woes distract you from the fact that a 2-11 Hawks team blew a pair of two-touchdown leads, one in each half, along with a four-point lead with under two minutes to play at the Smoothie King Center in November.
A pair of jumpshots from Kent Bazemore (team-highs of 22 points and 7 assists @ NOP on 11/13) helped Atlanta seize the momentum back before halftime. But Baze’s last-ditch three-point attempt was blocked by Jrue Holiday to seal the 106-105 victory for the Pelicans, a game New Orleans led for barely over three minutes (Atlanta for over forty minutes) of the contest.
You can forgive the NOPes if they come into tonight’s contest a bit road-weary. They took the Eastern Conference leading Celtics into OT and prevailed last night by a 116-113 score, but had little time to waste in getting, first, to Logan and, then, to an ice-glazed Hartsfield-Jackson, checking into their beds after 3:00 AM last night.
After toppling New York and Boston, sweeping the 3-game road swing with a win over Atlanta would give the Bayou Birds not only their first four-game win streak of the season, it would also place them four games above .500 for the first time in 2017-18.
A home-friendly schedule to close out January could keep the momentum going further, as New Orleans (23-20) hopes to catch Russell Westbrook and the OK3 (24-20) for the fifth slot in the Western Conference playoff chase. Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry needs to be concerned, though, with making sure his team doesn’t run out of NO3.
Can surefire MVP candidate Anthony Davis (career-highs of 58.9 2FG%, 34.7 3FG%, 82.1 FT%) crank out at least 40-and-15 for the third consecutive game? That points-rebounds combo is a feat that has been accomplished just 341 times by NBA players since 1963, as per basketball-reference, but on nine occasions already by the 24-year-old Davis (45-and-16 @ BOS yesterday; 48-and-17 @ NYK on Sunday). This includes another pair of consecutive back-to-back games in October 2016.
From bball-ref, the last player I can see who went for 40-and-15 in consecutive contests was Yung Shaq (November 1994). The only other NBA player to notch 40-and-15 twice this season? Davis’ Twin Tower in the frontcourt, DeMarcus Cousins.
It’s kind of a pity that Gentry must lean so heavily on Unibrow (36.0 MPG), Cousins (career-high 36.1 MPG), and guard Jrue Holiday (36.9 MPG, most since his 2013 All-Star season). The trio combined for over 128 minutes last night in Beantown. That’s just two days after running the floor for a cumulative 130 minutes at MSG, to also outlast the Knicks in OT.
They’ve got young legs, to be sure, but you can tell Cousins (25.4 PPG, 2.2 3FGs/game, 12.7 RPG, 5.1 APG) is deliberately pacing himself. Watch your TV screen whenever Boogie (assuming he plays today) makes an outlet pass, turns the ball over, blows a layup, or turns to the refs to plead after a non-whistle. Watch him disappear, completely, from your camera’s view as his teammates scamper down the court, 4-on-5, either in fastbreak offense (NOP: 6th in pace, 10th in fastbreak points, 19th in points per-48 off TOs) or transition defense (NOP opponents: 5th-most fastbreak points per-48, 7th-most points per-48 off TOs). Count the number of times he never even shows up in the picture.
Yes, Cuz is loafing, especially when he sags on opponents’ pick-and-rolls, but it appears to be by design, with permission implicitly granted by Gentry. Cousins plays such an active role in the halfcourt offense that he prefers to conserve his energies while doing pretty much anything else. He recognizes this is all the effort needed to reach the playoffs for the first time in his 8-year NBA career, and he wants to be in decent condition by the time the dogwoods break out.
One can imagine Gentry wants to alleviate Holiday (career-highs of 18.5 PPG, 57.6 2FG%) and his pinball-tilting pair of star bigs, if only he had a roster that could go more than two lines deep. Jameer Nelson is out on personal leave, while rookie guard Frank Jackson (broken foot) won’t return for a couple more weeks. Neither will the brutally overpaid Solomon Hill (hamstring), who may make his first appearance this season after the All-Star break, nor will Tony Allen. The Grindfather had a setback in his recovery from a fractured fibula and won’t get on the floor until New Orleans returns home.
That leaves Gentry to turn to Ian Clark, Darius Miller, Dante Cunningham, Cheick Diallo and Omer Asik to serve cleanup duties for the starters, which include Rajon Rondo and E’Twaun Moore. New Orleans’ Big Three usually needs at least one of these residual Pelicans to go off to have success on a given night. Given the mileage their stars have logged, N’Awlins may need at least two Pellie-pellets to help secure victory tonight.
Back in November, they’d have blown the home game versus Atlanta without Miller’s 21 points (5-for-8 3FGs) to supplement Moore’s game-high 24 (11-for-18 FGs). Last night, the task fell to Clark, who managed 15 bench points in almost 32 minutes, including the final 18.5 minutes before Holiday could put the game on ice with a pair of weakly-contested mid-range jumpers.
Christmas is long past, but Atlanta (12-31; 4 straight Ws when holding opponents to double-digits) must Run Run like Rudolph for 48 minutes, and make the Pelicans reel like a merry-go-round. A full team defensive effort will be needed by Dennis Schröder (5-for-14 2FGs, 0-for-4 3FGs @ NOP; 26 points, 5 D-Rebs, 7 assists in Monday’s win over the Kawhi-less Spurs) and the Hawks (18.8 points per-48 off TOs, 3rd in NBA), putting pressure on Rondo and Cousins to issue wild passes, and on Davis and Holiday to put the ball on the floor and up for grabs.
The Pelicans were looking pretty good the last time Davis was on this arena floor, a 112-94 blowout win that could have been even wider had Davis not crashed into the stands WWE-style while pursuing a loose ball. Some hoop-wonks at Inpredictable.com have created a new “Win Shares”-style measure called “Win Probability Added” (WPA), and Davis’ 4.99 WPA outpaces the entire NBA field. For kicks and giggles, would you venture a guess as to who leads the Hawks in this probabilistic category?
Your Bologna-born baller has a first name, and it’s M-A-R-C-O! The former New Orleans Hornet, Marco Belinelli (4-for-6 3FGs and 4 steals @ NOP on 11/13) has a 2.37 WPA which ranks 25th in the league, ahead of such notables as LaMarcus Aldridge, Otto Porter, Nikola Mirotic, and Al Horford. Aside from Harrison Barnes and Dirk, Polo’s WPA is the highest among anybody not playing on a Top-8 team. Just putting his business on Front Street, for all you data-loving NBA GMs lurking for trades out there.
Even with Davis tilting at shots in the paint the last time these two teams met, the Pelicans had little answer for Atlanta’s big men, including then-starter Dewayne Dedmon (5-for-5 FGs in just 13 minutes @ NOP), John Collins (6-for-10 FGs), or even Tyler Cavanaugh (6-for-7 FGs, incl. 4-for-4 3FGs). Miles Plumlee and the Hawks’ bigs must avoid drawing cheap defensive fouls that let Davis and Cousins pad their boxscore stats while allowing their teammates to catch their collective breath.
Here’s hoping the True To Atlanta fans who brave the arctic temperatures downtown are treated to an entertaining evening, regardless of the final outcome on the scoreboard. As for any New Orleans fans at the game, if you need to stay warm, there’s a Starbucks in the food court… oh, wait, on second thought, never mind. Coffee is for Closers.
Let’s Go Hawks!