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    Atlanta Hawks community, for the fans, by the fans

    lethalweapon3

    How Much Would YOU Pay?
     
    Run into random Brooklyn Nets fans at Philips Arena, where their winless team is preparing to face the Atlanta Hawks (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, YES Network), and you’ll find they’re far more into it for the “BROOOOOOKLYN!” thing than the “Nets” stuff. If you manage to find some true-blue, bona fide “Nets” fans, you’ll know, because they possess a button, or a T-Shirt, that declares, “I WAS THERE FOR 0-18!” By now, it was supposed to be a point of pride, not irony.
    November 2009 was a rough time in the Meadowlands of New Jersey, notably for hoops fans just seven seasons removed from the last NBA Finals campaign at the Izod Center. Two seasons before, franchise face Jason Kidd was shipped to Dallas, in exchange for Devin Harris, fluff, and draft picks that would, one day, materialize as Ryan Anderson and Jordan Crawford.
    The 2009-2010 Nets were working to break their arena lease, vacate their swampy home of the prior 25-plus years, and relocate to sunny Newark. But it was becoming clear to those in the know that the Prudential Center would not be their final destination. A filthy-rich man-of-mystery was arriving from Russia, but not With Love for the Garden State. Meanwhile, the Nets rolled out the likes of Trenton Hassell, Josh Boone, Rafer Alston, Bobby Simmons and Yi Jianlian into their starting lineups, and the march to 12-70 futility commenced.
    At the hands of the Mavs’ Kidd, the Nets fell at home to 0-18, the worst start out of the blocks of any NBA team’s season in history. The latter-day Sixers genuinely try their darnedest to be this good of a flop. From the owner’s box to the stands and the sidelines, everyone affiliated with the Nets found themselves eagerly on the hunt for a new jersey.
    Speaking of new jerseys, you know, a lot of people like their sports uniforms the way they like their coffee. Change the look to Black, the thought in sports fashion circles go, and you instantly broaden your appeal. It worked, after all, in Los Angeles: you won’t get Nobody With Attitude to rock some yellow and purple hockey jersey, not unless it has LAKERS emblazoned on it.
    So, sure, things worked out swimmingly well for the L.A. Kings, in terms of merchandising and the results on the ice. But as coin collector Bruce McNall would advise, before you reach for the black yarn, it really, really helps to go get yourself a Gretzky first.
    On the hardwood, the NBA’s Nets moved to a grittier locale in New York City, dumped the goody-two-shoes tri-color scheme of New Jersey Americans yore, and projected to be decidedly in-the-black in the stands and on every balance sheet by now. But try as they might, Mikhail Prokhorov and his trusty general manager Billy King could not get themselves a Gretzky. And now that it’s clear the biggest name they could bring to the borough, seven-time All-Star Joe Johnson, isn’t even a Messier, things have gotten messier. With an announced crowd of 12,576 for Monday’s tilt with ex-coach Jason Kidd’s Bucks, there were more black seats than fans in black garb.
    Six of those seven mid-season appearances came for Joe in an Atlanta Hawks uniform. Now at age 34, Joe (9.3 PPG, 32.6 FG% through 4 games, team-high 32.8 minutes per game) has to find it a peculiar time. Barring some epic global catastrophe wiping out everyone not riding in a golden Ford F-650 limo truck, Joe is the second-highest-paid player in the National Basketball Association for the final time in his life.
    With the influx of new media-driven revenue to the league, Johnson’s near-$25 million hit to the payroll will soon go from “He’s Making What?” to “Oh, Sure, Sounds About Right!” among the next crop of lucky NBA free agents. He’ll be one of them, too, this summer, as his infamous Deal With the A$G Devil is set to expire. Knock a zero-digit off that annual salary, and he’ll be set to sign his retirement contract somewhere next summer. Maybe with a contender! Or, maybe back with Brooklyn.
    Unlike the baller above him in the Fortune 50000 rankings, Joe doesn’t need “mental-health days” off to gather his bearings. What he could really use is a hot-and-ready understudy waiting among the wings, and with all due respect, Bojan Bogdanovic (18.2 3FG%), Sergey Karasev, Markel Brown (33.3 FG%) and Wayne Ellington (21.4 FG%) aren’t cutting the deli mustard. After a promising offseason, playing Rondae Hollis-Jefferson more than the five minutes the rookie got in Wednesday’s home loss to – there’s that man again – Jason Kidd and the Bucks would help matters a lot.
    It is, indeed, a peculiar time for Joe. The man who rode in to Georgia on a white horse and traded him to Brooklyn, Danny Ferry now chills out in seats above him at Barclays Center, as an informal advisor sitting alongside his former trading partner at Nets games. Despite the losing, this particular King is making himself out to be more un-deposable as ever before, just yesterday bringing in Woodson/Drew-era Hawks assistant Bob Bender to join the scouting department alongside Danny’s pops. King is propping up his old associates (the Ferries, Bender, Randy “Throw Your Hands in the” Ayers, etc.) like soldier trees around the haunted house that has been his management regime.
    Brook Lopez was certainly there for 0-18. He was there for every unnerving minute of it, as a barely-drinking-aged second-year starting center, blessed with lofty expectations of a Drummondian scale back in 2009. BroLo has since survived the rug getting pulled out from under Avery Johnson and P.J. Carlesimo, endured the bailout by Coach You Know Who, and suffered through an early season of dog-housing and public critique by current coach Lionel Hollins. So, naturally, in his long-awaited summer of 2015 unrestricted free agency, he chose to come back.
    Why the heck not? After all, the rubles are good. Where else can you find an NBA locale with a syllable matching your first name, or one with an endless supply of comic book stores to fuel your fetish? Additionally, Brook (18.3 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 53.1 FG%, team-highs of 18-and-9 in the loss to Milwaukee) gets to stick it to his twin brother, Robin, by being considered the best Lopez hooping anywhere in NYC proper. Sorry, Felipe.
    Now armed with a $20 million-per-year contract of his own, Lopez shares a mindset with Pizza Rat on the NYC Subway: things may seem less-than-ideal around Brooklyn, but at least it’s a stable environment. He also knows that his team, however flawed, isn’t 0-18 bad. After all, they backed into the playoffs for a third straight season in 2014-15, and put a scare into the top-seeded Hawks in the first round.
    With a career-best 21.3 D-Reb% early on, Brook is certainly trying from the jump to avoid being the target of Hollins’ acerbic wit. His usage rate is thus far the lowest since 2010, while his assist percentage is momentarily at its highest level since 2012. Lopez will spend this evening engaging his Atlanta counterparts, Al Horford and Tiago Splitter, with his usual array of mesmerizing post maneuvers, and daring Horford (60.7 FG% vs. Brooklyn last season, highest vs. any opponent with at least 4 games) to outscore him at the other end of the floor with shots anywhere outside the paint.
    Alas, Lopez has only so many lighthearted stories about cats, Clinton, and comics to share with New York’s ravenous postgame media. And things can start to go "Page Six"-sideways in a hurry if the Nets (0-4) don’t pull off a victory this week, either tonight at the Highlight Factory or back home on Friday with the Lakers in town.
    A six-game stretch of road games, one featuring a trip to Golden State on the back end of a back-to-back, is broken up only by a visit from the Hawks in two weeks. Games number 15 and 16 are in Oklahoma City and Cleveland, respectively. Come up short in all these contests, plus Games 17 and 18 versus Detroit and Phoenix, and by Game 19, Brook would be staring at his smirking twin-bro Robin in Madison Square Garden, trying not to break the record no one outside of Philly wants, and having to field questions about “What was it like?” just six years ago.
    Flanked by returnees Thaddeus Young and Jarrett Jack, and joined by Andrea Bargnani and Thomas Robinson, Hollins’ team is constructed to win games with high-volume offense. Yet, so far, the only guys who consistently get to Brooklyn Nine-Nine are Andy Samberg and Terry Crews. Their offensive rating of 93.7 points per 100 possession ranks 28th in the league, making their defensive rating rank of 110.7 (27th in NBA) look a shade better. While they’ve given up triple digits in all four contests to this point, they broke 100 points in the season opener versus Chicago and haven’t met that mark since.
    In the absence of shot accuracy (Brooklyn’s 46.0 eFG%, 21st in NBA), a high-volume offense needs lots of possessions via pace (95.6 possessions per-48, surpassed by Miami last night and now 29th in NBA), aggressive offensive rebounding (20.8 O-Reb%, just ahead of Atlanta’s 20.6, 22nd in NBA), productive shots (17.4% of FGAs from 3-point range, 29th in NBA), and the ability to occasionally force turnovers (5.8 team steals per game, 25th in NBA) and score in transition. The sample sizes are small, certainly, but aside from board-crashing, there’s nothing to indicate these Nets have those elements in their lineups.
    With the disappointing Deron Williams now a distant memory, Hollins is putting a lot of trust in Jack (14.0 PPG, 41.5 FG%, 6.7 APG, 3.0 TOs/game), a momentary playoff hero in last year’s conference quarterfinal versus Atlanta, to lead the charge. But he might be better off shifting away from the former Yellow Jacket, who is nursing a hamstring injury, in favor of third-year guard Shane Larkin.
    The score-first, score-second Jack, a ten-year veteran, has never been much of a facilitator. As evidenced versus once-winless Milwaukee, things go awry when opponents take away Plan A from the Nets offense and the ball is in his hands. But it was the diminutive Larkin who found shots for Bogdanovic and provided the fourth-quarter sparks to give Brooklyn a puncher’s chance.
    Jack, Larkin, and former Hawk Donald Sloan will have their work cut out for them going head-to-head with Jeff Teague (probable despite a sprained finger from Sunday's action) and Dennis Schröder. Teague (19.8 PPG, 49.2 2FG%, 88.9 FT%, 5.8 APG; career-high six rebounds versus the heat) is providing more than enough glimpses of the All-Star form that made Atlanta a bear to reckon with last season. Schröder has been off-target in his last two games (4-for-15 shooting; 4 TOs in 16 minutes at Miami last night), but always has the penetrative drive that throws defenses like the Nets off their game.
    As Dwyane Wade can attest after yesterday’s game, the Hawks’ rangy defense, like life, comes at you fast. Thabo Sefolosha is likely to tag-in for the rehabbing Kyle Korver, and hopes to be the distracting force for Joe tonight that his choice of fashion was yesterday for viewers in Miami. Continued hustle from the likes of newcomers Justin Holiday and Lamar Patterson should create the hurried shots that work in Atlanta’s favor and grant Kent Bazemore (61.5 3FG% in last 3 games) a well-deserved spell.
    Both Atlanta (8.0 3FGs per game, 2nd most in NBA) and Brooklyn (7.8 per game, 3rd in NBA) have been giving up lots of three-pointers above-the-arc. But the opponents of the Hawks (34.5 opponent 3FG%) need 4.4 more shots per game to sink them, compared to foes of the Nets (41.3 opponent 3FG%, 2nd-most in NBA). If Jack and the Nets guards are unable to contain Teague and Schröder, there should be an abundance of good perimeter looks for Hawk teammates when the Brooklyn defense collapses.
    Jack’s fellow Yellow Jacket alum, Young, along with big men Bargnani and Robinson, will get plenty of chances to join Lopez in filling up the right edge of the box score.  But the versatile Paul Millsap (46.3 2FG%, 4-for-9 2FGs and 0-for-3 3FGs at Miami) should have little trouble raising his efficiency numbers against a Nets team whose opponents’ eFG% of 55.0% is the worst in the Association right now. Paul will also want to resurrect that free throw percentage (63.0 FT%, 4-for-8 FTs at Miami) when Brooklyn inevitably tires of giving up easy baskets in the paint and resorts to fouling to keep the clock from running out on them.
    It’s not all bad for the few true-blue Nets fans at Philips Arena tonight. If their team can’t pull it together tonight, or soon, they’ll be among the dwindling chorus of fans who could someday boastfully proclaim, “I WAS THERE!” when the Billy Kingdom finally collapsed.
    Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3
    lethalweapon3

     
     
     
    “I said, Mirror, Mirror, Make the Call… Who’s The Fairest of Them All?!?”
     
     
     
     
     
    Udonis Haslem’s red glare! Bottles busting in air! Haslem’s heated and glass-smashing halftime speech gave proof through the night that the Miami heat were still there. Awakened by that bleep-bangled banter, Miami fizzled the Rockets in the second half on Sunday, overturning a 21-point deficit to win by 20 and raise their record to 2-1. Tonight, they’ll host the Atlanta Hawks (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, NBATV, SUN Sports), who seek to extend their winning streak beyond three-in-a-row for this season and six-straight in this head-to-head division series.
    In the post-LeBron era, Miami has been a team that’s struggled to get all cylinders firing at the same time, whether it’s due to health or uneven play. Even with a full, healthy unit, it’s been an uphill climb at the outset of this season. Last week, coach Erik Spoelstra’s club came back from a slow first-quarter start to win their home opener versus Charlotte, and held tight in Cleveland in the first half before LeBron and the Cavs pulled away.
    The heat then found themselves getting blown out at halftime at AmericanAirlines Arena, by a Houston team that featured a wayward James Harden and deliberately sat out Dwight Howard. Then they put together a second half that would make Stephen Curry blush, outscoring the Rockets 65-26. The Miami native Haslem’s blue halftime ire riled up the team many prognosticators have pegged as the team to beat in the Southeast Division, despite the presence of the 3-1 Hawks and whatever’s going on up in Washington.
    That’s not a moon over Miami, that’s the repeater tax penalty. Even considering the rising projected salary cap levels and some expiring contracts for Miami next summer, getting out from under the draconian penalty (for teams exceeding the luxury tax in three of its most recent four seasons) is much harder once a team gets into it. Trade talks regarding multiple heat players, including today's hot-stove talk about Mario Chalmers, reflects that sobering reality around Margaritaville.
    Chief exec Pat Riley has experienced few constraints spending cruise-ship magnate Micky Arison’s money to this point. But if we get into February, and Miami risks spending tens of millions in penalties just to finance a probable first-round exit, a shake-up could be in order on South Beach. The need to look like a contender worthy of repeater tax payments puts the onus on Spoelstra and the heat to bolt out of the gates while they’re healthy. The Hawks get four chances to make those decisions tougher on Miami, with all of this season's matchups occurring before March 1, the final meeting one day after the league's trading deadline.
    Along their way to a glistening 60-22 record atop the East in 2014-15, Atlanta swept the season series with the heat, winning three of those four contests by double-digits. In hindsight, they’d have done well to have gifted one or two of those games to Miami, considering it might have been the Hawks, instead, developing lottery wingman Justise Winslow. The rookie contributed ten points (2-for-2 on threes) and a pair of steals to the proceedings on Sunday, and it may not be long before he breaks into the starting unit ahead of fellow Blue Devil alum Luol Deng.
    The Hawks are faring just fine of late, however, with Kent Bazemore sliding into the starting small forward slot. Bazemore fumigated the Hornets on Sunday afternoon for the second time in as many games. His season-high 20-point outing featured the go-ahead three-pointer with less than 90 seconds to go and two clutch free throws with 14 seconds left for the winning score.
    Kent’s energy on defense (team-high 3 steals and a ridiculous at-rim block), hot shooting (5-for-6 on corner 3s), and his ability to get to the free throw line (team-high 6-for-6 FTs), evident throughout the 94-92 road victory, makes him just the latest to make opponents pay when they key in on Atlanta’s All-Star starters. He’ll see ample floor time with Thabo Sefolosha resting on the first night of back-to-backs. In case of foul trouble, Justin Holiday, Lamar Patterson, and Tim Hardaway, Jr. will be active.
    Miami plodded through last season with the lowest pace of play in the East, and continues that halfcourt style this season (95.85 possessions per-48, 29th in NBA). The heat are at their letter-best when star guard Dwyane Wade (20 points, 8 assists, 2 steals, 1 TO on Sunday) and human windmill Hassan Whiteside (25 points, 15 rebounds, 3steals and 2 blocks vs. Howard-less Houston, all team highs) are able to set their feet on defense and help plug any leaks by their teammates’ assignments. Miami’s defensive rating (98.6 opponent points per 100 possessions, 16th in NBA) has been pedestrian so far, but their offensive rating of 106.6 and effective field goal percentage of 52.8% has been the best in the East.
    Point guards Jeff Teague (team-high 18.3 PPG) and Dennis Schröder should have little trouble beating Goran Dragic (0.7 SPG, 3.7 personal fouls per game) off the dribble. They can make things easier for Al Horford (4.5 3FGAs per game, 27.8 3FG%) to pile up points in the paint and around the elbows by drawing Whiteside and Chris Andersen to their drives.
    Horford joins teammate Paul Millsap and Miami’s Chris Bosh as some of the league’s most gun-shy big men. Working his way back from last season’s year-ending blood-clot procedure, Bosh has parked himself beyond the arc, hitting seven of his 12 above-the-break three-point attempts through his first three games. Millsap, whose triple answer to Marvin Williams with 40 seconds to go put the Hawks in front for good on Sunday, has been more diverse with his offensive arsenal, shooting 72.7% in restricted-area shots while going 5-for-11 above-the-break. Similar to the guards, Millsap should be able to get around Bosh and pick up dimes off penetration in the paint.
    Wade will routinely switch off of Kyle Korver (28.6 3FG%, 0-for-4 3FG at Charlotte on Sunday), leaving the dullshooter to Deng, Winslow and the resuscitating Gerald Green (2.3 3FGs per game, 41.2 3FG%)for the halfcourt chases through screens. Korver’s deadeye shooting will return sooner or later, but in the meantime, he needs to replicate his performance last week in New York by helping secure the defensive rebounds. Miami’s not exactly crashing the offensive glass themselves (16.2 O-Reb%, 2nd-lowest in NBA) but they’ll have their share of chances against Atlanta (69.8 D-Reb%, 3rd-lowest in NBA).
    Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3
    lethalweapon3

    “I Got Canned Heat in My Heels Tonight, Baby!”
     
    SUNDAY! SUNDAY! SUNDAY! Rev up your engines for some matinee hoops action! The Atlanta Hawks kick off a crazy week with a second-straight meeting with the Hornets, this time in Charlotte (2:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast). After dropping their season debut at Philips Arena on Tuesday, the Hawks (2-1) have an opportunity to take an early move to the top spot in the Southeast Division, by spoiling the Hornets’ (0-2) home opener at Time Warner Cable Arena.
    As @Jody23 recently noted, the Hawks won’t have the same amount of time, calendar-wise, to hit their stride as they did last season. Game #20 last season tipped off on December 8, while this season’s Hawks will be finished before the calendar turns to December. This week’s slate of games, five in one week, will test the depth of the entire roster.
    After this afternoon’s game, Atlanta plays two more road-home back-to-back pairs: at Miami and versus Brooklyn on Tuesday and Wednesday, then at New Orleans and versus Washington on Friday and Saturday. The good news is, the Hawks have already passed their first road-home test.
    Coach Mike Budenholzer’s plans to rest Thabo Sefolosha and Kyle Korver on alternate days of back-to-back games worked well in victories at New York and versus Charlotte, the latter a 97-94 winning margin on Halloween Eve that was frightfully closer than necessary. Both Korver and Sefolosha are probable to be active for today’s game.
    Key to Atlanta’s success, while rehabbing their veteran wings, was the versatility and improved offensive play of Kent Bazemore, who nailed four of his five three-point attempts while adding 9 rebounds to his 19 points. The inability to sag off Bazemore made it tougher on Charlotte wings Nic Batum (14 points, 11 rebounds, 7 turnovers) and Jeremy Lamb to help Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson with their defensive assignments.
    Jefferson (10 points, 11 rebounds) got his obligatory offensive rebounds (4 of Charlotte’s 13) in the losing effort on Friday night, but Al Horford (18 points, 6 rebounds) and Tiago Splitter provided sound man defense while the Hawks turned Charlotte’s fixation for putbacks into offense of their own in transition. Atlanta outscored the Hornets 21-13 on fast breaks, and 42-32 in the paint, leaving Charlotte to rely on long-range shooting (12-for-30 3FGs; 30+ 3FGAs just three times last season), tough shots and second- and third-chances to get back in the game.
    Horford joined Paul Millsap (18 points, 10 boards, 6-for-7 FTs, 4 assists on Friday) in showing he won’t be shy about expanding his range to the perimeter, hitting two of his five three-point shots. But Horford must also diversify his scoring by drawing fouls in the paint and getting to the free throw line. He took no shots from the charity stripe on Friday, and his three made free throws make up less than six percent of his offense through the first three games. It’s on Atlanta’s guards (combined 0-for-9 3FGs on Friday) to utilize Horford as a roll man and get him productive post touches.
    Backup guard Jeremy Lin’s only made field goals, a pair of three-pointers, came with under five minutes to go as the Hornets made their last stand on Friday. Yet his assertiveness in getting to the free throw line (team-high 6-for-6 FTs, nearly half of Charlotte’s attempts) has started the bubbling clamor from Hornets fans (not just the usual-suspect Lin fans) to call for him to be elevated to the top line alongside Walker. Second-year guard P.J. Hairston has played well defensively but has brought little else to the table in his two games so far as a starter. It’s more likely he’ll be replaced by Lamb, who connected on three triples while defending well in limited minutes.
    With his contract expiring next summer, Marvin Williams is serving notice that 2015-16 isn’t going to be his Swan song. He showed off a Feathery touch from the perimeter (3-for-5 3FGs) and also led the Hornets with 12 rebounds (3 offensive) in a team-high 35 minutes. Coach Steve Clifford will continue to take a Flyer on Marvin at the 4-spot, as youngsters Cody Zeller and Frank Kaminsky continue to get lost on the floor.
    Mike Muscala (ankle sprain) is questionable to return to the floor today, but it will work out well for Atlanta today if they can get more touches for forward Mike Scott, in the same way they sought out Tiago Spiltter (2-for-7 FGs) in the post on Friday. Scott was 0-for-3 but contributed 3 assists in just 13 minutes on Friday.
     
    Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3
    lethalweapon3

    “Is that… is that HAIR GEL???”
    Back-to-back, jack! The Hawks return from their humbling of the Chucklehead last night in New York to vie for their first home victory of the season. In the first of a home-and-home weekend series, their opponents tonight at the Highlight Factory are the Charlotte Hornets (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast), the NBA’s ultimate trial-and-error team.
    Really, when it comes to personnel, they’ll try just about anything and anybody. Ask yourself where Sam Vincent is, or where Mike Dunlap is, right now (Sam’s in Bahrain, while Mike’s at Loyola Marymount). His Errness pulling the strings at draft time? Letting a head coach’s son call the shots at the end of the season? Replacing that head coach with a college assistant? Anything is possible. If you ever plan on doing anything that gives the Hornets (0-1) pause, you’d best not do it.
    They tried the whole get-the-worst-record-ever thing in a Dive for Davis, and it netted them Michael Kidd-Gilchrist for all the trouble. Since then, they’ve tried the summertime free-agent splashy thing, in hopes the occasional dash of veteran juice to some organic lottery-player growth will eventually make this franchise, playoff participants just twice in the past 12 years, something like a phenomenon.
    2013’s Big Get was Al Jefferson. While the acquisition paid off with a 7th-seed in the 2014 Playoffs, and an All-NBA Third-Team nod for the Hornets center, his unyielding love for Bojangles imperiled the Man with a Million Moves’ ability to maximize his effectiveness in the post. Jefferson vows he has ditched the fried chicken and is conditioned to run a full court for a full season.
    2014’s Big Get was Lance Stephenson. But Born Ready’s willingness to adopt coach Steve Clifford’s schemes and play team ball was Still Born from the jump, and his jump-shooting was historically bad. Like many of the Hornets’ grand plans, Stephenson was rolled into town on a teal carpet and, mere months later, run out of town on a rail, with a trade to the Clippers. Then there was Noah Vonleh: this lottery pick will pair with Jefferson for years! Until he doesn’t. Good luck in Portland!
    2015’s Big Get is Nicolas Batum, acquired in that trade of Gerald Henderson (another former lotto pick) and Vonleh to the Blazers. Nic Batum is French for “Big Tease,” but his jack-of-all-trades skillset is hoped to be the glue, in between ball-stopping stars Kemba Walker (another former lotto pick) and Jefferson that makes the Hornets’ offense flow. What if Batum doesn’t work out, either? Well, at least they tried: Batum’s contract expires this summer.
    Their less-Big-Get, Jeremy Lin, can form a potent dual-small-guard scoring backcourt to rival Jeff Teague and Dennis Schröder, when he’s not simply spelling Walker. After stops in New York, Houston, and L.A., Lin (17 bench points at Miami) must enjoy the love of a small-market team that wants him more for what he brings to the floor (scoring, and, yeah, scoring) than the benefits of his presence off of it.
    There’s no evidence that “Tank for The Tank” was a mantra last spring in the Carolinas, but the Hornets used their lotto pick this year on Frank Kaminsky, who’s destined to become a stage dancer at Madonna concerts if this whole NBA thing doesn’t work out.  Last year’s Hornets were the most wayward three-point shooters in the league (31.8 team 3FG%) and they weren’t much better inside the line, either (45.0 team 2FG%, 29th in NBA). So the remake with Batum, Lin, and Kaminsky is intended to bring floor-stretching players on the floor to benefit Jefferson and Walker.
    While the early returns have been promising from long-range (36.1 preseason 3FG%, 6th in NBA), they could only hit six of their 24 three-point attempts in Wednesday’s 104-94 season-opening loss in Miami. Frank the Tank’s purported NBA-readiness was supposed to be the reason Charlotte passed over Justise Winslow, who went next to Miami. While Winslow logged 25 minutes in his debut, Kaminsky managed the fewest of any 2015 lottery selection, the equivalent of a Doug E. Fresh advisory (six minutes) while buried on the depth chart behind Marvin Williams (!) and Cody Zeller (another former lotto pick).
    Clifford was another off-the-radar coaching pickup by the experimental Hornets back in 2013. But the longtime former NBA assistant’s trial period expires this summer as well, and having run off one lottery pick and ducking two others behind Marvin (messed around with 10 points, 10 boards, 0-for-5 3FGs vs. Miami) can’t bode well for the prospects of a contract renewal. Significant growth from Zeller and Frank the Tank over the course of the season will be critical for Charlotte’s near-term and long-term outlook, as will figuring out a consistent defensive approach that was, momentarily, the Hornets’ calling card.
    Let’s not dwell on the Hornets defense for too long, as it’s rightfully a sore spot. The rim-protecting Bismack Biyombo (another former lotto pick) ran off to Toronto in the offseason, just like DeMarre Carroll. If you think you’re missing your shutdown small forward from last year, just imagine how Charlotte’s feeling after Kidd-Gilchrist went down with a torn labrum in a preseason game.
    Now, they’re turning to P.J. Hairston and Walker’s UConn teammate Jeremy Lamb (probable after missing the opener with an ankle injury) to hold serve. Charlotte will slide Batum to the 3-spot when Lin or Troy Daniels (questionable with a hamstring injury) enters for offensive punch, but that leaves the backcourt defense sagging.
    Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer knows tonight's game precedes the season's only 5-game calendar-week, beginning Sunday in Charlotte and featuring three division foes. So it’s as good a time as any for Kyle Korver (ankle rehab) to get some rest. Thabo Sefolosha will tag in for Korver on this second night of a back-to-back for the Hawks (1-1), who dusted the upstart Knicks in primetime last night with Korver (3-for-5 3FGs) and several Hawk players finding their groove. Who’s the leading three-point maker from last year on Atlanta’s active roster tonight? It’s Tim Hardaway, Jr., who may finally get some productive floor time tonight.
    Al Horford (21 points and 9 rebounds vs. New York) has to put Jefferson’s newly-fleet feet to the test. When Jefferson is taking shots in isolation, he’ll need Paul Millsap and Kent Bazemore to box out, allowing Horford to outrace Jefferson down the floor. The Hawks began to open things up in New York when Teague (23 points, 5-for-6 second-half FGs vs. New York) moved assertively toward the rim in transition, and when Hawks were individually beating their man down the floor.
    Millsap and Horford should find it easier to strategically crash the glass against a Charlotte team that ranked #1 in defensive rebounding percentage last season, before losing Biyombo and MKG. Acquired in the Stephenson swap, Spencer Hawes is another floor-stretchy big, but defense is far from his forte.
    Kemba (4 assists, no turnovers vs. Miami) has never blossomed into the All-Star many fans have longed for when he came out of college, but one thing he has done is keep the turnovers to a minimum. His 6.6 TOs per 100 possessions last season was the best among all NBA starting point guards, tremendous for a player who puts the ball on the floor as much as he does. His and Al Jefferson’s ability (5.9 turnover %, second-best in NBA in 2014-15) to play to their strengths and execute without giving the ball away gives Charlotte a fighting chance on a nightly basis.
    If tonight’s contest remains close-to-the-vest late in the game, instead of pounding the clock away, will Walker and Jefferson take more risks with the ball and kick the ball out to their new perimeter shooters, daring the Hawks to spread their defense? The Hornets certainly ought to give it a try. They’ve tried just about everything else.
    Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3