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    Atlanta Hawks community, for the fans, by the fans

    lethalweapon3
    “Oh, no! We’re actually gonna win!”
     
    Our Atlanta Hawks Nation turns its lonely eyes to you, Al Horford of the Boston Celtics (1:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, CSN New England in BOS).
    Hi there, Al.
    Our former multi-year All-Star center bailed on Atlanta for Boston, largely, because he wanted more global acclaim without all the critical attention. He could be a $25 million man without being a $25 million scorer, and he wouldn’t have to up his $15 million rebounder game, either.
    Up until now, the whole shtick has worked well for him. His PER (as per basketball-reference) is the lowest it has been since his second NBA season. His current rebounding rate is a mild uptick from last season’s career-low. Yet, thanks to his choice to don this clover-green basketball jersey, toiling under the auspices of a highly respected coach-GM combo, he has never been lauded by the NBA fanbase more.
    Horford went into the playoffs last season looking forward to making a run at LeBron with his running buddy, Isaiah Thomas, handling the scoring load. A calendar year later, he enters the postseason without not only his free agent salesperson, but Thomas’ functional replacement, too.
    Kyrie Irving’s knee procedure leaves Boston without its only 15+ PPG scorer (second-year pro Jaylen Brown averages a team-high 14.4 PPG; rookie Jayson Tatum’s 13.9 PPG is right behind him). Lost in the season opener, 2017 off-season prize Gordon Hayward (ankle, tibia) won’t be around to fill in the gap.
    Coach Brad Stevens’ club will continue to rely on stifling defense, particularly around the perimeter, to carry the day. But even the defense is taking a hit, as guard Marcus Smart (thumb) will likely miss the opening playoff round. Rookie backup big man Daniel Theis (knee) is done for the year, and Guerschon Yabusele may be questionable after tweaking a knee in Friday’s 111-104 win here at TD Garden against Chicago.
    Working on Horford’s sharp-shooting craft began in Atlanta, and Boston has benefitted by him perfecting his outside jumper under their watch (43.2 3FG%, 7th in NBA). But with diminishing scoring, defense, and depth around him, the Celtics will need Horford to morph more into a 20-and-10 guy than ever before, once the playoffs begin. Thankfully, that’s not of immediate concern today at the Gahden. He is also the team’s top-remaining assist-man (4.7 APG), so doing it all will be essential at playoff time.
    Even if Horf gets to play today against his old team, Brad Stevens isn’t going to take too many risks at this point. Don’t expect to catch him wrestling with Miles Plumlee for 50-50 balls. “We’ll probably be judicious with minutes,” Stevens told shootaround media on Saturday. The C’s (54-25) have locked down the #2 seed in the East. With three games upcoming in the next four days, it is purely a matter of sorting out rotations and building positive momentum as the regular season draws to a close.
    Boston will also lean on the “Oh! Jays” more than they had hoped at playoff time, although that’s not necessarily a bad thing. While Horford and rookie Jayson Tatum rested on Friday, second-year pro Jaylen Brown scored his career-high 32 points to help fend off the visiting Bulls. Also helping the Celts avoid a worrying third-straight defeat, backup big Greg Monroe notched his second career triple double.
    Brown and Tatum will have ample opportunity, at least in the early stages, to do what Otto Porter, Bradley Beal and the Washington Wizards could not. Specifically, they’ll have to cool down the inside-outside wing combo of Taurean Prince (6-for-11 2FGs @ WAS on Friday) and sixth-man Tyler Dorsey (4-for-8 3FGs @ WAS), who helped the Hawks trip up a Wizards team that was doing itself no favors.
    Up front, it’s hoped that John Collins and Dewayne Dedmon, each with a double-double and at least three dimes on Friday, will have a Morris twin around to defend them for at least a half. Marcus will be out trying to compensate for getting tossed on Friday, forcing Stevens’ hand in playing more of Yabusele, Semi Ojeleye and Aron Baynes than the Celtics coach would have preferred.
    For now, Stevens hopes he can count on the likes of Jabari “Don’t Call Me Larry” Bird and Kadeem “Don’t Call Me Ray” Allen to provide positive production in the backcourt. Bird and ten-day contractor Jonathan “Don’t Call Me Boobie” Gibson won’t be eligible for the playoffs, so days like today are where they will be expected to cut their teeth.
    Gibson, a 30-year-old point guard called back home from the Qingdao Doublestar Eagles, checked in during the fourth quarter on Friday and riled up the crowd with nine quick points, including a three-pointer to snap an 86-86 tie and provide the Celtics, and their fans, some welcome relief. In the short-term, Boston hopes these guards will be effective enough to preserve the necessary floor time from “Scary Terry” Rozier, who now starts in Irving’s place at the point.
    It won’t be put on Horford today to pull off a victory. But it will be time, very soon, where his enhanced play will be vital to Boston collecting four wins in seven games, several times over. For better or worse, this 2018 postseason will be where he gets to make a name for himself, where no one else can help make the name for him.
    Have fun in the playoffs, Al. Take care.
    Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3
    lethalweapon3
    “Hey, John Vall, me and Huncho gonna get our offseason vorkout started early. Join us vhen you’re freed up in a couple veeks!”
     
     
    We’re almost done! Our 2017-18 Atlanta Hawks season nears its end as they visit the 2015-17 Atlanta Hawks. Pardon? Oh, actually it’s the Washington Wizards (7:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Washington) that will participate in the Hawks’ final intra-division fun-run.
    Maybe it’s the Friday Happy Hour beverage. But I do get the vibe that the Wizards’ course is currently charting our old one. Coach’s-pet All-Stars; veteran starters that seem increasingly beyond their sell-by date; high hopes, for a young talent, that are growing sour; patchwork bench contributors (including Mike Scott) that provide an occasional spark but not much consistency. Led by a former Coach of the Year award winner. A regular season record, and postseason outlook, that belie the players’ boundless expressions of self-confidence that THIS year will somehow be different.
    Current Pacers reporter and former Wizards correspondent J. Michael tweeted, after reviewing a lackluster effort in the clutch by John Wall and Bradley Beal, during last night’s 119-115 loss in LeBronopolis, “…when you demand more and crave more (attention) – and they got it this season – you’ve gotta make good on it. Otherwise it sets you back even more.” Now in their sixth season together, The Best Backcourt in the East has long had little trouble talking the talk, but it’s walking the full walk that has proven to be problematic for this duo.
    Fans of the Wizards will now wait an inexplicable 40 years for their team to reach 50 wins in any one particular season. It’s also likely that the wait for a trip to a Conference Finals will stretch into decade number five. This, despite the plethora of injuries befalling the Celtics, and the shifting sands in Cleveland. One would think that if any NBA team would know how to capitalize by now, it would be the one from the District of Columbia.
    Here they are, at 42-37, going through the motions, bearing a huge payroll for a probable first-round exit, with its top six salary recipients returning for 2018-19 and with Wall’s salary doubling the season after that. Following Hawks-fan parlance of yore, is it past time, perhaps, to begin blowing this roster up?
    Not if you’re Ernie Grunfeld, somehow still there in an executive capacity. They’re holding out hope that LeBron jumps out West this summer, and that the only comparable superstar that ever jumps East will come because the Wizards hired the player’s former lunchlady as the Director of Team Nutrition. I made that last part up. I think.
    If there is a single thing the Wizards accomplished in 2018, aside from maybe wresting the Southeast Division title away from Miami, it is putting to bed the notion that this cluster of Wizards is in some way “better” without Wall on the floor than otherwise.
    One of their pan-flashers, Tomas Satoransky, will fill in for Wall as he rests and remains in and injury-management mode. Post-surgery knee soreness has caused him to miss half the season. But there were times when fans, and at least one player (we see you, Marcin Gortat) felt like Wall’s absence made the rest of the team’s heart grow fonder. Of one another. The last two meetings with the Hawks (22-57) allow a glimpse at what Marcin, et al., were thinking.
    On December 27, Wall had 11 assists, but was otherwise non-existent over the course of 33 minutes and the host Hawks won it going away, 113-99 on the strength of the Not Best Backcourt in the East, Dennis Schröder and Marco Belinelli.
    A month later, with Satoransky in for the re-injured Wall, a balanced effort (six players, including Scott’s 19 points, in double figures) led to a thrashing of the Hawks on the same Philips Arena floor, a 129-104 win for the Wizards. That sparked a five-game streak, but in the middle of it, Gortat flubbed an attempt at damning with faint praise, a tweet that had Wall telling his center to shut his pierogi hole.
    All told, Washington with Wall was 25-17 before his latest return last week, 16-17 without him. But even with him back on the floor, the Wizards aren’t showing signs of an uptick in winning play. After dusting off Charlotte at home one night before, losing by 19 in Chicago (Wall DNP’d for rest) had to be the day’s biggest April Fool’s joke. The Wiz were no match for the Rockets, losing by 16 in Houston two days later.
    Then last night, in what Wall hoped would be a statement game in Cleveland, Washington allowed 39 opening-quarter points. They surged ahead of the Cavs by 17 midway through the fourth, thanks to some nifty passing by Beal and Satoransky, and a scoring spree by Scott. But, much like the season, or their recent history, once Washington gets something going, they can’t sustain it when it counts. That 17-point lead was gone in the space of six critical minutes.
    Wall finally found his scoring touch last night, but his habit of wild circus shots and wilder passes (leading to turnovers, 18 in his past 3 games) off his frantic drives to the hoop must cease before the first-round opponent gets here.
    Fortunately, the Wizards won’t have to deal with a Kyle Lowry tonight. And the only Cleveland that matters today is Antonius (available to play), coming off the bench behind Hawks backcourt starters Damion Lee and Isaiah Taylor. Taurean Prince (sore back) will also be around to make things interesting for Atlanta.
    Like the Wizards, Grunfeld is probably not going anywhere, yet again. If he is seeking my advice about the way forward going into 2018-19, I’ve got just one word for him. It’s four letters, beginning with a T and ending in K.
    Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3
    lethalweapon3
    Mama Didn’t Raise No Fool!
     
    Brain freeze! I’ve grown comfortably numb in the afterglow of last night’s thrilling Tankwin by our Atlanta Hawks over the Miami heat. Instead of a semi-cogent game thread for the rematch at Philips Arena tonight (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Sun in MIA), I’m just going to roll into Stream of Consciousness mode and see what flows out of that. Apologies in advance.
    Who wants a shiny arena banner? Anybody? Remember back in the day, when division championships meant something? Now that the league has taken away a first-round homecourt guarantee, it’s just fancy-schmancy window dressing. The heat and the Wizards, neck-and-neck at 42-36 apiece, are more concerned about avoiding LeBron – oops, did I say that out loud? I meant playoff positioning – than besting one another for the Dirty South Division title.
    The Hawks might have a say in who ultimately claims the Southeast. But, hopefully not. Of more pressing strategic interest for Atlanta: do you want probably-playoff-bound Milwaukee to get a 1st-rounder this year, or not? The Bucks’ draft pick to the Suns is 17-30 protected, and my favorite burnt-orange-colored website, Tankathon, has the Bucks at #17, their 42-36 record tied with the Hawks’ next two opponents, Miami and Washington. Our ideal strategery would push the heat and Wiz out of the first two non-lottery slots, making room for Milwaukee (You’re welcome, Phoenix! Don’t be greedy with all them picks. Let us hold somethin’!) at #16, and our dear Thibobullves at #15.
    Players Only! Shaq the analyst displayed his soft spot for big men last night, in commenting on heat pivot Hassan Whiteside’s travails of late. “He has a legitimate beef,” Shaq said last night on TNT while inadvertently making himself hungry.
    “He made the comments, ‘hey, there’s a lot of teams that want a center.’ He is correct. But he needs to understand strategy. If I was him, I would say, ‘O.K., I’m going to [let] Coach [Spo] do what he do. But I’m going to get a rest!’ Because, playoff time, when the game slows down, they’re going to need you, big man… I know, as a player, I didn’t win championships until I had 15, 20 games off.” Not entirely true, as it was more like 5-10 days off during his first Laker title years, but it’s a nice tale to tell. Whiteside finally being able to make a meaningful play at the close of the game did wonders for his psyche.
    Somebody went after Dewayne Dedmon’s rib (Shaq: “mmm, ribs!”), which might become the most fortunate circumstance involving a rib since the days when Adam loafed around the desert leaving toilet seats up everywhere. Dedmon’s questionable to play tonight. G-League superstar Tyler Cavanaugh will be available to sop up minutes so it won’t be all put on Miles Plumlee and Mike Muscala in the clutch. Say, does Hassan like Barbeque Chicken? Don’t ask Shaq, at least not until I get ahead of him in line at Fat Matt’s.
    By the way, I’m only half-serious, Miami. You’re not obligated to have another late-game “clutch.” The Miami Herald notes the heat’s 52 games with a five-point margin with 5 or fewer minutes to play leads the NBA. “I don’t know what it is,” said Dragic after last night’s scramble-from-behind, skin-of-their-teeth 101-98 victory. I’m hoping [Wednesday] is not going to be close, but you know, that’s us.”
    Cavahellyeah brought along some of our favorite Bayhawk pals with him, including Andrew White (I don’t like using Jr. or III, IV or the like, unless Daddy played in the Association, too.  Andrew White works just fine until Andrew White IV gets here), 10-day contractor Jeremy Evans (welcome back!), and Josh “Yung Bud” Magette.
    I know they’ve got some crazy playoff stories from Fort Wayne to share with the rest of the crew before they head back. Evans, 30, has averaged nearly a double-double up Nawf (naw not dat way, DAT way) for the B-hawks and has earned himself another quick sip of NBA tea. He and Chris McCullough (wait, Erie got him too? Sheesh! Don’t hurt ‘em, Malik Rose!) could get a nice dunk contest going.
    Is John Collins well on his way to becoming what we all imagined Al Horford would one day be when he grew up? Rebounds without the flinching, threes without the jab-stepping, infrequent turnovers without the clapping. Develop those passing chops (Shaq: “mmm, chops!”) and I say it’s a wrap! (Shaq: “mmm, wraps!”)
    Taurean Prince still seems to be in good spirits! On the Hawks’ leading scorer from the past two Atlanta-Miami matchups, Mike Budenholzer pulled out the dreaded “Coach’s Decision” card ten minutes into the game, jussssssssst in time to affect the final outcome. I’m always got my eye on Taurean the DeLorean (all 78 games played), who seemed to be running low on fuel lately (17 total points and 11.1 3FG% in two games prior to last night), to see if he’ll pull a Whiteside on Coach Bud in the media (we still have media, right?) after a short-hook. Thankfully, Taurean keeps the banter between them on the sideline. Atlanta is 3-15 when Prince gets crowned with less than 25 minutes, including 0-4 when he gets under 20 of them. Nice!
    For all his struggles getting it going all season long, it was kinda nice seeing DeAndre’ Bembry back and mixing it up out there! Rebounded well, got some steals, dished a few dimes, hit a three, and everythang. Had a few too many turnovers, but, hey, you can’t just go from 0 to 60 in… okay, that was bad, nevermind.
    Bembry (abs) and Antonius Cleveland (ankle) are each listed as probable for today, but I’d really like to see what Cleveland could do in his NBA debut before the home crowd tonight. C’mon Coach Bud, give our NBA virgin the AC Greenlight! Okay, that was somehow even worse, sorry. Just get on out there and break a leg, Antonius! Broadway-style, that is, not like Tony Finau. More like Fin-owwww, amirite? Okay, okay, sorry! That was really sub-par. Ohhh, while I got my mind on the links, congrats to Malcolm Delaney, 2018 Hawks Masters champ! Those Red Jackets are a nice look.
    If the heat are legitimately trying to do more than simply show up as a low-seed for the first round of the Playoffs (0-5 in postseason series history under such circumstances), they have got to show they can beat teams at least as intentionally underwhleming as the Hawks (22-56) when they’re away from their own comfy confines (I don’t miss the “White Hot!” T-shirt white-outs, not at all). The only playoff-probable clubs with worse away-game records than Miami (17-22) are both in the West: Minnesota (darn it, Thibs!) and the Spurs (gasp! I wonder Kawhi that is…)
    How does one know, for certain, that a restaurant's She-Crab Soup is 100% feminine? Dare I ask? Stuff like this keeps me up at night.
     
    Happy 404 Day! Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3
    lethalweapon3
    heat center trying to read the Hawks’ pick-and-roll scheme.
     
    The Miami heat have no reason to mess around. Winning either of two back-to-back games against our Atlanta Hawks, beginning tonight with the good guys down in South Beach (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Sun in MIA) before returning to play here, or another loss by the Pistons, would be enough to secure a playoff spot for just the second time in the four seasons since Mr. Not One Not Two skipped town.
    Everyone, aside from Do-It-Yourself Dion Waiters, is healthy enough to suit up for coach Erik Spoelstra, tonight and tomorrow. Following a Tank-busting overtime home loss to Brooklyn, Miami (41-36) has also had two full days off to rest, recalibrate and prepare for whatever Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer has up his sleeve.
    So, why is the team’s highest paid player deciding that now is a good time to make himself the center of attention?
    “Why we matching up?”, notoriously brooding big-man Hassan Whiteside complained to media outlets, following Saturday’s 110-109 loss to the Nets at AmericanAirlines Arena, when Coach Spo countered Coach Kenny’s small-ball lineups with one of his own.
    “We got one of the best centers in the league,” Whiteside asserted to the postgame microphones, quite self-assuredly in third person before again begging the question, “Why we matching up? A lot of teams don’t have a good center. They’re going to use their strength. It’s bull(Shinola!). It’s really bull(pucky!), man. There’s a lot of teams that could use a center. (Shucks!). That’s bull(chips!).”
    Whiteside had returned to action in just his second game after missing most of March with a strained hip, and Spoelstra was already being cautious by restricting him to under 20 minutes in the prior game. But if Hassan sincerely wanted to be in the Nets game at crunch time, he didn’t help matters by calling for a sub just under five minutes into the start of the game.
    Instead of Whiteside, who sat through the final quarter plus OT on Saturday, and rookie Bam Adebayo (DNP-ankle, but available today) Coach Spo relied on his floor-spacing Fabio, Kelly Olynyk, to relieve James Johnson at the 5-spot. That irritated Whiteside enough to disrespect his head coach’s “authoritah.”
    “I don’t know if it’s because I was on a minutes restriction,” Whiteside continued, characteristically digging himself a deeper hole. “The minutes have been like that all year.” When queried whether this issue made him question his future with the heat, Hassan (two more seasons guaranteed for $51.5 million) couldn’t resist chomping on the bait. “I don’t know. I don’t know.”
    This is no way to head into April, as your team sizes itself up for one of Boston, Cleveland or Toronto in the first round. Before Whiteside could infest the rest of the locker room with his ball-so-hard attitude, Miami wanted to fine him. Along with the undisclosed payment from Whiteside came a begrudging apology.
    “…I could have handled it different,” Whiteside explained to the Palm Beach Post and the Miami Herald after practice on Monday. “But I got so caught up in wanting to get that win. I get real competitive,” he added, perhaps confusing impetuousness with competitiveness. “I really want to be out there. But I just trust coach’s decision.”
    Spoelstra tried to put a nice face on the whole ordeal with a bulleted response on Monday. “We’re going to help him continue to learn how to be a better professional, how to be a better leader in this locker room, how to be a better teammate and, ultimately, how to be a better winner.”
    Adding levity to the PowerPoint he conveyed to Whiteside, Coach Spo quipped, “If guys want to throw a few eggs at my car after the game, or T.P. [toilet paper] my house, that’s actually a better way to deal with it than speaking to all of you [in the lamestream media] about their frustrations.”
    All’s well that ends well in South Beach. That is, so long as tonight’s game ends well for the home team. Even with the levied fine, Miami can expect to endure more moody-blues if they fail to clinch tonight, and if Whiteside is on the bench at any time that the Hawks’ Miles Plumlee is ballin’ outta control.
    One of the teams that couldn’t use a decent center right now is Atlanta. Dewayne Dedmon isn’t just getting his double-doubles (#14 versus Orlando on Sunday, shooting 3-for-7 on threes, five double-doubs in his past seven games) by parking himself around the post and demanding the rock.
    As sketchy as the Hawks’ overall offensive efficiency can be (99.8 March O-Rating, 3rd-worst in NBA) with so many moving parts, it improves when Dedmon’s paired with John Collins, whose surefire 58.5 FG% (6th in NBA) is presently the best shot accuracy by an NBA rookie since Otis Thorpe in 1984-85.
    Collins and Dedmon with the standard starting backcourt (Taurean Prince, Kent Bazemore, Dennis Schröder) produced a positive +8.1 Net Rating (109.9 O-Rating) in 118 minutes together. Replacing Dedmon and Collins with Ersan Ilyasova and the lumbering Plumlee, Atlanta’s efficiencies plummeted to minus-7.0 Net and 100.2 O-Ratings, in thrice the floor time (352 minutes). Hopefully, Hassan is taking notes when he’s not in the game.
    The struggles for Whiteside (career-highs of 19.9 points, 16.3 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.1 steals per-36; 25.6 MPG, lowest since his magical renaissance in 2014-15; 54.4 2FG%, lowest since 2011-12) beyond the boxscore is exemplary of Today’s NBA, where the Howards and Drummonds of the world are having a hard time coping with their growing disutility.
    The seven-footer blessed with a 7-foot-7 wingspan aches to dominate with his post-up game, at a time when the number-crunchers suggest that even a decent day exploiting mismatches around the rim can prove to be under-efficient for the larger team offense. Miami has a tepid 104.6 O-Rating (19th in NBA; up to 109.1 and 11th since the Break, mostly without Whiteside available) and moves up-and-down the court with a bottom-five pace (97.6 possessions per-48, 26th in NBA; up to 17th since the Break).
    It wasn’t like there was some behemoth tempering the heat while Whiteside looked on. It was Brooklyn’s swingmen, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Caris LeVert, flummoxing Miami counterparts Josh Richardson, Wayne Ellington and Justise Winslow. Relying on the pick-and-roll, featuring James Johnson in tandem with Goran Dragic in the fourth quarter, helped Miami narrow the gap and force overtime in the first place.
    Winslow sunk a three-pointer to give Miami a 37-26 lead on the Nets early in the second quarter. Tellingly, Miami didn’t convert on another one for the remainder of Saturday’s contest (0-for-7 3FGs, after starting out 7-for-10), including OT. Failing to LTMFF won’t fly if they expect to make any pleasant noise in the playoffs, and Spoelstra recognizes Whiteside can’t help in that department.
    Ellington went full Ogunbowale on the Dennis Schröder-less Hawks when they last visited Miami, saving the Whiteside-less heat’s bacon by contributing 19 second-quarter points while nailing 6 of 8 threes in a 104-93 win. But it wasn’t exactly Wayne’s World when the heat (again without Whiteside; also missing Goran Dragic, James Johnson, and Winslow) played in Atlanta two months later.
    Ellington ran into foul trouble and shot just 1-for-6 from the field, and the shorthanded heat (7-for-25 3FGs) proved to be no match for Schröder and Taurean Prince, the swingman who played less like a frog (team-highs of 24 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks, a DiVincenzoan 4-for-7 3FGs) in his Hawks’ 110-104 victory. Despite 7 critical turnovers in the October meeting, Prince balanced things out with a game-high three steals plus team-high scoring (20 points) in that contest as well.
    Vital to victory for Miami, today and tomorrow against Atlanta (22-55), will be clipping the Hawks’ wings (including Prince and Tyler Dorsey, whose 19 bench points helped subdue the Magic on Sunday) while finding some consistent offensive attack at the same position. Richardson, Ellington Tyler Johnson and the returning Dwyane Wade shot a combined 13-for-38 from the field against the Nets.
    Another player who knows a thing or two about airing his grievances through the media, Dragic (2 assists in 39 minutes, 4 TOs vs. BRK; DNP @ ATL on Dec. 18) must be a better facilitator, finding shooters and passers in position to finish perimeter plays off his drives. Miami is 5-2 when Dragic (25.5 assist%, lowest in his Miami-era) registers 8 or more assists. But the fact that this sample represents less than a tenth of the first-time All-Star’s 72 appearances is the rub, Whiteside aside.
    It’s on the heat to put hard-charging Detroit firmly in the rear-view mirror, and build positive momentum toward the playoff’s opening round, preferably in a way that better incorporates Whiteside as he returns to full health. Spoelstra will need all the time he can to craft a winning strategy against far more arduous opponents than the Hawks. He can’t be wasting precious time scrubbing breakfast off his car.
    Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3
    lethalweapon3
    Sorry, Orlando. Y’all had y’all’s turns already.
     
    TANK WARS! It’s the final head-to-head Tank Battle for our Atlanta Hawks. They won’t have another chance to tack onto another Tankompetitor’s win tally after today’s game against the Orlando Magic (6:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Florida).
    I’m on travel today, but you all know the relevant particulars, ahead of this game. We already know the Prime Objective. Hopefully, our Competitanking Hawks do, too! This one's not for all the marbles, but it is for a LOT of ping pong balls!
    Happy Easter! And Let’s Go Magic!
    April Fools! Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3
    lethalweapon3
    Hawks opponent trying to keep up with Isaiah Taylor.
     
    Oh, Benjamin. Benjamin. You know not what you have done. Not yet. But, thank you.
    This week has been seminal in progress for our Atlanta Hawks, who return from a way-too-eventful road trip to host Ben Simmons and the rolling Philadelphia 76ers (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Philadelphia). Like another Bennie Boy from Philly, Simmons has discovered the key to draw lightning in a bottle (or jar, if you prefer), producing an electricity that us Tank-era Hawks fans heretofore didn’t know existed.
    With noted exception to our esteemed Squawkfriend Spud2Nique, and many of you other folks out there, I already have a low tolerance for the Game Stop Boys in our midst. Workdays aside, I am fortunate to live a mostly peaceful existence, up until from roughly 11 PM  to 3 AM at night. That’s when my neighbor hops on the PlayStation and my walls are suddenly vibrating, as he gleefully blows something/body up to the enhanced effect of his Dolby Surround Sound system. I think his new wife is totally down with it, too. Man, what a trooper.
    We’re cool and all, as they’re otherwise responsible peeps. Besides, I get their dinnertime walls rattling, in turn, each time I bellow, “IN DEE FACE!”, anytime John Collins throws one down on fools’ noggins. Or, “AND ONE!”, for every successful Dewayne Dedmon post-up, whether he’s fouled or not. Or, “GOT HEEEEM!”, whenever Dennis Schröder (doubtful, ankle) breaks the appropriate sections of somebody’s legs as he drives for the hoop-and-scoop. For all the popcorn ceiling the neighbors have shaken into my hair, it all evens out.
    Still, it would be swell for the folks next door to occasionally go to, like, sleep, the way normal homo sapiens with 8-to-6s tend to do. I also grow especially irascible with the button-pushing Ninjas, online, who ought to be Rated I for Immature. This week, Master Simmons hit the irritation sweet spot on both counts. For that, he gets promoted to the next level.
    Don’t worry about staying up late, Simmons assured Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns. As Tuesday night turned to Wednesday morning, Ben’s appeal was that Towns’ Wolves were “only playing the Hawks” later that day.
    Bear in mind, barely 24 hours prior, the Wolves were “only” playing the Grizzlies at the Target Center, yet Minnesota could “only” watch as Memphis ended their umpteen-game losing streak. Keeping up with current events is hard when you’re on the X-Box all day. Consider, also, the Sixers (44-30) had just waxed the Wolves in Philly (Simmons with a 15-12-13 triple double, his 10th on the season, 3rd in NBA) two days before that. Why are you two boys even…? You’re absolutely right, @hawkman. Dang Millennials.
    Then, as Towns was getting his LiAngelo on (56 points, 16 rebounds) courtesy of our lively Atlanta Hawks youth team on Wednesday night, Simmons was all too happy to chime in. “Told ya,” he Insta’d KAT. What are you, 12, Bennie?
    Were it at all possible, Towns would remind Simmons that his Wolves needed every bit of his franchise-record 56 to outlast “only” a Hawks team that, with all respect due to the visitors on the floor, wasn’t trying all THAT hard, and for good reason. Karl-Ant goes 2-for-8 from deep instead of 6-for-8, and that game is in overtime, and my hairline gets that much closer to resembling Thibs’.
    Sure, KAT, like fellow Minnesota legend MTM, can turn the world on with his smile. But if he drops “only” 40 on “only” the Hawks, and the Wolves lose to two lottery squads in the space of three nights, with possibly the first NBA Playoffs in 14 years hanging in the balance? No, Minnesota, you’re NOT gonna make it after all. Towns could try explaining all this to his play-buddy Simmons. Alas, he’s limited to 280 characters, so…
    Simmons’ antics don’t really amount to poking a bear or enraging a bull. Trolling the Hawks is the NBA equivalent of cow-tipping of the highest juvenile order. What Simmons has yet to discover is, you keep messing around with Atlanta, and you eventually find yourself squaring up with a heifer of the “Kung Pow!” variety. Simmons only needs enough sense to ask around the NBA universe a bit.
    All our heroes need a foil. For all his unenumerable powers, try to imagine Superman zipping around the globe getting cats unstuck from trees, freezing back our ice caps, and helping little old ladies cross streets. Bo-ring! To give a raison d’etre to our daily existence, we all need a Thanos, a Killmonger, a Lex Luthor, a Paul Pierce in our lives.
    I really admired Poor Paulie, back in the day. Scored lots of buckets, got over the whole nightclub stabbings thing, lugged a once-proud Celtics team as far as he could carry them during Red Auerbach’s final years. He was one of them Bros for which Cool Stories are made, soon to head toward the sunset in JoeJohnsonland as a 30-year-old borderline Hall of Famer requesting a trade to a serious contender.
    Then, lightning struck.
    Danny Ainge gets to work. Here comes Ray Allen. Here comes Kevin Garnett. Here wakes up Doc Rivers and Rajon Rondo. And, along the path to Celtics Title #17, all of a sudden, here comes Ratface Paul Pierce. The guy who hadn’t won a playoff series in five years becomes a self-fashioned nemesis, an otherwise mature 30-year-old on our floor talking trash, picking shoving matches, placing unwise wagers with our young Atlanta Hawks.
    Finally getting back to the postseason for the first time in ages was the ice cream. But whooping Celtic tail, three times at The Highlight Factory, was the hot fudge, the forlorn looks on Pierce’s face each time the whipped cream. Y’now what? The cherry could wait.
    With no rational, underlying justification, Pierce put a target on the Hawks’ backs. And through all the Tebowing on our logo, through all the I-Called-Gaming, all the tricks that joker pulled out of his bag, we laid our target squarely on him. Armed with just Josh Childress at small forward, Atlanta became his toughest non-LeBron adversary along the way to his first NBA ring, in 2008. And The Truth is, he never got himself another one. Our heroes, the 2015 Hawks (and their trusty game clock sidekick) made sure of that.
    The year in which our Hawks return to the postseason while likely begin with the digits “202”. But whatever the final digit becomes, Bennie Boy will be our fans’ new Public Enemy #1. The one rule Atlanta sports adversaries learn the hard way: don’t come for us, unless we’ve sent for you.
    You all remember Brandon Jennings, don’t you? Simmons was a mere middle-schooler back when “Feer the Deer” was en vogue, when a 20-year-old Jennings was assured that he was Kind of a Big Deal. He, not James Harden, was All-Rookie 1st Team in 2010. The Hawks, who had already peaked in many minds, were supposed to be a mere speed bump on the way to future glories for Jennings, who accused Atlanta players of coming into Milwaukee “a little bit cocky” for Game 3, and who was eager to make an example of the Hawks just because he felt snubbed for Rookie of the Year.
    Even having lost an ugly series with Atlanta without Andrew Bogut, the first-overall pick the Hawks missed out on in the 2005 Lottery, and leading scorer Michael Redd, Milwaukee’s future seemed bright with Jennings carrying the banner.
    Birrrrrrr… what happened to that boy? After all the youthful bristling wore away, these days, the only Fear Jennings engenders involves what happens tomorrow, after his ten-day contract period ends. Does Simmons need a more modern example? How about our latest hip-hopped star, Isaiah Thomas? “Oh! Woe is me! I was passed over! I was picked last!” Who do you think you are, Alpha Kaba?
    “I’m gonna make an example out of the Hawks in the playoffs. Back up the Brinks truck for me, Danny Ainge!” How’s that all working out for you, I.T.? Which NBA town are you in this week? And is that an armored vehicle or a bus that you’ve been thrown under?
    All that bluster and gang-banging braggadocio in 2017 from the comedy team of John Wall and Bradley Beal, like anyone that has lived in Atlanta for five minutes has reason to be intimidated by dudes from Raleigh and St. Louis. As far as D.C. cats go, Tyrone Hankerson, Jr. gives Dennis Schröder more pause than these two nitwits. Say, will 2019 be the year they finally get to 50+ wins and a conference final? ‘Cause it sure ain’t happening this season. Say, is there a gang sign for overrated?
    Simmons could be staying up a full fortnight, playing a game of Fortnite, and should still be able to carry his team past the Hawks at the Highlight Factory. That’s with or without the guy Simmons should be leaving all this social media ragging to, anyway.
    The Center of the Future, Joel Embiid got whacked upside the noggin by the Backup Point Guard of the Future, Markelle Fultz (there was no hitch in his accidental headshot, so that’s progress). With an orbital fracture and a concussion, Embiid is not only staying home for the Sixers’ two-game road swing that ends on Sunday up in Kembaville, but his return in time for the long-awaited playoffs is now in doubt.
    But, hey, at least our Hawks helped handicapped today’s outcome, by waiving Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli so the pair could land in Philly’s lap right on time for this refreshing playoff push, one that wasn’t completely a slam dunk just two months ago.
    Philadelphia was just 24-24 after losing “only” in Brooklyn on January 31. Then came the ex-Hawks. Now the 76ers have won 20 of their past 26, and they can today win their ninth in a row to conclude their March record at a solid 13-3. Coach Brett Brown, I am sure, is mighty grateful to his former colleague, the Hawks’ Mike Budenholzer, and our management staff. Can you put down the controllers for a moment and say, “Thank you, Atlanta,” Ben Simmons? I’m sure you can.
    Get all the chuckles in while you can, Bennie Boy. For all their momentary, newfound success on the court, this here was a Process that was **this close** to getting CTRL+ATL+DEL’d. That’s because, for every Embiid, there was a Michael Carter-Williams. For every Dario Saric and Fultz, there was a Furkan Korkmaz, and a Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot. For every Simmons, there was a Jahlil Okafor, a Nerlens Noel. And none of the so-called success-stories of the moment were of the instantaneous variety.
    Sam Hinkie, himself, was the Sixers’ third GM in three years by the time he came on the scene in 2013. Once he was pushed into writing his own walking papers, with the team starting out 1-21 in 2015-16, with Okafor and Noel shrinking into nothingness, it was so tempting for Bryan Colangelo to blow the whole thing up. Who knows what kind of Cheez Wizzy mess Simmons could have walked into, had he himself been able to play in his draft year, without upstarts like Embiid or Saric around to carve a path first.
    Fortunately for Simmons, the team stuck with its high-potential youngsters, and built around them with vets like J.J. Redick, Amir Johnson, Belinelli, and Ilyasova. They also developed a defensive stalwart, in Robert Covington, so they wouldn’t be giving up more than they dish out. So now, and only now, Simmons got jokes. He thinks his first name is Russell now.
    I, for one, have been pleased as punch over the on-court production of Collins, the first player currently behind Simmons in Player Efficiency Ranking, and the next player behind Simmons and Donovan Mitchell in Grizzlies guru John Hollinger’s other ESPN-era stats, of Value Added and Estimated Wins Added. That includes being the top rookie in Rebounding Rate (shhh… Erie Bayhawk playoff participant Tyler Cavanaugh ranks 6th, ahead of Mr. Simmons. That oughta look good in 2K19).
    Johnny Bap’s an upstanding kid. And dude put up with Demon Deacons in the ACC, so who better to muddle through with during a losing season? I know the cheery EXPRESS Men’s model will take all the ribbing and e-snickering in stride, just as he will the favored-team-media snub that’s coming, a few weeks from now, at All-Rookie award time. But he’s taking notes. And when it’s time to make his statement, it won’t be a Snapchat Streak or whatever the cool kids use by then.
    Once Collins’ Hawks take their turn rebuilding their roster, over the course of this and the next offseason, it won’t be about what’s getting played, but who. Simmons will be looking up, soon, only to find it’s not only the Hawks’ G-League and E-League teams whooping the Sixers’ tailfeathers, but the NBA-league one, too.
    For now, though, if he sincerely wants the Rookie of the Year award all to his lonesome, he had better do what Mitchell could not, and that’s carry his team to victory against the Hawks. Go ahead and use whatever sliders you need, Bennie.
    It won’t be on April 11, the season finale when the Sixers return to The Highlight Factory, hopefully with playoff seeding all wrapped up. It probably won’t even be next year. But, Ben Simmons, You Gon’ Learn.
     
    Happy Passover! Happy Easter! And Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3
    lethalweapon3
    “You kidding me?”
     
    My dear Minnesota Timberwolves,
    It is me, the Atlanta Hawks. Before tonight’s scrimmage commences between you and I (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports North in MSP), I’m stopping by the Target Center to address you, heart to heart. I’m afraid, my longtime confidant, we need to have That Talk.
    What… ARE we, right now?
    No, seriously, I thought we had a mutual understanding. A simpatico. A powerful bond, one transcendent of any other NBA teams’ comprehension. I was growing weary of mostly fruitless playoff appearances. You thirsted to grab a quince from the Garden of Postseason, perhaps at some point before the Martians get here. We not only found each other, we co-exist, to chart one another’s destinies. We belonged together. Or, so I thought, until recently.
    I mean, just imagine, me, with my multiple lottery selections this summer, expertly drafted by Travis Schlenk. And you, with your… whatever that is you’re doing… with your prodigious talent tipping off against mine, plus all the great free agents we’re bound to draw, in the 2020 NBA Finals, the first ever for our lovely NBA cities. That was the dream. That was OUR dream, don’t you remember?
    By 2020, we’re not supposed to be sitting around watching your promising lottery-protected pick deteriorate into a pair of piddling future second-rounders. By 2020, you’re not supposed to be still mired in the swamp of Secaucus in the springtime, promising your fans, “This time, I’ll be sweeter!”
    This “thing” is just not working out, this… “relationship,” if that’s what you want to call it… between you and me. I get it, you thought Adreian Payne could someday become your Taj Gibson, so you wouldn’t have to go out and get him yourself. Heh, at one point, I held some high hopes for Major Payne, too. We have each moved on from him. But you, my dearest Timbo, have not yet held up your end of the bargain. You, my precious Minny, are threatening to not be there for me, right when I need you most.
    Ugh! I can’t even bring myself to friend-zone you right now. I honestly believe we need to start seeing other people.
    Other people, that is, pulling the strings in your player personnel department. As evidenced by Monday’s disheartening 101-93 loss here at the hands of the “bear”-bones Grizzlies, your coach’s cooking hasn’t been all that great. So, why, pray tell, are you so enthralled with letting Tom Thibodeau buy the groceries, too?
    You are endowed with my former All-Star point guard, Jeff Teague. You not only have an All-Star center in Karl-Anthony Towns, you let Thibodeau reunite with All-Star Jimmy Butler, and nearly got sixty games out of him. That is, before Coach Thibs ran Butler, as he is wont to do, into the frozen tundra. Why are you not at 45 wins already? Why, as the calendar turns to April, do you need my help to get there?
    That Jimmy Buckets (torn meniscus, return unknown; NBA-high 37.1 MPG) has become Jimmy Buckled once again was predictable. What is unacceptable is that, by now, the Great Value Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins (20.0 PPG and 5.2 RPG this month, but 44.6 FG%), and Towns (53.3 FG% this month, down from 58.1% last month) haven’t grown defensively under the auspices your handpicked, supposedly defensive-minded coach/GM.
    Further, that the starters’ over-exertion to compensate defensively is eating away at their collective offensive capacity. (108.5 PPG this month, lowest since November) What’s intolerable is going just 8-9 since replacing Butler in the starting unit with Nemanja Bjelica, 4-7 in your past 11 games. That’s just not working for me, not at all. When will MY needs be important to you?
    Frankly, the withered Rose you bought wasn’t what I needed. Never mind that it arrived weeks after Valentine’s Day. Derrick Rose (questionable, sprained ankle) isn’t even what you needed. You already had a scoring guard that’s a defensive sieve, in the eminently durable Jamal Crawford.
    Unlike Payne, you knew what you were getting when you started courting J-Craw last summer. If you weren’t sure, you could certainly have consulted me. Yet now, thanks to your strident insistence on redundancy, your fanbase is turning on poor Jamal, who came in from the warmth of L.A. to grace you with his presence. You don’t deserve him, tbh.
    Were you aware that, besides Crawford, there is a whole other set of reserve Thibobullves at the end of the bench, sitting on their hands, eager to contribute? How can I trust your commitment to our “relationship” if you can’t even bring yourself to activate Justin Patton, a Riverdale native that’s just a few months senior of my John Collins. You recall, Patton, a center that you selected three picks ahead of mine last summer? How soon we forget.
    You’re telling me Patton couldn’t be relieving KAT (36.4 MPG last six games, the Wolves 2-4 in that span) by now? That he couldn’t be putting in more productive minutes than Gorgui Dieng (14.0 MPG last ten games) and Cole Aldrich (team-low 2.4 MPG, questionable due to illness) with a little more emphasis toward developing the youngsters?
    Speaking of youngsters, with your team near the cellar in assist percentage, why is Tyus Jones (career-high 53.1 eFG%), your promising first-rounder from 2015, wasting away on the pine, and expected not to move the ball on the rare occasions he is in the game? Do you really need Jeff to put in 42 minutes just to (try to) outlast the Grizzlies? Were I not already volt green, you could color me unconvinced.
    If you were sincere about your intentions, you would not be crawling into April with a defensive efficiency (108.9 D-Rating, 7th-worst in NBA) that manages to be worse than mine (108.5 D-Rating, 8th-worst). And my intentions have been clear from the outset, engaging in a tryst with The Process That Dare Not Speak Its Name (okay, fine, Tanking. It’s Tanking, don’t act like you’re unfamiliar with that) to the extent the law allows. Why is your defense still palling around with mine?
    Try as I might here in Atlanta (21-53), I cannot accommodate you with my long-held playoff spot. You, Minnesota (42-33, 1.5 games ahead of 9-seed L.A.), must earn your own reservation, in the rough-and-tumble Western Conference (15-23 in-conference, decidedly worse than the 19-19 Clippers). And you could be doing so much more to keep our waning “relationship” a healthy one.
    I understand, you thought you were helping me when you lost to the Suns (twice), the Nets, the Magic, the Bulls, and now the Grizzlies (twice). But I have overrated squads like the Wizards and heat to do that for me. See? There you go again, being redundant.
    You had one job, split into two tasks. Clinch. Then lose. Win those games (11 losses to sub-.500 clubs; 17 wins, fewest among playoff-eligible teams) and you would have already shaken your playoff hex by now. But here we are.
    Look, I am trying not to be difficult. I’ve got my pugilist point guard Dennis Schröder on the shelf, getting his sprained ankle in shape for a bracelet he might have to wear down the road. He won’t be out there tonight trying to get comeuppance against his former mentor. Remember my 105-100 “victory” in Atlanta back in January, when Teague shot an inauspicious 1-for-12 from the field? Dennis has been-there, done-that plenty of times already.
    I’m giving you one more shot to redeem yourself, Minnesota. No Schröder, no Kent Bazemore in the backcourt. You don’t even have to put up with Malcolm Delaney, or DeAndre’ Bembry, or Jaylen Morris. Can you conceivably handle Isaiah Taylor instead? Please, try not to turn Damion Lee and Tyler Dorsey into Tim Hardaway or Wayne Selden tonight.
    Dewayne Dedmon isn’t taking any days off. But he should be at least a breath of fresh air for Towns, after your center got pushed around at turns by Joel Embiid and Marc Gasol (4-for-7 3FGs, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 blocks on Monday) in recent days.
    There’s no point in wearing your starters down just to beat me tonight. I’ve let go of the rope. Former Yellow Jacket Marcus Georges-Hunt is over there on Thibodeau’s bench for a reason. You don’t need any fancy scouting report for me. I’m serving up fellow Minnesotan Mike Muscala on a platter for 25+ minutes, some of it alongside Tyler Cavanaugh. If you don’t know me by now, you will never, never, never know me.
    I don’t intend to keep you up all night, tossing and turning, as you’ve got real work ahead of you. If all goes as it should, very soon, you’ll go your way, and I’ll go mine. There’s no need for you and I to be back here next year, with you regurgitating your tired, empty promises. Officially, we should be through with one another, as of moonrise today.
    I bid adieu, and I wish you well in your future endeavors with other NBA partners. But just so we’re perfectly clear: if I’m not walking out of Target Center today with a loss, it’s not me, my darling Minnesota. It’s you.
    Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3
    lethalweapon3
    “But, it was just charades! I yelled… LOW CUT SOCKS!... not, HOLTKAMP SUCKS!”
     
    Here’s hoping for a thoroughly uneventful game for the Atlanta Hawks, for a change! Their West Coast swing continues with a visit to the Houston Rockets (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, AT&T SportsNet in H-Town), who are out to secure their first-ever (???) 60-win season tonight. The main question is, how easy can the Hawks make this for the Rockets?
    Houston (59-14) won handily last night at the Toyota Center, a 114-91 victory over the playoff-probable Pelicans that was only contentious as far as the barbs and fouling on the court. Conference Finals Virgin Chris Paul (sore hamstring) was rested for the past two games, and coach Mike D’Antoni would like to DNP a few more key components. But James Harden isn’t inclined to go along with that plan.
    Harden (NBA-high 30.9 PPG, 36.2 Usage%, 30.1 PER and .293 WS/48) remains in front of the pack contending for the Maurice Podoloff Trophy. But when the Beard peeks over his shoulder, he sees a hairy situation: MVP candidates Cavs’ LeBron James, the Blazers’ Damian Lillard, and the Pels’ Anthony Davis are gaining on him as the regular season nears its end. Even with his Rockets a virtual lock for the Western Conference’s #1 seed entering the playoffs, Harden has no desire to shift to cruise-control.
    It’s up to D’Antoni to make sure Harden starts, and gets to lead on the floor when it’s time to salt games away. But the reigning Coach of the Year will also strategically massage his marquee player’s minutes. Impressively, Harden is likely to earn his MVP award with a downtick in per-game playing time for the second straight season (35.6 MPG, down from an NBA-high 38.1 in 2015-16).
    Hawks fans would have hoped for a different season where Houston would pass along their first-round draft pick. But the Rockets, unlike the Warriors, have stayed fairly healthy, and GM Daryl Morey concocted a squad deep enough with veteran role players (now including future Hawks jersey retiree Joe Johnson) that its winning collection of stars and starters don’t have to over-exert themselves, or play too far outside of their comfort zones.
    Just as Paul (7.9 APG, lowest since his rookie season) has effectively reduced the necessity for Harden (8.6 APG, down from an NBA-high 11.2 last season) to distribute the ball as much as last year, Clint Capela (18 points, 16 rebounds, 6 blocks, 3 steals vs. NOP) obviates the need for Harden (5.3 RPG, lowest since 2013-14) to dominate on the glass. Unlike some former MVPs, you won’t catch Harden (27 points, 8 assists, 9 TOs vs. NOP) wrestling around in the paint with the JaVale McGees and Mike Muscalas of the world when it’s time to vie for a tough rebound.
    Reigning Sixth Man of the Year Eric Gordon (4-for-9 3FGs vs. NOP, 4 assists, 4 TOs) serves as the sole traditional point guard in the rotation with Paul out, and he’ll need help from his Harden (1.8 SPG, 6th in NBA) and his defensive swingmen to get a bead on a rested Dennis Schröder (16 points, 7 assists, 4 TOs @ GSW on Friday; questionable with an ankle sprain).
    With Trevor Ariza, Joe and P.J. Tucker trying to slow Schröder’s rolls, catch-and-shoot opportunities will abound for Taurean Prince (team-high 20 points, 4-for-8 3FGs, 2 steals, 2 blocks @ GSW), Tyler Dorsey (3-for-7 3FGs @ GSW), Damion Lee and Andrew White. If Dennis is a scratch, that primary dish-and-swish facilitator role would fall to Isaiah Taylor, who moved the ball well against G-State (6 assists, 2 TOs in 19.5 minutes on Friday).
    Keeping the Hawks (21-52) within shouting distance late won’t be the threes, but the free throws, a factor that has worked well in the Rockets’ favor this year (75.0 opponent FT%, 3rd-lowest in NBA). Atlanta clanked an inordinate 11 freebies on 20 attempts in Oakland on Friday, as much a factor in the Hawks’ inability to continue putting the second-half scare to the Warriors (and Others) as anything else. Mike Budenholzer is fine coaching a beatable team that doesn’t beat themselves, so expect better focus by his Hawks from the charity stripe tonight.
    For Houston, it’s just a matter of getting the win total into the 60s, and zeroing in on sewing up the 1-seed, as quickly as possible. For Atlanta, it’ll just be nice to not be the backdrop to a lead story on SportsCenter for a little while.
    Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3
    lethalweapon3
    “I Can’t Feel My Feet When I’m With You…”
     
    Under cover of night, the Atlanta Hawks made their daring Escape From Sacramento in time for tonight’s rematch with the world-champion Golden State Warriors (10:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Bay Area in SFO). Assuming the fans can make it into the arena this time, the burning question is: who’s suiting up?
    Whoever becomes our draft lottery prize this summer, get you a star who, when he announces his switch to low-cut sneakers, it makes the national news. “Stephen Curry to play in Under Armour low-tops for the first time,” ESPN breathlessly reported yesterday evening ahead of today’s game at Oracle Arena. The Babyfaced Assassin expects to return to action while still dealing with tenderness in his sprained, “definitely not 100 percent”, right ankle. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
    “It is kind of ironic that I made the switch this season considering my ankle issues,” noted Curry, who missed the past six games while enjoying (just saying! I’ve learned my lesson!) his 30th birthday, “but this shoe is stable and engineered to maximize my performance. I will still wear my ankle braces, but I have total comfort and security in my new shoe.” We shall see.
    Back when the young guard outta Davidson was scurrying around Oakland with fishtail legs, the Warriors turned to Keke Lyles to straighten him out. For the past several seasons, Lyles has been dutifully occupied with the trunks of Atlanta players, as the Hawks’ executive director of player performance.
    So, these days, Lyles gets to oversee players like the brutally durable Dennis Schröder (career-high 22.6 points per-36, career-low 3.1 TOs per-36), who needs to be a “healthy scratch” in order to miss tip-offs. Kent Bazemore might disagree, Steph (21 of 71 games missed this season), but the solution to your aggravations might not be the kicks.
    The Dubs’ Death (Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green) and Dying from Laughter (JaVale McGee) Lineup started coming apart at the seams almost as soon as Curry (an uncanny 59.2 2FG%, to go with his 42.4 3FG%) was put on the shelf.
    Klay fractured a thumb a few days later, and Splash Bro 2 remains out for another week or so. Days after that, KD cracked a rib, and he sits as well. Perhaps getting his Three Amigos move on a little too aggressively, Draymond became the next to hit the IR with a pelvic contusion.
    It has reached the point where Coach Steve Kerr will be thrilled just to get Omri Casspi (sprained ankle) back on the floor. The Dubs (53-18) have gone 2-4 since losing Curry, mustering just 75 points on Monday in a 14-point loss to a San Antonio team that has one huge, lingering injury issue of its own.
    Former Hawks preseason notable Quin Cook got his Isaiah Taylor on against the Spurs (20 points, 5 assists). But it’s clear from starting Cook and Nick Young together that there’s still not enough offensive firepower to compete against decent teams, on most nights, without Golden State’s Monstars available. Cook (hand contusion), Zaza Pachulia and isoBaze thief Andre Iguodala (shoulder contusions) and Patrick McCaw (wrist fracture) were all questionable going into Monday’s game, but all played, each one aside from McCaw in the starting lineup.
    Starting at center today will not be our old friend Zaza, nor will it be McGee. It will be Jordan Bell, the 6-foot-9 rim-protecting second-rounder who has Chicago Bulls brass kicking themselves. Bell (.184 WS/48, 4.4 Box Plus/Minus, 1.1 VORP, 18.2 PER) is arguably the sole 2017 draftee neck-and-neck with Atlanta first-rounder John Collins (.155 WS/48, 1.4 BPM, 1.3 VORP, 19.1 PER; questionable for tonight with his sprained ankle) in terms of efficiency metrics. Bell’s first start since mid-January is not merely a reward from Kerr for enduring what Bell described to pregame reporters today as a, “roller coaster, up and down” season.
    The Warriors had three days off entering tonight’s game, the opener of a four-game homestand, but Kerr wants the regular season minutes for his vet backup big men (Pachulia, McGee, David West) carefully metered out. They get to close out their schedule with a bunch of playoff-hungry outfits (Utah twice, OKC, New Orleans, Indiana, Milwaukee). Kerr wants his team trending up, as healthy players return and as they approach Game #82.
    So, don’t expect Kerr’s playoff-prepping bigs to be out here wrangling excessively in the paint with the likes of Dewayne Dedmon (a smooth 13-and-10 last night), Miles Plumlee and Tyler Cavanaugh. That task will fall heavily upon Bell and Looney tonight.
    While the Dubs have some gimmes on the docket like the pesky Hawks, two games against division-rival Phoenix will be on back ends of back-to-backs. The last loss before the Spurs game was a Tank-buster last Friday night, here at Oracle, at the “expense” of the Kings.
    Sacramento overwhelmed the remnant Warriors with the buddy-movie team of Buddy Hield and Skal Labissiere (combined 8-for-14 3FGs off the bench). That was essentially the same team that the Hawks, without Schröder, successfully held serve with for two-and-a-half quarters last night, before the Kings finally pulled away.
    Golden State has a chance to further sew up the #2 seed (and avoid a premature playoff meeting with the Rockets) with a win today. In that regard, they can't afford to mess around with Atlanta (21-51), especially given their inherent homecourt and rest advantages.
    Final issue: Will Steph get invited to Damion Lee’s bachelor party? That’s always uncomfortable, towing the future bro-in-law all around Vegas with the Day-Ones, just to keep the future missus in good graces. I know this well, I’ve seen it in the movies.
    Things could get even more Hawkward if Curry returns to hang a 40-burger on Atlanta and its newest starter, who just signed his second 10-day deal this afternoon. Still, I figure Lee will find a way to accommodate Curry on his party bus. But given the tenuous state of Steph’s ankles, Damion, make sure that thing comes equipped with a lift.
    Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3
    lethalweapon3
    “MMM… POLLO A LA PARRILLA! POLLO A LA BARBACOA!!”
     
    Ahead of tonight’s TankWars tilt between the visiting Atlanta Hawks and the Sacramento Kings (10:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports California in SAC), let’s take a moment to give it up for Vince Carter. He’s the half-man, half-amazing player-vaulter-turned-Blake-Griffin-troller who is willingly wrapping up season #20… 20!... in Northern California. And, no, he’s not sipping merlot and just taking it all in on the bench with the Warriors.
    With deference to Schoolhouse Rock, and De La Soul, 30 is the Magic Number. Or, at least, it once was. I still recall the glee with which I reported in a 2014 game thread about LeBron James’ 30th birthday party, which was here in Midtown Atlanta a night before he would get DNP’d for a game at Philips Arena. The Chosen One was about to become The Olden One, and I proclaimed James’ forthcoming entry into his fourth decade of life as great news for the rest of the wannabe contenders for his annual Eastern Conference crown. Welp.
    It used to be common understanding that the NBA veteran body breaks down precipitously after crossing the Rubicon into The Big Three-O. Go look at those videos of venerable fellas like Tree Rollins looking like downright geriatric giants in the 90s.  Tom McMillen looked every bit like a senior Congressman from Maryland, even before he got traded by the Hawks to the Bullets in the mid-80s. Carter is now the same age McMillan was, when the latter concluded his time serving… the U.S. House of Representatives!
    Witness even our prime NBA example of Fighting Father Time: Kevin Willis, clinging to dear life in the early 2000s as he tried to keep the folks over at Fernbank from turning him into an exhibit. Back then, even a young Vince Carter had to be looking askance at the graying Dell Curry on the Toronto bench like, “…Dude? Don’t you have some tweens back home to attend to?”
    Well, in this day and age, NBA medical staffs, and dietary and training methods, are way more advanced and personalized. The players are far more cognizant of their abilities to continue making bank if they keep themselves in tip-top athletic condition. No more butter-fried tilapia sandwiches at lunchtime, no more Tractor Traylors and Big Babies, not if you’re going to keep up at the pace these modern-day coaches demand. Players might, indeed, have spent a recent night racing Michael Vick in the parking lot after an eventful evening at Onyx. But you, the average fan, wouldn’t be able to tell either way.
    LeBron, at age 33, is still out here like, “Ladies, look at your man. Now, look at me.” He’s logging an NBA-high 37.2 minutes per game, a shade below his 37.8 MPG from last season. Not that he should have to, but he can, and he is. Oh, and he is still slaying fools, and winning, dropping 35-and-17 on the Raptors last night to lug his Cavs to victory just last night. As for Carter, whose All-Star invites stopped coming at age 30 but still is punching in the clock 11 seasons later, he ushers in an era where we wonder if 40 is even over so much as a mound, to say nothing of a hill any more.
    You know those 90s mixtapes where a young hooper pulls off such a spectacularly audacious play that he sprints out the gym, intending never to be seen on video again? That would have been me down in Sydney at the 2000 Olympics, had I gone off a steal and Fosbury Flopped over some 7-foot-3 dude, nearly off-vert, for a jaw-dropping one-handed jam. “Yep. Looks like my work is done here! Meep meep!”
    I’d have Usain Bolted out that arena, and the next you’d hear of me, I’d be retired in the Outback feeding kiwis to koalas. At best, I’d be turning my signature silhouettes into annual big-money sneaker releases – when do those Lethal 14s come out? But, nope, not Vinsanity!
    The guy who, even before that career-defining play, had already terminated the usefulness of any future Dunk Contests, anywhere, instead decided to grace us with his eminence for four-and-a-half more seasons with the Raptors. Then four-and-a-half more in New Jersey. Then a year-and-a-half near his hometown in Orlando, and then a brief run in Phoenix (oh, he’s 34 by then). Then, three seasons in Dallas. Three more in Memphis.
    And now, in Sacramento, rather than ring-chasing, Carter’s dutifully schooling the Kings on how to give one’s best effort regardless of the scoreboard, or the standings, or one’s accomplishments of yore. Vince heads into this summer as a 41-year-old free agent, and yes, he WILL get offers, significantly more than a VetMin. Out here trying to guard Griffin on occasion in the post, and complaining only to the refs about it, Vince (18.9 MPG in last five games; 48.0 2FG%, highest since 2007-08) is showing us that 40 is The New 30. LeBron might show us that 50 is The New 30, when all is said and done.
    Carter wasn’t on the floor back on November 15, when the Hawks raised their record to a dangerous 3-12 with a resounding 126-80 win over the Kings at Philips Arena. Atlanta pummeled a starting lineup that featured another O.G. in Zach Randolph, plus George Hill, rookie gunner Bogdan Bogdanovic, Garrett Temple, and Willie Cauley-Stein. Z-Bo and Stick Willie remain among the starters, but Randolph (stomach bug) will not play. Second-year pro Skal Labissiere is most likely to join a green first line loaded with yung’uns for Coach Dave Joerger, inclusive of rookie De-Aaron Fox and sophomore Buddy Hield.
    At this level of hoops, team shooting splits of 40.4/27.3/73.7 are usually an automatic addition to the L column. Yet two nights ago in SLC, wunderkind Dennis Schröder (13-for-21 2FGs, 3-for-7 3FGs, 7 assists, 2 TOs) picked-and-rolled apart the vaunted defense of the Utah Jazz.
    Dennis plopping a career-best 41 points (most by any road Hawk since Shareef back in December 2003) on the hapless Ricky Rubio and Friends was just enough to lift the Hawks – without Kent Bazemore, with Taurean Prince shooting 3-for-13 from the field, with Mike Muscala in place of the injured John Collins, with the soon-expiring 10-day pickup Damion Lee in the starting lineup, with random cats named Dorsey, Taylor, White, Plumlee, and Cavanaugh coming off the bench – to a 99-94 victory over a team trying to win their tenth-straight NBA game. At least, we think the Jazz were trying to win. It’s kinda late to start tanking now.
    Tonight’s pressing question for Joerger’s staff is, who is their Schroderstopper? Fox, the rookie whose DRPM (-2.87) is about as awful as Dennis’ (-2.80)? I don’t think so. Hill? Utah would’ve loved him the other night, but he’s in Cleveland now. Trade recipient Iman Shumpert (knee rehab) was shelved virtually upon arrival. Garrett Temple? Good choice, but he’s out with an ankle injury. Frank Mason? M’kay, good luck with that.
    It takes two to make a thing go right, so for the Kings, they need a screen-busting gameplan not only for Schröder (21 points, 11 in the third-quarter vs. SAC on Nov. 15) and his backup (Taylor, who had 11 fourth-quarter points vs. SAC), but their offensive partner in the post. Dewayne Dedmon (15-and-15 plus 4 assists @ UTA on Tuesday) enjoyed 11 points, plus eight of his game-high 14 rebounds, in the second-quarter as his Hawks blew that November game open.
    Ded-head also dropped five dimes, nearly matching Prince’s eight (seven in the final frame) as Atlanta shot 16-for-32 from downtown, plus an absurd 34-for-47 on the cushy interior of the Kings (NBA-worst 54.7 opponent eFG%). If Cauley-Stein (1.1 SPG, 1.0 BPG, one of 10 active NBA players averaging at least on of each) isn’t locked in defensively, it could prove to be a long night for hoop fans inside the sold-out Golden 1 Center (80-game sellout streak. No Onyxes in Sactown?) and, perhaps, Beyond.
    The Kings will strive to fight fire (NBA-worst 38.6 opponent 3FG%) with fire (38.1 3FG%, 2nd-best in NBA). They’ll lean on Hield and Bogdanovic, if he’s available (probable, sore hammy), plus rookies Justin Jackson and Mason off the bench, to get open for Fox. Failing that, hey, there’s always that guy Vince Carter on the bench. If we’re lucky, maybe he’ll get to show us all what tricks he still has up his sleeve. Do they even have lawns to get off of, down in Daytona Beach? If I lived there, I’d be so retired by now.
     
    Let’s Go Hawks!
    ~lw3