• Hawksquawk.net

    Atlanta Hawks community, for the fans, by the fans

    We already know the dealio with those Charlotte Hornets, the host Atlanta Hawks’ opponent tonight (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast in ATL, Fox Sports Carolinas in CLT) for the second time in a week. So in lieu of scintillating pseudo-analysis, I’m going to take a rare moment (yeah, right) to hop on the soapbox and Squawk about… proper pronoun usage.
    “We” are Tankamaniacs, for all intents and purposes. This season, “we” are resigned to desiring the team we root for to play hard, but fall short, more often than not, much like last Friday’s nice-try defeat in Charlotte. Our Hawks hung with the Hornets for the better part of four quarters and even seized a one-point lead with under three minutes to play. Our Hawks dared those Hornets to save the day and avert another momentous collapse in front of their home fans. And Charlotte obliged, rattling off 12 unanswered points, with Dwight Howard making crucial stops without (getting caught) fouling, to happily close the proceedings at the Cable Box.
    Our team’s nightly foes, unfortunately, are not KITT. Opponents aren’t equipped with some Turbo Boost button whenever the occasion calls for it. Sometimes, a somewhat-sucky Dennis Schröder will get trumped by an epically suckier Jeff Teague. Other times, his wayward shooting proves no match for a totally off-kilter Donovan Mitchell. Our team can leave perimeter shooters open all night long, as was the case in the three losses prior to Monday’s win over Minnesota, but they are not obligated to place the ball in the basket for them.
    “We” know, deep down, that this team, on its worst day, is not the worst NBA team ever designed by man. It is not, structurally, the least-competitive collection of players in the Association, with its Not-Worst coaching and player-development staff guiding the way. We’ve known these things since October. Yet “we” feign surprise and disappointment as we stray further away from 0-82 with each occasional victory, perhaps only because rivals like Orlando seem to be Competitanking harder, keeping their lead players on ice while pushing MVP candidates to post 60-point triple-doubles just to beat them.
    “We” are Hawks fans, now and into the future. “We” are not the Atlanta Hawks themselves. “They,” the 15-plus-man roster, hear all this “we”, and as far as “they” are concerned, “We” is a Nintendo game console. When “we” talk about how “we” need to lose every game, every night, “we” might as well be speaking French. Oui-oui!
    “They” are responsible for suiting up and preparing to square up with Warriors of the Golden State variety, not placating us Warriors of the Keyboard variety. “They” are True to Atlanta for as long as they’re here. But there’s that old adage about ensuring you give yourself oxygen, first, before passing the mask on to your neighbors.
    Individually, to a man, “they” are employed by the NBA, and would like to maximize their value to their future teams, be it the Hawks or somebody else. “They” are being watched and scrutinized by 29 other clubs on a nightly basis, and they don’t benefit from scouting reports that say, “Hey, this fella is a pure Tank Commander. It truly takes effort to suck as bad as him. He’ll be perfect for throwing games and getting our team to 20-62!”
    “They” would prefer to be around to support next season’s Hawks rookie star, to demonstrate that, together, they could be instrumental in swiftly turning around this intentional recession. “They” want to play right alongside 2018-19’s rook, perhaps come off the bench to give him a breather, to help him properly acclimate to Budball and the pro lifestyle, to fill his Kia up with popcorn and send him on daily Krispy Kreme runs. What “they” don’t want is to be summarily supplanted on the team, or in this league altogether, by him, whoever he becomes, however we acquire his services.
    “We” need to give Coach Bud and company a break. By most statistical measures, this should be the fifth-or-sixth-worst team right now. But as things stand, the Hawks (15-35) enter today with:
    The most in-conference losses (24) of any NBA team, including three more than Orlando, who have now gone over a month without their leading rebounder and longest-tenured veteran. The worst road record (4-20) in The Association, two full games worse than the Magicians, who nearly made it three last night. The most losses (14) versus NBA teams currently carrying losing records. That includes Charlotte (20-29), who had no intention of being one, yet would be 13-games below-.500 if not for two rope-releases courtesy of the Hawks so far this season. Despite their we-try-hard motif, 21 losses by margins of ten points or more, only one fewer than Phoenix and Sacramento, and three more than anyone in the East (Orlando, having played just one fewer game than Atlanta, has only 18). According to Playoff Status, the third-worst remaining schedule of opponents (behind only the Wizards and Knicks, neither of whom are pretending they’re not “Tanking”), based on winning percentage. Instead of balling out in the G-League, or overseas, random, unheralded guys named Delaney and Cavanaugh are granted 15-to-20 minutes a night, cutting their teeth no matter the quality of competition. Meanwhile, the team’s best three-point threat from the wing has been DNP-CD’d 15 times already.
    Everyone from Dennis Schröder, Kent Bazemore and Taurean Prince, to Malcolm Delaney and Isaiah Taylor are given ample opportunities to dig their way out of their own funk on the live floor, catching the hooks only when they mentally stray too far from Bud’s gameplan. The most obvious potentially-productive frontcourt tandem, including a would-be Rookie of the Year candidate, gets minutes off the bench, because Miles. Plumlee. Is. Starting. NBA. Basketball. Games.
    This season has been a master-class, conducted by Atlanta’s coaching staff, in how to underwhelm without making it blatantly obvious. They are fostering potential first-or-second-units of worthy NBA talent for the future that can occasionally win games right now, especially when opponents play down to, or below, their level. When opponents get low, we don’t just fight to get lower. That’s commendable, not excoriable.
    To reach the objective “we” Tankamaniacs ardently demand, the Hawks could have done simply offered some vet-min contracts to “me,” “you,” and “Harry.” It’s not like home attendance would get much worse, anyway. Maybe dish out some ten-days to 2Chainz, Migos and Hot Sauce when they’re in town to liven up a homestand or two. Let Nique draw up some plays where we move the ball from side-to-side, as he’s wont to suggest. And then, just sit back, and hope for the best… or, the opposite.
    But the Hawks aren’t interested in disposable contributors that can only seem to master the dark art of blowing chunks harder than everybody else. Yes, the degree of difficulty in overachieving will be raised, depending on what Travis Schlenk and “Hawks, Inc.” have up their sleeves in the coming week. But while players like Bazemore improve under our auspices, figuring out how to come through consistently (not comically) in the clutch on both ends of the floor, he raises either his value to current team, or the value of the return from any NBA team that covets his services.
    All of “them” provide a day-round utility to the Hawks organization that’s greater than the banality of “us” tracking final scores in hopes of the once-in-a-lifetime chance of maybe getting Nerlens Noel, Markelle Fultz, or the upstart SportsCenter wow-maker of the moment. None of “them” should be ruing the days they failed to “Chokafor for Okafor,” or “Yield for Hield”. That task is left for “us”.
    “We” are free to say, “We needed to lose this game!”, every night. That’s fine, so long as everyone uttering that understands who “we” does, and does not, include.
    Bidding “adieu” to all the “we” talk until after the game. That’s enough speaking French for today. Because… it is time, once more, for Tank Karaoke!
    It’s that Ol’ Skool Hip-Hop Edition, baby! Yo, you know how we do out here in The A.
    We got our Soul Brother #2, DJ Special Ad Wes Wilcox on the Ones and Twos. We got our Dookie-roped virtuoso G-Hill tickling the ivories as only he can. And, as always, Buddie Down Productions on the mic, bringing the bars, and the heat, straight from the street.
    You head-bobbers all know when to chime in. One. Two. Three. Kick it!

    Take Ilyasova. Take Ilyasova!
    **BELLY, BYE-BYE!**
    Here’s Ilyasova. Grab Ilyasova!
    **HEY! HEY!**
    Here’s Ilyasova. Get Ilyasova!
    **BELLY, BYE-BYE!**
    Here’s Ilyasova. Take Ilyasova!
    ((Dip to Verse 2!))
    All you sucka GMs, won’t you offer up some trades?
    Here go some “credit” from BUD-One
    Come get your “credit” from BUD-One…
    To get a great draft pick, I need my team to stink
    So step up and get fleeced by WHO?
    **GM TRAVIS SCHLENK!** That’s him!
    He knows your barely-playoff squad is out here desperate for some
    Our cricket tacos come in Spicy Cajun
    That’s why we got no need for bland Derrick
    Stretch out your slop and then we put them all on
    Twenty minutes nightly go to Isaiah
    Don’t need Howard back; that dude is soft as Teddy
    Nicolas Batum? He’s only good for steady
    Danny Ainge and Daryl Morey need to quit they
    Take Muskie in the morning, Cho; we’ll throw you in a
    My Team Prez woo you so hard, you’d think it was
    Relieve me of Babbitt, come get Dewayne Dedmon
    Me second-half rotations you just con’t understond
    Ty Dorsey over **here**, DeAndre’ Bembry over **there**
    Clear out the lane, and watch my rook, Collins, get some
    **AIR! AIR! AIR! AIR!**
    What’s the matter with you, GM SVG?
    Don’t you know, you’re desperate, much?
    What’s the matter with you, GM Presti?
    Sam, swing a 3-way with Milwaukee Bucks!
    No, Fournier can’t help you out; don’t be a reacher
    You’re better off with Baze and his wack UA sneaker
    That Plumlee gonna get shopped, ‘n Schröder’s hookah bar flopped
    It’s all blowin’ smoke to meeeee
    Everybody’s talking ‘bout Delaney’s box score
    But he’s still playing fine to meeeee 
    RIP Rasual! and Let’s Go Hawks!
    “Aww, c’mon Bud… I’m tryna tell you… they don’t serve Fellini’s Pizza out here!”
    Okay, Minnesota, you’ve had your fun. Now, cut it out. You and Houston, both.
    Sorry, Tankamaniacs, but it is Must-Win time for our Atlanta Hawks! There are only a handful of games where the Hawks genuinely can help their fans’ long-term cause by winning, and tonight’s tilt with the Timberwolves is one of them (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports North in MSP).
    You’ll remember that last season, the kings of The Process, Philadelphia, fell eight games short of securing the number-one draft lottery odds. The Sixers ended the season with lotto slot #4, slipped to #5 once the ping-pong balls bounced, then used a pick swap with Sacramento to sneak up to #3. But that still wasn’t #1. How did they wind up with the exclusive rights to select the youngster with the bulky shoulder and the free throw yips? They still had assets in their bag to sweeten any possible deal to move up.
    While it is a tall order, the Hawks might improve the quality of their draft assets with victories in their three games remaining versus the T’Wolves and Rockets. Atlanta holds Minnesota’s first-round pick thanks to the nifty 2015 move to deal 2014’s #15 pick Adreian Payne, whose attempt at directing a sequel to Love and Basketball in his dorm room apparently didn’t go over very well, before that first-round banana could change color from green to brown.
    That Wolves pick is lottery-protected, but 45 wins is all that should be needed to sew up a playoff spot out West, and there is little reason for this game to be among the baker’s dozen of requisite Ws for postseason-starved Minnesota (32-20).
    From Memphis to Sacramento, NBA teams are sending all the signals they reasonably can to make it clear they’re fighting for the bottom-dwelling lottery spot. Even after losing three in a row, Atlanta remains the hottest team over the past ten games among the NBA’s bottom-five. But even if the Hawks fail upwards a little, they have assets that no other bottom dweller, save for Phoenix and Philly, has at their disposal to creep up a spot, or three. Many of the lottery teams will need to pull out multiple rookie plums out of this draft pie, not just one good prospect, to begin turning things around, and they will be keeping Travis Schlenk’s cellie buzzing. “U up?”
    Schlenk and Company can package one, or both, of those low-first-rounders owed by Minnesota and Houston, and even a high second-round pick. In case LeBron World falls to tatters, Atlanta’s got a top-10-protected potential lottery pick from Cleveland in 2019 as well. They could even use some permutation of those three lower picks to ascend to the middle tier of this draft. It’s apparent, sadly, that the Rockets’ first-rounder will hover around the high-twenties through the end of the season. So, it would be nice if the Wolves’ low-first (presently at #25) could somehow slide up into mid-1st territory.
    No awareness of that strategery makes it easier for the Hawks (14-35) to pull off a fifth-consecutive win over a Western Conference opponent tonight, although one can forgive Minnesota if they’re a bit preoccupied, with playing in Toronto tomorrow and navigating whatever travel issues await once they return home for Super Bowl Weekend.
    Coach Tom Thibodeau’s club is 3-5 on the front end of back-to-back series, most recently losing last Wednesday in Portland the day before traveling to Golden State. They’ve only swept one of their seven back-to-backs, a homestand against Dallas and Charlotte back in early November. Even if the Hawks rev up the Competititank and fall short tonight, they can at least tenderize these Wolves on behalf of the Raptors.
    Thibs’ reputation of riding his star players for heavy minutes precedes him. True to form, Jimmy Butler (team-high 21.7 PPG, career-high 50.4 2FG%) places 5th in per-game minutes among active players, while Andrew Wiggins (career-low 50.8 TS%) is 10th, and Butler’s fellow All-Star, Karl-Anthony Towns (career-highs of 9.2 D-Rebs/game, 40.0 3FG%, 83.8 FT%), ranks 14th. 32-year-old Taj Gibson (career-high 33.7 MPG), a Thibs acolyte, is essential for keeping the Wolves’ sketchy team defense (24th in D-Rating) from falling through the floor.
    Also logging career-high floor-time under Thibodeau: former Hawk floor leader Jeff Teague (33.4 MPG), who turns 30 this June. As was the case with Dennis Schröder during Jeff’s latter years in Atlanta, Teague at least has a precocious up-and-comer backing him up in 21-year-old Minnesota native Tyus Jones (6-for-8 FGs, 5 assists, no TOs in Saturday’s home win vs. BKN).
    Jones has held the fort capably as a starter, with Minnesota going 6-4 during Teague’s injury absences. The elder guard is under contract through at least next season, but Jones’ vastly improved defensive production (2nd in Defensive RPM, 5th in total RPM among NBA PGs, as per ESPN) has many wondering how soon the heir will become apparent.
    Versus Atlanta, Thibs will be as inclined as ever to go deep into his rotation and rely on his bench corps in the middle frames. Minnesota will turn to Jones, Gorgui Dieng, future MMA star Nemanja Bjelica, and the irrepressible former Hawk Sixth Man of the Year Award winner, Jamal Crawford, the 37-year-old who would actually like to be on the floor a lot more often (18.9 MPG, lowest since his 2000-01 rookie season). Former North Clayton High and Georgia Tech star Marcus Georges-Hunt has also been seeing more than mere mop-up duty lately.
    Coach Bud will likely showcase more of North Star State native Mike Muscala (career-high 6.3 PPG, 44.1 3FG%, 3.6 RPG, 1.2 FTs/game, and 0.6 SPG all you GMs out there!)  Hawks fans can expect to see more of guard Tyler Dorsey, who acquitted himself as well as anybody (team-high 14 points, incl. 6-for-7 FTs, plus 4 assists) on Saturday against the Wizards, not only tonight but especially after the trade-deadline smoke clears.
    For the Hawks’ starters and reserves, the key task is simpler said than done: under no circumstances do you foul Crawford (team-high 89.9 FT%; 18.7 PPG last 3 games). Jamal okey-doked a Blazers defender last week to extend his personal record to 52 four-point plays in his career. Keeping Crawford, Butler and the Wolves (NBA-high 19.7 FTs/game) away from the charity stripe can short-circuit their offense and keep the Hawks in the running, even during Atlanta’s more scattershot-shooting phases (27.9 3FG% in Saturday’s blowout loss to wide-open Washington; under 35 3FG% in four of last six games).
    Facing his former mentor after two consecutive clunkers, Dennis Schröder (30.8 FG% last 2 games) should be able to collect some more gotheeeems and lob-dimes versus a Minnesota squad that can be porous around the rim (NBA-worst 67.0 opponent restricted-area FG%). That should be the case if Dennis smartly uses screens and DHO’s to grant himself space from Teague and/or Butler, and if the action from bigs like John Collins, Dewayne Dedmon and Moose is strong enough to draw Towns (1.5 BPG) further away from the hoop.
    If Atlanta can continue to even up the points in the paint (only a 36-38 deficit versus the Wizards) tonight, and if the Hawks do a better job of closing out on shooters without fouling, they can give the Timberwolves a run for their draft slot. I mean, money.
    Let’s Go Hawks!
    Sure, the Atlanta Hawks laid an egg in the final minutes of last night’s loss in Charlotte, after its revved-up Competitank finally ran out of gas. But as they return home for a quick run with the Washington Wizards tonight (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, NBC Sports Washington), there’s a different egg-laying bird I’m concerned about.
    There’s a strong likelihood that whoever’s name follows the words, “THE ATLANTA HAWKS SELECT…” this summer, will be our Goose for the foreseeable future. He’ll have his share of flaws and setbacks and disappointments. But just like the Wizards’ John Wall and Bradley Beal, just like DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento’s former hope now residing in New Orleans, our Goose will be counted on to periodically lay some Golden Eggs.
    It’s going to be on our Hawks, to make sure we don’t succumb to our rapacity, that we don’t kill the Goose.
    Alvin Thibodeau Gentry is having a sobering egg-free breakfast this morning. His Pelicans were midway through their first full season with Cousins playing alongside Anthony Davis, another unique frontcourt talent, albeit one with a tenuous injury history. And here they were, with the playoffs in their sights, knowing they cannot win games without one of the two All-Stars on the floor, if not both.
    Monty Williams – Monty! Williams! – Gentry’s predecessor, got canned in New Orleans, after following the owner’s directive and reaching the playoffs for the first time in four years with 45 wins, only to get swept by the one of the greatest teams of all time in the opening round.
    That championship team’s lead assistant, Gentry, was wooed to The Big Easy, and has failed to get more than 35 wins in the past two seasons. Even in 2016-17, with Cousins in tow for the back half of the season, and the oft-injured Davis playing over 70 games for the first time, the Pels finished at 34-48, seven games behind the 8-seed.
    Out of desperation, Gentry had both the 24-year-old Davis (36.3 MPG; 41.0 in last eight games) and the 27-year-old Cousins (36.2 MPG; 39.0 in last 10 games) logging career-high amounts of playing time, his Pelicans cranking out some of the shiniest Golden game-orbs the NBA world has ever seen. No rest days for Cuz, no, as it’s the game he DNP-CD’s that might cost this team a playoff spot. Pels GM Dell Demps wasn’t helping either – which one of Omer Asik, Asik Ajinca, Cheick Diallo or Solomon Hill are you resting these two stars to play?
    Now, Gentry is down one Goose. He’ll be inclined to ramp up the Golden Egg production of Davis to help compensate for the Achilles-tearing loss of Cousins. And while don’t know when, we will know how that will turn out.
    Cousins’ fellow collegiate Wildcat, Wall had his own durability issues in his early career, but as he started cranking out All-Star bids, and after his team added lottery talent like Beal and Otto Porter, his long-dormant Wizards finally began to peak.
    Now at 27 years-old, Wall’s third head coach, Scott Brooks, wants to keep his All-Star point guard fresh for the postseason. But as Washington’s bad road losses continue to pile up – by 23 in Dallas, by 24 in Charlotte, by 35 in Brooklyn, by 14 at Philips Arena, all since mid-December – and as the value of playoff seeding becomes clearer, Brooks is starting to ramp up Wall’s floor time.
    Wall’s 34.1 MPG is his lowest average since 2012-13, but it’s up to 36.7 in the games since Atlanta tripped up the Wiz 113-99 back on December 27. His per-minute production hasn’t improved (20.3 points, 9.7 assists, 1.4 steals) since last season, but Brooks isn’t about to squander a first-round upper-seed – a place where Washington (26-22), not Miami, should be – by leaning on the likes of Tim Frazier, Jodie Meeks and Tomas Satoransky.
    Beal hasn’t managed a full slate in his five prior NBA seasons, but Brooks is relying on BB-gun to play a career-high 36.1 MPG (39.2 in his past 12 contests). His ramped-up production was good enough to earn him his first All-Star appearance next month. But what happens to Washington’s chances in the East if either of Wall or Beal blows a gasket from overuse?
    I’m often right there with critics of Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer for metering out his newest Goose. Crank up the playing time and start John Collins (20.3 MPG, 2.4 personal fouls/game in last 21 games; down from 23.0 MPG and 3.7 fouls/game in first 21 appearances), and Johnny Bap’s First-Team All-Rookie and ROY award-nominee credentials would become much clearer to a national audience.
    But Coach Bud and the Hawks have grander schemes in mind than just wowing Hawks fans from one game to the next amid a season of recession. Sure, you might be tempted to insert a struggling Dennis Schröder late in last night’s game in hopes of sewing up a victory, just as Cousins was in late, fighting for rebounds to save the Pelicans from yet another crushing loss in the waning moments on national TV. But in winning those kinds of battles, what wars do you risk losing?
    If our Hawks (14-34) play their cards right with this year’s and the next year’s batch of rooks, with a focus on proper conditioning, treatment, and carefully-monitored development, then we could be setting ourselves up for something truly Golden down the road. Alternatively, the way Washington and New Orleans have been handling their Geese, chances are the eventual results won’t be everything it’s cracked up to be.
    Let’s Go Hawks!
    “Soulless Boy, Kill’em!”
    “I wanna kill them.” That’s the desire Dwight Howard professed during shootaround to the local rag about his most recent ex-team, the Atlanta Hawks, who pay him and his Charlotte Hornets (7:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast in ATL, Fox Sports Carolinas) a visit tonight. Well, that’s not very hospitable, D12!
    Unlike the Hawks’ last opponent, Howard (20 points and 15 rebounds in a 109-91 win vs. ATL back on Oct. 20) and the Hornets have been struggling to establish a killer instinct. There’s no better time to start figuring out how, than when you’re sitting five games below the playoff line and facing the prospect, tonight, of finishing closer in the standings to a team with the NBA’s worst record than to the 8-seed.
    We’re all fortunate nothing literally happened to Steve Clifford to add to his starting center’s “coach killer” persona. Clifford’s a tough guy, as noted by Woj at ESPN: he returned to coach the Bugs against the Hawks in November 2013 just a few days after getting stents inserted. But a lingering sleep deprivation problem, one that long preceded Dwight’s arrival in the Piedmont, produced aggravating headaches that eventually made it impossible for Coach Cliff to function, never mind roam the sidelines in a high-pressure vocation.
    But Coach Cliff has those headaches beat, or so he tells us. His team has been doing its best to re-induce that malady, both from him and the folks who populate Spectrum Center. Only the Nets and the Hawks have as many home losses among Eastern Conference clubs so far. And my land, some of these losses. Last Saturday night’s wresting of defeat from the jaws of victory, versus division rival Miami in front of the home crowd, had even Yours Truly’s milkshake-sucking vein popping out between my eyebrows.
    “That’s how you become a team that wins two and loses one, like we have been,” said Clifford to the Charlotte Observer and the postgame media of his Hornets (19-27), who have won six of their past ten games, but haven’t won three-straight since back before Thanksgiving. “Just a total lack of concentration, intensity, technique, and understanding who the hell you’re playing against. It’s terrible. Terrible.”
    The blow-by-blow of that loss, where Charlotte blew a 10-point lead in a manner of ten minutes, low-lighted by a five-point lead evaporating in the space of four seconds during the final minute, is too excruciating to recollect here. Yet the Hornets could have salvaged the game in overtime, had Dwight not made it his mission to “kill” Miami’s Kelly Olynyk with a senseless foul with just 0.2 seconds remaining.
    Even with Clifford chewing his team out, the Hornets went out and walked the tightrope just two nights later, sad-sack Sacramento narrowing a 20-point Charlotte lead to just three with 85 seconds left. The Kings got cute with Hack-A-Howard, and Dwight (53.4 FT%; 53.3 FT% last season w/ ATL) made them pay by sinking both freebies. Moments later, his offensive rebound off a way-too-familiar missed jumper from Nicolas Batum (40.8 FG%; 28.8 3FG%), and a defensive goaltend on his putback, saved Hornets fans from wanting to tear the arena down with their teeth.
    Those nervous fans caught a break Wednesday as the Hornets (minus-5.6 fourth-quarter Net Rating, 26th in NBA; NBA-low 44.7 fourth-quarter eFG%) played from behind for most of the game against the Pelicans. But chances at victory were dashed shortly thereafter, by Dwight barreling into Anthony Davis for an offensive foul, then by a pair of bad passes from Kemba Walker, who senses that his time as the face of basketball in the Queen City is fleeting, despite assurances from His Airness to the contrary.
    Now the Hornets (6-13 on the road) simply want to wrap-up their homestand at 3-2, before embarking on a stretch of seven away-games in their next eight, including next Wednesday at the Highlight Factory.
    A key reason they’re even in some of these contests to begin with? Marvin Williams is no more an ugly duckling from the perimeter. The feathery touch on the stretch-four’s jumper has been on display the whole season, the Hawks’ former corner-shot lamppost shooting a career-best 44.4 3FG% (4th in NBA, two spots in front of ex-Hawk Al Horford).
    Without Marvin’s consistent shot on a squad shooting just 44.2 percent from the field (28th in NBA), defenders would be easily clamping down on Kemba (41.9 FG%, lowest among top-20 NBA shooters) and Dwight (3.0 TOs/game) and getting stops. Walker generally takes care of the ball, but the Hawks (NBA-high 18.7 points per-48 off TOs) will look for Dwight to get sloppy with careless dribbles and excessive physicality away from the play. The Hawks will deploy his trade counterpart, Miles Plumlee, and charge-sponge Ersan Ilyasova to help throw Howard (6 TOs, 5 personals vs. ATL in October) off his game.
    Charlotte allows the third-fewest points-per-48 off turnovers, in part due to Kemba’s ballhandling, but also because they have Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Batum to get back. Carolinian Kent Bazemore and Taurean Prince (just 13 minutes in the blowout loss vs. TOR on Wednesday, no assists) can get out on the break, but they should be prepared to find Dennis Schröder (25 points, 11-for-19 2FGs @ CHA in October) and other shooters on the floor as passing options to finish offensive plays with buckets and trips to the line.
    Lost in Atlanta’s blowout loss to the Raptors on Wednesday was the effort of Rising Star John Collins, who grabbed 16 rebounds and rejected four shots over 26 minutes, generally ignoring the scoreboard as the Hawks cut Toronto’s lead in half to close the contest. He’ll try to show he’s grown by leaps and bounds since last October, when he fouled out of his second game in just over 15 minutes of play.
    Hawks fans are free to ignore Dwight’s murderous mindset coming into this evening’s affairs. The Hornets aren’t so much obsessed with slaying opponents, these days, as they are merely surviving fourth quarters without humiliating themselves.
    Let’s Go Hawks!
    “What Ever Happened to Bebe, Jane?”
    Hey, Tank Mob! This game is for you. Ahead of today’s homestand-concluding game between your Atlanta Hawks and the Toronto Raptors (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Sportsnet in the GTA), I consulted a Ouija board, read through the tea leaves, shook the magic 8-ball thingy, and all indications that the Hawks end the day with some point total that’s less than Toronto’s is a stone-cold lead-pipe lock cinch, or whatever the degenerates call it in Vegas these days.
    The Raptors haven’t played since Saturday night, and they have previously logged double-digit victories over Charlotte and Phoenix following a three-day layoff. They’ve spent a couple fun-filled evenings in the ATL, including Wednesday night when the Hawks ran roughshod in the second half over a lifeless Utah Jazz team, and have had ample opportunity to scout out the Hawks firsthand. That game prep doesn’t include watching tape of the prior meetings, both washouts at the hands of the Raptors.
    There was the 112-78 singeing of the Hawks on this Philips Arena floor, back on November 25, where Atlanta struggled to find shooters capable of keeping up with a balanced Toronto team. All-Star DeMar DeRozan (2 points, 8 assists) wasn’t even one of the seven Raptors who ended that evening in double figures. But he made of for that the next time the clubs met, scoring 25 points to fend off a game Taurean Prince (30 points, 10 rebounds) as his Serge Ibaka-less Raptors prevailed, 111-98, at Air Canada Centre.
    No one in the Eastern Conference is particularly hot at present, as the Hawks are tied for the East’s longest winning streak, at 1. Blinded somewhat by their opponents’ hi-liter jerseys, the Raptors lost their last game in Minnesota back on Saturday, and have dropped three of their last five contests, and four of their past seven. But with Boston sliding back to the conference fold with four straight defeats, and Cleveland and Washington doing whatever the heck they’ve been up to, this is no time for Toronto (31-14) to start slipping around.
    Victory tonight for the Raptors might not only move them within a half-game of the Celtics, who are back in Staples tonight to deal with the Clippers, but it would all but certainly sew up an All-Star Game appointment for head coach Dwane Casey.
    His players have bought in to his promoted “culture change”, from DeRozan extending his shooting range, to his All-Star sidekick Kyle Lowry ceding minutes to the youngsters coming off the bench, to the team doing away with the stifling iso-heavy offense and spreading the ball. The Raptors’ seven leading scorers are each shooting between 35 and 40 percent on three-pointers, inclusive of center Jonas Valanciunas, who hoists a perimeter shot once every couple games.
    Now, Toronto is on the verge of becoming the favorites in the East altogether. They have the best in-conference record in the East (19-6). They’re above-.500 on the road (14-11), and a home-friendly balance of the regular season schedule awaits their return to Air Canada Centre, where they’re 17-3. Their point-margin average (+7.3) is far and away superior to Boston’s +4.4. And (this one’s for you out there in the Tank Mafia), Toronto’s record versus NBA clubs presently sitting below-.500 is a league-best 18-2. The sole slip-ups: at New York on the day before Thanksgiving, at Dallas on the day after Christmas.
    Suffice to say, this would be a horrible time for the Raptors to kickstart a losing skid with a head-scratching loss at the Highlight Factory. Now, none of the above is to say that Mike Budenholzer’s Hawks (-3.1 Net Rating in January, 20th in NBA, better than Milwaukee and NBA-worst Cleveland) will simply mail it in and weather a third-consecutive blowout loss to these guys. If the final point spread narrows significantly tonight, here’s what is likely to unfold:
    Toronto shows up a little lead-legged after so many days of media interviews and reading their own press clippings, and the Hawks catch them off-guard to start the game. Pace, in and of itself, doesn’t make this Atlanta outfit successful, as they’re just 2-11 (no wins since November 5) in their 13 highest-paced affairs (as per bball-ref). But if a rekindled Prince (17 points, 2-for-4 3FGs, 3 steals vs. UTA) and Kent Bazemore (3-for-5 3FGs, plenty of deflections, 2 steals vs. UTA) are beating the visitors down the floor in transition for open jumpers and easy scores, it could be a long night for the Raps, and the Tankmaniacs. Supporting-cast guys come into the game unfocused, notably OG Anunoby, the rookie forward who drew the ire of Coach Bud (touching off an exchange of bon mots with a defensive Casey) after he padded the final score with a dunk off a steal in December’s game. While a decent defensive player, Anunoby has averaged just 2.3 PPG (23.5 FG%) in his past four starts. He’ll need to center his mind on the basket, the ball and the game action, and not the guys in suits on the sideline. The Raptors get undersold on the Hawks’ season-long rebounding woes, and start getting gashed on the glass. They allowed the eight different Wolves to grab 15 O-Rebs on Saturday. Meanwhile, the Jazz entered the game on Monday expecting easy pickings but were unprepared for the dual attack of Dewayne Dedmon and John Collins (combined 7 O-Rebs, 16 boards total) off the bench. Toronto will need Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam and our old friend Bebe Nogueira to come in ready to box out and securing the ball on both ends of the court. The Hawks keep the game close through three-and-a-half quarters, and the old Raptor habit of a ball-sticking heroball offense resurfaces. Toronto has been in clutch situations 22 times this season, and their assist rate on possessions in those scenarios plummets to 32.7 percent (29th in NBA), worse than only Victor Oladipo’s Pacers. Throw in a “clutch” 70.3 D-Reb% (28th in NBA, just ahead of Al Horford’s Celtics) and that contributes to an underwhelming minus-5.6 Net Rating at crunch time. Fail to rebound, fail to keep the ball moving, and commit a few unforced errors, and this game could get uncomfortably tight… for some. But, unless several of these things happen, it should be smooth-sailing for those of us in the Tankinati. I suggest using the time between tip-off and the final score not stressing out. Instead, flip the channel, and binge-watching reruns of some of those shows you need to catch up on (if “This Is Us” is one of them, I highly recommend skipping the past Crock-Pot scene.) Or better yet, get down to The Highlight Factory, kill some time gorging on some cricket tacos, and spend the moments before the final buzzer exploring the wonders of the arena’s finest porcelain facilities.
    Let’s Go Hawks!
    “Life moves pretty fast, Shareef…”
    Putting the “tank” in “stank” with lousy perimeter shooting and lousier interior defense against the Bulls on Saturday, our Atlanta Hawks have licked their wounds and will try to return to the winning column tonight versus the Utah Jazz (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain in SLC), a team where many budding NBA careers have gone to grow stale. But, perhaps, not for much longer?
    The steam you see rising out west is coming from California, where the O’Neal household is miffed about Shaquille’s son, Shareef, not making the cut for the heralded McDonald’s All-American High School Boys Team last week. “It hurt, a lot, actually,” Reef told ItsOvertime.com, “because that was a childhood dream for me.”
    Various and sundry FOSses (Friends of Shaq) within the NBA universe reached out via the social media stratosphere to express their resentment of the folks beneath the Golden Arches, for snubbing the Arizona commit. Recent retiree Matt Barnes, unsurprisingly, was most vociferous in his e-displeasure, insisting he and his children will stage a boycott of McNuggets, a protest that ought to work out well for his kids in the long run. Do they still use pink foam for that stuff?
    Shareef don’t like it. But he should understand that getting named to that select prep squad is not all it’s cracked up to be. If anything, it’s not a bellwether of future pro stardom. All-NBA talents from Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook and Jimmy Butler to Paul George, Draymond Green and Kawhi Leonard are still trying to figure out how their invitations got lost in the mail. And roll back the calendar just nine years ago. Sure, Boogie Cousins made the team, as did Lance Stephenson. But, hey, so did Bud-faves Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly.
    Neither is such an honor insurance of lasting fandom. If you ask nicely, Reef, I’ll bet you Derrick Favors will let you borrow his MVP trophy from the 2009 Mickie D’s All-American Game (the 2018 game will be right here at Philips Arena, on March 28). The former South Atlanta High and Georgia Tech phenom can assure you, as he has learned, that winning that award, and even becoming a #3-overall draft pick, doesn’t make you all that and a bag of fries.
    Sure, Favors is still starting in the league, so he deserves a break today. But since getting picked third-overall by New Jersey in the summer of 2010, then dealt mere months later to Salt Lake City in the aftermath of the Jerry Sloan-Deron Williams nuke-fest, heightened expectations by Jazzfans of Favors (12.4 PPG, 7.1 RPG) someday blossoming into superstardom have given way to merely being satisfied if he can be anything more than a role player from one night to the next.
    The player Utah drafted in 2009 that eventually did turn into something like a phenomenon, Gordon Hayward, departed for Boston last season, turning the heat lamp more squarely in Favors’ direction. On the floor, he’s aided by Ricky Rubio (team-high 4.8 APG), the once-hyped point guard whose jury is no longer just out, they’ve rendered their verdict and gone home to spend time with their families.
    Unable to stretch his range or move the rock like many of his positional peers, Favors is finding himself subbed at turns by former Hawks star Joe Johnson (41.6 FG%, lowest since 2002-03), by Jonas Jerebko (team-high 43.4 3FG%), and by Joe Ingles (42.7 3FG%, 4.3 APG), each of whom exceed Favors by several years of global hoops mileage. That’s to say nothing of Thabo Sefolosha, who was getting minutes as a small-ball four before succumbing to a season-ending knee injury.
    Since Favors’ arrival, lottery picks and draft-day acquisitions by the Jazz haven’t fared much better. Enes Kanter is despised in SLC more than anywhere on Earth, and that’s saying something. Former All-Rookie 1st-Teamer Trey Burke is just happy to be getting minutes somewhere. Armed with a ten-million dollar salary from the Jazz, Alec Burks is getting yo-yo’d in and out of the G-League. Dante Exum (shoulder) can’t seem to get back on the NBA hardwood, while Trey Lyles waited until he was dealt to rival Denver to start showing out.
    A decade full of dampened dreams are gnawing on Jazzfans’ patience, even though Player Whisperer and head coach Quin Snyder runs the show. One season after being treated to 51 wins (with Hayward) and a Conference Semifinals appearance, fans have grown unnerved as Utah (19-27) subsides. Their frustrations with promising players failing to emerge recently boiled over in a way that could some day harm the team’s chances of keeping their most exciting rookie guard since the days of Dr. Dunkenstein.
    Like the legendary Darrell Griffith, Donovan Mitchell (team-high 19.3 PPG) leapt and bounded his way out of Louisville, eager to prove wrong prognosticators that urged passing on the high-flying shooting guard due to his 6-foot-3 height. While Mitchell was getting acclimated to the pro game, and while center Rudy Gobert (minutes-monitored after a recent return from knee soreness) struggled through injuries, fourth-year guard Rodney Hood (career-high 16.7 PPG; career-low 43.7 2FG%) took the mantle and carried the scoring load for the Jazz at the outset of the season.
    But Hood’s hot start was unsustainable, and when his jumper tailed off (30.0 3FG% this month), his skeptical home fans serenaded him last week with audible boos. That didn’t sit well with Mitchell, the reigning Rookie of the Month (and, it should be noted, a 2015 McDonald’s “snub”, unlike our old friend Diamond Stone) who replaced Hood in Snyder’s starting lineup back in November. “Can’t believe people were booing Rodney tonight,” the rookie tweeted last Monday, following a 15-point loss to Indiana. “…for people to boo him is insane.”
    Further defending Hood (out tonight, due to a sore knee) Mitchell added in all-caps, “WE ARE BETTER THAN THAT!”, his inclusive “WE” referring to those apparently transplanted Eagles fans in the arena stands. Once his rookie deal expires and extensions run out, might Mitchell “Take Note” as to how Utah’s fans sour on young players, like him, once they have seemingly regressed or leveled off? (Former Jazz draft-and-tradee Taurean Prince, consider yourself a lucky man.)
    That subset of Jazzmen includes Favors, still just 26 years of age, who has gone out of his way to re-emphasize his personal joy of playing in the Beehive State over the years. The once-grateful sentiments from the fanbase have worn thin for Favors, in the aftermath of Paul Millsap and Hayward leaving. No longer waiting for him to step up, fans are urging Dennis Lindsey and the Utah brass to help Favors step out, before February 8’s trade deadline arrives.
    While Mitchell adds dashes of excitement, Utah as a team has been slow at the start of the first (minus-10.2 1st quarter Net Rating, 28th in NBA) and second halves (minus-8.3 3rd quarter Net Rating, 26th in NBA), but eventually strives to gain traction (2nd in Net Rating in 2nd quarters; 6th in the 4th quarters). Those rankings are low even with Saturday’s home win, where the Jazz outscored the Clippers 39-29 in the opening frame and held serve in the third along the way to a 125-113 victory.
    To help slow opponents’ rolls, Utah will rely heavily on Gobert and Ekpe Udoh (1.9 steals and 2.9 blocks per-36, DNP-CD vs. LAC) to seal off the rim from drive-heavy players like Dennis Schröder (17.6 drives per game, 2nd in NBA), especially if they can afford to abandon their man while defending in the paint. They also depend a lot on the late-game guile of veterans like Ingles (4 steals vs. LAC), Jerebko and Joe, so as not to overload the trio of Mitchell, Gobert and Rubio in crunch time.
    Schröder will have to weather the storm in the halfcourt by relying on a mid-range game that betrayed him at times versus Chicago. But he and the Hawks can get to the rim, unencumbered by their slower and injury-addled opponents, by initiating a fastbreak and transition offense. The Jazz (27th in pace) have been stout defensively in these categories, but not so much on the road, where their record (5-18) almost mirrors Atlanta’s NBA-low of 4-19.
    Dennis has been effective in finding open teammates (20 assists, 1 TO in past two games), but the Hawks will find themselves behind the 8-ball repeatedly if they don’t hit those shots, especially versus strong defensive-rebounding teams like Chicago (81.1 D-Reb%, 3rd in NBA) and Utah (79.2 D-Reb%, tied-6th in NBA). Favors has been out of rotations at the ends of Jazz games, but he can be integral to another good start by keeping his fellow ’09 All-American Plumlee off the glass from the start, freeing up Gobert to help with blocks on the defensive end.
    Shareef already knows he is likely unable to fill his father’s sizable shoes, but he needs to chart his own unique course into, and through, the pros. To be in a position where he’ll be coveted by the likes of the Jazz and the Hawks in the future, he needs to stray as far away from anything associated with McDonald’s for a while. If he’s unconvinced, he could ask for tapes of Daddy Diesel playing in his thirties.
    In closing… It’s Tank Karaoke Time! Kick it, Bud!
    “Para drafta Mo Bamba, para drafta Mo Bamba,
    Marvin Bagley, una Luka, Trae, Musa
    Una Luka, Trae, Musa, para mi, para ti
    Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
    Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Porter, okay?
    Porter, okay! O, DeAndre!”
    “Tu no pick Marvin Williams
    Tu no pick Marvin Williams, ‘kay, Travis-san?
    ‘kay Travis-san? Draft mi Ayton!”
    “Mo, Mo, Bamba
    Isaac Bonga
    Mo, Mo Bamba… Bam!”
    Let’s Go Hawks!
    “Now DIFF iff a contfeth I can ffink my FEEFTH intfoo!”
    The Atlanta Hawks continue their thrilling homestand by facing off with the Chicago Bulls (5:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, WGN in The Chi) in a 2020 Eastern Conference Finals preview. We might as well go ahead and speak it into existence.
    Once LeBron is bawling outta control with the Clippers, Giannis gives hints he won’t be around America’s Dairyland much longer, Porzingis retires his tired body early, and Kyrie finally starts resembling Uncle Drew, by 2020, it could come down to which of the two teams on the Philips Arena court today add the right pieces and gel the quickest.
    If only Garpax can get out of its own way. No more absurd deals from the two-headed management monster, like the four-year, $32 million one handed out to backup pivot Cristiano Felicio, who is spending the day with Paul Zipser in G-League Wisconsin. No more buyouts of well-worn ex-All-Stars brought in to impart veteran “wisdom.” No more dumping Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott for a run at Cameron Payne.
    Just find a way to keep 2018 restricted free agent Zach LaVine from getting Hardawayed out of town, continue to develop talent like lotto rookie Lauri Markkanen, give coach Fred Hoiberg room to instill his offensive schemes, bada boom, bada bing, conference finals, here we come.
    After the seeming success of drafting Lauri Legend (17.7 PPG, 47.2 3FG% and 8.2 RPG in last ten games) last summer, there are fans who would enjoy the Bulls (17-28; 14-8 since bottoming out at 3-20) taking another dip in the lottery tank. But losing skids are on hold in Chi-town until Nikola Mirotic finds himself in a new NBA home.
    Since returning from a preseason-practice face-bashing courtesy of teammate Bobby Portis, Mirotic (team-high 17.7 PPG, 45.7 3FG%. 6.8 RPG) quietly does his bidding, coming in off the bench, getting his buckets and boards, and sitting back down on his hands, the Bulls winning 13 of the 20 games in which he has appeared. He has made it clear he wants to be as far from Portis and his fisticuffs as possible, before the NBA trade deadline arrives, and simply moving Portis won’t satisfy him.
    Chicago also has LaVine back for the first time this season, although Hoiberg and the staff is limiting their future lead scorer’s playing time to 24 minutes (preserving time for the fourth quarter) as he returns from ACL surgery.
    Acquiring LaVine, Kris Dunn, and Markkanen in exchange for former star Jimmy Butler and Justin Patton, is shaping up to be a boon going forward for Coach Fred and the Bulls. That’s especially true if LaVine returns this summer, after he and the Bulls failed to hammer out an extension deal last fall. Much like Atlanta with Dennis Schröder, the surge up the standings for Chicago (13.0 opponent TOs/game, last in NBA) in future seasons will coincide with LaVine’s commitment to strengthening his defensive imprint.
    For the Hawks (13-31), January used to be the time of year when Joe Johnson, Al Horford, and Paul Millsap would elevate their play, each making a final push to be considered by the league’s coaches deliberating over their All-Star reserve choices.
    Now, I don’t love L.A. quite like Randy Newman did. But even though the Hawks are momentarily languishing in The Gutter of the Eastern Conference, and nobody from around here will be checking in to give LeBron and Giannis a spell, there are a few Hawks I’d like to see dancing their way into All-Star Weekend festivities in La-La Land.
    They might be wearing different jerseys by the time they arrive, but either of Marco Belinelli (4.7  3FGAs/game, 38.7 3FG%) or Ersan Ilyasova (40.5 3FG%) ought to get consideration for the Somebody’s Bluetooth Headphones Three-Point Shooutout. It would be the third appearance for Belly (2014 champion) and the first for Thrillyasova.
    After dropping a cool buck-fifty (career-high-tying 15 regulation dimes! TEN in the second half! ZERO turnovers! Nice defense, Rondo!) on the Pelicans Thursday, Schröder (career-high 36.3 assist%, 9th in NBA) seems like a perfect candidate to return to the They Make Taco Shells Outta Eggs These Days Skills Challenge. For all that is holy, Menace, don’t blow the layup!
    With 17 monstrous Almost Dunks as whoa-inducing as his 72 made ones (as per bball-ref), rookie John Collins ought to get a call for the Can You Hear Me Now Slam Dunk Contest. He’s also a lock to be on the USA roster for the Caffeinated Livewire Sugarbomb in a Skinny Can Rising Stars Game. Although, with the American side lacking girth, it appears Jean Baptiste could get stuck with an unfortunate matchup, should Joel Embiid elect to do double-duty that weekend on behalf of Team World. Skip the Friday night events, Rihanna.
    With just ten rookie-sophs on each roster, there’s a tight squeeze for a final roster spot on the USA team, and Taurean Prince (12.4 PPG & 5.4 RPG , 8th & 5th among second-year players, respectively) still has a chance to thread the needle.
    To make Taurean Goes to Hollywood a reality, the Hawks swingman must find a way to shed his recent slump (32.9 FG% and 2.4 TOs/game in last 8 games; two total FTAs in his last 5 games) and outshine a collection of Baby Bulls, notably Kris (“Kwithf!”) Dunn (13.7 PPG) and Denzel Valentine (5.4 RPG), who get the benefit of a bigger-market push. Attacking the rim on cuts and drives more frequently, and disallowing missed shots from affecting his energy in transition, will go a long way for Prince to help himself earn a trip to Cali.
    Similar to the Pelicans, done in by a Bazebomb in Wednesday evening’s 94-93 thriller at The Highlight Factory, the Bulls come into Atlanta with limited depth, although Chicago won’t be playing off a 3-in-4 night overtime-filled stretch, not like New Orleans. Dunn’s under concussion protocol and getting his fronts fixed after taking a post-dunk spill during Tuesday’s 119-112 home loss to the Draymond-less Warriors. Payne has been out all season after foot surgery, while LaVine is minutes-limited.
    That leaves the Bulls’ ten-deep, and Hoiberg will lean on a committee that includes ex-Hawks draftee Jerian Grant, ex-Hawk Justin Holiday, Valentine, David Nwaba and LaVine to slow Schröder’s rolls to the hoop. There is minimal rim protection beyond Robin Lopez (0.9 BPG and 4.9 RPG, lowest since 2011-12) for the Bulls (18.8 opponent FGs per game within 5 feet, 6th-most in NBA), something Schröder, Kent Bazemore and Prince should seek to exploit.
    I can see it now: Dennis Schröder takes the dribble hand-off from Jaren Jackson, Jr. and flies to the hoop for the conference semifinals’ series-clinching layup in Game 7. As he returns triumphantly to the floor, Schröder turns to Orlando’s Luka Doncic and whispers, “Sorry, kiddo. It’s just not your time yet!”
    Let’s Go Hawks!
    Saint That a Shame?
    Our Atlanta Hawks seek to make it two Ws in a row for the just second time… **gulp**… this season, as they face a resurgent New Orleans… **cough, ahem**… Pelicans team (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports N’Awlins) at The Highlight Factory.
    New Orleans… **giggle, snort**… comes in after a huge overtime win in Boston tonight, looking for… **smirk**… their fourth straight victory for the first… **lol, lmao**… okay, I’m sorry, Hawks fans, bear with me for a minute.
    We interrupt this game thread to ask a very important question.
    AINTS fans! Where y’at?
    Spectacularly blowing a lead with 61 yards of defensive room and only ten seconds left? Who Dat? More like, Who DOES Dat? No, seriously, what happened, y’all?
    New Orleans, Lose-iana: were you not the townsfolk who couldn’t seem to mind their own dadgum business, with all the incessant 28-to-3 jokes? Banners flying over that substandard Mercedes Benz stadium that’s domed so nobody inside can see them, Lame halftime dancers on the field pepping up their fans by forming some midgame score from a Super Bowl their team didn’t even participate in (y’all fans remember making it to a Super Bowl, right? I know, it’s been a minute.)
    Wide receivers rocking pregame tees with the score in black-and-old-gold? As if that score had anything to do with you? All those “28-3 Merry Xmas” signs? Well how now, brown cow? “24-23 0:10 Happy MLK Day!” There’s a five-letter word Antonio Brown has for this, but I’m forgetting, what’s it called?
    There’s no telling which millennium we’ll be in when the Falcons win their first Super Bowl. But when it happens, please, Atlanta, don’t let it blow up our coaches’ heads the way it does Sean Payton’s. Seriously, what is it with this guy? One little Bountygate-fueled Lombardi Trophy, and now his head is all inflated like a Foxboro football. Choke signs at Devonta, really? (I know, you got selective amnesia about that, Seanie.  I would, too!) Postgame chest-chopping Dirk Koetter (WOO!), of all people, like you’re Ric Fricking Flair?
    You’d have thought an inflated-head coach would have learned his lessons, after acting pretend-tough and getting humbled by the Falcons AND the Bucs. But no, not you, Petty Payton!
    As the final seconds ticked on what should have been a stone-cold lock Aints victory, Showoff Sean got caught taking a moment to turn toward the Vikings fans (Minnesota, we owe you guys at least twice now) and gloat, mocking them with their own “Skol!” chant. Then Marcus Williams, perhaps inspired by his coach, does a Ric Flair strut of his own, instead of properly defending a simple out-route to Stefon Diggs. I promise I won’t strip down like D’Angelo and show off my one-pack flab, but I must turn to ask you, Coach: How Does It Feeeeeeel?
    Your Big Easy town has ONE major sports championship. Guess what: we have one too! And Atlanta got its trophy fifteen years before you. But you would never know it from hearing us open our big yaps, would ya? Take a hint, stay in yo lane, and get the Falcon over yourselves!
    Okay, that’s off my chest. Now, where were we… oh yeah, it’s their basketball team that’s coming to town. I wonder how many Saints will be watching the Hawks instead of preparing for the Eagles.
    As if the Philips Arena seats weren’t going to be vacant enough for a midweek January tilt between the Hawks and Pellies. There’s more than one transplant troll who was all set to show up tonight bearing those unbearable 28-3 signs, decked out in black-and-shiny-gold attire, strutting around with a parasol behind Jerome and The Stinger for his soon-to-be NFC Champions.
    Now? Yeah, the frigid, icy weather outside is matching their Aint-fan souls on the inside. Where their etouffee-eating butts would have been, expect a few additional empty chairs on display as these NBA teams take the floor.
    Okay, okay… onto the Pelicans. Don’t let the Aints’ woes distract you from the fact that a 2-11 Hawks team blew a pair of two-touchdown leads, one in each half, along with a four-point lead with under two minutes to play at the Smoothie King Center in November.
    A pair of jumpshots from Kent Bazemore (team-highs of 22 points and 7 assists @ NOP on 11/13) helped Atlanta seize the momentum back before halftime. But Baze’s last-ditch three-point attempt was blocked by Jrue Holiday to seal the 106-105 victory for the Pelicans, a game New Orleans led for barely over three minutes (Atlanta for over forty minutes) of the contest.
    You can forgive the NOPes if they come into tonight’s contest a bit road-weary. They took the Eastern Conference leading Celtics into OT and prevailed last night by a 116-113 score, but had little time to waste in getting, first, to Logan and, then, to an ice-glazed Hartsfield-Jackson, checking into their beds after 3:00 AM last night.
    After toppling New York and Boston, sweeping the 3-game road swing with a win over Atlanta would give the Bayou Birds not only their first four-game win streak of the season, it would also place them four games above .500 for the first time in 2017-18.
    A home-friendly schedule to close out January could keep the momentum going further, as New Orleans (23-20) hopes to catch Russell Westbrook and the OK3 (24-20) for the fifth slot in the Western Conference playoff chase. Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry needs to be concerned, though, with making sure his team doesn’t run out of NO3.
    Can surefire MVP candidate Anthony Davis (career-highs of 58.9 2FG%, 34.7 3FG%, 82.1 FT%) crank out at least 40-and-15 for the third consecutive game? That points-rebounds combo is a feat that has been accomplished just 341 times by NBA players since 1963, as per basketball-reference, but on nine occasions already by the 24-year-old Davis (45-and-16 @ BOS yesterday; 48-and-17 @ NYK on Sunday). This includes another pair of consecutive back-to-back games in October 2016.
    From bball-ref, the last player I can see who went for 40-and-15 in consecutive contests was Yung Shaq (November 1994). The only other NBA player to notch 40-and-15 twice this season? Davis’ Twin Tower in the frontcourt, DeMarcus Cousins.
    It’s kind of a pity that Gentry must lean so heavily on Unibrow (36.0 MPG), Cousins (career-high 36.1 MPG), and guard Jrue Holiday (36.9 MPG, most since his 2013 All-Star season). The trio combined for over 128 minutes last night in Beantown. That’s just two days after running the floor for a cumulative 130 minutes at MSG, to also outlast the Knicks in OT.
    They’ve got young legs, to be sure, but you can tell Cousins (25.4 PPG, 2.2 3FGs/game, 12.7 RPG, 5.1 APG) is deliberately pacing himself. Watch your TV screen whenever Boogie (assuming he plays today) makes an outlet pass, turns the ball over, blows a layup, or turns to the refs to plead after a non-whistle. Watch him disappear, completely, from your camera’s view as his teammates scamper down the court, 4-on-5, either in fastbreak offense (NOP: 6th in pace, 10th in fastbreak points, 19th in points per-48 off TOs) or transition defense (NOP opponents: 5th-most fastbreak points per-48, 7th-most points per-48 off TOs). Count the number of times he never even shows up in the picture.
    Yes, Cuz is loafing, especially when he sags on opponents’ pick-and-rolls, but it appears to be by design, with permission implicitly granted by Gentry. Cousins plays such an active role in the halfcourt offense that he prefers to conserve his energies while doing pretty much anything else. He recognizes this is all the effort needed to reach the playoffs for the first time in his 8-year NBA career, and he wants to be in decent condition by the time the dogwoods break out.
    One can imagine Gentry wants to alleviate Holiday (career-highs of 18.5 PPG, 57.6 2FG%) and his pinball-tilting pair of star bigs, if only he had a roster that could go more than two lines deep. Jameer Nelson is out on personal leave, while rookie guard Frank Jackson (broken foot) won’t return for a couple more weeks. Neither will the brutally overpaid Solomon Hill (hamstring), who may make his first appearance this season after the All-Star break, nor will Tony Allen. The Grindfather had a setback in his recovery from a fractured fibula and won’t get on the floor until New Orleans returns home.
    That leaves Gentry to turn to Ian Clark, Darius Miller, Dante Cunningham, Cheick Diallo and Omer Asik to serve cleanup duties for the starters, which include Rajon Rondo and E’Twaun Moore. New Orleans’ Big Three usually needs at least one of these residual Pelicans to go off to have success on a given night. Given the mileage their stars have logged, N’Awlins may need at least two Pellie-pellets to help secure victory tonight.
    Back in November, they’d have blown the home game versus Atlanta without Miller’s 21 points (5-for-8 3FGs) to supplement Moore’s game-high 24 (11-for-18 FGs). Last night, the task fell to Clark, who managed 15 bench points in almost 32 minutes, including the final 18.5 minutes before Holiday could put the game on ice with a pair of weakly-contested mid-range jumpers.
    Christmas is long past, but Atlanta (12-31; 4 straight Ws when holding opponents to double-digits) must Run Run like Rudolph for 48 minutes, and make the Pelicans reel like a merry-go-round. A full team defensive effort will be needed by Dennis Schröder (5-for-14 2FGs, 0-for-4 3FGs @ NOP; 26 points, 5 D-Rebs, 7 assists in Monday’s win over the Kawhi-less Spurs) and the Hawks (18.8 points per-48 off TOs, 3rd in NBA), putting pressure on Rondo and Cousins to issue wild passes, and on Davis and Holiday to put the ball on the floor and up for grabs.
    The Pelicans were looking pretty good the last time Davis was on this arena floor, a 112-94 blowout win that could have been even wider had Davis not crashed into the stands WWE-style while pursuing a loose ball. Some hoop-wonks at Inpredictable.com have created a new “Win Shares”-style measure called “Win Probability Added” (WPA), and Davis’ 4.99 WPA outpaces the entire NBA field. For kicks and giggles, would you venture a guess as to who leads the Hawks in this probabilistic category?
    Your Bologna-born baller has a first name, and it’s M-A-R-C-O! The former New Orleans Hornet, Marco Belinelli (4-for-6 3FGs and 4 steals @ NOP on 11/13) has a 2.37 WPA which ranks 25th in the league, ahead of such notables as LaMarcus Aldridge, Otto Porter, Nikola Mirotic, and Al Horford. Aside from Harrison Barnes and Dirk, Polo’s WPA is the highest among anybody not playing on a Top-8 team. Just putting his business on Front Street, for all you data-loving NBA GMs lurking for trades out there.
    Even with Davis tilting at shots in the paint the last time these two teams met, the Pelicans had little answer for Atlanta’s big men, including then-starter Dewayne Dedmon (5-for-5 FGs in just 13 minutes @ NOP), John Collins (6-for-10 FGs), or even Tyler Cavanaugh (6-for-7 FGs, incl. 4-for-4 3FGs). Miles Plumlee and the Hawks’ bigs must avoid drawing cheap defensive fouls that let Davis and Cousins pad their boxscore stats while allowing their teammates to catch their collective breath.
    Here’s hoping the True To Atlanta fans who brave the arctic temperatures downtown are treated to an entertaining evening, regardless of the final outcome on the scoreboard. As for any New Orleans fans at the game, if you need to stay warm, there’s a Starbucks in the food court… oh, wait, on second thought, never mind. Coffee is for Closers.
    Let’s Go Hawks!
    Arriving in the mid-1990s, my first place of residence in Atlanta had no sunlight coming through the front windows.
    The rear windows allowed a picturesque view of the late John Portman’s stylized downtown skyline, almost exactly the one popularized in postcards and on TV shows. But by the time the sun’s light creeped through those windows, after work, it was already setting in the west behind those hulking skyscrapers.
    For the first year of my life in Atlanta, the imposing multi-story structure across the street shadowed my humble, 60-year-old studio apartment, the factory’s broad windows and former entrances solidly boarded. One fading word on that building gave a hint of its past glories: “Scripto”. The world-famous writing pen and butane lighter company was an Atlanta institution, with nearly a thousand workers at this plant for over four decades before moving to the OTP ‘burbs in 1977.
    Not long after the factory and office buildings were shuttered, the daylight was about the best thing anyone could hope for while living in that area. Here was the makeup of the block around this defunct building: a probably-unlicensed taxi company; a five-dollar barber shop; maybe the Northern Hemisphere’s last speakeasy; a tire repair company and storage lot; a pool hall; and a “dance” club, where there was more standing around and posturing than legit dancing.
    Surrounding this block: weathered, poorly-managed apartments; trap houses whose tales would soon make rappers famous; and Fulton County’s drug and alcohol treatment center, a package store within view of its front windows.
    The area around the Scripto building slept during the day, but the streets and their inhabitants came “alive” at night, especially on Friday and Saturday nights in the ‘80s and ‘90s. If, by, “alive,” you could count beat-heavy music bumping from cars, and ladies-of-the-evening, a few of them actual ladies, negotiating with suspiciously slow passers-by through their car windows.
    Bitter, boisterous, bullet-riddled arguments over lost wagers and bargained wages, were de rigeur on weekends under the moonlight. This scene wasn’t all that unfamiliar, I suppose fortunately, to Atlanta’s newest arrival from Philadelphia. Still, my one place of solace lied just two blocks south, at a tomb, surrounded by a reflecting pool, containing the remains of Atlanta’s, and America’s, most prominent civil and human rights advocate, situated between the church he and his father once led, and his birth home.
    This area was not always this way. It would not be for much longer.
    In December 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was in Oslo, Norway, accepting the Nobel Prize for Peace. The day after flying home from Scandinavia, the Nobel Laureate joined members of his Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, marching in the Sweet Auburn streets with striking workers from the nearby Scripto Pen Company plant, demanding equal pay for both its skilled and nonskilled laborers.
    The year of ’64 was a pretty big one in the City Too Busy To Hate. Just days before King marched with the Scripto picketers, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the owner of a hotel just across the freeway from the plant. In a landmark case, the Court found that the Commerce Clause of the Constitution allowed Congress to compel private businesses like his to comply with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, enacted earlier that summer. Many downtown businesses, notably Rich’s Department Store, were already taking the hint by then, thanks to student sit-in protests like the one in 1960 at Rich’s, where King was arrested.
    Atlanta’s public schools, like the all-black high school right down the street from Scripto that was celebrating multi-sport star and recent graduate Walt Frazier, were in their third year of wrangling over the federally-mandated demands to desegregate in earnest.
    Atlanta civic leaders, led by mayor Ivan Allen, were also pushing to become a major-league sports town in the early 1960s, but America’s pro sports associations were dealing with the stark realities of newly integrated teams needing to travel, lodge, and eat together.
    To facilitate the relocation of baseball star Hank Aaron’s Milwaukee Braves to The South, the city turned to a pair of local Jewish immigrant brothers turned hotel magnates, who constructed the Americana Motor Hotel downtown. Its opening years were marked by Klan demonstrations, and the resistant racists setting a fire in one hotel owner’s driveway, a scene similar to the cross-burning in King’s lawn a couple years before.
    But Dr. King and civil rights leaders, unintimidated, convened meetings and stayed at the Americana, even before it officially opened in 1962. The hotel deliberately featured no water fountains, since the city’s ordinance still required those amenities to remain segregated.
    By the spring of 1964, construction of Atlanta Stadium was underway, and the hospitality at the Americana would help convince MLB to move the Braves south. It wouldn’t be much longer before a pro basketball team from St. Louis would come east.
    In January of 1964, King was named Time’s Man of the Year. That same month, a collection of NBA All-Stars, including St. Louis Hawks draftees Bill Russell and Wayne Embry, threatened to strike and not participate in the game, if owners continued not to recognize the players’ union and its demands for worker accommodations like pensions. Facing the prospect of national embarrassment as minutes ticked by on their first nationally-televised event, the struggling league’s owners and commissioner relented.
    King may very well have been inspired by the bold 1964 NBA players’ boycott, as by the year’s end, he was touting the need for civil rights to expand its scope beyond public accommodations to issues of collective bargaining with local governments and private industry. In a TV interview discussing the Scripto strike that December, King declared: “We have decided that now is the time to identify our movement very closely with labor,” adding, “There will be many more to follow.”
    The Scripto strike and the national boycott of its products, promoted by King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, proved successful within a matter of weeks. All employees were granted Christmas bonuses and wage increases, and Scripto’s CEO and other business leaders begrudgingly attended the city’s formal celebration of their newest Nobel Laureate. But the advancement of the Civil Rights Movement, under King, into matters of labor, industry and, soon, war-making, unnerved people across the sociopolitical spectrum.
    An array of “Stay In Yo Lane”-style warnings from Malcolm X to J. Edgar Hoover flooded into King, some cautions more threatening than others. Hoover’s malicious missive to King, masqueraded under the guise of an angry Black citizen, was typed shortly after King was announced as a Nobel Prize winner, yet King returned from Oslo to support the picketers anyway. An AP photographer who followed MLK during that time, and snapped a picture of him with the Scripto strikers, was forewarned by her mother. “Honey, be careful. I’m afraid, someday, someone’s going to try to kill that man.”
    The mother’s concerns proved prescient. Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis, 50 years ago this April, while in town convening with striking sanitation workers.
    Near coincidentally, just a month later, Atlanta developer Thomas Cousins and former Georgia governor Carl Sanders announced the St. Louis Hawks would come to play in King’s grieving city in the fall of 1968. Until a new arena could be built, the Hawks would hoop it up at a coliseum at Georgia Tech, the Deep South’s first higher-education institution to peacefully integrate without a court order.
    The wild-west-meets-dirty-south nature of the neighborhood I moved to in 1995 would change drastically within a few years, thanks to an oft-tempestuous but eventually productive relationship between divergent King Family members and the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) to expand the King National Historic Site from Auburn Avenue to Freedom Parkway.
    The Scripto factory and surrounding buildings were cleared by the time of the Olympic Games, and the roughneck street became the tranquil parking entryway for the historic site, with its new museum, Gandhi statue, civil rights walk of fame, and Ebenezer church building.
    The King Center eventually became the nation’s most-visited site under NPS management. Signing a bill by Congressman John Lewis, the former Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee leader, the President formally designated the memorial site an upgraded National Historical Park, the first in the state of Georgia, just days ago.
    What’s in the area now? The Freedom Parkway trail connecting downtown with east-side neighborhoods and the Carter Presidential Library. Gentrified (yet integrated) apartment and condo towers, including one replacing my old building, with fountains, porches, salons, a popular local drip-coffee shop, and far superior downtown vistas. While the surrounding area continues to have its share of struggles, the only drugs publicly sold these days now come from behind a CVS counter.
    Our Hawks are fortunate to play in an American city with such a rich history of advancing, however arduously, the principles of equality, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all. As Atlanta’s foremost citizen, Dr. King serves as not just an annual inspiration, but a daily one, that we should not feel shackled to the accomplishments and setbacks of the past, to the shortcomings of our present-day, or to the constraining expectations of others around us.
    A lot of things had to go right, and a lot of tugging in the direction of justice had to happen, before a kid would take the risk of reversing his once-enslaved family’s century-long migration north of the Mason-Dixon line, much less become a supporter and long-winded thread-writer for a local team where fans can, today, come together from all corners of life to cheer. While sleep was often a chore as a new resident, I was fortunate to be able to rest nightly within a stone’s throw of where Dr. King, and later his equally-advocating wife, Coretta, are laid to rest for eternity.
    The depth of our NBA team’s recent, deliberate downturn in on-court success pales, by comparison, to the unjust hills and valleys our citizens around the globe strive to overcome. Hawks fans might not get to enjoy victory today at The Highlight Factory, as Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs (3:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Southwest in SA, NBATV everywhere else) pay his disciple Mike Budenholzer a visit. The wins for the home team will continue to be few and far between for the foreseeable future.
    But we know things around here were not always this way. And they won’t be, not for much longer.
    Sunnier days, dreamier nights, and grander victories, will eventually come if Hawks players, fans, staff and owners think smartly, endeavor patiently, and celebrate our advance toward the NBA mountaintop, together. How long? Not long!
    Happy MLK Day! And Let’s Go Hawks!
    “So, did they use, like, actual FILM for highlights, back in your day?”
    Nice unprotected lottery pick you’ve got there, Cleveland! It would be a shame if, you know, something unfortunate happened to it...
    Coming off a ((airquotes)) "successful" 1-4 road trip, our Atlanta Hawks are back at The Highlight Factory and can control their destiny just a little bit more, with a full-hearted Competitank effort against those playoff-hungry Brooklyn Nets (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, YES Network in The BK).
    The postseason race in the East is pretty tight, but one thing seems certain: if you’re not finishing this season anywhere near .500, you’re not getting anywhere near the playoffs. Coach Kenny Atkinson’s Nets (15-26) have lost three straight and risk falling seven games behind 8-seed Indiana, particularly if the Pacers take out Clevelan (spelled correctly) tonight.
    Like the Hawks of yesteryear, the Cavs are watching the Nets’ fortunes very carefully. Since the Kyrie-for-IT deal back in August, they have been holding Brooklyn’s first-rounder as LeBron Insurance for this summer. Suddenly, though, it’s as if LeBron awoke one morning and discovered he’s the only Cavalier that can play some semblance of defense, something that’s kind of important if you have designs on toppling Golden State in June.
    Now, the Cavs (29th in D-Rating) are dangling this Nets pick to try acquiring a star-quality talent that can hold his own on the defensive end before the deadline. But the value of the pick, either for a pre-deadline deal, or for finding a college-age talent to groom once LeBron departs, declines each time Brooklyn gets their stuff together, wins a game, and moves up in the standings.
    Kicking off a six-game homestand, the Hawks will have a chance to play gremlin today. The odds go up without leading bench scorer Marco Belinelli. Polo sprained his ankle and will sit this one out.
    There’s no sign that Brooklyn intends to make the Competitank easy for Atlanta (11-30). The Nets have a better record versus the West than they do against Eastern clubs (8-15, incl. 2-1 vs. the Hawks). Atlanta has the East’s worst home mark (7-11), but the Nets haven’t been playoff-stellar away from home (6-13) either.
    Their leading minutes-logger, DeMarre Carroll (sprained knee), might miss his third-straight game, while D’Angelo Russell isn’t expected back until the end of the month. The Nets did have five consecutive games with a competitive finish (2-3 in those games, all within a three-point margin). But that was before the bottom fell out at Barclays Center on Wednesday, a 114-80 pasting at the hands of no-longer-two-way player Dwight Buycks and the Pistons, where only Allen Crabbe (5-for-9 3FGs) and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (team-high 7 rebounds, 9-for-10 FTs, 3 steals) seemed interested in showing up.
    “We’ve just got to erase it from our minds,” said Caris LeVert, the backup guard who himself just returned from a groin injury absence, “and compete in Atlanta.” There’s that C-word. Y’all gotta do more than just compete tonight, Brooklyn!
    “The message is we’ve got to go to Atlanta and get this one back,” clarified Coach Kenny to the New York Post. “We have to get this back, get it back in Atlanta, come back and [take advantage of] another opportunity to compete.” That’s a little better.
    Winning the season-series from the Hawks will require Atkinson to continue designing schemes to keep his former pupil, Dennis Schröder, in check. Dennis has averaged a modest 20.0 PPG and 6.0 APG in three games against the Nets, but has shot poorly from the field (39.7 FG%, including 2-for-14 3FGs). Brooklyn will try to counter with the vastly improved Spencer Dinwiddie (6.4 APG, 1.4 TOs/game), but his team needs to go against custom (NBA-low 12.7 opponent TO%) and force turnovers to at least be… sigh… competitive.
    Schröder’s game-high 19 points in the last Hawks-Nets meeting were neutralized by a dominant interior presence in the second half by the Nets, notably rookie Jarrett Allen (5-for-6 FGs, 3 blocks), as the Philips Arena visitors prevailed, 110-90. Atlanta has reinforcements this time around, though, and will look to overwhelm the Nets inside.
    While the Hawks could only counter Tyler Zeller and Allen with Miles Plumlee and Tyler Cavanaugh, they now have Dewayne Dedmon (9 points and team-high 9 rebounds off-bench @ DEN) back. John Collins, whose first career double-double came in Brooklyn in October, and Mike Muscala (9 points in 15 minutes @ DEN) also missed the December home-and-home series that these teams split.
    Suffice to say, Atkinson has his work cut out for him if he’s going to have his former boss, Mike Budenholzer, tipping his cap to the Nets as the final buzzer sounds tonight. I wish Coach Kenny the very best of luck with this endeavor. Hello there, Dan Gilbert. We see you.
    In closing, Happy Birthday to the Human Highlight Film! Here’s to 58 more years of greatness!
    Rise Up! And Let’s Go Hawks!