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Found 35 results

  1. Buyout, then Fly out! ~lw3
  2. “I prefer to go by my new nickname, ‘The Beard’, if you all don’t mind… What?” We already knew that former Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer was worthy of 2019’s Smartest Coach of the Year Award, after passing up offers at sketchy locales like Phoenix and New York to attach himself to Giannis Antetokounmpo (doubtful tonight, sore back) and the Milwaukee Bucks. The reigning Coach of the Year and his bearers of the league’s best record grace State Farm Arena with their presence this evening (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Wisconsin). But along the way, Hawks fans were curious to see just how competitive Budball would be, with the ball in the hands of a strong-limbed point-forward whose perimeter marksmanship was sub-30 throughout his career. We’re beginning to see just how it all might work out, come playoff time. It’s likely you haven’t seen a team this dominant in league history INSIDE the 3-pont arc. There have been, as per bball-ref, only two other seasons where an NBA team has made more than half of their 2-point field goals, while holding teams on the other end below 45 percent. Kareem and Oscar’s Milwaukee Bucks, 1971 Champs after going 66-16, and Shaq and Wade’s 2005 Miami heat, 59-23 and Eastern Conference finalists. There is likely no team in NBA history with a 2FG% differential (team vs. opponent) as wide as the gap between Milwaukee’s 57.2 2FG% and their 44.7 opponent 2FG%, both league-bests. When it comes to the 3-point line, opponents of the Bucks (38.3 opponent 3FGAs per-48, 2nd-most in NBA) stop here. Foes know producing points around the rim and in the paint is an adventure. Donte DiVincenzo (1.6 SPG), Eric Bledsoe (returning soon from a fibula avulsion fracture), Sterling Brown and Wesley Matthews are dogged defenders pestering ballhandlers into abandoning drives into the paint, as if the waiting wings of Brook Lopez (2.4 BPG) and Antetokounmpo inside aren’t enough of an imposition. Then you layer on the Budball principle of 3 > 2. The seven leading Bucks in terms of floor time average 1.2 to 2.2 made threes per contest, a list that doesn’t even include Kyle Korver (1.6 3FGs in 16.3 mins/game), the player whose career was resuscitated under Coach Bud’s watch in Atlanta. Milwaukee won’t shoot often inside, especially when doing so doesn’t involve Giannis barreling to the hoop for highlight-reel dunks. But when they do, they’re the best at making shots. When they don’t, they’re about as good at sinking shots as their opponent, much better when you remove Antetokounmpo’s 32.7 3FG% (best since his rookie season) from the equation. Milwaukee’s interior defensive excellence doesn’t mean the Hawks have to pull a Brooklyn Nets (26.9 2FG% yesterday vs. NYK, lowest by an NBA team since 1950) tonight at The Farm. Jabari Parker was relegated to 15 under-productive bench minutes (7 points on 3-for-4 2FGs, 1 FT, 2 TOs), a byproduct of John Collins’ solid return to action in the Hawks’ 121-118 loss in Cleveland on Monday. But it was just last month, in Milwaukee, that Parker had perhaps his finest all-around performance as a Hawk. Dangerous from both inside and outside (3-for-5 3FGs, 10-for-18 2FGs), impactful on both offense and defense, Jabari had a season-high 33 points and 14 rebounds (9 defensive) while adding a pair of steals and a swat as Atlanta (6-25), following a predictable opening-quarter stumble, held serve with the Bucks until the final 6 minutes of a 111-102 defeat. If he’s available tonight, Parker (questionable, shoulder impingement) won’t get the 37 minutes he enjoyed against his old club going forward, not so long as Collins (27 points on 12-for-20 FGs, 10 boards, 2 steals, 2 blocks @ CLE) stays healthy. But a challenge going forward for Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce is to build a steady second line, featuring a frontcourt of Parker and either one of centers Alex Len (doubtful, ankle sprain) or Damian Jones. The Hawks have been a positive +1.3 points and +3.0 assists per 100 possessions when Pierce issues the 2-man tandem of DeAndre’ Bembry and Parker. Buckets won’t be as easy to come by for Parker, relying more on Bembry or Evan Turner to set up finishing plays, but those second-line options with Parker will keep the Hawks from hemorrhaging points while on defense, something that happened far too often when Jabari was feasting on dimes from Trae Young. If the right matchups avail themselves, Pierce will also want to find ways to have the inside/outside threat of forwards Collins and Parker on the floor together. That would likely come at the expense of Cam Reddish and De’Andre Hunter (23 points, 9-for-12 2FGs but 1-for-7 3FGs @ CLE) at small forward, although one could argue the rookies could use a little less trial-by-fire and a bit more sideline tutelage at this stage of the season. On Christmas Day, we watched a Clippers team with Lou Williams flummox the Lakers into late-game submission, and a Sixers team contain The Greek Freak to obligatory highlight-reel plays. What they have are players committed to not only locking up their own defensive assignment but helping to make sure their teammates’ assignments feel challenged, too. They may have defensively deficient talents, but ones who understand that team-oriented defense doesn’t involve absent-mindedly waiting to get the ball back in offensive possessions. I won’t belabor the absurdity of the Hawks’ schedule that, this time, has them boarding a postgame flight for Chicago (four full days off since playing in Orlando on Dec. 23), the team that last awaited the Hawks’ arrival off a back-to-back and pounded them 136-102 earlier this month. But Milwaukee (27-5) will soon be racing to the airport as well. Relying heavily on Khris Middleton to compensate for the absences of Giannis (100.0 MIL D-Rating on-court, 107.4 off-court) tonight, Bud’s Bucks could be caught looking ahead to a home matchup tomorrow against the Magic. The last time Atlanta won at home, they sent a lot of local fans in Steph and Klay jerseys home dissatisfied, and they could do ATL-area Giannis fans a similar disservice today. In front of the home crowd, tonight is a great opportunity for Pierce to hone his Hawks’ lineup alchemy to victorious effect. With most of the core gang back together and playing at home, it’s time for fans to begin getting a sense of what Lloydball looks like. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  3. “Popeyes says there are only 50 Cajun Turkeys left!” Y’all know Bud and the Bucks well by now. (I hear Khris Middleton may be back already, too? Smarvelous.) On travel today, so chime in throughout the day with game notes and thoughts as you wish. Our Hawks, of course, will kickstart a 3-game road swing in Milwaukee (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Wisconsin), and they'll try to make it out of the rest of this week with their feathers un-plucked. Pardon us, Giannis and Harden! Please stay safe out there on the highways and byways, and enjoy all the Stuffing (some, I hear, like to call it Dressing) as your heart desires tomorrow. Bucks Game Notes (PDF): Hawks Game Notes (PDF): Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  4. "I'm shocked -- Shocked! -- there's thievery going on on EBay!" ~rolo What kind of Mickey Mouse operation is this? ~lw3
  5. “Heading down to 8th in the East? I Dont wanna be here!” So, I wonder… how was Malcolm Brogdon’s evening? He watch anything fun last night? The injured Atlanta native has several ACC teammates on the Milwaukee Bucks, who host the road-tripping Atlanta Hawks this afternoon (6:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Wisconsin). So, the former UVA star doesn’t need to hear any yapping from anybody, least of all the newest birthday boy, the now-23-year-old Dookie Jabari Parker. And he’ll be glad he’s not crossing paths with another Malcolm. “I wouldn’t want any other 1 seed in history to lose to a 16…. UVA”, tweeted the injured Hokie-turned-Hawk Malcolm Delaney after last night’s earth-shaking upset by something called UMBC, his e-comment concluded with enough crying-LOL emojis to populate an improv show at a chopped-onion factory. Aside from Parker’s birthday this past Thursday, there hasn’t been much to celebrate lately around Milwaukee. The Bucks thought the worst was over when they replaced Jason Kidd with coach Joe Prunty, following a tepid 23-22 start, and subsequently won nine of their next 11 games. It was during that run, though, that the 2017 Rookie of the Year, Brogdon, tore a quad muscle. Matthew Dellavedova, whose lovechild with Christian Laettner, Grayson Allen, becomes draft-eligible in a few weeks, also sprained an ankle and is out indefinitely. Milwaukee continued to roll despite the setbacks, including a 97-92 win over the Hawks at the BMOHBC back on February 13. But the wheels began slipping off in the next game, allowing 134 points at home to the Nuggets right before the All-Star Break. They seemingly righted their ship in the first game after the Break, in a 4-point road win at Toronto. But what followed was a 3-7 stretch that included Wednesday’s 126-117 loss down in Orlando. The backwards trending coupled with game-to-game inconsistencies was the problem that supposedly helped sway the mid-season coaching change. Now, a loss to the road-weary Hawks (5-27 in away games, tied w/ MEM for the league-worst) today would drop Prunty’s record this season to 13-11. With the Spurs, Clippers, Cavaliers (the ones with LeBron, Mr. Brogdon), and the Warriors coming up to close out the month, he needs momentum to remind people why the promotion was worth the trouble. Fortunately, for Joe, he’s got his former fellow Spurs staffer, Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer, down the sideline to lend a helping hand. Theoretically, even with the current backcourt-depleting injuries, a team with Giannis Antetokounmpo (27.3 PPG, 10.1 RPG), Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, and sixth-man Jabari Parker all healthy, shouldn’t be scratching and clawing to get away from the 8-spot in the Eastern Conference, where Miami currently resides due to Milwaukee (36-32) holding a percentage-point lead. They are still a mere 3.0 games behind Cleveland for a first-round homecourt seeding. But their 14-24 record versus teams above .500 isn’t becoming of a club that wants to make noise once they get into the tourney. The Bucks (post-Break 1.41 assist/TO ratio, 27th in NBA; Atlanta’s 1.30 ranks 30th) have been a team loaded with playtakers, but not enough playmakers, even less so without Delly (team-high 27.7 assist%, as per bball-ref) Brogdon available. They’ve called up the older-but-wiser former Buck star Brandon Jennings from the G-League, and the 28-year-old helped in his season debut with 12 dimes plus 16 points in just over 23 minutes to make light work of the Grizzlies on Monday night. But Prunty reverted to older-but-just-as-wise-as-before Jason Terry as the prime bench option in Orlando. The Buck offense stilted, and the Buck defense wilted, as Magic default starter D.J. Augustin had himself a day (32 points, 6-for-9 3FGs) at Milwaukee’s expense. The Bucks’ tank-busting loss came against an Orlando team that was playing on the back side of a back-to-back following a return from a winless West Coast road trip. Antetokounmpo remains a worthy world-class attraction on the floor, but on many nights the people most attracted to his exploits are his deer-in-headlights teammates. The athletic forward is by no means selfish, averaging a team-high 4.8 APG even while being freed of point guard duties with Bledsoe’s arrival and Kidd’s departure. But Giannis is not a perimeter shooter (30.1 3FG%), and his floormates tend to get caught ball-watching, without a plan in mind for the occasions he kicks the ball out to them to finish plays. Although they’ve shown signs of coming around, Middleton (35.1 3FG%) and Bledsoe (33.9 3FG%) have been regressing from deep. Prunty is inclined to press Tony Snell (41.3 3FG%) and Parker (42.9 3FG%) into more action to compensate. But then, the team defense takes a hit (75.0 post-Break D-Reb%, 27th in NBA; 54.6 opponent eFG%, 24th in NBA), particularly without E-Bled getting stops (2.1 SPG, 2nd in NBA). It’s been more 3-or-D than 3-and-D for the Bucks. Giannis could use some bigs that could spread the floor, yet Thon Maker (30.1 3FG%) hasn’t proven up to the task, while John Henson doesn’t even bother. You would think the duo would help dominate the paint instead, but Milwaukee is bottom ten in the league for both O-Reb% and D-Reb%. Milwaukee, whose 10 player TOs (just seven steals by Atlanta) were stingy enough to hold off the Hawks last month, must continue playing keep-away today against a Hawks team (15.6 opponent TOs per game, still 2nd in NBA) that’s not as aggressive with getting stops on defense as they were with Ersan Ilyasova and, lately, Kent Bazemore around. Atlanta opponents are committing just 11.9 TOs per 48 minutes this month, a value surpassing only Brooklyn’s 11.4. Instead of handing the ball back to Atlanta, these foes are lofting 32.3 three-point attempts per game (3rd-most in NBA) while connecting on 42.5 percent of them (2nd-most in NBA). Hawks leading-scorer Dennis Schröder (28.9 3FG%) and Baze’s replacement starter, rookie Tyler Dorsey (32.6 3FG%), continue to attack on drives to the rim, but neither has been proficient enough from long-range to keep up with their opponents on defense. Who wants to see a double-digit bottom-seed topple a middle-range-seed today? Fans of the Bucks, and Some Fans of the Hawks, are just fine waiting for that to transpire tomorrow. We’ll see you in the ATL soon, Retrievers! Happy St. Pat’s! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  6. **RECORD SCRATCH** ((Freeze Frame)) “Yup, that’s me. You’re probably wondering how I ended up in this situation…” Think fast… who still has the worst road record in the NBA? And who still has the most in-conference losses in the NBA? That’s right, it’s your Atlanta Hawks, still in the running to be awarded as the NBA’s Best Bad Team. Tankamaniacs will hope those two facts hold by the conclusion of tonight’s game in Milwaukee, as the Hawks take on the rejuvenated Bucks (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Wisconsin), and tomorrow’s in Detroit. Since sacking Jason Kidd, back on January 22, and handing the coaching keys over to longtime assistant Joe Prunty, the Bucks have won eight of their past ten games. They want to formally establish themselves as an upper-echelon team in the East (2 games behind 3-seed Cleveland), not one scrapping just to remain above the playoff line (4.5 games ahead of 9-seed Detroit). They still have quite a bit of work cut out for them. While the past ten games for Milwaukee (31-24) have been encouraging, propelling the club well above the .500 mark, few of those contests involved playoff-bound opponents. Their two losses during this stretch were at Minnesota and here, at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, against Miami. Of the eight victories, two were against the LOLKnicks, two versus the Nets, and the rest against the Suns, Bulls, Sixers and Magic. A schedule that easy might have been enough to preserve Kidd’s jerb, had he lasted that long. That schedule also would have caused members of the Illtankanati to chew their fingernails raw, were it assigned to Atlanta (18-39). The Bucks are navigating their way into the All-Star Break with depth challenges in the front and back of the lineup. A quad tear is sidelining ATLien and reigning Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon, probably through mid-March. Also, not returning to the floor until after the Break is Matthew Dellavedova, as a sprained ankle will keep him from wrecking anybody else’s for at least the next several weeks. Prunty has granted backups Sterling Brown, Sean Kilpatrick, and ex-Hawk Jason Terry upticks in floor time to help compensate. Starting center John Henson has been in-and-out of the lineup with a sore hammy and is unlikely to play today. Jabari Parker returned to action last week after a one-year injury hiatus. But his minutes have been closely monitored, and he sat out Saturday’s 111-104 win in Orlando since it was the second night of a back-to-back. Prior to the Trade Deadline, the Bucks shipped Rashad Vaughn and a 2018 second-rounder to Brooklyn to acquire Nets starting center Tyler Zeller, in hopes of buttressing the front line. From the coaching staff to the roster, that’s a lot of moving parts for a club aiming at a playoff slot with first-round homecourt advantage. The good news is the All-Star Break is right around the corner, and they have a probable win to pursue tonight. Even better news is that guard and salon expert Eric Bledsoe (last 4 games: 22.0 PPG, 42.9 3FG%, 7.0 APG) is beginning to display some consistency, while swingman Khris Middleton (last 10 games: 19.6 PPG, 39.5 3FG%, 1.6 SPG) is rounding into form at the right time. The best news is they have Giannis Antetokounmpo playing, as Tim Hardaway, Jr. would concur, in a whole other stratosphere (last 9 games: 26.6 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 5.2 APG, 36.8 3FG%). The Greek Freak will continue moonsaulting over his competition; coaxing him into settling for mid-range jumpers all night will be a tough ask for Atlanta defenders. But the primary challenge for the Hawks this week is to figure out how not to leave behind their A-Game at The A, particularly against stout competition (sorry, Knicks). Without the dulcet tones of Ryan Cameron serenading them from courtside, the Hawks (5-22 on the road) tend to shy away from things coach Mike Budenholzer preaches. They’re more apt to take shots inside the 3-point line (64.7% road 2FG frequency, 14th in NBA; 60.7% at home, 27th), and more likely to rush up a contested shot, or over-dribble and get sloppy (1.38 road assist/TO ratio, 25th in NBA), than seek out the extra pass (66.8 home assist%, 2nd in NBA; 57.7 road assist%, 13th). Away from home, Atlanta is less likely to box out (72.7 road D-Reb%, dead-last in NBA) and more likely to foul (20.6 road personals per-48, 10th in NBA) in lieu of properly defending shooters and ballhandlers. In his first meeting with the Hawks this season, Bledsoe will try to use his speed and strength to overwhelm Dennis Schröder and the Atlanta guards. The Hawks tempt opponents into deploying roll men, although the Bucks’ bigs like Giannis and the brick-handed Thon Maker (13 points @ ORL, 3rd-highest this season) are low-usage in this area. But Bledsoe is better off seeking out perimeter kickouts to Middleton and Tony Snell, as roll-man plays have become a losing proposition for the Hawks’ opposition. Only Detroit (8.1%) has been summoned to defend P&R roll-man action as frequently as Atlanta (8.0% of opponent plays). Yet opponents on these plays have been bottom-10 in both eFG% and FT frequency, scoring at least a point on just 47.8 percent of their chances (4th-lowest in NBA). Further, Atlanta has been forcing roll-man turnovers (8.3% of possessions) more often than they’ve committed shooting fouls (7.6%). The 1.01 points-per-possession the Hawks allow has been superior to more vaunted defenses like Utah (1.03) and San Antonio (1.06), despite being attacked by offenses more often in this regard than all but one other team. The inverse of this has been the Hawks’ offense for the P&R ball handler. Eschewing post-up plays almost entirely (only 49 points by Atlanta players all season), Schröder and the Hawks’ ball-handlers attack on the P&R more than any other outfit (22.1% of possessions). Yet only the Lakers have done worse at finishing on those plays (42.2 FG%, 29th in NBA; 36.9% Score Frequency, 28th in NBA) while the turnover frequency gets elevated (17.2 TO%, 8th-worst in NBA). Milwaukee’s defense cranks out a turnover on 21.3% of Ball-Handler possessions (3rd-best in NBA) and 11.0% of Roll-Man possessions (tops in NBA). Atlanta’s transition defense will have to be primed and ready, especially for Parker and Antetokounmpo, when the predictable P&R turnovers show up. Schröder, Kent Bazemore and Taurean Prince accounted for 17 of Atlanta’s 27 dimes, but 10 of the Hawks’ 16 TOs during their 117-106 home loss back on October 29, a game where Milwaukee built up a 19-point cushion through the opening three quarters of action. Giannis (33 points, 11 rebounds, six assists) and Middleton (27 points, 9 assists) carried the proceedings with the help of cameo appearances from the inactive Henson (9 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 steals) and the since-departed Vaughn (4-for-6 3FGs) off the bench. Even with the departures of Marco Belinelli and Luke Babbitt, Schröder (28.3 3FG%) has his next nine active leading-scorers on the Hawks all shooting above 35 percent beyond the 3-point line (but for Tyler Cavanuagh’s injury, it would be ten). Even Prince’s downturn (0-for-14 on threes in three of the last four games, kicking Orlando aside), with his sketchy mechanics needing work, has him sitting at 37.9 3FG% for the season. DeAndre’ Bembry sits right at 35.0 3FG%, a shade behind the experimental John Collins (35.3 3FG%). With his hands off the wheel and TMZ out of his hair, this two-game road trip may be an ideal time to get Bembry back up to speed at both ends of the court, certainly before Tyler Dorsey (double-digit scoring in past four games) cannibalizes his minutes. Getting a rotation that can stretch the floor and build advantages over opposing bench regimes should be one of the Hawks’ objectives going forward. Whichever of the leading scorers-slash-assist-men, Giannis or Dennis, finds the open man more effectively on forays to the hoop Is likely to find their team at an advantage through most of this game. Which team you would prefer holding that advantage, of course, is entirely up to you. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  7. Everybody gettin' 6-to-8 weeks these days. ~lw3
  8. “I understand, you’re probably more of a Tamar kid. But back in the day? Toni, mannnnn…” Following a two-day respite, the Milwaukee Bucks come into town looking to move up in the standings at the expense of our Atlanta Hawks (3:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast in ATL, Fox Sports Wisconsin) on a Sunday matinee. Coming off a modest 42-40 season and a first-round exit, here is the balance of all the Bucks’ off-season transactions: Sent cash to Philly for the Sixers’ second-round draft selection, Sterling “Don’t Call Me K.” Brown Re-signed Tony Snell Stretched-and-waived Spencer Hawes Re-signed Jason Terry Claimed DeAndre Liggins off waivers from the heat Annnnnnnd, that’s about it. Amid all the smoke and stink left over from the Milwaukee owners’ general manager search, Jon Horst apparently did not want to rock the boat too much. Former GM John Hammond was rewarded after drafting Giannis Antetokounmpo by accepting the Magic GM gig. Assistant GM Justin Zanik, previously brought in to be the GM-in-waiting, eventually became the sole finalist under consideration. But one co-owner, Wes Edens, wasn’t sold on Zanik. The job got handed to the un-interviewed basketball operations director instead, and Zanik packed his bags for Utah. In most circumstances, a middling team coming off an unimpressive playoff ending, reeling from front office turmoil, and not adding significant contributors to the roster, would not be foreseen as a legit Conference Finals contender. But those other teams never had a Greek freaking android as a headliner. Last season’s Most Improved Player and an All-NBA 2nd-Teamer, Antetokounmpo presently leads The Association with 35.0 PPG, and there’s no telling how much higher his scoring average will go once his three-point shooting accuracy (33.3 3FG%) surges past his rookie-year career-high (34.7 3FG%). His long arms are now stronger, allowing him to average daily double-doubles (10.6 RPG; 9.2 defensive) while picking off passes with greater regularity (2.4 SPG, 5th in NBA). His height-induced court-vision also helps him the lead the team as a passer (5.6 APG). Now in his fifth NBA season, Giannis (NBA-highs of 37.3 player efficiency rating, 1.4 Win Shares, and 14.2 Box Plus/Minus) has surpassed the stage where he can be measured solely in terms of height, “linth,” and vertical leap. The new dimensions revolve around how far this 23-year-old can carry the Bucks (3-2) with his elevated production. He’s leaning on coach Jason Kidd to make the difference. With Cleveland’s sail listing and Boston re-calibrating, eyes are turning to teams like Milwaukee to see if they are primed to take advantage. Giannis isn’t getting much help so far from Khris Middleton (15.8 3FG%, 3.0 TOs/game), who is making Snell (50.0 3FG%) look like Marc Price early on. There’s not much utility thus far coming from sixth-man Greg Monroe (career-lows 6.8 PPG, 15.8 minutes/game), who joined Hawes in surprising everyone by picking up his player option ($17.9 million, in his case), and short-circuiting any plans to target other free agents this past summer. At least until after the All-Star Break, Antetokounmpo and the Bucks won’t get any help from Jabari Parker, still recovering from a second ACL tear from last February. The limited maneuverability has led Milwaukee, brushing just $17,000 below the luxury tax line, to settle for a bench brigade that, beyond Monroe, includes Matthew Dellavedova, Liggins, Mirza Teletovic, John Henson, Rashad Vaughn, and rookie D.J. Wilson. On top of those struggles, a lottery-pick from 2016, second-year starting center Thon Maker (30.0 2FG%, 30.8 3FG%) has had trouble expanding his range, or making impacts in other areas. Taken together, Giannis is lugging this squad on his back at both ends, because he literally must. The one notable exception stepping up for the Bucks is Atlanta native and reigning surprise Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon. While Brogdon’s duties as a ballhandler and passer have been relegated somewhat in Kidd’s offense, the guard has shown signs of becoming an even better perimeter shooter (50.0 3FG%), raising his scoring average to 15.8 PPG. Kidd is spreading the floor, not so much to open up shooters at the exterior, but to allow Alpha-Bits to find ample driving room inside, forcing defenses to collapse in the paint. The results are usually a Giannis lay-up/dunk, a trip to the charity stripe, or a kickout, the latter option allowing the ball to go around the horn in search of a hot hand. Thanks to Giannis’ improved skillset, the Bucks are hitting shots (53.0 eFG%, 3rd in NBA; 57.3 TS%, 4th in NBA). But due to a stilted pace and subpar bench play, they’re still stuck in the middle at this moment (minus-0.2 net rating). Due to Ersan Ilyasova’s pesky knee strain issue, the Hawks will not have the former Buck around to draw charges, thereby creating turnovers and placing Giannis in early foul trouble. Dennis Schröder has a vital role today in forcing Giannis, Maker and Monroe to make plays around the rim. Dewayne Dedmon and John Collins have to set sound screens for the guards and avoid foul trouble themselves, especially when Monroe is throwing his weight around. Screen-roll actions that set up better shots for teammates, starters and reserves alike, can help Atlanta (1-5) unshackle itself from its long-held shooting woes (41.8 team FG%, 29th in NBA) and, maybe, get over the hump today. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  9. “I hear what you’re saying, Coach… but with all due respect, a Frankfurter really is a sandwich!” Back to the Crab Barrel we go! The Atlanta Hawks’ wretched road swing concludes with a visit to the home of one of the hottest teams in the East, the Milwaukee Bucks (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Wisconsin in MIL, NBATV elsewhere). Atlanta (37-34) could soon swoop down into a three-way tie (albeit while holding a momentary tiebreaker) for fifth in the LeBronference with another loss tonight, particularly if somebody can slip Nikola Jokic some of Indiana’s fine corn liquor before his Nuggets face the Pacers. Despite the probabilities of losing six in a row, the Hawks won’t gain any sympathy from a Milwaukee team whose upward momentum has been thwarted by Atlanta at every opportunity this season. Tough defeats at the hands of Mike Budenholzer’s club in November and December sent the Bucks on three-game skids. They traipsed into Atlanta at 20-18, back on January 15, and stumbled out with a 111-98 loss, initiating a 2-12 stretch that seemed to doom their playoff prospects. Those hopes dimmed even further when the expedited February return of top-gunner Khris Middleton (48.3 3FG% in past 19 games) was cruelly offset by a season-ending injury for forward Jabari Parker. Rather than folding, Jason Kidd’s team has rallied, and now sit just a game behind the Hawks for the fifth-seed in the East. While the Hawks flounder, the Bucks (36-35) have surged, on a 10-2 run since March 1. During the winning stretch that began three weeks ago, Milwaukee has joined Miami and Golden State as the only NBA teams in the top-ten of the league in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Dennis Schröder (5-for-13 2FGs, 0-for-3 3FGs, 10 TOs in 104-100 loss @ WAS on Wednesday) would be apt to know that Milwaukee’s 19.3 points per-48 off turnovers during this run rank 3rd in the NBA, just ahead of the Wizards’ 19.0. Conversely, opponents’ 13.7 points per-48 off Milwaukee’s Buck-ups rank 5th-lowest. Ball control and mind control will once again be essential for Schröder, especially whenever Matthew Trollavedova [/selfban] enters the fray. The Bucks excitedly return to the BMO Harris Bradley Center after a six-game road swing, suffering losses only at Memphis and Golden State. They’re on pace for their best in-conference finish since George Karl’s 2001 conference finalists, and the most victories since the Brandon Jennings-led Fear the Deer squad (46-36) succumbed to Jamal Crawford’s Hawks in a 2009 seven-game first-round series. Kidd is getting his ship righted even while deploying not one, but two rookies in the starting lineup. Greater Atlanta Christian School product Malcolm Brogdon is about the only first-year player capable of challenging Dario Saric for Rookie of the Year honors. He ranks 3rd among the rookie crop with 10.0 PPG, shooting from deep at a 40.6% clip and grabbing a rookie-high 1.1 SPG while keeping turnovers (4.1 APG, 1.5 TOs/game) to a minimum. Meanwhile, Thon Maker supplanted Parker in the frontcourt. While he has struggled lately, Maker provides more length and energy to help the Bucks be disruptive to opposing halfcourt offenses. The effective replacement of Parker with Middleton in the lineup is transforming Milwaukee’s offense from one dependent on paint points (NBA-high 48.0% of points in-paint pre-All_Star Break; 43.4% post-Break) to one living-and-thriving by the three-pointer (27.7 3FGA% pre-All-Star-Break; 30.5% of shots post-Break). The Bucks lofted a season-high 35 three-point attempts in their 116-98 win in Sacramento on Wednesday, sinking 45.7 percent of them. Middleton hit three triples, along with bench mates Jason Terry and Mirza Teletovic, while Brogdon and trade acquisition Spencer Hawes each nailed a pair. Many of those makes are due to one teammate drawing a lot of attention. The absurdly long straw that stirs Milwaukee’s drink has been Giannis Antetokounmpo (team-highs of 32 points, 13 boards, six dimes @ SAC), who has lived up to every fantasy player’s fantasy. No NBA player in history has ranked among the league’s top-20 in any season for total points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks (since at least 1973-74, when the last two categories were first officially tallied). And yet the Greek Freak (21st in total assists) is very close to clearing this bar. Only Kevin Garnett (1999-2000; 2003-04) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (with Milwaukee in 1973-74) has ever been top-25 in those five categories. A strong finish for the Bucks might even earn him some 5th-place MVP votes at season’s end. Standing in Alpha-Bits’ way is Atlanta’s Ersan Ilyasova, a teammate during much of Giannis’ first two seasons in the league. Ilyasova will need to keep his distance, figuratively speaking, allowing Antetokounmpo only enough space to either jack isolation three-pointers (11-for-44 3FGs in past two months) or put the ball on the floor and risk drawing charges. Getting a step past Ilyasova, either in the halfcourt or in transition, can easily deflate the Hawks’ defensive efforts. The Hawks’ last victory over the Bucks in January came courtesy of the hot hands of starters Kent Bazemore and Paul Millsap, plus then-new Hawk and former Buck Junior Dunleavy off the bench (combined 11-for-17 3FGs). Millsap and Dunleavy’s long-range accuracy helped make some guy named Delaney (team-high 9 assists, 2 TOs) the brightest-looking rookie point guard named Malcolm on the floor. Unfortunately, although milk allegedly does a body good (not so much milk chocolate, Dwight), Sap and Baze’s knee maladies make them unable to make the trip to America’s Dairyland. Atlanta will need replacement starter Ilyasova (10-for-27 2FGs, 6-for-22 3FGs as a road Hawk), and either of Kris Humphries or Mike Muscala to provide more of an offensive presence than they have done in recent contests. Better execution on their end will keep Schröder and Howard from pressing so much when the ball is in their hands. The Hawks’ thinned-out bench shot 9-for-27 from the field in D.C., 9-for-29 in Charlotte, and 12-for-35 back home versus Portland. Once Moose’s forte (37-for-50 FGs first 11 games; 3-for-8 2FGs post-All-Star Break), Atlanta’s weathered backup big man needs to collect-and-finish around the rim during his short stints, instead of being preoccupied with his wayward outside shot (1-for-9 3FGs post-Break) to help a team desperate for reliable offense (50.2 post-Break eFG%, 25th in NBA; 101.1 post-Break O-Rating, 29th in NBA) anywhere on the floor they can find it. Despite committing 7 turnovers, Schröder scored 33 points (8-for-12 2FGs, 4-for-7 3FGs) to help the Hawks top the Bucks, 114-110, in their last visit to Milwaukee on December 9. But it was a then-struggling Tim Hardaway, Jr. who provided the dagger off a nice feed from Howard, securing an Atlanta comeback from 20 points down at halftime. The Bucks will blanket Hardaway (THJreak at 23 games; team-high 29 points and two blocks @ WAS) as often as possible from the perimeter. But Timmy also has the athleticism to score on cuts, something both he and Taurean Prince (along with the Hawks’ more-mindful ballhandlers) ought to exploit whenever their Buck defenders get caught flat-hoofed. On the season, Milwaukee’s opponents have taken 29.0 restricted-area shots per game (4th-most in NBA), and none of the NBA’s other four least relentless teams in this zone allow a higher conversion rate than the Bucks (60.7 opponent restricted-area FG%). During this particular three-point game streak, Hardaway has also helped the Hawks by eliminating his early-season woes from the free throw line (85.5 FT% last 23 games). Only the Kings, Blazers, and Knicks have fouled the Hawks more frequently this season than Milwaukee (25.0 personals per game). Having Milwaukee get excessively physical to prevent quick-finish cuts and lobs can help Atlanta keep the Bucks beyond the arm’s proverbial reach. There remains ample time for the Hawks to fret over longer-term objectives, like finishing with a winning record this season. But for the moment, the only thing that matters is eschewing excuses, and picking up a road win to steer some long-lost momentum back in Atlanta’s direction. ~lw3 View full record
  10. “Oh, deer…” A Wisconsin team arrives in Atlanta, and loses on a Sunday in January. Hopefully, that will be the case not only once, but twice, this month, beginning with the Atlanta Hawks emerging victorious in this Sunday matinee with the Milwaukee Bucks (3:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL; Fox Sports Wisconsin in MKE). There remain plenty of close friends up and down Atlanta’s roster, but keeping one’s enemies closer continues to be a challenge for the Hawks (22-17). On Friday night, they fell behind to Boston by 15 points in the first quarter (before crawling back to tie in the second, down 4 at the half). Similarly, Atlanta slipped behind by 20 in the third quarter before knotting things up in a wild finish. Dennis Schröder struggled to control the tempo (third-lowest game pace this season for Atlanta), and Dwight Howard was unable to help the Hawks build a rebounding advantage (50.0 Reb% vs. BOS), setting the stage for the heroics to come from Isaiah Thomas in the final quarter. For a game that wound up excitingly even, Atlanta’s players and coaches placed themselves behind the 8-ball early and too often. It’s always tough to keep a team featuring Giannis Antetokounmpo at arm’s length. But the Hawks don’t want a repeat of their game in the Badger State back on December 9, when Atlanta fell behind by 20 at halftime and had to claw back to win, 114-110. The month before, here at Philips Arena, Atlanta (without Howard or Thabo Sefolosha) blitzed the Bucks with a bench-fueled 31-9 second-quarter advantage, and held an 18-point lead in the third quarter, but needed to hang on when Giannis (26 points, 15 rebounds, 7 assists @ ATL on Nov. 16) and Jabari Parker (25.0 PPG, 3.0 SPG vs. ATL this season) repeatedly brought Milwaukee back within a couple scores of the lead. A little less turbulence with be preferable today before the Hawks head north to meet the Knicks tomorrow. The steady presence in both contests versus Milwaukee was Paul Millsap (22.0 PPG, 61.5 FG%, 11.0 RPG, 1.5 TOs/game vs. MIL), who had his hands full keeping Giannis (5.0 TOs/game vs. ATL) and Parker in check. Keeping Milwaukee’s star forwards busy defensively should free up Dennis and Dwight for bounceback performances today. It’s likely Schröder won’t have to endure any Yo Mama snaps from Matthew Dellavedova today. Delly (37.2 FG%) has been known to grate on opponents on the court with his play more than his mouth, but has ceded his starting point guard spot to a rookie, Greater Atlanta Christian alum Malcolm Brogdon. Brogdon’s offensive poise has caught up with his assertiveness on defense, quickly gaining the confidence of coach Jason Kidd. As of now, the second-round draftee out of UVa is leading all rookies in Win Shares, scoring (9.2 PPG) and assists (6.3 APG as a starter, plus 14.0 PPG, 95.8 FT%, and 5.1 RPG) while committing just 1.5 turnovers per game. With Brogdon taking over at the point, the Bucks (20-18) have won 5 of their last 7, including a win in San Antonio without Giannis around in the clutch. Schröder must rely on pick-and-roll action to screen Brogdon out of plays and exploit Milwaukee’s shakier defenders, particularly Parker, ex-Hawk Jason Terry, swingmen Tony Snell and Mirza Teletovic, and foul magnets John Henson and Miles Plumlee. Malcolm Delaney (17 points and 6 assists, 1 TO) had a productive game versus Boston, and will again be challenged today to make Delly rely more on his shooting (7-for-21 FGs vs. ATL) than his distributive skills (8 assists in 18 bench minutes in the Bucks’ 116-108 win vs. MIA on Friday). The Bucks thrive on interior scoring (NBA-high 50.1 paint points per-48), meaning that Howard (23 minutes vs. BOS) must be active stemming Milwaukee’s offense without falling into early foul trouble. Dwight has not blocked 2 or more shots in a game since the Hawks beat the Bucks back on December 9. Burned repeatedly by Boston, Atlanta is the only NBA defense allowing over 50.0 eFG% on pick-and-roll ballhandler plays (51.6 opponent eFG%, 47.4 opponent FG%). But Dwight and Dennis will get a reprieve playing a Milwaukee team that applies these plays infrequently (12.8% of plays, 4th-fewest in NBA) and shoots just 42.1 eFG% (4th-lowest in NBA). In the battle of the Moose, Greg Monroe (10.8 PPG, Bucks’ only double-digit-average scorer aside from Giannis and Jabari) seeks to wear down the Hawks with post moves and mid-range shots. Also playing off the bench, Atlanta’s Mike Muscala, whose three-pointers helped the Hawks turn the tide in Milwaukee last month, must counter by stretching the floor on offense while getting stops and sparking transition with rebounds (five D-Rebs in 54 minutes vs. MIL) on defense. Tim Hardaway, Jr. struggled at the outset in Milwaukee in December, but just like on Friday, came through with big buckets in the final quarter, providing 20+ points for the third time in his past six games (58.3 3FG% in that span). If Atlanta does a better job of contending through the first three quarters, the wing combo of Sefolosha and Hardaway should be sufficient to help the home team pull through today. The Hawks (22-17) need to keep their distance from the Bucks (1.5 GB) in the standings, not on the floor. Stifling interior defense plus better closeouts along the perimeter should be enough for the Hawks to get the job done, and to discourage cheese-headed Wisconsinites from desiring a return to downtown Atlanta anytime soon. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  11. “Gin? Do you see gin? I don’t see any gin!” Top 3 in-conference records in the NBA East? Well, for starters, there’s the Cavaliers at 12-4. Then, there’s the Celtics at 10-4. Right behind them? Your Atlanta Hawks, who come into today’s visit with the Milwaukee Bucks (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Wisconsin) sporting a sound 9-5 mark versus its fellow conference teams. So, why are the Cavs and C’s looking fancy with first- and third-seeds, while your Fine Feathered Friends are peering at the playoff picture from the outside? The conference, after Cleveland and probably Toronto, is shaping up to be a tightly wound pack for the rest of the field, down to the 11th and perhaps even the 12th seed. To distinguish oneself among that subset, it helps tremendously to take care of business on the road, especially versus teams that would (or should) not be favored to win if they were playing in your house (yes, Phoenix, I’m looking at you). Beating Western teams is cool, but an average-or-above road record not only increases the likelihood of a 2-through-4-seed in the East, it does wonders for your team’s first-round confidence if you wind up 5-through-8. The Cavs got tripped up by Atlanta less than a month ago, but reasserted their spot atop the East, thanks to a 6-3 record in away games. Boston is merely 5-4 at home, but they’ve got Tommy Heinsohn on the verge of writing love letters when they leave the Gahden, going 8-5 on the road so far. It’s early, but the four Eastern Conference teams with above-.500 road records rank 1-through-4 in the East, a similar deal for seven teams out West. As for the Hawks? Well, they come into the worst-named NBA stadium (the BMO Harris Bradley Center -- what is that, even?) trying to avoid a slide to 4-9 away from Thank Goodness We’re Not T. Rowe Price Philips Arena. After a nice 3-1 road mark to start the season, Atlanta (11-12) could only come out on top in one of their next eight away games. While those contests were packed in the space of 18 days, with two home games in the mix, the Hawks’ next nine road games are spread out over 33 calendar days, with six interspersing games back home. That allows Mike Budenholzer and the Hawks’ crack coaching staff significantly more time to prepare and adjust as needed. South Wisconsin does it like nobody does! The Bucks’ halftime entertainment on this Flashback Friday features one-hit wonder Montell Jordan (“Let’s Ride”? “Get It On Tonite”? Please, nobody’s trying to hear that). The L.A. dance-floor crooner (now Gwinnett County preacher!) is aware he needs to get his groove on before he goes to get paid. Yet, with all respect due to Montell, there’s just one guy on the floor of this Who’s This Harris Bradley Guy Center consistently showing people How to Do It. If you’re able to say Giannis Antetokounmpo without clicking your tongue, you’re a better person than I am. You could also say Giannis is a certified G, and a bonafide stud, already at the newly tender age of 22. This forward-guard is 6-foot-11, boasting a 12-foot-2-inch vertical, a foot-long hand and a 7-foot-3 wingspan, and while Jason Kidd can’t teach that, he’s certainly giving it his best try. Aside from Antetokounmpo, only centers David Robinson and Hakeem Olajuwon have averaged over 20 PPG, 8 RPG, two blocks and two steals per game in any season. Giannis, however, is not a center, and he throws in 6.1 APG for good measure, providing Kidd a multifaceted weapon that can be deployed everywhere except beyond the offensive 3-point line (23.9 3FG%). He compiled 15 points, 12 boards and 11 assists (plus four blocks and a pair of steals) in Wednesday’s win over Portland, and his next triple-double game would already tie him with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (8) for the all-time Bucks franchise mark. The nine-time All-Defensive Team member, coach Kidd is crafting a team with a young, defensive imprint, led by Antetokounmpo and the surprisingly nascent center John Henson (2.2 BPG in 11 games since becoming a starter, in place of Miles Plumlee). Even Greg Monroe, relegated to Kidd’s bench, is getting into the act (team-high 2.6 steals per-36, up from 1.1 last season). Buck opponents have shot an NBA-low 42.7 FG%, including 37.6 2FG% in-the-paint (outside the restricted area) and a league-low 31.8 3FG% (29.4% above-the-break). As for offense? Well, it’s not their forte, but even without Khris Middleton around, Milwaukee (50.8 2FG%, 7th in NBA) is showing they have more than enough to fill in the gaps. Slashing power forward Jabari Parker (21.8 PPG) is slowly finding his range (46.5 2FG% from 16 feet out; 32.8 3FG%). Plus, they’ve got ATLien rookie Malcolm Brogdon (41.9 3FG%, team-high 92.0 FT%) and hired guns Mirza Teletovic, Tony Snell, Jason Terry and Michael Beasley (probable, sprained foot). That’s to say nothing of point guard Matthew Dellavedova, who deserves nothing being said of him. In one of their finest quarters of play, the Hawks (led by a bench brigade of Taurean Prince, Tim Haradway, Jr., and Ryan Kelly) rattled off 19 consecutive points in the second quarter along the way to a 31-9 frame against the visiting Bucks on November 16. Milwaukee did their best to scramble back in it during the second half, led by Parker’s 15-point third-quarter, whittling a 24-point Hawk lead down to three late in the final quarter. But the deficit proved just a little too big for the Bucks (39.8 team FG%) to overcome as the Hawks maxed out their record at 9-2. Atlanta’s 48.6 team FG% in their 107-100 win was the highest allowed for any Bucks opponent this season. While the Hawks went on to stumble their way into December, Milwaukee (11-9) has prevailed in six of their past eight games, including five of their last six. That stretch included a sound thumping of the Cavs at home and a close loss to the Spurs after a 13-point halftime lead, plus – wouldn’t you know it – a pair of road wins, at Orlando and in Kidd’s personal catnip of Brooklyn. As Bob Rathbun noted earlier today, Buckshot results in 108.8 PPG and 48.3 FG% at home, compared to 94.7 PPG and 41.4 FG% outside of Milwaukee. Thus, the Hawks need to take the things they do best and put that show on the road, if teams like the Bucks are to be defeated in their own house. The league’s leader at 4.5 offensive rebounds per game, Dwight Howard (7 O-Rebs, 17 total rebounds vs. MIA) should decide if he wants to help produce second-chance points for Atlanta, one of the worst perimeter shooting offenses in the league (32.1 3FG%, 28th in NBA; 30.3% of FGAs from 3-point land, 12th-highest in NBA; 4-for-19 3FGs vs. MIA). Or if, alternatively, Dwight wants to help thwart quick scores by Milwaukee, the East’s top fastbreak-scoring offense (16.5 fastbreak PPG, 5th in NBA). In transition, Antetokounmpo and Parker are likely to have a bead on Thabo Sefolosha and Paul Millsap (4 steals, 3 blocks vs. MIA on Wednesday), respectively. So, it’s probable that Howard will not want to get caught parked beneath the offensive hoop when his teammates loft long-range shots or turn over live balls (Milwaukee’s 18.9 PPG off TOs, 2nd in NBA). Notably, only one of Dwight’s seven O-rebs against the heat on Wednesday followed a teammate’s shot from outside the paint. Instead, expect Howard and the Hawks’ pivot players to be actively involved in high screens to spring Dennis Schröder (last 4 games: 48.3 FG%, 87.5 FT%, 8.0 APG, 1.5 TOs/game), Malcolm Delaney and Tim Hardaway, Jr. (active after banging his knee vs. MIA on Wednesday) free inside. The long arms of Henson and Antetokounmpo converging on Schröder and the Hawks’ driving guards naturally raise the degree of difficulty for shots off penetration. Rather than being stationary and watching the guards force up circus shots, Atlanta’s forwards need to move toward the corners and provide outlets for the guards’ passes. Budball, Activate! When three-point shots go up, there is no time to admire the handiwork; the Hawks’ forwards must get back on defense and account for Giannis and Jabari, who each benefitted from some practice-session tutelage from Kussin’ Kevin Garnett this past week. Granted extra floor time with the momentary absence of Kent Bazemore (knee, mind), look for an active defensive effort from rookie Taurean Prince off the bench, especially if the starters fail to keep up in transition. As demonstrated at the start and the close of the Hawks’ 103-95 win over Miami, Schröder (8-for-15 FGs, 7 assists, 2 TOs) is doing a better job of sensing when, and how, to call his own number. Delaney (last five games: 34.8 eFG%, 18.6 assist%; 41.7 eFG% and 28.4 assist% in prior games) gets caught up in iso-ball and must disabuse himself of the notion that he’s starring for Lokomotiv Kuban. Howard’s primary backup, Mike Muscala, has had a career season on offense, generally boosting the Hawks’ bench production. But his biggest challenge is becoming evident on the opposite end of the floor. Moose has secured the rebound on just 16.7% of contested rebound opportunities, the lowest among 56 at-least-occasional centers averaging at least 15 minutes per game. Granted, a lot of that can be attributed to pairings with Howard, who gets first dibs when they’re in together (Dwight+Moose +14.1 D-Reb% as a 2-man combo). But when Muscala plays the 5-spot alongside Millsap (Sap+Moose -6.5 D-Reb%), he must do a better job of boxing out and securing the board. Defensive rebounding is a task that’s especially pressing for Muscala tonight, given Millsap’s and Sefolosha’s varied defensive efforts to keep the Bucks outside the paint (49.3 PPG in the paint, 2nd in NBA). Just like there’s no 20-point shot that at once erases a double-digit lead, there’s no 3-game victory that instantly vaults Atlanta back into contention in the East. It takes a trend to make yourselves trendy, and these Hawks are charged with getting their confidence back on track. There’s no better place to do that than on the road, where the Hawks have struggled mightily in recent weeks. It’s time to Buck the trend! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  12. Who could've possibly seen this coming?!? "Dennis, if you keep this up, you're gonna drive people to drink!" ~jager
  13. The phonetically correct pronunciation is: “SHEESH!” It always helps to get chummy with a hedge-fund manager. Or, so I’ve heard. He can fill up your foundation coffers, hire your kids for plum jobs, throw some weight around to stifle some bad press, offer up his jet when you need a quick plane ride or two. He can also buy a basketball team, kick its sitting head coach to the curb, and hand that job over to you, once you recognize your own employment situation kinda sucks. People, let me tell you ‘bout Jason Kidd’s best friend. Marc Lasry’s a warm-hearted person who will love Kidd ‘til the end. But the hardwood is far from all the places where Lasry’s allegiances lie. In return for his undying support to Clan Clinton, Lasry was one presidential election away from being offered a primo White House executive gig under the new administration, a duty likely requiring him to abdicate his fiduciary duties with the Milwaukee Bucks. Well, the Electoral College has spoken. And J-Kidd dodged a big one. What does an under-contract NBA head coach, with a losing (79-94 in Milwaukee) record on a regressing team, who ISN’T hired by his good buddy, look like? Larry Drew. To be fair to Kidd, who signed an extension through 2020 this past summer, similarly well-heeled co-owners Wes Edens and Jamie Dinan publicly say they’re thrilled to have a coach (and de facto GM) with the playing experience and caliber of Kidd hanging around in Brewtown. But truth be told, they’d be just as ecstatic about somebody else, too. After-all, no one can hedge as well as hedge-fund managers do. But no matter, Lasry stays. And so does Kidd, who now gets to focus on keeping his Bucks (5-4) overachieving, including a victory in Atlanta against the Hawks (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Wisconsin). What makes 5-4 overachieving? One of the worst offenses in basketball last season relied heavily on guard Khris Middleton (and, to lesser extents, Jerryd Bayless, and O.J. Mayo) to save the day when it was time to hit perimeter big shots. Bayless bid adieu this summer to go do the same job in Philadelphia. O.J. Mayo O.J. Mayo’d his way out of the league altogether. And then, scoring leader Middleton went under the knife after tearing his hammy in September, declared out-of-action until at least March. Middleton’s injury was a huge blow for a team looking to improve upon last season’s 33-49 record. But the setback occurred early enough to encourage Kidd to throw caution to the wind, refashioning Milwaukee’s offensive attack into one built on grit (Jabari Parker), guile (world-champion Boomer barnacle Matthew Dellavedova), and ginormous length. The Giannis Antetokounmpo Point Guard Experience is Dead. Long live the Giannis Antetokounmpo Point Forward Experience! Alpha-Bits is posting up around the paint and posting up big-time numbers (21.3 PPG, 5.3 APG, 8.2 RPG, 2.0 SPG, 2.1 BPG, 57.9 2FG%, 75.5 FT%, all career-highs so far) almost completely across the board in his fourth NBA season, the 6-foot-11 manchild using his Go-Gadget reach to find leverage against garden-variety NBA opponents. In the Bucks’ last game on Saturday, a 106-96 victory over visiting Memphis, Giannis (27 points, 5 assists) bullied around James Ennis to start the game, then ran down the court for alley-oops, and then became a distributor, a chameleon the Grizzlies couldn’t catch no matter how often they adjusted. Giannis’ defensive exploits were also on full display versus Memphis (six rebounds, four steals, four blocks), the only NBA baller currently averaging at least two swats and two swipes. His range could still use a lot of work (17-for-60 beyond 5 feet from rim; NBA-high 9.0 FGAs per game within 5 feet, 70.4 FG%), as was the case for Jabari (19.1 PPG, 34.8 3FG%). But, in the mind of a man once known as Ason Kidd, that’s just part of his grand plan. Key to the Bucks’ mini-resurgence is a commitment to shooing opponents off the perimeter and forcing tough 3-point shots, perhaps more than just coincident with Kidd adding former Hawk Stacey Augmon to the coaching staff. Milwaukee foes are hitting an NBA-low 30.8% on threes, 29.1% above-the-break (Atlanta ranks second with 30.5 opponent 3FG% in this zone). Kidd is throwing Bucks, like the late Shawty Lo at the Blue Flame, at opposing perimeter shooters. He’s got Dellavedova, rookie Malcolm Brogdon (1.3 SPG), and preseason acquisition Tony Snell to hassle would-be shooters, plus Parker and Antetokounmpo running and roving to make looks extra difficult. The Bucks will keep an eye out for Atlanta’s Kyle Korver (42.9 3FG%), who’s out to make amends after a quiet Tuesday night in South Florida. But they’d better pay similar attention to Deadeye Dennis Schröder (42.9 3FG%), who isn’t high-volume lately, but is 4-for-4 in his past two games. Schröder (five away from 2,000 career points) has hit nylon on his first three-point attempt in each of his past four games. And then there’s always a surprise like the Muskie Musket of Mike Muscala, whose back-to-back threes gave the Hawks some breathing room at the close of the third quarter last night. Or Tim Hardaway, Jr. (20 points vs. PHI, 5-for-10 3FGs), or Kent Bazemore, or Thabo Sefolosha. The Bucks are not used to an opponent capable of spreading the floor as well as Atlanta, but they’ll try their best to keep the Hawks cool. Shutting down the outside allows the Bucks to dare teams to engage in a duel inside the 3-point line. Led by Antetokounmpo and Parker, the Bucks average an NBA-best 49.6 PPG in the paint, the only NBA team (+7.8) faring better than Atlanta (+7.6) in outscoring opponents in the paint. Only the Hawks’ last opponent, Miami (34.1) gets more restricted-area shots per game than Milwaukee (33.1), and the Bucks’ 63.4 restricted-area FG% ranks 5th, three spots below second-ranked Atlanta (66.9%). All this activity in the paint is custom-made for the Hawks’ Dwight Howard. But along the way to schooling Miami’s rebound-happy Hassan Whiteside last night, Howard (11 points, 11 boards, 5 TOs but 3 steals @ MIA) bruised his lower thigh in the third quarter. He’s questionable for tonight, but it’s a perfect setting on a back-to-back to rest Dwight’s quad and unleash the Moose (not you, Greg Monroe). Muscala continues to lead all NBA centers with a -20.4 percentage-point differential on field goals defended within 6 feet of the rim (min. 4 opponent FGAs per game). As for Milwaukee, the Miles Plumlee Starting Experiment was DOA, Kidd returning on Saturday to blocks-or-bust John Henson to man the middle, with Monroe the primary backup 5. If Hawks ballhandlers can get their bigs the ball, either of Muscala (65.5 FG%, NBA-high for min. 5 games and 5 FGAs per game) or a one-legged Howard (62.2 FG%, 4th in NBA for same category) should be able to feast. Moose has also racked up eight assists (zero turnovers) in his last 41 minutes of play. Kris Humphries must step it up if Howard’s a no-go tonight. If the middle gets muddled for Milwaukee (as Paul Millsap is apt to make things with his active hands), there’s always Monroe, the bench big who has been making his living with putbacks and the occasional jumper from the elbows. And who’s awaiting the kickout over at the right corner, where the Bucks’ 1.4 threes per game (NBA-high 50.0 right-corner 3FG%) is below only Miami’s 1.6? That safety valve could be sixth-man gunner specialist Mirza Teletovic (career-high 42.1 3FG% so far), who set an NBA-reserve-record 181 threes last season in Phoenix. It could be the resurgent Rashad Vaughn (41.4 3FG%), or Delly, or offensive fillers Jason Terry and Michael Beasley (season-high 19 points vs. MEM on Saturday), or even Parker (34.8 3FG%) or, in the worst case, Snell (team-high 5.3 attempts per game, 26.2 3FG%). Kidd’s Bucks don’t take many threes, but 94.3% of their makes are assisted (2nd in the league behind, you guessed it, Miami, who they’ll visit tomorrow). Far better known for this sort of thing, Atlanta’s 91.2% of threes assisted ranks 4th in the NBA. “…the best teammate I have ever played with in these four years,” Giannis told NBA Australia recently. Sorry, Larry Sanders, Giannis isn’t referring to you. No, he’s talking about Outback Jesus. Dellavedova and Antetokounmpo are making hay offensively on screen plays, most notably with Delly as the screener, mimicking plays the guard often ran with point-forward par excellence LeBron James. Milwaukee’s roll-man plays lead to an NBA-best 67.9 eFG% and 1.31 points per possession. The Hawks should be mindful of the need to hedge those screens (not like those fund managers would) when Giannis is the ballhandler, in part to stop a Greek Freak Streak toward the rim, in part to make him move laterally and put the ball on the floor where it could reasonably be reached. Despite the obvious size mismatch, guards pestering Antetokounmpo outside the paint can also encourage him to pick up the ball and either take long-range shots over them (advantage Hawks) or look for open shooters, the latter a tougher task if Delly is occupied by a switched big and Hawk forwards are hunting for deflections and steals (NBA-high 10.6 team SPG). Both the Hawks and the Bucks produce an NBA-high 19.3% of their offense from plays following opponent turnovers. The bad news is the Hawks crank out a league-high 17.7 TOs per 100 possessions. Another slopfest is in the offing against the Bucks (15.7 TOs per-100, 9th-most in NBA), Atlanta arriving home just hours after combining for 44 turnovers with the heat during the Hawks’ 93-90 win. If Schröder (5 TOs @ MIA, fortunately not 6 in the closing seconds), who can get under opponents’ skin himself, has bothered to read the scouting report, he won’t allow Dellavedova’s antics to distract him from executing the proper plays. The similar principle applies with Atlanta’s transition defense as it does when playing against LeBron. If Giannis has so much as a step on his defensive assignment when a loose ball goes Milwaukee’s way, that Hawk might as well go make a gyro and some tzatziki sauce, because it’s a wrap. The safest NBA coaching seat outside of Texas remains secure, so long as J-Kidd’s buddy system remains intact (right, Marc? Marc?). While the reinforcement of his job security gives a victory tonight less urgency, Kidd is still looking to show his Bucks are on the upswing. Because you can never tell when outside influences might force your one-percenter pal’s hand. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  14. “I must say, Woody… my hips are feeling just fine right now!” Remember last week, when I said it’s unlikely the Atlanta Hawks will have a chance to eliminate anybody from playoff contention? Well, that’s technically still true as the Milwaukee Bucks stop here, at Philips Arena (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, Fox Sports Wisconsin), but just barely. For Milwaukee (30-42), their Tragic Number is down to 3, thanks in part to Myles Turner’s birthday bash yesterday in Indianapolis, and in part to their own 3-game losing skid, lowlighted on Monday by a last-second tip-in loss to Andre Drummond at Auburn Hills. If the 8-seed Pistons prevail at home tonight against Charlotte ahead of their Saturday night affair with the re-visiting Hawks, and if the Bucks falter in Atlanta, that’s just about all she wrote for any postseason prayers up in America’s Dairyland. But what’s the big deal, really? There’s no use in crying over melted cheddar. All things considered, this season is an unqualified success for Jason Kidd’s staff. The Bucks’ head coach missed 15 games in mid-season to recover from hip surgery, and his replacement, Spurs acolyte Joe Prunty, held serve with an 8-9 record. The team struggled with the squeezeplay of having Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker, and Greg Monroe on the floor simultaneously, choosing to go with their 2015 free agent prize as a center. And they never could get comfortable with their rudder at point guard, Michael Carter-Williams never quite being to Kidd’s liking, up until MCW’s own season-ending hip surgery was announced at the end of February. Even before Carter-Williams’ departure, Kidd recognized the MCW-Monroe starting tandem was hampering his defensive gameplans. Kidd benched MCW and Monroe for awhile, and has since tried to plug ‘n play with backups at the point. But a guilty verdict was handed down in the case of “The Stairs vs. O.J. Mayo”, sending Option B out for the season as well with his broken ankle. That leaves the remaining lead-guard choices as Jerryd Bayless (now the starter) and second-year guard Tyler Ennis. After undergoing bone spur surgery back in November, Greivis Vasquez just began practicing with the team, but is unlikely to appear tonight. The depth behind Middleton has been shaky as well. Rookie shooting guard Rashad Vaughn hasn’t quite turned the corner, so the Bucks brought in former Hawks guard Jared Cunningham on a ten-day to see if he can shake things up a bit. Bayless (44.0 3FG%, 4th in NBA) and Middleton are about all Milwaukee has in terms of perimeter shooting, although Kidd has been encouraging Ennis to look for his shot more lately. Parker (career-high 13 rebounds plus 28 points @ ATL on Feb. 20) continues shaking off the cobwebs after missing most of last season’s turnaround due to injury. Middleton (2nd in NBA for minutes played; tied with Kyle Korver at 40.5 3FG%, 14th in NBA) struggles at times to live up to his new contract, but admirably fills in Milwaukee’s offensive gaps. Monroe (24 rebounds in two OT games vs. ATL this season) has been steady but hasn’t shown measurable improvement in much of anything, aside from maybe blocking shots, without Drummond around to help him at the pivot. Alpha-Bits (career-high 16 rebounds plus 28 points vs. ATL on Jan. 15) continues to fill out his boxscore lines as best he can. But defensively, Giannis cannot be patrolling the perimeter and the paint at the same time, and leads the NBA with 228 personal fouls. So with all that working against them, plus a still ridiculously young roster devoid of vets like Zaza Pachulia and Jared Dudley (probably passed Orlando as the league’s youngest; their oldest active veteran, Bayless, is 27 years old), a 30-to-35-win season should be considered a successful step forward. That is, if it were not for the Worst-to-Mediocre season of 2014-15 that sprang the Bucks into the playoffs, going from 15-67 to 41-41. Despite the high expectations at the outset, consider this season more of a correction and recalibration for Kidd and the Gang. Any victories at this point are just Ones to Grow On for 2016-17. That includes the pair of overtime wins the Bucks have over the Hawks (42-30) this season. Neither victory was of the apply-hoof-to-tailfeather variety, and big shots in both games by Al Horford (16-for-30 2FGs, no free throws vs. MIL this season) kept the Hawks in the running. But in both contests, the Hawks’ multifaceted perimeter offense failed to stand out against a mostly limited 3-point shooting team. In Milwaukee in January, the Hawks shot the same from deep (30.0 3FG%) as their opponents, despite lofting 20 more attempts. Back at the Highlight Factory one month later, the Bucks made a paltry 3 of their 17 3FG attempts, but percentage-wise, Atlanta didn’t fare much better with 24 more three-point shots (9-for-41 3FGs) than Milwaukee, and ultimately couldn’t take advantage of Alpha-Bits fouling out in regulation. The Hawks weren’t great shakes up in Washington, either, through the first three quarters (10-for-30 3FGs) on Wednesday night. But then Dennis Schröder popped off a trey with three minutes to go, showcasing his versatile potential, and the spigot stayed on throughout the fourth quarter (7-for-12 3FGs), while the Hawks defense clamped down on John Wall and the Wizards for the 122-101 runaway victory. But for Atlanta’s super-sub, Milwaukee might not have needed OT to top the Hawks in either game. Can we all just hold hands and declare it together, definitively, out loud? “Dennis Schröder is The Best Sixth Man in the East, at least!” Someone out West is sure to win the annual hardware. But among Eastern reserves with at least 15 minutes-per-game and 50 games played without starting, only Toronto’s Patrick Patterson has a better net rating (+10.9) than Schröder (+10.4). In this category of backups, only Evan Turner (4.7 APG) averages more assists (4.6 APG), and no one averages more than Schröder’s 11.1 PPG over the course of this season. Throw in the absence of a bench sidekick like Tim Hardaway, Jr., until after the All-Star Break, and Schröder’s effectiveness only becomes starker. Take Dennis’ inside-outside threats with an invigorated commitment to defense, and he eclipses more lauded bench guys like Boston’s Turner or Cleveland’s Matty Dellave-dive-on. Plus, the precocious point guard doesn’t hit age 23 until September. There’s a saying that the most popular man in town is the backup quarterback. Jeff Teague remains, to use Budspeak, “a big part of what we do.” But to keep from eventually getting Bibbied himself, our Agent Zero has to be a bigger offensive threat, particularly at the outset of games like this, when opponents have meager options at the 1-spot. Despite 10 assists against the Bucks in January, Jeff shot just 4-for-13 from the field, egging Mike Budenholzer on to turn to Schröder, who promptly plopped in 16 points and added 5 dimes in just over 19 minutes. In the next matchup with Milwaukee, Jeff shot just 2-for-8 and struggled to play with a second-half wrist injury. This time, Dennis did yeoman’s work in 40 minutes (25 points, 8 rebounds, 10 assists), bringing his shooting to 16-for-29 FGs in the pair of games against the Bucks. Washington thought they had Wednesday’s game in the bad, until they fell victim to The Budenhustle beginning in the back half of the third quarter. Rather than a Teague Takeover (3-for-10 FGs, 1-for-5 2FGs, 9 points and 6 assists in 26 minutes), Atlanta foisted a Schröder Shakedown (7-for-9 FGs, 8 assists in 20 minutes, four 3-point-assists in four fourth-quarter minutes) upon Wall and his suddenly flummoxed Wizards. The Menace also entered in the opening quarter with the Hawks down 25-15. Within five minutes, the Wizards hadn’t scored, and Atlanta tied the game. What’s the German word for “Microwave?” Teague and Schröder need to continue making smart ballhandler decisions, as they’ll face an opportunistic Milwaukee squad that, despite their faults, are just about as eager as the Hawks (19.1 points off turnovers) to score in transition (18.8 PPG off turnovers, 3rd in NBA; league-best +6.2 PPG off TOs in March). Paul Millsap (25.0 PPG, 10.5 RPG vs. MIL this season) was the biggest turnover culprit for Atlanta on Wednesday (5 TOs @ WAS, 3 off Wizard steals) and needs to make swifter decisions when he’s fed the ball inside, before Middleton, Alpha-Bits and the Bucks go for the strips. Hawks defenders must also play close-to-the vest on Bucks ball-handlers, forcing the action and disallowing the ability for Milwaukee’s core offensive starters to function in space. In addition to their offensive advantages at the point, the Hawks must exploit their advantage in terms of team defense. While Atlanta’s defensive measures since January 1 (97.1 opponent points per 100 possessions, 42.2 opponent FG%, 30.9 opponent 3FG%) all lead the league, the Monroe-infused Bucks have dropped from 4th in defensive efficiency in 2014-15 to 20th (105.4 opponent points per-100) this season. Monroe and his athletic associates (including Barnes-magnet John Henson) love to build up an edge on the interior (NBA-high 50.3 PPG in-the-paint), but are so single-minded on scoring around the rim that they’re subject to runouts at the other end. Despite their touted size, the Bucks are also dead-last in defensive rebounding (72.4 D-Reb%). Neither Bucks victory over the Hawks included Atlanta’s Kris Humphries, who played just 16 minutes in D.C. and should be well-rested in advance of this back-to-back set with the Bucks and Pistons. With another big game in Detroit tomorrow night, there’s no need for the Hawks to be Kidd-ing around in overtime again versus Milwaukee. To make tonight a small-g good Friday, Teague’s job is to guide the starters to a sizable first-quarter lead, then to leave it to Schröder and the bench mob to make quick venison out of the Bucks. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  15. Back in the A(ssociation)! His return comes after a condiment spill (OJ Mayo allegedly fell down stairs) put yet another Bucks guard out for the season. It was either this or J-Kidd has to suit back up. ~lw3
  16. “Sorry, guys! I’m used to passing to Giannis!” Oh, deer! Last night, our Atlanta Hawks proved once again that they are who everyone else said they were, flopping before the husk of a basketball team modeling Miami heat jerseys. Now, the Milwaukee Bucks traipse into the Highlight Factory (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, Fox Sports Wisconsin), also looking to avoid losses on back-to-back nights. And much like the Hawks on Friday night, I fumbled around and waited too long to get my act together ahead of tonight’s contest. So, here’s a few items ahead of this evening’s game: The Bucks fly into Philips after hosting Charlotte last night, falling short in the closing minutes after squandering an early fourth-quarter lead. The Hornets shot just 43 percent from the field (including 29 percent on threes) and took three fewer free throw attempts. But they still got the edge in a sloppy game, thanks to the Bucks’ 22 player turnovers eclipsing Charlotte’s 17. Milwaukee went into the All-Star break on a two-game winning streak, but that followed a 1-7 stretch that has kept them mired among the bottom of the East’s playoff contenders. They come into tonight’s game 6.5 games behind 8th-seeded Chicago. Oh, yeah, Milwaukee’s last road victory? That was back on January 19. They went into Miami and took a team WITH Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, and Hassan Whiteside, and held them to 79 points. So glad you asked! You probably won’t have to worry whether Jabari Parker will have a breakout career-night today. That’s because he accomplished that last night in a losing cause. In his first season uninterrupted by injury, Parker poured in a team-high 23 points (20 of them on 10-for-19 shooting) and helped the Bucks establish the rebounding edge with 11 boards, tying Giannis Antetokounmpo (18 points and 11 rebounds). Atlanta gave Giannis his career-night the last time we played his Bucks, a 108-101 overtime defeat for the Hawks on January 15 that saw Alpha-Bits add 16 rebounds to his 28-point night. Michael Carter-Williams was all but certain the Bucks were going to trade him, but with the deadline having passed, MCW knows he’s got free reign for the remainder of the season. Coming off the bench, he sunk six of his seven shots last night. O.J. Mayo starts for returning coach Jason Kidd at point guard, but even he deferred passing duties to leading scorer Khris Middleton (7 assists, 6 TOs, 6-for-17 FGs). Free agent prize Greg Monroe was also a target to be dealt until the closing days of the trade season, and he played to little effect off the bench yesterday versus Charlotte. One can expect much more activity from Monroe, and looks his way, tonight. Ten of his 12 rebounds versus the Hawks back on January 15 came on the offensive end. Who will the Hawks put on SportsCenter tonight? Put your money on Miles Plumlee! Bucks fans are pleased with the way the Bucks (25th in D-Rating on season, but 6th in February) have looked defensively in their past three games, thanks to Plumlee’s presence in the starting lineup in place of Monroe. Styled-and-racially-profiled center John Henson (6 blocks vs. ATL on Jan. 15) has been suffering with a back injury, compelling the Bucks to turn more to Plumlee as a defensive stopper. Cody Zeller still managed to hang 23-and-9 on the Bucks last night, as Plumlee (3 blocks in 18 minutes) sought to be more of a help defender. Surely All-Star frontcourt members Paul Millsap and Al Horford (combined 8-for-24 shooting vs. MIA last night) can do at least that much to get the Hawks back on a winning track tonight, right? Right? Kidd kept his lineup short last night with just 8 Bucks seeing the floor, including rookie Rashad Vaughn (0-for-6 on 3s in just 14 minutes). Veteran guards Greivis Vasquez and Jerryd Bayless remain out due to injuries, forcing Kidd’s hands to go young with his backcourt reserves. Vaughn and fellow guard Tyler Ennis are breakout targets tonight, especially if Dennis Schröder forgets to tie his shoes tight before hitting the floor. After a series of critical errors at both ends by Schröder while Jeff Teague sat with foul trouble last night, don’t be surprised if the returning Kirk Hinrich is the first guard subbed in tonight. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  17. “Oh, Dear! We Fear that You Ain’t Here!” It’s time for the We Miss Zaza Bowl! The Atlanta Hawks prepare to face the Milwaukee Bucks tonight at the BMO Harris Bradley MECCA Whatchamacallit (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, Fox Sports Wisconsin), and two clubs that bring the “Con” to “Consistency” sure could use Georgia’s Favorite Georgian in their lineups, albeit for vastly different reasons. First, a flashback. The year was 1996, and while Atlanta was undergoing an Olympic-sized hangover, down in San Antonio, the Macarena was still the rage, Dave Cowens was departing the Spurs to run the Hornets, and Mike Budenholzer was ready for his big promotion. Two years into his stint as Video Coordinator Bud, his ascension to assistant coach under Gregg Popovich opened up a spot on the Spurs’ staff. Enter Joe Prunty, a high school coach from San Diego, who joined the Spurs as an assistant video coordinator. Four years later, Prunty found himself a seat behind Coach Bud and Coach Pop as an assistant, helping out with mundane tasks like rebounding for Avery Johnson during pregame warmups. He would go on to serve as an assistant (and Summer League coach) for the staffs of five more teams over a span of 16 NBA seasons. Right after Bud and Joe helped Popovich guide the Spurs to the 2005 NBA Championship, Prunty hopped alongside Coach Avery as a lead assistant in Dallas, as the Mavs sailed to the 2006 Finals. Now double-dipping as the head coach for Great Britain’s men’s hoops team, Prunty has become best known as the premier acolyte for Jason Kidd, who Prunty coached during his final season in Dallas in 2008. With the Nets in 2013, Coach Kidd was suspended for the opening games due to a DWI. Kidd put Prunty (and not the spurned, embittered, team-handpicked assistant Lawrence Frank) in charge. The Nets split both games under Prunty, defeating the defending champion Miami Heat. When Kidd bailed the borough in favor of Milwaukee and his new owner-palsy-walsy Marc Lasry, Prunty followed him there, without hesitation. I like to imagine Kidd’s infamous 2010 sideline run-in with then-Hawks coach Mike Woodson as the catalyst that got his hip hopping. Kidd has been out indefinitely after undergoing hip surgery on December 21, and there’s no surprise he would turn to his trusty confidant to hold the proverbial fort. Coming up from the same Spurs-ian roots, both of tonight’s sideline sergeants are cerebral, analytical, meticulous, and methodical. The difference lies in the talent they each have to work with. The Bucks went from worst to not-too-shabby in 2014-15 on the strength of some hungry and healthier veterans, like Pachulia and Jared Dudley, inspiring some up-and-coming talents like Wheel of Fortune nightmare Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton. After playing .500-ball and surprisingly reaching the playoffs, Milwaukee could have tried to keep the band together for another run up the standings in 2016. But lotto-forward Jabari Parker was on his way back from injury, and there had to be some way to intermingle his minutes with those of Alpha-Bits, John “Run the Jewels” Henson, and coveted free agent Greg Monroe. Thus, out went Dudley and Pachulia and Ersan Ilyasova, via trades. And with them, out went whatever veteran stability the team had to offer. The senior Bucks now consist of guards Jerryd Bayless (out with an ankle sprain) and O.J. “Boo-Ray” Mayo (questionable with a sore hamstring), and “senior” doesn’t necessarily translate into “most mature.” Also, while the outgoing vets were no defensive masters, by replacing them with Monroe (12th in NBA for FG%, top-15 in O-Rebs and D-Rebs) and nightclub-going stabee Chris Copeland, the Bucks essentially said Buh-Bye to team defense. Milwaukee has dropped from 1st in the league for steals (in 2014-15) to 13th, from 24th to dead-last in defensive rebounding percentage, and from 4th to dead-last in defensive rating. Dudley and Pachulia aren’t even mad, though. Pachulia has become a fan-favorite down in Big D for essentially what he’s been doing all along, under tinier spotlights. Once a struggling shooter, Dudley was exiled to America’s Dairyland last season and made the most of it. Now the good DC sniper (47.0 3FG% with the Wizards) is grateful that the Bucks decided to commit to the youth movement and move on. “The thing about the Bucks, you can tell about how first-class an organization they've become, putting me and Z in great situations,” Dudley told reporters recently after shootaround, prior to his Wizards slipping past the Bucks on Wednesday. “They didn't have to send me (to Washington). They basically got nothing out of it.” True, true. (Apologies to all you future second-round talents out there). “Showing veteran players, if you go to Milwaukee, if you help out, they'll look out for you. They put Za in a great position (in Dallas). Me and Za can only thank them. We had a great time. Worst record to the playoffs, so it was a great year last year.” This year, Milwaukee (16-25) is left with a young, vigorous bunch that’s eager to make big plays and win but not quite sure how, one that goes to the rack with reckless abandon (league-high 36.0 shots per game within 5 feet of the rim, and 46.1 shots per game in the paint) but isn’t quite sure why, or what to do once they get there. They’re guided by a third-year headmaster who is still figuring things out himself in J-Kidd. His mobility issues now leave him to turn to a top aide, in Prunty, who has a superb pedigree but didn’t spend his offseason planning to be the guy drawing up plays. What you get is a team that hasn’t strung together more than two straight victories since November 7. You get a team that, on one night, produces a season-low 5 turnovers to topple the Chicago Bulls at home, then hits the road and coughs up a season-high 27 goofs in a loss to Washington. The Hawks can certainly relate, even though they really shouldn’t. They scorch the nets for 52.1% shooting and 33 assists against the Bulls at home, then hit the road and lay an egg with a near-season-low 37.0 FG% in a laugher up in Charlotte two nights later. They’ll stem one opponent’s six-game winning streak, then end another’s seven-game losing skid. From quarter-to-quarter, half-to-half, game-to-game, week-to-week, it’s tough to tell what’s gonna fall out of the Hawks’ box of chocolates. But unlike Milwaukee, these aren’t a bunch of wunderkinds merely finding their way. These are the defending Eastern Conference regular season leaders, only slightly re-tooled from last year. They have only cobbled together winning streaks of more than two games twice, as we near the halfway mark of the season. It’s up to the reigning NBA Coach of the Year to remind these guys why they should still care. But it’s not all on him. Bread-and-butter. PB-and-J. Rice Krispies-and-Milk. Teague-and-Horford, pick-and-roll. That was an essential, nutritious part of what made the Hawks offense snap, crackle, and pop over the prior two seasons of Budball. As a roll man on P&Rs, Horford still holds up his end of the bargain. Of the 17 NBA big men this season with 100 or more roll-man plays, Al ranks 2nd (only behind Marcin Gortat) with 1.14 points per possession and 57.7 eFG%, with the third-lowest turnover percentage (behind Blake and Dirk), while his team’s scoring percentage of 54.7% on those plays ranks third overall (behind Gortat and Jason Smith). But it takes two to make a thing go right, and therein lies a problem. Both Jeff Teague and Dennis Schröder are among 31 NBA guards with 200 or more possessions as P&R ball handlers. Of that set, Teague and Schröder rank, respectively, 21st and 29th in points per possession, 27th and 30th in eFG%, 13th and 14th in turnover frequency, and 21st and 26th in team scoring percentage. While so much attention has been placed on Kyle Korver’s long-range shooting decline, the short-circuiting of the P&R pillar of Atlanta’s offensive attack is perhaps more worrisome to Budenholzer. Coach Bud definitely recalls the days of Popovich chopping like a white-bearded kung fu master on Tony Parker, ruthlessly funneling his incessant, blazing ire into this French rapper-wannabe, steeling the pupil’s resolve with the dark arts of The Spurs Way until Parker finally “got it,” and became a Finals MVP with two rings already on his fingers. Now, like last night against the Cavs, Pop can occasionally lay back, holler at Parker with the occasional “You’re doing a heckuva job, Brownie!” and even let him design plays out of timeouts. That’s because Parker (2nd only to Steph Curry in P&R ball-handler eFG% and points per possession) bothered to listen. Now, he chases championships instead of teammates’ wives. To reach the next step, or any step at all, Bud needs Teague’s ears to be functional as his eyeballs. When Teague put on his headband last season, he hit the floor looking like a motivated Karate Kid, soaking up all of his coaching staff’s directions to devastating effect as he began executing and defending screen plays with exquisite precision. These days, Jeff (30.5 assist%, lowest since 2011-12; 53.5 TS%, lowest since 2010-11; career-low 42.4 2FG%) comes across as more of a bloated Steven Seagal, perhaps too drunk off of his sudden success to heed the direction of any more Mister Miyagis. That was on display early on in Charlotte, on Wednesday. Teague failed to direct the offense, and reverted to old bad habits on defense against his division rival, Kemba Walker. The once-reeling Hornets could not believe their fortune, as Atlanta (23-16) essentially played to Charlotte’s strengths on both ends of the floor, passing up good shots for downright silly ones and finding itself down 17-2 from the jump. Bud lights into Teague at the first timeout, but Jeff is too busy admiring the intricacies of Charlotte’s arena rafters. Schröder was brought into the game to replace Teague and help right the ship, but by the second quarter with Schröder and Teague sharing the floor together, the bottom fell out. The Hawks need floor generals and not soldier trees. Atlanta has, arguably, the most efficient stretch-four-point-five in the game at its disposal, but that is of little use if Horford is not demanding the ball, and if his point guards aren’t running plays to set him up. Following up from a solid week of production and a few days of rest, Wednesday (2 points, 2 boards, no steals, 1 block, 4 fouls, 27 minutes) was Horford’s fourth double-single on the season. Those inexcusable outputs from the Hawks’ reti-center will come with greater frequency, as long as he and Teague decline to take command from the outset of games. When the height of your cutthroat competitiveness comes not from throwing down against the likes of Cody Zeller, but at tens of thousands of feet in the air as you’re throwing down Draw Fours on Thabo Sefolosha, it shows on the floor. It shows up in the stands, and in the waning moods of an already-fickle and understandably skeptical NBA fanbase. As Exhibit A, here lies Horford, as much of a collegiate champion as Tim Tebow, a perennial Rated-PER Superstar, having helped lift his longtime NBA franchise to unforeseen heights before national audiences just eight months ago. And yet, he doesn’t draw a blip in the All-Star voting, locally or nationally. But guess who does? Al’s old backup, who has been balling in Dallas all of three full months and, just by showing consistent (there’s that word again) hustle and heart on the floor, piling up double-doubles along the way, is about to surpass Tim Duncan – Tim Duncan! – for All-Star hashtags. As Coach Bud knows, with and without NBA titles, Duncan is used to getting ripped into by his head coach, in front of teammates, just like Parker, and then responding with inspirational play on the floor. If your senior-most leaders are only giving off Alfred E. Neuman-style attitudes against teams like Milwaukee and Charlotte, it will be obvious there’s none of Larry Drew’s patented Sense of Urgency to be found. NBA fans believe in what Pachulia, and Duncan, can and will do on a nightly basis. Horford? Teague? “We don’t believe you! You need more people!” At least Milwaukee has had two chances to hang on to Z-Pac. Now they give up the most second-chance points per 100 possessions, and the fourth-most per-possession points off turnovers. Unlike not-so-turnover-prone Charlotte, that can work right into Atlanta’s wheelhouse, if they choose to take advantage. It will help if Bud gets Thabo Sefolosha (wrist, DNP vs. Charlotte) back on the floor to be disruptive and productive in transition. Thabo’s 2.7 steals per 100 plays ranks 6th among non-point-guards, just behind Millsap (2.8 steal percentage). It will also help if Horford bothers to re-join Paul Millsap (1 or more O-rebs in 37 of 39 games) on the offensive glass and grant Atlanta extra chances when shots aren’t falling. Sefolosha and Kent Bazemore can keep a body in front of Alpha-Bits (the NBA leader in personal fouls), as the Bucks strive to get their lanky Euro-stepper the ball in open space. Just as Horford should find little trouble crashing the boards at both ends against Monroe and the Bucks’ frontline, and pick-and-rolling and pick-and-popping Milwaukee apart, Teague should have little problem forcing MCW into costly mistakes. Carter-Williams’ defensive rating (107.2, worst among East guards with 30+ MPG) has reverted to where it was during his Rookie of the Year season in white-flag-waving Philadelphia. Meanwhile, mong 43 NBA guards logging 30+ minutes, his 13.7 turnovers per 100 possessions ranks just behind Rajon Rondo’s 14.3. At some point, if you’re a starting point guard, and the tutelage of Kidd isn’t rubbing off on you, you’ll be in deep trouble. With Greivis Vasquez out of action, and Bayless and Mayo hampered with injuries, Prunty has few playmaking options to turn to. Just like in Charlotte, and New York, the pins are all set up for Horford, Teague and the Hawks to deliver strikes. Will they show up ready to knock ‘em down? Or will they again leave it to somebody coming off the bench to pick up the spares? Until this particular pair stops putting the “Con” in “Consistency,” there will be no telling what to expect. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record