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  1. B? Leave. Ugh! Another PEG (Playoff Elimination Gamethread), already? We were just starting to have some fun around here! Anyways, some Tidbits. The “Atlanta Sports” narrative is the Hawks let the head coach who sought his independence by abandoning this franchise, some four score and three years ago, walk out of town on Independence Eve with a glittery Eastern Conference trophy ball under his armpit. The competing, “Believe Atlanta” narrative ain’t tryin’ to hear none o’ that mess. If the Milwaukee Bucks have learned anything from the 76ers, it’s that these Atlanta Hawks don’t fear The Reaper. With all respect due to the Blue Öyster Cult, and to the happy people of Starkville, Mississippi, do you know what the rest of the Eastern Conference Finals series could use? A little more Collins. We have Finals Fever, and the only prescription is, more Collins! Ring it up! We’re going to insist that John Collins (0-for-5 FGs with neither a board nor an assist in Game 5’s troubling first quarter) really explore the studio space, this time. That goes for Game 6 (8:30 PM Eastern, TNT, 92.9 FM in ATL, Postgame coverage on Bally Sports Southeast), before a rambunctious, standing-room-only State Farm Arena crowd, and once more in a couple days back in Wisconsin. He’s got to make enough noise, with his two-way play, that it becomes downright uncomfortable for anyone who has to share the stage with him. At the risk of summoning the FULPers, Collins’ prior head coach, seemingly as a point of pride, indicated on many occasions his gameplans run, paraphrasing, “literally not a single play” for an athletic, energetic fella, one who was supposed to go out and rack up 20-and-10s just off vibes. Since his rookie-year coach skipped town, John has thrived on offense by waiting to be served an array of lobs, layups and open threes, often courtesy of point guard Trae Young (questionable, bone bruise in foot), while feasting on stick-backs when his teammates’ jump-shooting offense stalls and clueless opponents get lax with boxing out. Speaking of boxing out, Collins alone cannot be blamed for the lack of rebounding presence in Game 5. Even Khris Middleton (team-high 13 rebounds on Thursday) had a field day on the glass as all five Buck Starters collected at least two offensive rebounds in Antetokounmpo’s absence. Thanks in part to early second-chances, Milwaukee’s 66-36 paint-point advantages rendered Milwaukee’s subpar shooting day (31.0 team 3FG%) and Bogdan Bogdanovic’s breakthrough (team-high 28 Game 5 points, 7-for-16 3FGs) moot. A team effort to keep the Bucks one-and-done is essential going forward, but Collins can do more to lead the way in that regard. It is true that this is just Collins’ first playoff foray, as it is for many an Atlanta Hawk. But the constrained development, to date, is why a guy about to receive ginormous contract offers in a few weeks can look so painfully pedestrian (2-for-8 FGs in Atlanta’s Game 5 win) in halfcourt sets, especially without Young to offer guidance. After going 10-for-11 on 2FGs in the Hawks’ successful series opener, Johnny Bap has hardly made a blip on the inside (15-for-27 combined 2FGs in past 4 games) while game outcomes are still up-for-grabs. One should note that this is only Bobby Portis’ second playoff run, the punchy Bucks forward’s first since a brief trip in 2017 with the Bulls. Yet the first-time starter, filling in in a pinch for Giannis Antetokounmpo (out again for Game 6, hyperextended knee), looked like a completely comfortable veteran in getting what he wanted in Game 5. It’s an awkward time to start running plays with Collins as a focal point, but Atlanta Playoff Basketball on Independence Day Weekend is, by definition, an awkward time. In these NBA Playoffs (Knicks and Sixers series included), JC has managed to shoot a sturdy 64.0 eFG% on post-up plays, his 1.13 points per possession placing him a smidge ahead of Philly’s center Joel Embiid and not far from The BK’s Kevin Durant. But it’s hard to recognize this, since he’s had the option to post-up on just 1.8 plays per game, according to Synergy stats on nba.com, roughly half of Antetokounmpo’s 3.4 and a far cry from Embiid’s 8.5, or even KD’s 4.4. Collins also hardly draws foul-worthy contact (6.7% FT frequency) on those few plays. Efficiency-wise, the only postseason player still standing who has fared better is Danilo Gallinari (1.18 PPP, on just 2.2 post-ups per game), who has shot at a slightly lower eFG of 57.1% but gets to the foul line (21.1% FT frequency). With Giannis down for the twenty-count once more, Collins and Gallo ought to receive more post-ups, peeling Brook Lopez and Portis away from helping on guards while elevating the Bucks’ risk of early foul trouble. Whether they emanate from Young, Lou Williams, Kevin Huerter or Bogdanovic, Collins in particular has to do a better job of getting in position to receive passes on the low block, and he needs to maintain his dribble until either a decent shot goes up or he gets the whistle. Of course, it would be nice if one of his prior coaches had the power forward honing his post-up game in real time, prior to and during the regular seasons, but that issue for a more well-heeled Collins can wait for 2021-22 to get here. We all can wait for 2021-22 to get here, but I remain hopeful our Squawkers and the rest of Atlanta Hawks Nation can do what they can to keep themselves and their loved ones healthy and upright, in what will soon be a very brief interim period. For those of you heading intown or to some friendly watering holes this evening, you’ll likely notice we have a wilder group of companions in the mix. 99 percent of us are up to some good, but there are a few jackboys, gun-runners, sliders, club-busters and raging drivers out to make “fun” for themselves on this busy weekend by spoiling somebody else’s. In what we can still hope will be a warm-up act for Game 3 of The Finals, have a great, boisterous time tonight, but be cognizant of your surroundings and avoid confrontations on your way to and from the arena and wherever you go to enjoy the proceedings. If our Hawks still don’t fear The Reaper… we’ll be able to fly! Happy Fourth! Believe Atlanta! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  2. https://www.nba.com/news/east-finals-notebook-game-5
  3. You may say to yourself: “My God. What have I done???” Until 2021, many an Atlanta Hawks fan will tell you how the scene inside then-Philips Arena, during the 2008 NBA Playoffs, was as loud as they had ever heard the place. Pent-up fan emotion, from having to endure a near-decade of laughable, madcap basketball teams, owners, coaches and players, the scramble to sneak in as an 8-seed, and the venturing into town of the top-seeded opponent from a legendary franchise that fashions itself as predestined for glory, bubbled up at The Highlight Factory to tear the roof off the sucker. At long last, on Atlanta’s home floor, plenty of things seemed to finally be coming together. There was the rise of a coveted young playmaking guard, one for whom the spiritless ownership group nearly ate each other alive over acquiring, to become a steely All-Star reserve. There was a big man with a two-time NCAA championship pedigree, for whom the elevated stage didn’t seem too big. There was the midseason upgrade at point guard, a ball caddy who already had his moments going toe-to-ugly-toe with Shaq and Kobe. There was the backup big from That Other Georgia, who wasn’t afraid to mix it up, or step on toes, if he felt it necessary to win. There was a forward who, while not ordained to reach the professional heights of Chris Paul, was beginning to make a nice versatile scorer and defender out of himself. There was the local high school standout who took whatever was missing between his ears and made up for it with hops and heart, who brought highlights to the Factory, and whose multifaceted nightly box score made him the darling of counting-stat-heavy fantasy hoops leagues everywhere. All of the aforementioned were in their 20s, toiling for coach Mike Woodson, with only the incoming point guard exceeding age 26. Running the self-satisfied Celtics out of town on a rail, and not just once, in the NBA Playoffs’ opening round was more than enough to satisfy even the most obstinate local sports fan on the fence about supporting these Hawks. Set within the context of the sub-.500 team’s relative youth with ample room to grow, being already good enough to push a championship favorite to seven games, the future was bright. The present, that spring in 2008, was looking not-too-shabby, too. Then, suddenly, that summer. There was one other twenty-something in the Hawks’ mix, the team’s top sixth-man, who shared the first name of the multi-faceted forward and was drafted eleven picks before the latter by Atlanta in 2004. Josh Childress was another up-and-comer being groomed as an integral part of the Hawks’ slow rise to playoff prominence. The lanky guard from Stanford was a restricted free agent and, as Hawks’ management was wont to do, Atlanta intended to let Chillz shop around for the best offer sheet he could find, allowing the Hawks brass time to pursue other interests while preparing for the clock to be set on matching the deal. That non-negotiating approach often served to miff players, from The Other Josh to Jeff Teague, who thought they had invested enough into the club to deserve a little back-and-forth bargaining. What was worse for this Josh, Hawks Inc. seemed to be prioritizing The Other Josh’s pending offer sheet first, while the offers this Josh was receiving, certainly not NBA-starter-level appeals, were unappetizing. Childress and his agent, though, had an ace up his sleeve that no one else saw coming. An alpha, if you will. “Greece!”, is the word that they heard. I have long wondered what the news of Childress’ Gambit, to forgo NBA Free Agency altogether and instead land a lucrative deal with once-proud Greek powerhouse Olympiacos B.C., did for Nigerian parents’ impressionable kids running the streets of Sepolia in northwest Athens. Specifically, one who only began playing organized basketball the year before, at the ripe age of 12. The Michael Jordan By Default of Greece was on his way there, and that had to be a double-take moment for the young, wispy Giannis Antetokounmpo and his siblings. Chillz was several stratospheres removed from His Airness, but you wouldn’t know it by Childress’ 3-year, $20 million tax-free deal, the fancy Volvo and the condo floor with a swimming pool that the club reserved for his personal use. (Did I mention, in Greece, there was a major post-Olympic austerity crisis underway?) In making Childress the highest-paid hooper ever outside of North America, Olympiacos’ investment didn’t quite pay off the way the team had dreamed. Yes, they reached the Greek League title games in each of Childress’ first two seasons there. But they couldn’t get over the hump versus hated rival Panathinaikos in either year. Their rivals basically paid a lot less for ex- Memphis Grizzlie and American expatriate Mike Batiste, the Greek League MVP, to get the job done for seven years straight. The larger aims for Olympiacos were EuroLeague championships. The Reds fell short after reaching the EuroLeague Final Four in Chillz’ first season, and the title round in his second. And the true team stars by that time were Lithuanian forward Linas Kleiza and point guard Milos Teodosic. The riches and perks delivered to an American, mediocre among his own NBA-level countrymen, to be the third-banana on a team not winning trophies, was not lost on a growing legion of angry Greeks. All that movie-star munificence, for The Ron Harper By Default of Greece, while everyone already there struggles to make ends meet? As sporting venues built for 2004 were already looking like ancient ruins? Opa! That Olympiacos would go on to win those coveted Greek League and Euroleague titles in ensuing years without Josh, but with the leadership of guys named Acie Law and Pero, only underscored the peninsula's consternation over Childress' nationally lampooned European vacation. Not much gets past the radar that was Childress’ sizable ears. Before the third season could arrive, before his value in the NBA could spoil, Chillz opted out of his Olympiacos deal, returning to The States to take Robert Sarver’s taxable money. “That man brought in Hedo Turkoglu and Josh Childress,” stated Amar’e Stoudemire, disparagingly, of his former paycheck signer at the Phoenix Suns. When Stoudemire’s free agency period arrived, Stoudemire told the All the Smoke Podcast that Sarver bragged that the NBA All-Star “could be replaced, tomorrow.” When he took a gander at these so-called replacements, “I said, ‘Man, you got to be kidding me,’” Amar’e recalled. “So, I end up going to New York.” No high-level free agent, by that point in 2010, was banging on doors to grab much of Atlanta Spirit Group’s money, a stash that was dwindling by the year. Josh’s overseas exploits didn’t prove to be something Atlanta would sorely miss. But the ability to develop Childress further here, versus NBA competition, as part of the organic growth of an emerging young club, felt like an opportunity only the Hawks could creatively squander. Around town, Childress’ departure was the Jenga moment for consumer confidence in Hawks stewardship. Subsequent to the dreamy postseason of 2008, the team itself scraped through the next two years of opening rounds, only to be waxed thoroughly, at home and away, in second rounds, by teams seen as authentic superstar-led contenders. “The Hawks looked to have a nice thing going, for a minute there,” was the old saw. “And then Josh Childress ran off to Greece, so that’s the end of that. Atlanta Sports! smh.” Whether it’s Childress bailing for the Aegean Sea, or Thabo and Pero celebrating the clinching of the top-seed with a fateful late night out on the town in NYC, you never know precisely when the Hawks’ Jenga moment arrives, and especially not how. What you come to understand, in hindsight, is the destabilizing event causes a step back that makes it hard for Atlanta’s carefully-crafted collectives to recover. As Game 4 unfurls here at State Farm Arena in these Eastern Conference Playoffs (8:30 PM Eastern, TNT, 92.9 FM in ATL, Postgame coverage on Bally Sports Southeast), Hawks fans can only hope that Trae Young’s step back, onto the clown shoe of a Game 3 referee along the sideline following a bad pass, won’t be just another Jenga block to toss into the fire of, “We had a good run going, BUT…” Atlanta Sports moments. In this series with the Milwaukee Bucks, as other Hawks have struggled to be reliable offensive contributors, Young’s scoring proficiencies are essential for Atlanta to keep up with a phenom from Greece, that former 12-year-old from Sepolia who’s all grown up now. Giannis was but 16 in 2011, the year after Childress concluded his Olympiacos run, when he was invited to play for a third-tier semi-pro basketball league, catching the eye of European and at least a couple American pro-league scouts alike. A full decade later, simply counting to ten remains a challenge at times for Antetokounmpo. But the two-time NBA MVP and 2020 DPOY has had little trouble maturing in many other aspects of the game. Giannis has assumed the top-spot previously held by Atlanta’s Clint Capela (12.7 RPG) as this postseason’s rebounding leader (13.3 RPG). Blending his newfound strength with his eye-popping dexterity, the Greek Freak only needs teammates willing to compensate for his shortcomings at the three-point line (18.5 Playoff 3FG%) and at the charity stripe (55.1 Playoff FT%, with a few of the makes disallowable, but for the referees out here trippin’). His 6.3 APG in this series now outpaces Young (team-high 6.0 APG; as per Locked On Bucks podcaster Frank Madden, held in consecutive games below 5 assists for the first time since March 2020), as does Khris Middleton’s (6.3 APG) and Jrue Holiday’s (9.7 APG). The ball movement for coach Mike Budenhozer’s club has become a point of exploitation, in contrast to a Hawks offense (107.8 O-Rating, lowest among the NBA Final Four) that gets stilted for long stretches and struggles to create when Young isn’t initiating plays. Giannis’ dips, dunks, and dishes deep in the post are creating opportunities for his co-stars, who in turn create quality offensive chances for the rest of the roster. Whether it’s halfcourt heaves, awkward layup shots, or contested mid-rangers, Atlanta’s field goal makes in the two most recent games come with much higher degrees of difficulty. Rebounding, after Capela and John Collins (10.3 series RPG, despite 4.0 personals/game), dime-dropping, after Trae, and defense, after Kevin Huerter (team-high 3 blocks in Sunday’s 113-102 loss, which only scratches the surface of how good he looked) and Bogdan Bogdanovic (2.3 SPG), are near-binary in numerical production among the remnants of the Hawks’ cast. Hawks coach Nate McMillan could do well to consider going big earlier, introducing Danilo Gallinari as a quick sub for Bogi (listed as probable ahead of Game 4), and preserving the swingman’s weary knee for crucial defensive stops later in the contest. Bogdanovic played through Sunday’s entire final quarter but was a defensive non-factor as Middleton (20 4th-quarter points in Game 3, incl. 4-for-6 3FGs) ignited to help Milwaukee surge ahead for good. It wasn’t the playoffs, but two months ago, a Hawks team without Young available caught Giannis and the Bucks slipping. One night after clobbering an injury-and-illness-riddled Sixers team at home, Milwaukee flew to Atlanta and was feeling good after entering the fourth quarter up by 8 points. As was the case on Sunday, Middleton heated up in the final frame as well, with 12 of his 23 points. But so did Atlanta’s Bogdanovic and Lou Williams from beyond the 3-point arc (combined 8-for-9 3FGs). Meanwhile, Capela and fill-in starter Solomon Hill did just enough on that April evening to contain Antetokounmpo, while Buck teammates were of little use, at either end, on the back end of their back-to-back. In Game 3, the revelatory rookie Onyeka Okongwu showed he could serve Hill’s defensive role well, and maybe not just in a pinch. Whether Young (6-for-14 3FGs in Game 3; listed as questionable, bruised foot) is fully functional, fully productive, fully available, or not, some of the Traemates have to catch fire from outside if Atlanta intends to fully recover in this series. The Otherhawks (4-for-19 3FGs in victorious Game 1, 7-for-31 in Game 2) were by default a series-best 9-for-23 on non-Trae treys in Game 3, skewed downward by Bogi’s 2-for-10 outing, and are 21-for-70 in this series overall. Having the proper personnel getting back on defense is essential, too, whenever the Bucks aren’t retrieving Atlanta’s jumpshots from the bottom of the net. Hopefully, Young will be available to help the Hawks wage a fairer fight with Antetokounmpo and company tonight, earning Atlanta a guaranteed third home game in these conference finals while staving off the potential for elimination on Thursday in Wisconsin. In so doing, the Hawks will also have staved off what looked to be, on Sunday night, another Jenga moment for Atlanta Sports history. Also, it is hoped, we’ll get through the summer offseason without any others unfolding. John, if you get a call in a few weeks about a business opportunity from the Sultan of Brunei, please, just hang up the phone. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  4. “Been There. Done That. Made The T-Shirt!” The Hawks had the Bucks dead-to-rights. In their house, Atlanta’s Omni Coliseum. The prize that awaited Atlanta was a date with destiny. The season before, a classic nip-and-tuck affair between Dominique Wilkins and Larry Bird, at hallowed Boston Garden, had the Hawks coming up on the short end but earning the admiration of NBA fans everywhere. It was far too late to establish Atlanta, in their lovely red-and-yellow jerseys, as The Team of the 80’s. But who would take the lead and rule the roost in the final full season of the decade? After edging the Hawks in 1988’s second-round series, the Celtics would relinquish the Eastern Conference crown for the first time in five years, to Isaiah Thomas and the Pistons. The next season, Boston lost Bird to a season-ending injury early, leaving the NBA East as wide open as it had been in recent memory. Who would challenge the new kings of the East, in their Auburn Hills palace? Chicago, and Michael Jordan? As far as anyone could tell, the eventual 6th-seeded Bulls weren’t ready. Cleveland, and Brad Daugherty? A breakthrough season awaited, but the core of Lenny Wilkens’ 3-seed Cavs were so young. Patrick Ewing and the Knicks? They would win the Bird-less Atlantic Division. But they finished with the exact same 52-30 record as Nique and the Hawks, who improved on the prior year’s 50-32 mark. Entering the playoffs, on the heels of the Nique-Bird duel… why not Atlanta? The window was open for the 4-seed Hawks, as the top-seeded Bad Boys, who easily swept the Celts, awaited their arrival. All Atlanta had to do was to Take Care of Business, on its homecourt, before a heavily partisan crowd. Their opponents? A Milwaukee club the Hawks played, and swept, in the regular season, winning all six times by an average of 11.0 points per game. The core of the same Bucks team that the Hawks bounced, 3 games to 2, out of the first round with a Game 5 home win the prior postseason. Milwaukee began that season at a gaudy 40-19 but stumbled across the finish line with 14 losses in the final 23 games, including two versus the Hawks, one in Atlanta by 25 points. Defensive maven Paul Pressey, whose late-season injury greased the skid, would be unavailable for the entire first-round series. Seemingly on his last legs, point guard Sidney Moncrief was about ready to retire. This wasn’t the Bucks’ series to win. Not until Atlanta made it that way. Including the prior year’s first-round faceoff, the Hawks and Bucks always held serve at home in the playoffs. That was until Game 2 at the Omni, when the Hawks could not contain super-sixth-man Ricky Pierce and Milwaukee cruised to a 108-98 win, wasting Wilkins’ 32-point effort. With the 5-game series turned to the underdogs, the Bucks were in position, at the MECCA, to close out the series upset. Wilkins’ contemporary, fellow All-Star and NBA All-3rd-Teamer Terry Cummings, hurt his ankle early in Game 4. Led by All-Stars Moses Malone and Dominique, plus John Battle off the bench, the Hawks capitalized and survived in OT on Milwaukee’s famous Robert Indiana floor. Cummings, like Pressey, was left with no choice but to watch from Wisconsin as the series shifted, for the last time, back to Georgia. For the Bucks, with their seasons on the line, there would be no leading scorer, no top defender. Problem? “The shot on Ehlo GOOD! BULLS WIN!” was ringing in everyone’s ears that day. Perhaps too loudly, at the Omni, for the Hawks to realize they were getting tuned up by not just Pierce, but Fred Roberts, Paul Mokeski and Jay Humphries. Bucks rookie behemoth Tito Horford didn’t have to lift a finger. Thanks to buzzer-beaters sunk by Mokeski and Roberts, and a plethora of missed Hawk free throws, Atlanta could not sustain a lead in any quarter. The Omni crowd felt a wave of relief when the Hawks grabbed an 86-85 lead on the Cummings-less and Pressey-less visitors, with just under three minutes to go in the elimination game. But then Atlanta let the Bucks rattle off eight straight, a Doc Rivers three-pointer proved too little, too late, and all was lost. Including, that date with destiny in Detroit. “This will be hard for us to get over,” Wilkins said after the Game 5 loss. He didn’t know the half of it. The next season, Rivers would be out due to injury for two months, Atlanta would sink to 41-41, 6th in the Central Division. Pete Babcock would arrive from Denver to help a busy Stan Kasten run things, and longtime coach Mike Fratello would resign after Atlanta narrowly missed the playoffs, finishing just behind Pierce’s Bucks, coach Lenny’s Cavs and Reggie Miller’s Pacers. With Jordan answering the call in 1991 to overtake the Pistons, not Dominique in 1989, the window for the Hawks’ Finals hopes had closed. For at least a few more years. Taking Care of home. It’s what likely would have made such a difference for Wilkins and his Hawks at the Omni, as their fates entered the 1990s. With his statue now perched at the entrance to State Farm Arena, and the balance of power in the NBA East once again up for grabs in the 2020s, Taking Care of Home is what would make the difference for a fresh, new group of Hawks to boldly go where no Atlanta team has gone before, the NBA Finals. The common denominator? The visiting Milwaukee Bucks (8:30 PM Eastern, TNT, 92.9 FM in ATL, Postgame Coverage on Bally Sports Southeast), in town for Games 3 and 4. No worries, Atlanta! Tito and Mokeski retired long ago. Despite a washout loss in Game 2 of this series, the underdog Hawks upset Milwaukee in Game 1, granting themselves the opportunity once more to maintain homecourt advantage and close out coach Mike Budenholzer’s Bucks in no more than six games. But this is a far more challenging visitor than the ’89 Hawks faced, thanks to the whirling dervish that is Giannis Antetokounmpo around the paint. Giannis was a rolling, spinning highlight reel in Milwaukee’s 125-91 win on Friday night, but he didn’t need to put up pinball-tilting figures (25 points, 3-for-4 FTs, 9 rebounds in 2.5 quarters). Teammates Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton did the dirty work in pestering Atlanta ace Trae Young (2021 Playoffs-high 3 assists, 9 TOs, 1-for-8 3FGs) while Holiday, Brook Lopez and Pat Connaughton (combined 9-for-12 3FGs) hit the key jumpers Atlanta (Traemates combined 8-for-28 3FGs) could not. Multiple Bucks chipping in to balloon the lead gave Giannis, his fellow starters and, by extension, Atlanta’s starters, a respite ahead of Game 3. The lack of a secondary ballhandler production, either off the bench or sharing the floor with Young, is a challenge that coach Nate McMillan and the Hawks have to overcome in this three-day homestand. McMillan leaned on Young to sort out his Game 2 struggles to make better reads and connect with teammates for too long. Deploying Lou Williams for longer stretches, as a substitute for either Trae Young or Bogdan Bogdanovic, in combination with a back-in-action Cam Reddish, could make for better balance in the Hawks backcourt. With Atlanta getting gashed on the boards in Milwaukee, sixth-man Danilo Gallinari has to expand his focus beyond his patented up-periscope jumpshots and help secure rebounds on defense, when John Collins and Clint Capela are occupied with Antetokounmpo and/or Lopez. Having to rely on Solomon Hill to lead the bench in minutes, as became the case once Atlanta waved the white flag in Game 2, is not a scenario conducive to securing homecourt victories. Both Eastern Conference Finals entrants have reason to celebrate reaching this stage. Milwaukee tried tanking in Giannis’ rookie year, were rewarded with Jabari Parker and Thon Maker during the come up, but eventually realized acquiring a sound cast of savvy vets and scrappy prospects around their emerging supernova was the best approach. The Hawks weren’t huge winners in the NBA Draft Lotteries during their rebuilding phases, either. They aren’t tying their successes solely on the haul of Lottery picks, including Reddish and the injured De’Andre Hunter, to get them to this stage and pull them through. Not this year, anyway. If Atlanta comes away from Games 3 and 4 with a decided advantage, it’s because veteran supporters, from LouWill to Gallo, stepped up their games when called upon. With better contributions from developed non-Lottery talent like John Collins and Kevin Huerter, the Hawks returning to more competitive rebounding, timely shooting, and proper closeouts on the Bucks’ shooters, will aid in Taking Care of Business before its home fans. This remains the Bucks' playoff series to win, only, if Atlanta allows it to be that way. With a year-round focus on competitanking for future game-changing talent in the rear-view mirror, Hawks fans are no longer feeling a draft. Yet here, in the Hawks’ downtown arena, fans recognize there remains, unmistakably, an open window. Take Care, Atlanta! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  5. “So, I was playing H-O-R-S-E with Bobby Portis, and…” (tied up all day tomorrow... sorry for the super-early entry! Go Hawks! ~lw3) Harry the Hawk could only look on, in horror. Fooling around while entertaining fans at the Phoenix Suns Arena, Harry and a small collection of other mascots were simply killing time, schmoozing attendees and keeping the kids’ rapt attention on an otherwise dull All-Star Saturday afternoon. The goal for the mascots, on this warm winter day in 2009, was simple. Take a bunch of halfcourt shots, and hope one or two go in. Always a good way to keep the fans lathered up. Alas, Bango the Buck was out here Doin’ Too Much. Harry, as we Atlanta Hawks fans know, has long been quite the daredevil. Diving off the corner stands into a hidden landing pad in the tunnel below. Demonstrating, with smug pride, his impeccable balance along a rail, then playing off the agony of his sore pellets after slipping and getting racked. Skidding down a flight of stairs in a fan section. The difference, though, is every stunt Harry did for our guffaws was a bit. You knew, going in, whatever Atlanta’s mascot would do would be well planned, well-rehearsed, well-executed. Bango, Milwaukee’s mascot, just runs out on the floor and does… stuff, for doing stuff’s sake. It’s the latter’s seemingly reckless, pompous nature that made him the pride of Milwaukee sports and established him, with Harry, Rocky, and The Gorilla, among the best mascots the NBA has to offer. On this afternoon, to Bango, the thought of dudes in anthropomorphic costumes hoisting shots from just beyond Trae Young range, as entertainment, wouldn’t do. Flexing his acrobatic skills and dexterity, Bango managed to climb the stanchion, standing behind the glass where the halfcourt heaves were directed. It’s nothing to Bango, something he does often to seize the crowd’s attention. Showing up The Association’s other gravity-bound mascots was an extra benefit in Bango’s mind. “Betcha can’t do it like me! Nope!” But on this occasion, rather than sitting on the rim, presumably to allow the bit to keep going, or just staying behind the glass, Bango ventured to stand atop the rim, his big, furry hooves holding him up on 36 square inches of back iron as he encourages his fellow mascots to keep right on jacking up shots. Even Harry the Hawk knew this was too much for a bird’s-eye view. Later that same year, Ultimate Rap League battle-rapper Conceited, while clutching a mystery beverage in a red SOLO cup, made a face that would become an indelible meme some seven years later. But at this time, that same, pursed-beak reaction shone right through Harry’s get-up. “Uh-oh. Not a good idea, Bango! But, okay, fine. You do you!” Embodying the spirit of his franchise, Bobby the Bobcat (maybe that was his name, does it matter, really?), was oblivious. Before Bango could firmly establish his footing, Bobby fired off a shot that ricocheted off the deer’s, er, midsection and plopped into the basket below. Nothing but Nu, umm, Net! The Arizona crowd, just happy to enjoy the air conditioning and not stuck outside watching Joe Johnson playing H-O-R-S-E, goes halfway between mild to wild. After taking in a stunning shot in more ways than one, Bango played it off as best he could, applauding the sunglass-clad bobcat for his success. But, then… Bango slips. He attempts to gather himself by clutching the top of the backboard with his fuzzy hand. But that proved no match for Newtonian physics. THROUGH the rim goes the nearly seven-foot beast, antlers and all. Oh, Deer. As TNT play-by-play man Kevin Harlan would say, “Up High! And Down Hard!”. It wouldn’t be a clean swish, though. Bango’s left hoof got caught up between the rim and the netting, leaving him momentarily dangling as clueless Bobby is still at the sidelines, high-fiving the fans to celebrate his own accomplishment. Only The Raptor makes a half-hearted attempt at attending to Bango, once the ruminant twists free and finally makes his crash landing on one-and-a-half legs, writhing along the hardwood below with what would be diagnosed and reported as a torn ACL. Nonetheless, it’s still a bit, and Harry understands mascots can’t scare the kids in the stands by showing legitimate concern for his misguided colleague’s well-being. The banged-up buck gets it, too. He hops up as best he can, waving to the crowd as he hobbles away, as The Show must go on. Likely muttering under their breaths, Harry and the Wizards’ Skyhawk-looking dude simply skip off into the tunnel. Deal with those torn ligaments in the back. It’s Red Panda Time! Riding high and smelling themselves is about where the team that Bango reps found themselves, in the midst of the Eastern Conference Finals’ Game 1. The Milwaukee Bucks felt the momentum on their Fiserv Arena floor surging toward a double-digit lead over the happy-go-lucky Hawks. Losing focus on the things that mattered most, they started slipping: forgoing coach Mike Budenholzer’s ball-movement schemes to settle for ”You do you!” iso-ball, aimless passes, blown bunnies, and abject failures at boxing out to secure defensive rebounds in the clutch. As Bango’s Bucks lick their wounds while pretending, for the sake of the stunned crowd, that There’s Nothing To See Here, the team Harry represents, the Atlanta Hawks, have a chance in Game 2 (8:30 PM Eastern, TNT, 92.9 FM in ATL, Postgame coverage on Bally Sports Southeast) to saunter off Milwaukee’s floor and exit their arena for the final time in 2020-21. The Hawks earned this opportunity when teammates hopped on the cape of Trae Young (Playoff career-high 48 Game 1 points, 11 assists, 7 rebounds). Then, they executed their fundamental roles so as not to spoil their magical carpet ride. Does Atlanta deserve to be standing eye-to-eye with the Bucks? Bear in mind, Kevin Durant dropped 48 points for the higher-seeded Nets in an elimination game, a contest that Milwaukee won (thanks to KD’s toenails at the three-point line). It comes down to which star makes the best use of their teammates, and early on in this series, it’s Trae 1, two-time league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo 0. I’ve been talking until I’m Papa Smurf about how we’re waiting for Peak Hawks to take hold, how just a game or two of optimal two-way, 48-minute ball under coach Nate McMillan’s direction would make such a difference in the outcomes of Atlanta’s playoff series. Ultimately, the pressure is not on Atlanta, but on the so-called favored, higher-salaried teams to play Peak Favorites. When they lay so many flaws bare, they leave themselves susceptible to the underdogs that are just hanging around, staying within striking distance. Then, suddenly, the favorite looks every bit like the underdog. For Milwaukee to avoid slipping through the hoop once again tonight, it means dropping drop coverage of Atlanta’s pick-and-roll, with defensive guards committing to going over on screens, and forwards protecting the rim when Giannis, P.J. Tucker, Bobby Portis and center Brook Lopez dare to step further out. One of Atlanta’s advantages coming into the playoffs is they’ve played all season (and, frankly, some of the prior ones) missing an essential roster component and/or adjusting to accommodate a key player returning off injury management. Whereas the Hawks’ offense has hardly skipped a beat with the hampered Bogdan Bogdanovic, and without second-year pros De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish, teams like Philly seemed at a loss on how to adjust, without Danny Green as a corner shooting option and as an extra defender to hurl at Young. A similar theme seems to be taking hold with Milwaukee. Fifth on the team in regular season minutes played, Donte DiVincenzo’s absence due to his season-ending ankle injury has been a struggle for Coach Bud to compensate. Pat Connaughton, Bryn Forbes and veteran Jeff Teague (combined 1-for-7 Game 1 3FGs) struggled mightily to hang with Young, and the disparity widens when their offensive contributions are muted. Given Milwaukee’s limited in-season development, slim depth and short rotations, Budenholzer can’t turn to rookie Elijah Bryant or two-way guard Axel Toupane to step up on Donte’s behalf. Acquired for Torrey Craig from Phoenix at the trade deadline, Cash Considerations isn’t of much use, either. That leaves Khris Middleton, also a dud in Game 1 (0-for-9 3FGs) to live up to his All-Star and Olympic-level expectations, and for Giannis to occasionally assist in meeting Young and Atlanta ballhandlers off the screens. To throw Milwaukee defenders further off-kilter, Young’s teammates (8 combined Game 1 assists; 8.7 APG vs. PHI; 10.8 vs. NYK) should be mindful that they can also pass the ball amongst each other, especially around the horn when Young draws the defense inward, and that not every receipt from Trae is definitively the best shot during a possession. After a few well-drawn plays go right, and when the lead is working in their favor, Milwaukee might risk making the same fatal mistake conducted by recent Hawks opponents, of playing laissez-faire basketball, waiting for the visitors to fold and bow themselves out of the series. If they veer off-course from the gameplan and take too many unsound risks again, the Bucks will find themselves once more caught like a bunch of Bangos, staring catatonically into the hypnotizing, shimmering headlights of Trae Young. Poor Harry can hardly bear to watch the aftermath. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  6. “I’m just asking Bob: how does a so-called rookie grow so much hair on his chest? Is it the beer?” There are quite a few Milwaukeeans looking forward to giving your Atlanta Hawks the business. About 90 percent of those folks are above the age of 75. Children, teenagers, and young adult sports fans were eager for something fresh in postwar America’s Dairyland. After winning the NFL Championship in 1944, their pigskin heroes, up the road in Green Bay, had fallen on rocky times. Single-wing fanatic Curly Lambeau had an ugly divorce with the Packers and eased on down the road to coach the reviled Chicago Cardinals. Basketball, and not necessarily good basketball, meant the Badgers over in the state capitol of Madison, back in the day when you couldn’t sneak Victrola-sized recorders into locker rooms. Carnival barker Bill Veeck kept the Brewers interesting, but, with all due respect to our modern-day Stripers, there’s only so much AAA minor league baseball you can watch. Having grown by over well over 20 percent in each decade up to 1930, the boomtown years in Milwaukee seemed to be drawing to a close by the time the 1950s arrived. Losing luster and populations to Midwestern rivals in Chicago, Minneapolis and St. Louis, the city’s boosters were eager to get civic projects cooking. It was essential to showcase Milwaukee as a bonafide major-league city. Up would go the first American ballpark financed with public funds, Milwaukee County Stadium. As the stadium was being erected, in hopes of drawing a Major League Baseball team to town, the ribbon was cut for Milwaukee Arena. The latter was regarded as the first new sports venue engineered explicitly to accommodate the brave, new world of broadcast television. That was more than enough to woo Ben Kerner and his NBA franchise out of its dusty fieldhouse in Moline, Illinois. With just a slight tweak of Kerner’s team’s name, the Milwaukee Hawks became the big, full-time pro team in town, tipping off in the spacious, 11,000-seat, taxpayer-paid Milwaukee Arena seventy years ago this November. Veeck owned the St. Louis Browns, second fiddle to the beer-company Cardinals in MLB, and his attempt to bring the Browns to beer-town Milwaukee was blocked by American League owners, setting up the Browns to become birds of a whole different feather. Tired of losing fans to Ted Williams and the Red Sox, Construction magnate Lou Perini leaped at Veeck’s misfortune. His National League outfit, the Braves, arrived from Boston in 1953 to ensure the fancy new outdoor stadium wouldn’t sit empty in the summertime. Treated much like Pabst “cheese product,” being a Hawks fan in the early 1950s was about enduring The Process. That is to say, the team sucked royally. 17-49 in their maiden season as the Milwaukee Hawks in 1951-52, 27-44 in 1952-53, 21-51 in 1953-54. Last-place in the Western Division, every year. It didn’t help that the rival Lakers, of nearby Minneapolis, were not merely the envy of the NBA West but the whole league, pulling off an unprecedented three-peat in those years. But just as The Land of 1,000 Lakes would always have their Lakers, Wisconsinites knew they would always have their Hawks. Mel Hutchins entered the league as a top-2 draft pick and was a rebounding machine for Milwaukee. The team traded 1952’s top pick to Philadelphia, and they wound up with an All-Star returning from military duties in Don Sunderlage. Despite the losing, local fans were catching on to the grand plan. “What’s the Secret?”, asked envious owners of the turnstile-struggling Knicks and Celtics, of Kerner’s ability to pack crowds in Milwaukee’s swanky new arena to watch a bottom-feeder team on the move. Crowds dwindled again, though, commensurate with the Hawks’ dovetailing record. But then, with the drafting of natural scorer Bob Pettit in 1954, the LSU star averaged over 20 points and 13 boards per game out of the box. With so many emerging stars in place, fans surely thought, the future of NBA basketball in Milwaukee was brightening. Until that future was no more. It turned out this bottom-feeder Hawks team was on the move. Out of town. Already. Four years after moving in. St. Louis was quite clear to Kerner, they weren’t building him and his cagers a new arena. But the Hawks owner, who never really filled out the one in Milwaukee, figured the Missouri hotbed along the powerful Mississippi River had more going for it than the slower-growing burg off Lake Michigan’s western shore. Eero Saarinen’s Arch was a long way from being finished, but the city of St. Louis was not only seen by Kerner as a larger market, but the geographic center of the nation, and a shining gateway to the rising American West. The NBA owner was more than happy to move out of a state-of-the-art Milwaukee venue and shoehorn his squad into an aging Kiel Auditorium. Bear in mind, at this time, that Rochester, New York was in the NBA’s Western Division. In an age before air travel, to far-flung places like California, could be viewed as part of a sustainable sports budget, Missouri was about as far west as major sports leagues were willing to stretch. The sense permeated that if Milwaukeeans wanted to watch professional sports, hey, Chicago’s a short drive away. For pro hoops? Fort Wayne, and Minneapolis, make for pleasant road trips. Shoot, they’ve always trekked up Lake Michigan to watch football in chilly Green Bay. The local resentment was high among the young fans who were just beginning to invest their time and energies into Milwaukee Hawks Basketball. “You know what?”, they thought. “Screw the Hawks. We’ll always have our Braves!” The extra-unkind twist of the knife came when the Hawks pulled a Calgary Flames on Milwaukee fans. Just two seasons into their St. Louis tenure, Kerner’s Hawks finished with another losing record, but won a series of tiebreaker games with the hated Lakers and Fort Wayne Pistons for first place in a weakened NBA West Division. They swept Minneapolis to reach The Finals in 1957. Kerner got Beverley'd in the schnoz by Red Auerbach amid a heated dispute over the basket height, but the Hawks, behind Pettit, went nose-to-nose with the favored Celtics through seven games. Hawks Fever would reach its fever pitch the very next season, when Pettit’s 50-burger sealed the deal and brought Kerner his first NBA Championship. But wait. This was not supposed to be St. Louis’ team to celebrate! That town never suffered through the lean years with the Hawks! No matter, thought Milwaukee, because just a few months before, their new, darling Braves just beat the mighty New York Yankees, already giving this town its first World Series title. The Hawks arrived first, but the Braves were smoking hot from the time the once-dormant club arrived from Boston. They finished no worse than third in the NL with over 85 wins every season before breaking through in 1957, with the great Warren Spahn and reliever Ernie Johnson Recently Senior pitching, plus Eddie Mathews and an amazing kid named Henry Aaron knocking it out the park. They almost caught the D@mn Yankees napping again in the World Series, after winning the NL pennant in 1958. By the close of the 1950s, Milwaukee was, officially, a tried-and-true world-class baseball town. Basketball what? Basketball who? This here is Braves Country, pal. Forever and ever, Amen. From the time of the Hawks’ departure from Milwaukee, it would take 13 more years before the NBA would come back to the basketball arena that would later be known as the MECCA. In that time, the beloved Braves would be wooed out of town, in 1965, to the promise of an expanded media market in the Deep South. An increasingly barren pro-sports town was going to take anything it could nail down by that time. Bucks Country, you say? Fine. They’ll help pass the time. That is, whenever Vince Lombardi isn’t coaching on Sundays. Just months after receiving their expansion franchise announcement, in 1968, Milwaukee was humored to find out St. Louis had lost the basketball team they poached, the Hawks, to Georgia, too. Fans endured a predictably terrible inaugural season by the Bucks. But it concluded with a nice win, of sorts. The Bucks and their expansion cousins, the Suns, wound up in a coin flip for the top pick. Milwaukee won, and the prize was UCLA’s Lew Alcindor. To this very month, Phoenix would never win an NBA Championship. As for Milwaukee? Well, give them just a few minutes. An NBA-record 29-game improvement came the next season, and by 1971, with Oscar Robertson in tow, Milwaukee posted a first-ever 20-game winning streak and paraded their first NBA Championship. There was regarded as the fastest run from expansion team to title in American sports, in the days before anyone had heard of Atlanta United, or soccer for that matter. Bud Selig had just brought MLB baseball back by snatching the Pilots from Seattle under the cover of night. But by this time, Milwaukee was Bucks Country. A re-enlivened basketball town, unlike stuffy old Chicago. There is little visible record of the first three times the Atlanta Hawks and the Milwaukee Bucks faced off in the NBA Playoffs, the five-game sets of 1980s-era series that Glenn Rivers and Dominique Wilkins won once, and Sidney Moncrief and Paul Mokeski won twice. There is also little record of the only seven-game series between these clubs, in 2010, because I watched them all and made it by personal mission to burn all the tape. But there has never been a bigger Hawks-Bucks series than the one that is set to unfold tonight, in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals (8:30 PM, TNT, 92.9 FM in ATL, Postgame coverage on Bally Sports Southeast). A former Milwaukee franchise that won it all once, in another town in 1958, and never made it back to the NBA Finals again. A current Milwaukee franchise that was gifted a young legend, hung onto to him long enough to win it all in 1971, returned to come up short in 1974, had the renamed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar demanding a trade (as reported at the time by a young sportscaster named Marv Albert) to a big city in 1975, was forced to hoof it to the Eastern Conference in 1980, and never made it back to the NBA Finals again. Only one can advance for a shot at ending their championship droughts. If that is not enough drama for you, Jeff Teague is out here starving, sisters and brothers. The last time your Hawks were in these Conference Finals, a half-dozen years ago, Teague averaged over 21 PPG and 4 APG for Atlanta. But his teammates were like deer-in-headlights against Matthew Dellavedova and the LeBronnaires of Cleveland. Now, the 2015 All-Star has reunited with in Milwaukee with his old Hawks coach, Mike Budenholzer, after getting traded by Boston and mercifully waived by Orlando. If all goes well, Jeff will hardly have to lift a finger. The newly 33-year-old Teague gets to kick back and watch a 2013 All-Star, who’s two years his junior, go to work on the 2019 All-Star point guard who is now the toast of Atlanta. It’s Jrue Holiday’s first playoff run since 2018 with the Pelicans, and the first two rounds have been less than stellar (39.8/24.6/69.6 FG/3FG/FT shooting splits) for him as a scorer. But as a release-valve (7.5 APG, 2.2 TOs/game in playoffs) for the hulking Giannis Antetokounmpo, and as a hounding defender on and off the ball, one could settle for a lot worse to try to impede Trae Young. The Bucks don’t have a lot of head-to-head game tape on Young to work with from the regular season. Back spasms caused him to sit out of Milwaukee’s home win back in January, along with Clint Capela. Returning after missing two April games with a bruised calf, Young struggled to get going as The Fighting MLKs, absent John Collins and Danilo Gallinari and others, fell for the first time in Atlanta. The Hawks would make amends with a home win a week-and-a-half later, but Trae’s sprained ankle had him cheering from the sidelines. Since then, Budenholzer’s trusty assistants have had plenty of other opponents’ playoff tapes to pore through. Young has soldiered through his first postseason while nursing a sore shoulder on his shooting arm. Regardless of whether he or his teammates are struggling from the field, they have done more than enough, through ball movement, rebounding and defense, to outlast and sacrifice two of the NBA’s blessed, highly favored, sacred cows. Holiday will latch onto Trae, so long as he’s not needed to curtail other Atlanta shooters. If the situation changes, and if Young can swerve around the likes of Khris Middleton to serve up copious assists, this series won’t feel like much of a holiday for Milwaukee. Jrue is an All-Defensive First Teamer, but so was the wayward gentleman from Down Under who, with help from Trae and the Hawks, turned America’s sports programming into “B.S.”PN for the past two weeks. The Bucks lack the array of backcourt defensive assignments that Young faced when the Philadelphia series began. It’s in part due to Coach Bud’s short rotations (sorry, Jeff), and to an untimely injury. Because of an ankle ligament tear suffered in the Bucks’ opening round, Donte DiVincenzo won’t be able to participate in the proceedings with the Hawks. It must be noted that DiVincenzo is here with the Bucks, rather than Sacramento, because Bogdan Bogdanovic is not. Jon Horst and the Milwaukee front office jumped the gun in trying to secure another sweet-shooting guard before this season, perhaps to replace the soon-to-retire Kyle Korver. When talks with the Kangz fell through in November, Bogi entered restricted free agency, and he has since aided the Hawks’ rise to playoff prominence in the back half of this season. Meanwhile, the Bucks’ efforts to contact either him or his agent, prematurely, will dock them a second-round pick next year. How much more Milwaukee will have to pay, in the near term, for failing to reel in Bogdanovic will depend on the health of his knee, and his ability to improve on a disappointing postseason to date. Still Atlanta’s third-leading scorer at 13.8 PPG, Bogi has shot just 30.4 percent on threes in his first NBA postseason (28.0 3FG% vs. PHI). His ability to defend along the wing, while diminished, would be sorely missed if he cannot go for long stretches of this series, as the Hawks strive to keep Middleton, Bryn Forbes (40.0 Playoffs 3FG%) and Holiday in check. But there’s at least one Hawk who can, and occasionally has, stepped into the limelight and can help supplement, if not supplant, Bogi’s fullcourt production. Kevin Huerter is in Atlanta, likely, because DiVincenzo is not. Milwaukee took the 2018 Final Four Most Outstanding Player in the fateful NBA Draft, two picks before Atlanta selected the relatively unheralded Huerter. The heralds have been coming, however, for “K’Von” following his breakout performance in the decisive Game 7 victory over Philadelphia, serving as perhaps Atlanta’s most clutch performer throughout that uncanny contest. Huerter doesn’t need a reason, at this stage, to make the Bucks pay for passing him up. But should he seek out a reason, there you go. There was a time, just a few years ago, that Milwaukee really needed the services of Tony Snell. Middleton’s injured hamstring cost him over half of the 2016-17 season, pressing Snell into starting duties in his first season as a Buck. His efficiency as a shooter shined that season, and in the playoffs, and Horst’s first move as the new GM was to hand Snell a 4-year, $44 million deal to keep him around. That contract would be largely panned as among the worst in franchise history, on a club that has penned some real doozies in the past decade alone (Miles Plumlee, what up?). That contract also expires this season, and while Atlanta hasn’t really needed Snell to this point, back in March when they did, his jumpshot served as the match that ignited the Hawks’ improbable turnaround. The mini-dimensional but efficient-shooting Snell would relish some chances to show Milwaukee, and perhaps some suitors this summer, why he is known, today, as Mister 50/50/100. The year before DiVincenzo was picked, the Bucks had an array of power forwards to choose from at Draft time. Awash in Big Ten land, John Hammond and the Bucks’ brass went after Michigan standout D.J. Wilson, leaving T.J. Leaf for the rival Pacers. Down in ACC country, the Hawks were again two picks behind Milwaukee, and elected to go for John Collins. It’s looking like things worked out, in Atlanta’s case. Try to imagine, when Mike Budenholzer bolted from the ATL for Milwaukee in 2018, that he might have inherited not only one of the most impregnable forces in pro sports, an imperfect hoopster yet a two-time MVP before age 26, but another talented if imperfect tag partner in Collins (15.1 PPG and 10.0 RPG vs. PHI, on downright Snellian 54.7/38.9/85.0 shooting splits), who has now held his own at playoff time against the likes of Julius Randle and Tobias Harris. A Gianny-Johnny pairing could have been mighty useful when the top-seeded Bucks faced a 5-seed, Bam Adebayo’s Miami, in the second round of 2020’s playoffs. Instead of putting Collins to work during the course of his rookie deal at playoff time, in Milwaukee, Coach Bud had to put up with the dwindling utility of Wilson, who was DNP’d the entire postseason. Like Rakim, the Baptist this summer is about to be paid-in-full. But if he needs a reason to stick it to his rookie-year coach who abandoned him for supposedly greener pastures, jumping to a team that passed him up for Wilson, well… Wilson was supposed to be in Horst’s ill-fated package, last autumn, to Sacramento for Bogdanovic. Instead, he and another D.J., Mr. Augustin, brought a P.J. into town at this year’s trade deadline, along with the lightly-used Rodions Kurucs. Capela’s longtime teammate in the frontcourt, the 36-year-old P.J. Tucker (like Nate McMillan, the pride of Raleigh’s Enloe High School) exists primarily to be a thorn in the side of anyone he is assigned to guard. Daryl Morey’s team in 2020, as you’ll recall, ditched Capela to a rebuilding Atlanta team, because they thought the 6-foot-5 Tucker could adequately hold his own sliding over to Clint’s center spot on a title contender. Capela has already made Morey, now In Philly, pay for that miscalculation. While Clint won’t be able to see Mike D’Antoni anytime soon, over the next week or so, he can serve up some helpful reminders of what his former Houston bosses missed in the Bubble. Fortunately for Tucker, who took over for Pat Connaughton in the starting lineup for the Brooklyn series, he won’t have to worry much about going head-to-head with Clint. Getting passed up by Milwaukee in the Draft has often been a badge of honor. In Danilo Gallinari’s draft class of 2008, two picks after the Knicks’ selection, the Bucks went after Joe Alexander. The next big man taken two picks later, the New Jersey Nets’ Brook Lopez, has turned out quite alright. The man who wanted to retire with just one team, the star-studded club that now resides in Brooklyn, served a cold dish to them last weekend, putting his remodeled stretch-five game to good use under Coach Bud’s tutelage. Lopez and Antetokounmpo will strive to draw Capela out of the paint. But a Hawks defense that has held playoff foes thus far to an NBA-low 48.3 2FG% will be able to deploy any of Collins, Onyeka Okongwu or Gallinari to meet the Bucks bigs away from the rim, contesting mid-range shots and threes while permitting Clint to be in good position to protect the rim and secure defensive rebounds. Having endured the tricks of Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid in recent rounds, and as familiar as anyone with the antics of Tucker, Capela is ideally suited for this matchup with the Bucks’ frontcourt. Do you Hawks fans need some more red meat? How’s our old friend, Larry Donnell Drew, Sr., holding together this morning? You know, that “other” departing head coach that pulled the rug out from under Atlanta’s best-laid plans. Drew’s advice to his new employer forced the Hawks to come away with Dennis Schröder, in a familiar theme, two picks after our internally well-scouted international kid of mystery, Giannis, was snatched up by Milwaukee in 2013. Rewarded only with the chance to coach up Antetokounmpo’s 15-win rookie year, Drew is now an assistant for the Clippers. Yes, the crew coached by former Hawk (and Buck) Ty Lue, who was handed the steamroller keys just in time for LeBron ahead of 2015’s playoff run through what was left of Atlanta. Let’s say L.A., now down 2-0 after last night’s absurd finish in Phoenix, finagles a way past the Suns out West. What Hawks fan wouldn’t want (figurative!) swings at that pinata? Still, considering how his Milwaukee tenure ended, I can’t imagine which team LD is rooting for to come out of the East. The playoff campaign Atlanta has waged to date has been as much about the tried-by-fire steely maturation of coach McMillan’s Hawks as it has been about the myth-busting of certain opponents. Myth: Everyone get out of the way, because Julius Randle’s time is now. Myth: Ben Simmons doesn’t need to work on his shortcomings, or his attitude, to lead a team to championship glory. Myth: if you need a coach to get you beyond regular season merits and into The Finals, don’t waste time with old-hat options like McMillan. You need a coach for the modern age, one with a Spurs pedigree, one like Budenholzer, to get you to the top of the NBA pyramid. That last myth may prove true, for Phoenix. But in Milwaukee, absent a sound thumping of the Hawks and an advance into the championship round, the myth of Bud’s superiority as a whiteboard wizard has already teetered perilously close to busting in the past month. That pinata might only need four more whacks, and in a poetic twist, his former team holds the stick. The fans in and around Milwaukee’s newest arena are far more cool-headed than anybody Trae and the Hawks players have tolerated over the past month-plus along the Eastern seaboard. It’s all about that Midwestern Nice mentality, you know. Yet, like one St. Louis beverage company’s frosty beverage tagline used to say, don’t let the smooth taste fool you. To say little of one recent league MVP who has become not much more than a singles hitter as his team loses ground to the Cubs, and a reigning league MVP causing heartburn around the clock for his team, these are supremely anxious times for Wisconsin sports fans. They’re subsided only by the fact that Giannis chose not to dip his toe into the 2021 free agent waters, thereby ensuring the Bucks will get multiple cracks at title contention over the next few years, so long as he doesn’t pull a Kareem. But in the minds of many a fan, longtime vets along the Bucks’ roster, and Coach Bud himself, this crack might be the last, best one they’ll get. Wisconsin’s current pro basketball team, collected to avenge the ouster by a five-seed from the South that featured a narrative-busting breakout NBA star in 2020, finds itself in a familiar position this season. For a few local Bucks fans that are longer in the tooth, the city that took two of the teams Milwaukee once beloved, and the name of the team that stands in the way of a shot at its first title in 50 years, ring a bit too loud of a bell. By the end of either of the next couple of games, if a cane winds up tossed onto the Fiserv Forum floor, you’ll understand why. Thank you, Donorsquawkers! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  7. “Aaron-ald Mac-Donald, YOU’RE NEXT! What am I, a clown? Do I amuse you?” Tonight, it’s a tale of two coaches. There was one coach who was routinely meeting rational franchise expectations during the regular season. While skepticism abounded among the fanbase, ownership and management raved of the coach’s achievements, so much so they offered him an extension to demonstrate their confidence and (short-term) commitment, a full season before the coach’s “free agency” could arrive. But then, despite the adversity of an injured star or two, another uncompetitive finish in the NBA Playoffs had the fanbase grumbling and management compelled to do something drastic to shake things up, perhaps to save themselves. Thus, the well-established coach, fresh off a newly-minted contract extension, gets canned with due haste. That’s about where Indiana was last summer with Nate McMillan, now a Top-20 all-time NBA winner and the Atlanta Hawks’ not-interim-for-long head coach. This spring, that’s the likely situation Jon Horst and company will face regarding Mike Budenholzer, the two-time NBA Coach of the Year who brings his Milwaukee Bucks to Atlanta before yet another primetime audience (7:30 PM Eastern, TNT, 92.9 FM in ATL), and a growing number of Bucks fans giving Coach Bud the side-eye. There aren’t many professional coaches that can call their own shots coming off a 24-58 season. But Budenholzer, an eventual lame-duck victim of the Ferry and Friends fiasco in Atlanta, still had a Poptree pedigree in his pocket, while the Hawks’ peak franchise season of 2014-15 remained fresh in many struggling rivals’ minds. The coach with the 24-58 record had his choice of suitors even before the 2017-18 season could end with a soft firing by Atlanta GM Travis Schlenk. He settled on a team that had the burgeoning star, Giannis Antetokounmpo, that by all rights should have been Atlanta’s, as we all know by now how the draft story Drew itself up. Budenholzer inked a four-year deal, and the timing was perfect. Just as the Hawks’ 60-22 season of 2015 coincided with LeBron James leaving Atlanta’s division beforehand, the Bucks’ emergence with the Greek Freak to the exact same record occurred after LeBron left not only Milwaukee’s division, but the Eastern Conference for the first time in his storied career. Now, the Bucks’ tidy playoff exits are being comman-deer-ed by slightly less heralded folks, named Kawhi and Jimmy, that had just arrived with their new playoff teams. As Milwaukee (34-20, 3rd in NBA East, certain to be down from last season’s 56-17 first-place finish) completes a second-straight year of sliding downward in winning percentage, and as the playoffs near, this time, with a #1 seed and “homecourt advantage” throughout becoming less likely, there’s a queasy feeling permeating throughout Wisconsin, and the pandemic variant strains have little to do with it. Horst has been doing what he could to solidify and improve the team around his reigning two-time MVP. Antetokounmpo signed his five-year, $228 million extension deal just ahead of the season opener. Horst sent a slew of first-round picks and pick swaps to New Orleans to covert Eric Bledsoe into Jrue Holiday. Then, he recently handed the guard a four-year extension worth up to $160 million, making Holiday a third pillar with current top-contract Khris Middleton and Giannis. Useful additions Bobby Portis and Bryn Forbes (47.1 3FG% and 44.9 3FG%, respectively) were acquired as free agents in the offseason. At the Trade Deadline, Horst turned some D.J.s into a P.J., sending Messrs. Augustin and Wilson to Houston for P.J. Tucker and Rodions Kurucs. Not the best deadline pilfering of the Rockets in recent times, but it’ll do. Adding to the veteran presence and depth before the playoffs, former Hawks All-Star and new free agent Jeff Teague was brought back into the Budfold. The soon-to-be 33-year-old is no Malcolm Brogdon, but as long as Holiday (career-bests of 56.3 2FG% and 39.9 3FG%) can remain healthy, Teague (1-for-7 FGs as a sub in past two Bucks road wins, but 8-for-11 as a replacement starter vs. CHA last Friday) will do just fine. Questionable for this evening, Giannis (DNP’d last six games) has been riddled with knee soreness, and the up-and-down nature of the Bucks’ performances without him in recent weeks has unnerved Bucks Nation. If he’s again gimpy at playoff time, and the Bucks bow out in unconvincing fashion yet again, Horst understands he can’t fire the players. At the same time, there’s pressure to lock down Budenholzer for the sake of continuity, lest he kindly ask for permission to go job-hunting again when things go south this time next year. Mitchell Maurer of SB Nation’s BrewHoop ran Twitter polls to check the temperature of Bucks fans earlier this week, as the regular season rounds the final corner. While polls rarely turn out folks who are satisfied with anything, it was notable that 69 percent of respondents expressed either uneasiness or nervousness about Milwaukee’s playoff readiness. When pried further to categorize their feelings, only 15 percent cited “health/injury” worries, while over 45 percent chose “Coaching concerns,” and I don’t think any of them mean Darvin Ham. Budball has a different feel to it this season, I posit, because “3-and-speeD” hasn’t been as simple an approach. The Bucks have always lugged along vets to pair with Giannis and Middleton, particularly those who can clear out the paint to let Giannis get Freaky deeky. But center Brook Lopez (33.8 3FG%) has regressed from his peak 2018-19 season (36.5 3FG%) as a perimeter option and a rim-protector (1.4 BPG, down from a career-best 2.4 last year as an All-Defensive Second-Teamer). That’s caused Budenholzer to rely more on bug-eyed Bobby Buckets to hold the fort in the middle, certainly more than Portis has been accustomed to doing in his career, along with the aging Tucker, and Giannis himself. Antetokoumpo has improved markedly as a passer (career-high 6.2 APG), but he hasn’t made strides as a perimeter or free-throw shooter. Posting a league-best 3.09 Defensive RPM among power forwards in 2019-20, last season’s Defensive Player of the Year winner has ebbed to a fair-to-middlin’ 0.58 thus far, further harming his chances to three-peat as MVP even if Milwaukee (3.5 games behind first-place Philly) makes a late run toward the top of the NBA East. In contrast to McMillan’s Hawks, every member of the Bucks’ core, aside from 24-year-old Donte DiVincenzo, is now comfortably on the other side of age 25. As that brings the “Win-Now” wails from Wisconsites to a boil, the high pace of play characterized by Bud-coached teams (MIL’s 104.6 Pace in April is an NBA-high) are becoming more reliant on synapse than pure muscle-twitch. As @Spud2nique noted recently, the Bucks are a bit road-weary, the Hornets game representing the only interruption in a spate of road contests that stretches to nine tonight in Atlanta. Milwaukee (23-20 outside the Central Division) caught a bit of a break for unfortunate reasons, the curfew in Minneapolis forcing what was to be last night’s romp over the Timberwolves to be played and wrapped up a few hours earlier. While the Bucks will return home after tonight, the confines won’t be so comfy with the Grizzlies, Suns and 76ers (twice) paying them visits. Holiday is the designated ball-stopper on pick-and-rolls (NBA-high 7.7 P&R ball-handler possessions defended per game), but even Jrue gives up more buckets than he’d like (NBA-high 7.0 P&R ball-handler PPG allowed), in part because Bud demands the fouls be kept low (NBA-best 17.9 FTAs/game allowed), in part because of his team’s loosening defensive presence around the rim. The current NBA scoring leader among those ball-handlers on P&R plays? None other than Atlanta’s Trae Young (NBA-high 13.9 PPG, 0.5 more than lucky-ducky Luka). Heading into this primetime matchup on a back-to-back, the Bucks hope that, as with the status of Danilo Gallinari (sore footsie), Trae (bruised calf) will remain on the “out” side of questionable. Young, who joined Clint Capela in sitting out Atlanta’s 129-115 loss in Milwaukee on January 24, also leads The Association with 2.7 APG off drives. If he plays tonight, you can bet that Forbes and Middleton will be tasked with helping Holiday (career-high 1.8 SPG) and DiVincenzo (questionable, sore toe) keep hands in the dime jar. With or without Giannis, Milwaukee thrives on superior marksmanship (56.5 team 3FG%, 3rd in NBA). To counter, Atlanta will need to keep the volume of floaters and lobs high, and the turnovers and circus shots low. Milwaukee will do all it can to have someone less capable than Young kicking the ball out the paint, particularly to another fellow that was unavailable for that January contest, Bogdan Bogdanovic (last 9 games: 21.8 PPG, 52.7 3FG%, 4.3 APG, Shaq’s pronunciation tonight will be a doozy), or another shot-creator who was on another team at the time, Lou Williams (last 7 games: 52.4 3FG%, 12.9 bench PPG; 5.8 assists per-36). Hey, Chuck, who Lou play for? Back in January, John Collins, De’Andre Hunter and Gallinari carried the day for Atlanta, at the time a hopeful 8-8, with 80 of the Hawks’ 115 points in defeat. As Atlanta’s defense held the Bucks to an uncharacteristic 32.3 3FG% shooting display, Milwaukee needed Giannis to do a little bit of everything to keep the pesky Hawks at bay. This contest, as will be the case in ten days when these teams meet on the State Farm Arena floor again, is shaping up to be a whole new ballgame. Having already turned around the Hawks’ fortunes, McMillan is under little pressure to prove what he can do with the keys he was handed barely 45 days ago. Closing out the regular season, and individual games, strong enough to merit a Play-In-averting seed is the name of the game going forward. Trying to keep their string of victories versus Eastern opponents un-snapped (7-0) since McMillan took the reins full-time, Atlanta (30-25, now closer to #1 Philly than to #11 Toronto) lapsed in the final two minutes of Tuesday’s 108-103 win in Tampato. That the coach and the players recognized it for what it was is a sign of growth. After securing, hopefully, a Top-6 spot, all that should matter to Hawks Inc. is whether McMillan’s troops can at least avoid being swept in Woodsonian fashion to a top-tier team like Milwaukee, or otherwise embarrassed by lesser rivals like Charlotte, in the first round. If everyone gets and stays healthy at playoff time, the prospects of the Bucks making it out of the East and to The Finals is arguably as tough as ever under the Bud regime. Getting past Joel Embiid’s Sixers and the star-studded Brooklynites (happy trails, LaMarcus) in the second and final round of the Eastern Conference playoffs would be a tall order for anybody. For the Bucks, a healthier, well-coached and gelling team like the Hawks (7-1 this month, despite missing an abundance of key players) could pose problems in the opening series, certainly more fight and adversity than Nikola Vucevic and James Ennis could put up in last year’s Bubble. If Bud’s Bucks stop here, the eyebrows and the questions are sure to arise. Will Milwaukee want Bud to stick around? Will Antetokounmpo want Bud to stick around? Does Giannis even know what he does want? Say, Freak, if you want your team to dip into the well of fired Hawks coaches once more, Lloyd Pierce is still available, I’m just saying. Heck, why not the Bucks’ old friend, Larry Drew? In the meantime, both clubs and these two esteemed veteran coaches are simply out to tackle one game at a time, not four. For McMillan, historically, and for Budenholzer, especially right now, the NBA regular season has been the Best of Times. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  8. “While your team had a bad loss, my team had a…” Eh. What’s up, Doc? There was reason for us Atlanta Hawks fans to hope, with the Philadelphia 76ers trying to avoid losing their fourth-straight game without an ill Ben Simmons, and catching their second-straight L over three days in Milwaukee, that they’d at least put up enough fight to wear down the Bucks’ starters yesterday, maybe even force some overtime. That might have ushered Mike Budenholzer to sit his top-line starters for tonight’s game at State Farm Arena (7:30 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, BS Wisconsin, NBATV elsewhere), this being the back end of a back-to-back. Alas, Doc Rivers was a bad bunny. Our old friend valued MVP leader Joel Embiid’s right shoulder over whatever cushion the Sick-sers held over the Bucks (37-25, 2.5 games behind MIL, 1.5 behind PHI) for the second seed in the NBA East. With Embiid in absentia, Philly had Mike Scott on the floor, and poor Anthony Tolliver and Dwight Howard subbing in for Tobias Harris, while ex-Buck George Hill did his worst Simmons impression. None of the Sixer bigs were any match for Giannis Antetokounmpo (24 points in a light 24 minutes, 14 rebounds, 7 assists), who cruised yesterday into second-place behind Kareem among all-time Bucks scorers. Losing 132-94 before a national TV audience, Philadelphia put up no more resistance than the lowly Timberwolves did on April 14, the last time Milwaukee had to play the afternoon before traveling down to Atlanta with rested starters. Despite the Greek Freak being restrained to 25 minutes and 15 points (plus a game-high 3 steals), Trae Young, Clint Capela and the Hawks found themselves overtaxed on April 15. In that game, the Hawks were playing without John Collins and Danilo Gallinari, on top of their more usual suspects. Ten days later, Collins and Gallinari are suiting up for the rematch, but Young (out, sprained ankle) and Capela (out, sore back) are not. Then with the Bucks, Geo-Hill officially led the NBA with a 46.0 3FG% last season, despite taking three shots per game as a reserve. That’s a good sign for Budball bench beneficiary Bobby Portis (48.1 3FG%, 3rd in NBA, on 2.5 attempts per game), the Bucks big who is mere percentage points behind higher-volume Joes Ingles and Harris for the top spot in the league. Portis will work with bench mate Pat Connaughton (4-for-11 3FGs, 7 rebounds vs. ATL) and center Brook Lopez (3-for-6 3FGs, 12 rebounds vs. ATL), to lighten the loads of Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday and Giannis by securing defensive boards and hovering the offensive perimeter line. Young had himself a bad-hair day in the last outing with the Bucks, but just as telling of the Hawks’ woes on that evening was a lack of help rebounding and defense to support Capela. Milwaukee outrebounded Atlanta 14-8 on offensive boards, 37-31 on defensive ones, without Antetokounmpo having to do much heavy lifting. It’s unlikely the Hawks, today, will get the reprieve MIA’s M.I.A. Bam Adebayo (zero first-half rebounds vs. ATL) gifted them on Friday. Especially without Capela available, John Collins (20 points and team-high 8 rebounds in Friday’s pleasant 118-103 win over MIA) will need to have a monster day on the glass, as will Danilo Gallinari and Onyeka ("BIGGO!" There! A compromise!) Okongwu off the bench. But even Trae’s rebounding (5th on team in D-Rebs/game) will be missed unless Bogdan Bogdanovic (3.2 D-Rebs/game) and Kevin Huerter (2.8 D-Rebs/game) do their parts to get inside and help limit Bucks possessions to one-and-done. With JC shaking off any post-injury rust and 3-for-6 in his past two games beyond the three-point arc, he and Gallo will want to fight fire with fire and draw Milwaukee’s bigs out of the paint more frequently. Pick-and-pop actions featuring Bogdanovic (6-for-12 3FGs, team-high 28 points, 7 assists, 0 TOs vs. MIL on Apr. 15) and Brandon Goodwin (5-for-5 2FGs, 17 points, 4 assists off-bench vs. MIA) could do the trick, also forcing rotations that could free up teammates for open shots. The Bucks committed only 8 turnovers in their last visit here, and just one among the reserves, namely the suddenly springy Jeff Teague (5 assists, 1 TO vs. ATL on the 15th; 8 assists, 2 TOs in 15 minutes vs. PHI yesterday), who checked in for Holiday (7 assists, 2 TOs vs. ATL). Active wings in Huerter and Bogdanovic, along with Solomon Hill, forcing Giannis and others to take extra dribbles on drives into the paint, will create more opportunities for live-ball turnovers, and for Milwaukee fouls and Atlanta buckets in transition. If the curtain was about to open on Atlanta’s highly anticipated season, and I swooped in from the future to tell you, with no context, that 60 games in, the Hawks were a Top-5 team in the East, winners of 55 percent of their games, a break-even road record, and first place in the Southeast Division, with wins over the Nets, Sixers, Celtics (twice), heat (twice), Raptors (thrice), Nuggets, Lakers, and Clippers in their pocket, you’d rightly ask, “What are we waiting for, then? Let’s get this show started!” It’s why I’d be pleased with any Top-6 finish the Hawks (Magic Numbers: 4 w/ CHI & TOR to ensure a Play-In, 10 w/ CHA & MIA to ensure Top-6) would be able to achieve, especially with the coaching shift and the myriad of injuries serving as the backdrop. No matter the outcome today, it may turn out that, maybe, Milwaukee isn’t the eventual 3-seed the Hawks are chasing in their closing run. Perhaps, instead the North Star is the team that has dropped four in a row, the one Atlanta, after flying to Detroit tomorrow, pays a visit for two games toward the end of this week. I don’t know how much more incentive Coach Doc needs to go ahead and secure a top-2 seed in the East. Somebody, throw that man a few carrots. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  9. “Please, don’t T me up! I was just trying to do the Buss It Challenge. Now, I’m stuck like this!” Los Angeles’ Anthony Davis shoveled a pass down the right corner to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and the Milwaukee Bucks’ Donte DiVincenzo stood, with a foot still stuck in the paint, confounded. KCP had already hit six threes on that chill Thursday night. LeBron was closing out on his season-high 34, featuring six threes of his own, and Davis was chilling, too, with 18-9-and-6. Bucks defenders struggling to contain either Laker superstar left Caldwell-Pope and a slew of other contributors open all night. By the time Donte could react -- too late! KCP looks back at AD to see if he wanted it back, then confidently swishes three-pointer #7. For Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer, watching James and the LeBronnaires pick apart a team coming off two consecutive seasons as a #1 seed in the East had to be a haunting feeling. Hawks fans recall looking on in horror as a decimated Atlanta club, coming off its greatest regular season ever, finally made it to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2015, only to have J.R. Smith looking like the second coming of Kyle Korver, anytime they dared to double LeBron. The next season, in the conference semis, Coach Bud’s Hawks had to contain LBJ and the healthy Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, only to find themselves fit to be Fryed. The Cavs sank over half of their threes on the way to another 4-0 sweep and, this time around, an NBA championship. Bud did have one scrappy competitor coming off the bench in 2016’s series. Budding guard Dennis Schröder was taken two picks after Milwaukee stole Hawks prospect Giannis Antetokounmpo in 2013’s NBA Draft, and he outscored LeBron with 27 points in Game 1 of the second series. Bud would sour on Schröder, and Dwight Howard, as potential leaders he could hang his hat on. But, not before Dennis would help Atlanta pull off some more menacing wins over James’ Cavs in the regular season, during the Hawks’ last hurrah with Coach Bud still in charge. Bud had Luke Babbitt playing 42 minutes in November 2017, with rookie John Collins offering support off the bench. While LeBron’s Cavs, this time with Korver on their team, were figuring out what the heck Bud was up to, Schröder had 28-and-9, and the 1-8 Hawks stole one at The Q, doubling their win total and denying Cleveland a chance to return to .500 as they fell to 4-6. James was beginning to craft his exit, and so was Budenholzer. Both have had grand success in their new NBA locales. In L.A., James cleaned house throughout the organization, and commandeered the arrival of Davis and his next championship ring. Budenholzer elbowed his way into the opportunity to coach up the Greek Freak in Milwaukee, earning the Greek Freak a pair of MVPs, somehow a DPOY (which I think AD noticed), and some more Coach of The Year hardware for himself. This past week, the Lakers were in Milwaukee, on national TV, and this time with Schröder in his corner, James had the Bucks’ head coach in perpetual Budface mode. Los Angeles sank 51.4 percent of their threes on Thursday, three days after Kevin Durant and James Harden’s Nets teammates, Jeff Green and Joe Harris (combined 9-for-16 3FGs; whole team 48.4 3FG%), found themselves routinely wide open beyond the arc. Milwaukee won 60 games in his first season in charge, finished 2019-20 on pace for 63, but was stopped by Kawhi and Jimmy Buckets (or, if you prefer, Nick Nurse and Erik Spoelstra) from reaching The Finals. Even if he manages to get over the Eastern Conference hump at long last, is there a game plan for The James Gang that doesn’t feel, especially from the vantage point of Hawks fans, like the same old song, just with a different beat? The coach that replaced Budenholzer in Atlanta, Lloyd Pierce carries his Hawks into town tonight (8 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Wisconsin, NBATV) hoping to win four straight games for the first time since Bud’s Hawks were closing out the franchise’s last winning season, in 2016-17. Atlanta (8-7) will face a Bucks team that’s not wild about the prospect of losing three straight games again. The last time that happened, in March of last year, a 10-point loss by the 53-9 Bucks to the Lakers (LeBron and AD combined for 67 points) led to a three-game slide on the road, one that only ended because of the NBA season suspension. The ship never quite righted in the Bubble, the Bucks winning just 3 of the final 8 regular season games, getting upset once by the Magic in the playoffs’ opening round, then trounced by Miami’s three-point marksmen in a conference semifinal series that only went five games. One thing the Bucks (9-6) can’t complain about is rest. After beating Luka and the Mavs at Fiserv Forum to win their fourth-straight game, they had two days off before losing in Brooklyn, then a couple days off before falling here to the Lakers. Milwaukee has had a couple days off to lick their wounds before dealing with Atlanta tonight, and then they get a couple days more to rest before meeting the Raptors down in Florida. Given all this extra time to reflect and reset, the thing the Bucks must resolve is the knowledge that it’s possible to walk and chew gum when playing defense. Opponents have made the decision of whether to clamp down on opposing stars posting up or driving down the lane, or, to cut off and close out stopgap shooters waiting in the wings, an either-or proposition. They’ve already had five games where they allowed opponents to hit shots at a 45 percent clip or better, and they’ve lost the whole quintet. It’s not just Finals threats like the Lakers and Nets. After winning their Christmas Day game, the Bucks flew to New York and got trounced by 20 to the Knicks, who hit 59.3 percent of their 27 3FG attempts while also getting fouled and drawing plenty of trips to the free throw line. What Milwaukee would rather do is shoo ballhandlers and their passes inside the 3-point line, daring them to engage in a futile battle of interior field goal accuracy with Antetokounmpo (62.0 2FG%, highest of any active NBA’er w/ 9 or more 2FGAs/game), Khris Middleton (56.5 2FG%, belying his 44.3 3FG%) and Jrue Holiday (56.1 2FG%). While they won’t have to worry whether Clint Capela (∞ rebounds and ∞ blocks in Atlanta’s 116-98 win @ MIN on Friday) is going to go off this evening from outside, Milwaukee is going to rely on latching Holiday and DiVincenzo (combined 3.3 SPG) onto Trae Young (43 points, 8-for-12 3FGs @ MIN). The Bucks may catch a break, as both Capela (sore hand, as you might imagine yours would be) and Young (back spasms) are listed as questionable. Whether Trae plays, and stays hot shooting from deep, or not, Atlanta will need to get the ball out and around the horn to open jumpshooters the entire evening. Besides Rajon Rondo coming in during the ends of halves on Friday to pad the Hawks’ lead, and Young, Atlanta’s remaining Hawks shot a collective 4-for-17 versus the well-worn Wolves. Danilo Gallinari, and the swingman tandem of Cam Reddish and De’Andre Hunter, will see looser minute restrictions going forward after coming off injury absences of varied length. Getting these three, and Kevin Huerter, going on threes, and a dash of John Collins stepping out will keep Antetokounmpo defending in space, he and Middleton unable to help Brook Lopez and Bobby Portis inside as Atlanta crashes the glass in pursuit of putbacks and extra-chance opportunities. A plethora of wide-open made threes will help add to Budenholzer’s growing headaches. LeBron, AD and the NBA champs’ front office made strong offseason moves to bolster its chances for a back-to-back championship. Milwaukee did secure Giannis for a good while. But GM Jon Horst’s roster re-construction – replacing Eric Bledsoe with Holiday, depleting the bench of veteran talent – felt like a club that took a big step sideways after coming up short two postseasons in a row. There is ample time to fix what ails the Bucks, who threaten to slip out of the top-ten for defensive efficiency after leading the league the past two years. But even if they make it out of the East this summer, if the head coach doesn’t figure out how to tighten up their perimeter D by the time the Lakers show up, they can go ahead and nip their championship dreams in the… Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  10. (after correcting Bogdanovic's name, Woj added that the lyrical Justin James in thrown into the mix for Milwaukee, too) ~lw3
  11. Buyout, then Fly out! ~lw3
  12. “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
  13. “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): https://www.nba.com/gamenotes/bucks.pdf Hawks Game Notes (PDF): https://www.nba.com/gamenotes/hawks.pdf Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  14. "I'm shocked -- Shocked! -- there's thievery going on on EBay!" ~rolo What kind of Mickey Mouse operation is this? ~lw3
  15. “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
  16. **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
  17. Everybody gettin' 6-to-8 weeks these days. ~lw3
  18. “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
  19. “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