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  1. “What can YOU do for me?” Does the team with the worst road record (11-18) among the NBA East’s top 12 teams, and the only one with a losing record (18-19) among the East’s top 11, want to be among the seventh-through-tenth-place finishers in the East for a shot at the postseason? If so, the Atlanta Hawks will want to start chalking up road victories soon, as in, within hours, versus in-conference competition like the Boston Celtics (7:30 PM Eastern, 92.9 FM in ATL, TNT). It is odd that a club that had lost ten straight at their very own State Farm Arena holds the best home record among NBA East teams ranked 7-through-11. A 10-2 home stretch since MLK Day, punctuated by Saturday’s mid-game explosion against Toronto, helps facilitate that situation. The 100 points the Hawks allowed in that 27-point victory were the fewest since throttling the visitors from Boston, 108-92, back on January 28. While going 7-1 at The Farm at the outset of this season, before the swoon, Atlanta also held the Celts to double-digit scoring, prevailing 110-99 on November 17. It is similarly weird that a team that rattled off six straight wins away from home, just as the Panini started sizzling, would find itself so far behind its peers with respect to road records. Flubbed opportunities early and late over the prior two months in Miami, Toronto, Chicago and, prior to the All-Star Break in Beantown (42 Celtic third-quarter points, 17 by the Hawks in their 105-95 loss on Feb. 13), helped make that happen. The next-worst road team among the East’s Top-10, Charlotte was splattered in Milwaukee yesterday to fall to 15-17. Atlanta (29-31) will strive to ascend while playing four of its next five games on the road, beginning with the hosts tied for the most in-conference wins (36-27; 5.5 games behind top-seed Miami and ahead of Atlanta). Boston is tied with Milwaukee, who concludes the Hawks’ road-heavy run in eight days, for third in the East with 20 home wins, and the C’s can secure a winning home mark tonight. While coach Ime Udoka’s club sits in the sixth slot, they very easily could view today’s contest as 7/8 versus 9/10 elimination practice, conceivably against a playoff-steeled opponent that they would much rather avoid, and especially if the game were to be convened in the ATL. Boston fell a game below .500 on January 21, but they went on a 13-2 run to right their ship. As the Celtics seek to get back on the good foot following Sunday’s 128-107 loss to Oshae Brissett in Indiana, Atlanta could perceive Boston as the next short-staffed opponent whose time could be catching up with them. The Celts (105.3 D-Rating, 2nd-best in NBA) are at their letter-best when everybody crashes the glass, including headliner swingmen Jayson Tatum (career-high 8.3 RPG) and Jaylen Brown (career-best 6.3 RPG), allowing guards Marcus Smart and sixth-man newcomer Derrick White to hound ballhandlers at the point of attack. Keeping opponents one-and-done contributes to Celtic opponents shooting a league-worst 49.7 eFG%, the sole NBA team with an effective percentage below 50.0. Boston’s chances at victory are further optimized when Tatum (2-for-12 3FGs @ IND on Sunday) and Brown don’t try to shoot their way out of in-game slumps from the perimeter. That didn’t happen in Indy, with Smart and White similarly cool from outside (combined 2-for-12 3FGs), allowing the Pacers to go off to the races in transition, guard penetration setting up bigs like Brissett and Jalen Smith for threes from the corner and at the top of the arc. Third-lowest in transition frequency yet fourth-best in transition efficiency (1.16 points per possession), the Hawks can exploit the Celtics’ halfcourt-oriented defense. But that only works if the bigs with jumpers help the wings seal off driving lanes for Messrs. Tatum and Brown, help Clint Capela and Onyeka Okongwu secure possessions, and then get out and run to their spots in anticipation of tasty dishes from Trae Young (41-and-11 vs. TOR in Sunday’s bounce-back performance). Danilo Gallinari, largely a non-factor in Boston last month in relief of the rehabbing John Collins (doubtful, strained foot), and Gorgui Dieng can make Al Horford and Robert Williams pay for parking around the paint. This remains a topsy-turvy season for the Hawks, and it will get even more so if they fail to right their wrongs on the road during the week to come. Opportunity knocks, though, and with Collins soon to return, Atlanta is in prime position to transform this season’s bizarre into a bazaar. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  2. “’Come join me up in Boston!’, Al said. ‘It’ll be fun!’, he said…” Nope, I’m not putting any more energy into this gamethread, ahead of this Superb Owl Sunday matinee with the Boston Celtics (2 PM Eastern, 92.9 FM in ATL, ABC), than our Atlanta Hawks put into guarding people. Like the Spurs’ Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell doing the Ickey Shuffle on our floor all night long on Friday, today, I’m in the business of cooking wings and things! My lemon pepper joints are called the De’Andre Hunters. Spicy BBQ? The Kevin Huerters. Even the Traes? Why, yes, those starters are Parmesan Garlic! Just ask Danilo. Yum-yummy! We won’t have Dennis Schröder around to bring any Sauerbaten to the party. But I’m told a former Spur named Derrick (3-for-7 3FGs in the Celts’ Friday win over the Nuggets) has this White cheese dip that goes with everything. I grew up watching the Celtics host the 76ers on Superb Owl Sundays, in what was supposed to be an annual tradition at the Gahden. That was until Dr. J aged out and the Sixers basically stopped playing along. Hopefully we’ll reach a stage where Trae Young (probable, hip discomfort from trying to do The Dirty Bird with Delon Wright, who’s probable, and John Collins, who’s strained foot has him out) is a loosely welcomed visitor to Beantown around this time every year. But we’ll never get there if the Hawks’ defensive carelessness becomes traditional first. Don't Keep That Lame Energy! Today is a day custom made for @TheNorthCydeRises! Here’s hoping it’s a Superb one! Who Dey! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  3. “Coach, I know you put Dennis in charge of team bonding exercises on the road. But picking fights at hookah bars? I don’t know…” Two towns before the Bravos arrived in Atlanta, a Boston Post sports editor penned a handy poem about two WWII vets who took turns on the mound to charge his town’s baseball heroes up the hill in the National League standings: First we'll use Spahn then we'll use Sain Then an off day followed by rain Back will come Spahn followed by Sain And followed we hope by two days of rain. “Spahn and Sain, then, Pray for Rain” the shortened epigram became, honoring the pair of Boston hurlers who won eight consecutive, weather-delayed games, including swept doubleheaders, over the course of 12 September calendar days. MVP runner-up Johnny Sain and Warren Spahn were key to the 1948 Bravos seizing just their second NL pennant since 1901. Major League baseball, of course, has never been in a similar situation as professional basketball. In the latter, so long as the roofs are in good working condition, you have no hope of getting rained out. In 2022, sixteen NBA teams make it into the league’s postseason, eight from each conference, compared to just one from each of MLB’s two, separate-playing, eight-team leagues racing toward 1948’s World Series. Only Dwight Howard would be surprised to find that, in basketball, pine tar can’t help you gain an edge. There’s one other notable difference between Boston’s diamond stars of yore and their perennial hardwood All-Stars of today. For all their burgeoning greatness, teammates Spahn and Sain weren’t able to help each other win in the same game. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown can, and when they do that, today’s Boston Celtics are a much stronger pennant-chaser. But the duo still needs help. Many of us who grew up well after WWII concluded were under a misguided impression that “Pray for Rain” was a suggestion the other pitchers in Boston’s starting rotation were indeed chopped liver. Bill Voiselle won nearly as many games as Spahn, while Vern Bickford had a spiffy 11-5 record on the mound. Messrs. Tatum (team-high 26.0 PPG; career-high 8.5 APG, but career-worsts of 42.7 FG%, 33.1 3FG%, and 3.0 TOs/game) and Brown (career-high 6.0 RPG; 45.4 FG% lowest since rookie year) could use some Voiselles and Bickfords on a nightly basis down the stretch. That’s where former Atlanta Hawks Dennis Schröder and Al Horford could come in handy. I am most assuredly misremembering, as The Menace and The Bawse return once more this season to State Farm Arena in Celtic green (7:30 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, ESPN), but I have a hard time recalling a bunch of great moments involving specifically these two first-round draftees together on the floor in Atlanta. There was Horf’s Game 5 playoff putback of Dennis’ miss versus the Wizards, and then, my head starts to hurt. Al had to miss out on much of Dennis’ rookie season due to an early-season injury. But in the next two of Dennis’ developing years, Coach Bud paired the sixth-man guard with Horford more than any other Hawk. As fans, we managed to transcend Horford’s 2016 departure to chase gold balls in Boston by critiquing that, even at his All-Star peak, he was individually incapable of wooing talent to join forces in Atlanta, in the same manner teams were doing with him. His chase didn’t pan out, either there or in Philadelphia. Around the end of 2020, Al would soon find himself entering the revolving door in Oklahoma City that Dennis exited weeks before. Horford sat out much of his time with first-rounder-voracious OKC, and engineered his way back to Brad Stevens, now a Celtics GM presiding over rookie coach Ime Udoka’s roster. Horford found his recruiting chops in the ensuing months of summer 2021, blowing up Schröder’s DMs and making his pitch. Dennis, it turned out, was not the addition the reigning champion Lakers needed to wage a repeat in 2021. He further fumbled The Bag by declining a hefty contract extension offer from LeBrongeles, “betting on himself” and having to settle for modest contract offers this past summer. Horford appealed to Schröder’s desire to handle the ball more, and he asserted the guard’s gritty approach would be a fine, fan-friendly fit beside Marcus Smart and others. Horford was also an avid seller of Udoka, who was an assistant coaching up Al while he was struggling in Philly, and who worked with Brown, Smart and Tatum during 2019’s FIBA World Cup. Now it’s just a matter of putting it all together. Much like Nate McMillan and the Hawks, there are signs that the C’s are turning a corner. Just in time, for some players, before GM reapers like Stevens and Travis Schlenk swing their scythes ahead of the Trade Deadline. With the punctual Robert Williams (career-high 17 rebounds vs. SAC; last 15 games: 74.2 FG% and 2.8 BPG) manning the pivot, Horford isn’t obligated to wear his pectorals out at his least favorite position on the floor. Schröder’s usage is roughly the same as last season with the Lakers, but scoring has been a marginal uptick. While he has been vastly better in the starting five (48.6 starter FG%, 34.9% as a reserve), recent games reveal that Udoka hasn’t had to rely on Dennis’ mercurial output from one game to the next. Out in the NBA West there is already a cap on the top ten seeds, considering Portland at #10 has its lead star returning in the coming weeks while the Blazers have arguably the simplest remaining schedule in the league. “Musical chairs” remain the game in the NBA East, as 12 teams vie for ten slots. Teams like Atlanta and Boston will face weaker sets of opponents, just as they are steeling up their all-around play and as the schedule toughens up for rivals like the Knicks. Atlanta will continue spending the next couple of weeks fine-tuning their rotations in their home nest. To assure a shot at the postseason, though, both the Hawks (9-14 away games; 3-6 since its six-game run of road wins ended in December) and Celtics (10-14 away) have to get up to even-steven with their road games, considering none of the East’s top-6 have losing road records, while Charlotte, Toronto and New York are all currently a game below .500. As Sacramento learned the hard way, when both Brown and Tatum (66 combined points on 12-for-26 3FGs, plus 9 assists and 2 TOs vs. SAC on Tuesday) are shooting and passing proficiently and simultaneously, the Celtics can play hardball with anyone. Two days before passing on the remains of the Kings to Atlanta, the Celts traveled to D.C. and waxed the Wizards by a 116-87 score, with Tatum contributing 51 of the star duo’s 68 points and half of their 20 rebounds, plus a team-high 7 dimes. Well-rested, Boston’s road schedule won’t get any easier than it will after tonight’s game. Tomorrow, they’re in New Orleans. Next weekend, it’s Detroit, then Orlando. To keep the Celtics’ iron from striking while hot, Hawks perimeter defenders need to make Boston’s truest three-point threats, Grant Williams (3-for-8 3FGs in their 110-99 loss @ ATL on Nov. 17) and Josh Richardson put the ball on the floor. Leaving Schröder, Brown and Tatum to settle for off-rhythm heaves and boxing out Williams (DNP’d, along with Brown on Nov. 17) and Enes Freedom will maximize the Hawks’ chances to extend their home streak to five games. Balanced scoring and perimeter closeouts were keys to the Hawks’ November victory over Boston (11-for-41 team 3FGs on Nov. 17). The then-inactive De’Andre Hunter ought to be able to at least duplicate what Cam Reddish (19 points on 7-for-8 2FGs, 1-for-6 3FGs, plus 3 steals vs. BOS on Nov. 17) brought to the proceedings. Stout defensive rebounding from starters John Collins and Clint Capela negated an off perimeter shooting display from Trae Young (0-for-6 3FGs; 11 assists and 10-for-10 FTs but 6 TOs), as did a solid fullcourt performance from Kevin Huerter (5-for-7 3FGs). Having Hunter and an emerging Onyeka Okongwu in play shouldn’t hinder the Hawks’ impacts on the interior, keeping Boston over-reliant on contested jumpers from its wayward-shooting stars. A pall was cast over Turner Network Television studios in Midtown yesterday evening, as Ernie Johnson announced the final starter to represent the Eastern Conference guards in the 2022 All-Star Game. For the other Atlanta residents on the set, the silence following EJ’s neat-o utterance of “Trae Young”, the reigning conference player of the week, represented considerable disappointment. But given the way NBA fan balloting works, it should not have been a surprise to any of them. Horford and Schröder laid the blueprint, long ago, that the way to make a lasting name for oneself was to get into the postseason, draw a big-media East Coast darling, and at least threaten to crush their fans’ dreams. Paul Pierce probably still owes a stack from Al’s rookie playoff voyage in 2008. Eight years later, Dennis made himself the foil of beloved cover-boy Isaiah Thomas, as Horford and Paul Millsap ended the Celtics’ season neatly and prematurely at the Garden. Six years later, while IT scratches and claws to stick anywhere in the big leagues, Horford is desired and admired in Boston once more, and he brought Schröder along with him for the ride this time. These ex-Hawks don’t get the All-Star love that Young received for his recent postseason exploits. But they can help secure a reserve spot for at least one Celtic star, and firm up postseason positioning, with continued cohesive play over the course of the next couple of weeks. For the big playoff push – Tatum, and Brown, and then what? With a Nor’easter bearing down over the next few days back home, Bostonians and Bay Staters would thank their lucky stars for some quick-dissolving rain. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  4. I wuz wrong, y'all! He's not On The Move like I figured he'd be. Not yet, anyway! ~lw3
  5. “I liked Beard Club for Men so much… I bought the company!” I didn’t have many wild NBA preseason predictions, except for this one: Danny Ainge, quietly, is preparing for his exit from Boston. Ainge doesn’t wait for rumors to swell before he decides he wants to spend more time with family. You’ll recall the Phoenix Suns were just six weeks into the 1999-2000 season, doing just fine at 13-7 when Ainge, then their 40-year-old coach and the newest inductee of the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame, said he wasn’t “jumping ship.” He was “diving overboard,” he insisted, “to save his family,” leaving his still-young star backcourt of Jason Kidd and Penny Hardaway on deck, scratching their heads, without a paddle. Danny righted the ship back home, then rowed his boat ashore at Boston, his legendary old team from the 1980s, to preside over basketball ops in 2003. He turned the tide for the Celtics with some celebrated maneuvers in 2007’s offseason. Since Boston earned its last banner in 2008, he has swung one big offseason deal after another to keep the C’s afloat. My hunch is, he sees it’s time to set sail again. Ainge moved his family to the tidy suburb of Wellesley, Massachusetts upon harpooning the Celtics executive gig. But his soul screams, “West Coast Guy.” A three-sport high school All-American at Eugene High in Oregon, Ainge tantalized scouts as a collegian in Provo, Utah. Perhaps while playing with the Blue Jays in Toronto while studying at Brigham Young, he realized basketball might grant him more personal agency to move about. But he couldn’t complain about getting drafted by Larry Bird’s Celtics in 1981. After getting traded away in 1989, Ainge remained on West Coast teams – the Kings, the home-state Blazers, the Suns, for the balance of his NBA career. He retired in 1995 as a Sun, and after a spell as a TNT analyst he returned to run Phoenix’s team as its head coach the following season. He’s had his share of health issues, notably mild heart attacks in 2009 and in 2019, and you could do a lot worse than hanging around Beantown when you’re in need of top-notch medical care. But there’s this feeling, on my end, that Danny left his heart somewhere within 750 miles or so of San Francisco. It’s impressive that, as a GM/PBO for nearly 20 years with the same team, Ainge has never had to fire a head coach. Jim O’Brien sparred with Ainge’s roster re-shuffling before pulling an Ainge himself and resigning in the midst of the 2003-04 season. John Carroll finished out that season as an interim, then Ainge hired TV analyst Doc Rivers. Rivers endured feisty rookie guard Rajon Rondo, hung on long enough to win his ring with The Three Amigos, and looked on sadly as the plan to hand the leadership torch over to Rondo, a four-time All-Star, went up in flames as his pupil suffered through one debilitating injury after another. Shortly after one in the middle of 2012-13 quashed Rajon’s season and the Celtics’ title dreams, Doc and Danny finagled a trade that sent the coach to the Clippers. And then, there’s Coach Brad. The former Final Four wayfaring Butler U. coach, Brad Stevens has been at the helm since 2013. His Celtics could never quite get past LeBron James’ Cavaliers in the conference finals, then came up short in 2020’s conference finals against LeBron’s old coach, Erik Spoelstra, when the Miami heat made it out of the East to face James’ Lakers last season. While banners ultimately matter for this franchise, the Celtics haven’t had a 50-win season since 2017-18, Stevens’ peak season derailed by Kyrie Irving’s injury a mere month before the playoffs arrived. Percentagewise, it’s not looking likely they’ll be in the ballpark this season, either. The path to championship contention has been rocky this season for the Celtics. They have their current Big Three edition (Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum) together finally, now that Walker is working his way through injury management for his knee and Tatum is withstanding his personal bout with COVID. But Marcus Smart has been out all this month due to a strained calf, while Daniel Theis injured his finger midway through a bad loss at Washington, pressing Tristan Thompson (how is that man not 30 yet?) and the semi-sized Semi Ojeleye into extended frontline minutes. Boston (14-13) inched back above .500 with a relieving 112-99 win here at TD Garden, against a Denver Nuggets team also initiating a back-to-back, last night. But as they make a quick turnaround to face the struggling Atlanta Hawks tonight (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Boston) and on Friday, inching above .500 in the Eastern Conference is not where Ainge, Stevens, and the Celtics’ fanbase wish to be. Ainge has been quick to shield his coach from the sour dispositions overheard on Boston tahk radio. “We’re not playing with the passion that we need,” Ainge acknowledged to Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe a few days ago, adding, “I think that’s on the players. And the players on the team are on me.” “This was a team that was put together by me,” Ainge continued. The extent of Boston’s offseason, in a nutshell, was trading away Stevens’ former Butler star Gordon Hayward for not much more than a trade exception that’s unlikely to be used, coming away with Payton Pritchard and Aaron Nesmith in the Draft, dispatching Enes Kanter to Portland for some second-rounders, and adding Hawks two-timer Jeff Teague and Thompson to patch up the roster holes. That doesn’t scream, “GM of a conference finalist going full-bore to push his club over the hump into The Finals.” “We’re not playing with enough consistency and,” (trigger warning, Hawks fans: here comes The U Word!) “urgency, and it’s my job to look to see what we can do to improve the team, but that’s always much harder than improving from within.” Those comments are intended to comfort Celtic fans and take some heat off of Coach Brad (a little heat around Boston right now would be nice). But, as has been well documented around here, Ainge rarely ever makes a splash before the NBA Trade Deadlines arrive. While the Celtics strive to achieve full health and, indeed, improve from within, my guess is that Ainge sees his marathon of pulling Boston’s strings has run its course. Having gone 5-10 over the past month, Boston got back into the win column by handling business at home yesterday against a Nuggets team that itself was without some key pieces – Paul Millsap, Will Barton, Monte Morris, P.J. Dozier, Gary Harris. The C’s resorted to letting Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray (combined 68 points, but 12 TOs) have at it while neutralizing their teammates’ abilities to chip in. Given that Denver had to overplay guys like Zeke Nnaji, R.J. Hampton and Facundo Campazzo while saving up bodies for the Wizards today, the victory for the Celts, while resounding, wasn’t terribly reassuring. Even a series sweep as a gift from the sputtering Hawks is unlikely to win over hahts and minds up in what used to be known as Brady Country. The Celts will swing south next week, visiting the Pelicans and then the Mavs one day before arriving at State Farm Arena. Everyone wants to see a strong finish by this team before Brown (career-highs of 26.0 PPG, 3.4 APG, 55.7 2FG/41.5 3FG/75.2 FT shooting splits), a fixture of the summertime protests here in Atlanta, returns home once more, for a likely spot in the All-Star Game. The building of positive momentum up the conference standings, regaining parity with the Bucks, Nets and Sixers, need not wait for the second-half schedule to commence. Much has been made of the Celtics’ offensive ills, characterized by excessive iso-ball (5th in isolation play frequency, but 5th-worst with 41.3 eFG% on those plays, barely better than Atlanta’s 39.4%) and poor finishing around the basket. Finally heeding former Celtic Dominque Wilkins’ pleas, Boston swung the ball from side-to-side last night. They produced decent looks, particularly outside the three-point line above the arc (Brown was 5-for-9 from this variable range). Brown turned over the ball a season-high seven times, and Tatum suffered through a poor perimeter shooting night. But they and many Celtics were especially good getting deep in the paint and scoring (17-for-20 within 7 feet vs. DEN, as per bball-ref). Without guys like Millsap around to be a bother, Boston did a better job of reading the defense while penetrating, producing opportunities to score or create for teammates. Lloyd Pierce has left the Hawks to spend more time with family, too, but just momentarily. Pierce’s second child is on the way, leaving head coaching duties to Nate McMillan, who split last year’s season series versus Stevens while coaching Indiana. Whether or not Nate Mac turns around the Hawks’ fortunes during their stay in Boston, if Atlanta (11-16; 1-7 this month) continues their string of lagging starts and dragging finishes, as evidenced in Monday’s 123-112 flop in New York, LP may soon wind up with more family time than he anticipated. Struggling coaches, like Pierce and Stevens, offer up the old secret recipe of “We got good looks, we’re just not hitting shots!”, and “Our opponents just couldn’t seem to miss!”, with a few added herbs and spices, during increasingly dour press conferences. For the Hawks, sitting around and waiting to see find out what kind of shooting day their opponents will have is not getting the job done. The only teams near Atlanta, with their 11.0 opponent TO% this month, are the Jazz and the Suns. But those teams (now) have high-caliber defenders around the perimeter (Conley, CP3 and Bridges), no longer just relying on Donovan Mitchell and Devin Booker to step it up and force tough shots on that end. Those teams are winning, although I bet Phoenix would have liked a second-half stop or two last night against Brooklyn to keep their winning streak alive. If Cam Reddish (four steals, total, and 1.9 D-Rebs/game in 8 February starts) is no longer in the business of producing turnovers and getting stops, then he must at least be capable of staying in front of his man when his opponent’s handling the rock. Reddish, Trae Young and Kevin Huerter must entice Boston’s backcourt ballhandlers to settle for, “Oh, heck, why not?” contested jumpers and rely on C+C Muscle Factory members John Collins and Clint Capela to limit opportunities for putbacks and second-chances. They’ll get somewhat of a break tonight, as Walker sits and a rested Teague (DNP vs. DEN) starts with assistance from the eager-beaver rookie Pritchard (7 assists, 1 TO vs. DEN; 42.4 3FG% this month), but adherence to defensive principles remains the same. Tony Snell (sore Achilles) is available to help out as well. At the other end, shooting one’s way out of a slump occasionally entails going 1-for-4 on threes, not 2-for-8 in games like Reddish had on Monday. You’re not getting out from under sub-20-percent perimeter shooting by lofting seven or eight chances every game, as was the case for Cam in the last two losses, extending Atlanta’s record to 0-7 when he takes more than five 3FG attempts (1-2 last season, the losses in blowout fashion versus the Bulls and Cavs). As he demonstrated by fumbling away Atlanta’s last chance at getting off the mat to seize the lead in New York, Cam is over-dribbling and not electing to pass the ball much. Zero games with four or more assists, while shooting as wretched as he has been, is the definition of a “Ball Stopper”. To cut down on the “BS”, Reddish must understand with his open looks that there’s a reason he’s as open as Narragansett Bay, and he must commit instead to more intentional drive-and-kick action, aided by teammates getting open for passes, helping Atlanta’s offense (52.4 February eFG%, 23rd in NBA and just above Boston’s 51.3%) avoid another day of doomed dormancy. Cam’s on a streak of eight games with at least one assist, but as Huerter understands (5.0 APG, 1.6 TOs/game, 1.3 SPG and 41.5 3FG% in February) coming away with a paltry one or two assists, and few defensive stops or transition buckets, is insufficient. Red Velvet hasn’t done much of late with his own green light (8-for-30 from the field in last 3 games, incl. 4-for-20 on threes), but at least he gets the hint that if his shot isn’t falling, he has to do more for his team than just keep firing away until it does. Ainge has exhausted what once seemed to be a treasure trove of other teams’ first-round picks, moves that cemented his “Trader Danny” reputation. Brown himself arrived as a result of the Nets getting thirsty for KG and Paul Pierce in 2013. Tatum came by way of the Sixers’ thirst to move up and take Markelle Fultz, Philly dangling Sacramento’s fumbled 2017 pick as bait. The Celtics have all of their own future first-rounders in tow, but with the organizational bent against tanking (don’t have anybody recalling the big chase back in the day for Tim Duncan), it’s unlikely to see much of that bearing fruit, not in the form of out-the-box future stars. With eleven Celts under contract for next season, Theis being the most noteworthy exception, with Stevens locked down under a multi-year contract extension, with his middling team over-the-cap and hard-capped, and with Giannis locked down for the foreseeable future, I don’t get the sense Ainge wants to hang around much longer to see things play out. Danny (and eldest son Austin, current Celtics player personnel chief) look West and see a younger son, Tanner, serving as a county commissioner in Provo. Cooper Ainge tried his luck as a walk-on at BYU. Youngest son Crew went to play ball at Utah State before returning to The Bay State to finish his college years at hometown Babson College. Yet another BYU grad, Danny’s nephew was with the G-League’s SLC Stars, waived last week only after injuring his foot in the Glubble. The Celtics, anchored by passing local legends Tom Heinsohn, KC Jones, Frank Ramsey and John Havlicek, seem to have been the only reason Ainge ever came East, and the organization, with its waning lore, appears to be the only thing still tethering his family to this coast. The destiny is near-manifest. Out in L.A., LeBron and AD aren’t going anywhere, and you can best believe the wannabe contenders in the Western Conference are willing to do what it takes to get on the defending champion Lakers’ level, and quickly. Portland always feels like they’re a couple pieces away, maybe they’ll seek to demote Neil Olshey and entice Oregon’s prodigal son home. Phoenix is on the come-up, maybe they’ll find room to give Ainge a second chance to make a first impression. Utah would move whatever Ainge perceives as heaven and earth to get him in their front office. Perhaps the Clippers want to saddle up to the table with Boston again, for more of a front-office-oriented swap this time around? He’s no longer the Young Man he was when he left his prior NBA job. But don’t be too surprised if Danny Ainge jumps on the urge to Go West. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  6. “CELTIC PRIDE!!!” Al Horford is in his happy place, y’all! No, for real, this time. “It was like, ‘Maybe he’ll stay,’ but then it was, ‘Nah, he’s probably going to leave just based on how everything was.” That wasn’t someone else talking about Al during his final season in Atlanta. This was Al himself, speaking years later to the Boston Herald from Philadelphia, about Kyrie Irving. Horford didn’t even come to Boston, for the first time, ditching his initial Atlanta-based NBA employer, with the intention of playing with Irving. Then a fellow 2016 All-Star, cool-story point guard Isaiah Thomas was doing all the wooing of Horford necessary to facilitate the schemes of team prez Danny Ainge and head coach Brad Stevens. In his big-money run free agency run, The Godfather’s gambit worked, to an extent. With the Celts, Al found his way back to 50-plus-win seasons, plus division crowns and the Eastern Conference Finals twice. He even found himself on the winning side against LeBron -- for a game, or three. Isaiah’s personal challenges and injury disrupted his participation in the 2017 ECF, leading Stevens to turn to Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder, not Horford, to lead the scoring and rebounding, respectively. Ainge then went for an upgrade at point guard, swapping the injured Thomas out (with a second-round pick that would one day become Atlanta’s Skylar Mays) to Cleveland for Irving. Kyrie was superb, until late-season knee surgery obviated his availability for the 2018 playoffs. Another big-fish acquisition by Ainge, Gordon Hayward was out for the season nearly from the jump. At the ECF this time around, Al was the clear man in the middle, but the players Stevens turned to versus LeBron and the Cavs were under-23 youngsters Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, as scoring finishers, and Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier, as passing playmakers. Heroically, that was enough for Kyrie-less Boston to push Cleveland to seven games. “If you’ll have me back,” Kyrie, the future free agent, would tell an aroused crowd at a preseason fan event at Boston’s TD Garden, “I plan on re-signing here.” That turned out to be the height of Irving’s relationship with the fans, and apparently the team. Dysfunction, dismissiveness and disarray pervaded the 49-win C’s, touted as a preseason title contender, ahead of 2019’s playoffs. As the new kids on the Eastern bloc, Milwaukee, made quick second-round work of the green goblins, Kyrie carried the playmaking banner, but was a scattershot mess, while Hayward never could get himself back up to speed. As for Boston’s top rebounder at playoff time, it was once more not Horford, rivaling Hayward with his hefty $28 million salary, but $5 million man Marcus Morris. Boston was content to accept Horford’s competent yet muted playoff output. Until free agency arrived for him once again. Sixer Pride! The Celtics, for all their issues, had been able to stay two steps ahead of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons in the Atlantic Division, even dispatching the Sixers in 2018’s playoffs. But much like Horford jumped ship in Atlanta to join an incomplete team that he defeated in the prior year’s postseason, he thought he was both taking a windfall and completing another team’s championship puzzle, in joining forces with The Process’ prizes in hated-rival Philadelphia. The handsomely-paid and indispensable glue-guy was now derided as “Average Al” by the bean counters he abandoned in Beantown. Horford saw how the last departing Celtic co-star that fans jeered, Ray Allen, turned out okay. “I believe not only that I am worth a certain amount of money,” Horford shared with the Herald in 2019, a veiled reference to Boston’s challenges to re-compensate him while also chasing Kemba Walker to replace Kyrie, who had another division rival in mind. “But also, I want to be in a position that I have a really good opportunity to win now. You know, my window is now.” While he got his second windfall, that window seemed to have closed right on his fingers. Al was certain he’d be able to play at his long-coveted 4-spot alongside All-NBA 2nd-Team center Embiid. But Embiid and Simmons missed time, forcing Al to spend more time in the frontcourt at the pivot, beside Tobias Harris. At either position, his floor-spacing, jab-stepping jumper betrayed him, earning the ire of the Philly boo-birds. Only Joel returned at playoff time, and with teams in the Bubble, Horford was spared the indignity of getting swept out of the first round – to Boston – in front of live, livid Philly fans. Incoming Sixer GM Daryl Morey wasted little time in exiling Horford to Mike Muscala’s Oklahoma City, attaching a lightly-protected first-rounder to Al’s salary, ahead of last season. Fully cognizant of their new lot in Western Conference life, the Thunder were thrilled to have Al around, primarily, as a handsomely-paid de facto coach and role model for its legion of age-25-and-under upstarts. Asked not to appear for the final 28 games, Horford graciously accepted his new role, as a long-heralded NBA veteran biding time until his $27 million annual salary approaches a valuable, more expiring phase. Acquired for yet another first-rounder as the Celtics dumped Kemba, a well-rested Al is back with Boston, and he understands his addition to NBA teams no longer gives off the scent that championship aspirations are around the corner. Stevens has no desire to deal Horford away, in this season or ahead of 2023’s trade deadline. As far as Celtic fans are concerned, “Maybe he’ll stay,” will be the least of their worries the next time around. At least he gets to play, and start, now. Horford returns to face the team where, a decade ago, he earned his one and only All-NBA Third Team badge. About five-and-a-half years after ditching the Atlanta Hawks, a team that he believed peaked with him in 2015’s ECF, he will share the State Farm Arena floor with one of the reigning Eastern Conference finalists (7:30 PM Eastern. Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Boston). It's a different perspective in Boston this go-round. Ainge has stepped aside from the PBO role as he angles for Portland’s soon-to-be-open job. He handed the keys over to Stevens, who leapt at the chance to bring Horford back in the fold. “Five years ago, when I had to make a tough decision and leave Atlanta, Danny and Brad, they sold me on this – the Culture – what we’re trying to build in Boston, and winning, getting that Banner 18,” Horford said, as reported by Boston-dot-com, in this past June’s post-trade press conference. This Culture club tumbled for him, but no one holds any illusion that this shapes up to be some Banner season. Not even with a net-scorching tandem in Brown and Tatum, and Stevens’ replacement on the sideline in first-year headmaster Ime Udoka, a descendant from the Pop-lar Tree in San Antonio who assisted Al under Brett Brown in Philly. With its two top scoring stars working past the after-effects of catching COVID, for Boston (7-7), every day is like survival. Al (13.1 PPG, 8.8 RPG) is fine with this, especially since, while he starts at center, he doesn’t have to wrangle with the big uglies like he did in his pec-tearing years with the Hawks. He gets to leave that to The Time Lord, Robert Williams. Even when Williams (9.2 RPG incl. 4.1 O-Rebs/game; NBA-best 73.4 2FG%) departs to deal with persistent knee tendinitis issues, as he did during Monday night’s 98-92 win against an injury-hampered Evan Mobley in Cleveland, Udoka can dust off justice warrior Enes Kanter to give Horford a worthy spell. Among the tradeoffs for his newfound comfort on the frontline, not only is Horford no longer able to handpick his NBA team. Al is no longer in a position to chase after point guards with whom he can pair up to chase NBA gold. Blowing his chance at an $84 million bag to stay with LeBron and AD in L.A., another former Hawks headliner, Dennis Schröder, is reunited with Horford. During his final two years in The A, Al was Dennis’ top pairing, about 2,000 regular and post-season minutes distributed by Mike Budenholzer in hopes that Horford’s maturity would help Schröder become less of a pain in The A. Having since spent time in OKC under Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul, then with LeBron last season, Dennis has picked up defensive and scoring tricks of the trade, likely more than he would have by striking out on his own as a cornerstone here in Atlanta. In this land of misfit ex-Hawk toys, with emergency bigs Jabari Parker and Bruno Fernando, Schröder is sharing starting duties lately to offset the absence of Marietta product Brown. Dennis is scoring at an efficient pace (last four games: 25.0 PPG, 54.2 FG%, incl. 41.2 3FG%), his 38 points last weekend to help beat Milwaukee the highest since dropping 41 as a member of the Hawks in March 2018. But The Menace has reverted to wild ball-control issues (last 4: 3.3 APG, 5.3 TOs/game) that will likely return him to a sixth-man role as soon as it avails Udoka. Wrist and ankle injuries short-circuited the All-Star swingman Brown’s run toward 2021’s playoffs. Despite his recovery from contracting COVID last month, Jaylen carried the team (25.6 PPG, 39.7 3FG%, career-high 46 points in the season opener) through its lackluster 2-5 start, offsetting the off-kilter shots of Tatum (38.6 FG%; 36.3% in last four games w/o Jaylen). But then Brown suffered a hamstring injury that had him missing Boston’s last five contests. While he’s hoped to return soon, Boston has won three of its past four without Brown, and they haven’t dropped a game by double-digits since the start of this month versus red-hot Chicago. A three-point loss in Dallas was tough, but the Celts got three scheduled off-days before pasting the Raptors back in Boston. Blowing a 19-point third-quarter lead to fall by two in Cleveland was disheartening. But Boston got to stay at their hotel and come back two nights later to get vengeance on the Cavs. Al’s spryness showed up in early games (10.7 RPG and 3.2 BPG in first six appearances) on a Boston team that, with Robert Williams, ranks second in the NBA for blocking shots. Rim-protection has slipped for Horford of late (6 blocks, total, and 6.6 RPG in his last 5 games). While that and Williams’ potential absence puts more pressure on Tatum and Grant Williams to hold firm inside for Boston (42.4 opponent paint points per-48, 4th-best in NBA; 10.4 second-chance points per-48, 2nd-best), Smart, Schröder and ex-Sixer Josh Richardson are compelled to further limit penetration from opponents via drives, rolls and cuts. The Celts’ opposing ballhandlers are shooting just 38.9 percent from the field, a bottom-ten value (8th-lowest in NBA), but an effective percentage of 47.2 percent that ranks in the upper half (14th-highest in NBA), suggesting Celtics perimeter defenders are laying back and daring their foes to shoot from deep. This could spell bad news for Boston tonight, as the marksmanship of Hawks guard Trae Young (39.0% on 6.7 3FGAs/game) is rivaling the understandably heralded Steph Curry (40.6 3FG% on 13.4 attempts/game) with roughly half the shot volume. Young also doubles as the NBA East’s leading dime-dropper (9.1 APG). Boston has to find ways to score in transition, either directly off Young’s turnovers or the misses from his Traemates, who were a more satisfying 11-for-23 from downtown (thanks largely to Bogi, Gallo and LouWill) in the Hawks’ 129-111 win over visiting Orlando on Monday. The Celtics, like the Hawks, average just 1.02 points per transition possession (tie-5th-lowest in NBA), only Boston has a turnover frequency (14.2% of transition possessions) that ranks sixth-highest. Given the recent reluctance by Tatum to attack the rim, the occasional recklessness of Schröder, Payton Pritchard and Smart, and the need to limit Horford’s full-court value on the floor to half-court actions, offensive production from getting out and running would be a tall task for Boston (97.5 Pace in road games, 4th-lowest in NBA), particularly without Brown. If the Hawks can get the fourth-quarter Cam (Reddish, breaking his drought with 2-for-2 3FGs), and the all-quarters C.A.M. (Clint Against the Magic; 8-for-9 FGs, 3 steals and a pair of swats), that helped shut the door behind Orlando in Monday’s spirited affair, it would alleviate John Collins (working through a perimeter shooting and rebounding dip) and Young from having to be letter-perfect in order to help Atlanta (6-9) rise to 3-0 on its current homestand. It's the second consecutive 3rd game-in-4-nights for Atlanta, who will mercifully accept a dual-off-day to recuperate from home. Tonight’s play should be telling in whether the Hawks approach this game as a team seeking to build momentum ahead of this mini-break, or rather as a club that’s looking a bit too forward to the extra-day’s arrival. Forgoing the opportunity to become our modern-era Willis Reed in Atlanta, the Al-bdication hastened the close to what was once a promising, albeit oft-unfulfilling, run of postseason appearances with the franchise that groomed him for what, he thought, would be greatness. Over five years removed from that fateful summer of 2016, we are fortunate enough to say, of our Hawks, that he’s not the Bawse of us now. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  7. "I'm gonna fob your car after the game!" ~m@rcu5
  8. “HOW YOU LOSIN’ TO THE CAVS AGAIN? DAYYUMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMNNNN!” “There’s No Chemistry!”, we’re told, when something named Lamar Stevens looks like a dadgum DuPont Factory on wheels strolling down the lane untouched in the clutch. Whatever. In usual Atlanta Sports years, by the time our Hawks had blown their 10th fourth-quarter lead of the season (as per 92.9’s Mike Conti), we’d be occupied with United fooling around in the playoffs, fretting over the Dawgs getting stonewalled by Saban, and watching Matty Ice waltz for his life behind a slushy O-Line. More often than not, we’re still washing out dandruff after scratching our heads about how the Bravos collapsed in the postseason. This time, that is. But nothing is usual in this most unusual sports town. The MLS season is delayed, the Flowery Branch Fail-cons are busy swapping out executive office furniture, Uga XVI or whatever is busy with doggie charm school, and members of the Baseball Club are still driving around the Gulf Coast seeking out directions to North Port. That means our Hawks, their beleaguered head coach, and their collective failures are on the A-Block in A-Town sports radio, and they’re trending for the wrong reasons on local anti-social media. “There’s No Chemistry!”, we’re told, as our young All-Star-on-the-Low is out here looking like Frank Drebin outside the fireworks factory. Alright, Move On! Nothing To See Here! Move Along! Please Disperse! Another Day! Another Opportunity! 100! I’m not wasting any energy waiting around to find out if Bogdan Bogdanovic is ever walking through that door. Not today, anyway. Instead, while the Boston Celtics (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Boston) pay us a visit, hoping the Hawks will help them lick their own wounds, one night after their two All-Stars (smh) got licked in Lukaland, and help them return once again to .500 ball, I prefer to use this space to praise a local team that can now, finally, legitimately say, “We are a playoff team!” and not induce hearty guffaws. Your Friendly Neighborhood Bracketologist is here to share the good news. The Yellow Jackets of the Georgia Institute of Gotdang Technology are projected to be bound for Dayton! Wait, what’s that? Oh, okay, Indianapolis, then, fine! Unlike Bawb Rathbun whenever the Hawks are about to shoot free throws, I’m not even halfway jinxing these guys. It’s a Stone Cold Lock TM, baby! No more excuses about those brain-draining nuclear physics professors distracting Tech’s umpteenth-year scholars from standing toe-to-toe with the one-and-doner programs of the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Yellow Jacket Men strode up to Blacksburg and jived those turkeys at Va-Tech last night. It’s their fourth victory in a conference-high seven games against an opponent that entered their contest ranked in the Top-25. And the PR director masquerading as the college’s head basketball coach won’t let you forget it. “There should be ELEVEN teams in the tournament coming out of the ACC!”, he says. Come home, Josh Pastner, you’re drunk. But they are getting eight, and the crew guided by Monstrous Moses Wright, Trae-Lite Jose Alvarado, and Bell Buckets Michael DeVoe are looking every bit like a top-7 ACC program right now. (By the way, the Lady Jackets are going Dancing, too. As a Top-8 seed, at that. Give ‘em hell, Nell!) At long last, Pastner has cleaned house of all his creepy colleagues from Memphis, and got his postseason ban out of the way at the perfect time. Finesse! Beating the Hokies last night gave the Jackets their first two-game in-conference road winning streak since 2008. When they beat the Fighting John Collinses in Winston-Salem next week, that’ll be three in a row. Once Pastner comes down from his high, he’ll have his team ready to run Jim Boeheim and student journalist killer Coach K’s clubs right on out the Thrillerdome over the next seven days. That, and a first-round victory in the ACC Tourney will sew up a spot in the 68-team dance for the first time in eleven (miserable!) years. Even a slip-up or two, at this late stage, would simply mean a “first-round” affair with Directional Kentucky or somebody is in the offing. These Jackets have come a long way from blowing gimmes at McSqueamish Pavilion, to local lessers Georgia State and Mercer during the Thanksgiving break. At that time, hardly any other sports teams were playing, the heat lamp was squarely on the head coach, and the home fans were disgusted, disgruntled and just flat-out dissed, with no confidence their team would even deserve an invite to the CIT, never mind the NIT, once all was said and done on the 2020-21 season. What they’ve done since that low point – winning almost all their home games on The Flats, beating ranked and favored opponents here and abroad, beating the remaining teams they absolutely had to beat, coming through at closing time – ought to be inspirational to another Basketball Club dribbling aimlessly just down the road, one that actually gets paid for their name, image, likeness, and, we have been led to believe, their competitive spirit. Let’s Go Hawks! Or Not. At This Point, Just Do Whatever! The Checks Gon’ Clear Either Way. ~lw3
  9. “No, seriously, Bama, how did we let this guy get away from our recruiters?” Our Atlanta Hawks got next-to-no help in the Leastern Conference standings, not in the intervening days between their first win since April 2018 against the Boston Celtics, and the rematch at TD Garden tonight (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Boston). Not unless we’re trying to catch the Bucks. The Lakers that could play were a hot mess against the Nets that could play yesterday. The T’wolves tried their best by dragging Indiana into OT on Wednesday but ran out of gas. The Kings couldn’t help us out by crowning the heat at home yesterday, what would’ve been Miami’s fourth-straight loss amid a seven-game road swing. The last-place Pistons couldn’t hang on to a big first-half lead, letting Chicago win their second in a row in Wednesday’s suddenly rescheduled game. The Knicks lost that night, but only because the elfin’ Magic won. Milwaukee dropped their fifth-straight on national TV last night, as TNT hosts tied themselves into knots all night trying to mansplain how folks like Khris Middleton, Jayson Tatum, Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler, Zach LaVine and Bradley Beal (the latter voted in as a starter, on behalf of his 9-17 Wizards) will all deserve their All-Star slots, while Trae Young (as per 92.9’s Mike Conti, fastest Hawks player to reach 4,000 career points, surpassing the great Bob Pettit) is somehow unworthy of a return to the game in his host arena. Because winning matters! Or career years, or something. Anyway, Coach Bud isn’t under fire because he’s got a couple COTY trophies sitting at his home, in the same town where he just got swept in consecutive games by Nick Nurse’s once-struggling Raptors. Track record matters, and consecutive 60-ish-win seasons while coaching an MVP into the playoffs as a top-seed offers an adequate shield when the swoons and the disappointing trends kick in. Budenholzer’s successor with the Hawks, Lloyd Pierce, remains on a seat that’s not piping hot, but simmering. Pierce remains out on paternity leave, but he’s peeking at the Celtics games hoping ace assistant Nate McMillan can continue to instill practices on the court conducive to winning basketball for his Hawks (12-16). Nate Mac isn’t interested in consuming LP’s top job, but he quietly has the motivation to help his current employer catch up with his prior team, the perennial-playoff Pacers, in the chase for postseason seeds. 2.5 games separate the Hawks from Indiana, who’s currently 4th in the NBA Least, and it’s the same buffer between Atlanta and Collin Sexton’s 14th-seed Cavs. “We’ve got to put together a 48-minute game. We’ve got to make our breaks,” McMillan expressed to media ahead of today’s game, again insisting he’s not doing anything “major” that Pierce would have done to top a Celtics team (14-14) who played on Wednesday without at least two key starters. There were some things, however, that Hawks fans could spy, with their little eyes, as evidence that McMillan can diagnose and address woes that players, under Pierce, seem left to figure out for themselves. One example: with 13 points on 5-for-8 shooting, 6 rebounds, just two 3FGAs taken and one made, a pair of made free throws, two steals, and a plus-14 finish during Atlanta’s 122-114 win at the Gahden, Cam Reddish had as close to a perfect game as one should come to expect of the sophomore swingman right now. “I think the ball movement was a little bit better,” Cam correctly noted of his team, without any intention of shade. Reddish’s efficient fullcourt performance helped Trae and the frontcourt tag team of John Collins and Clint Capela (combined 44 points, 19 boards, and two swats), who overwhelmed Boston on screen rolls. It also kept the extended shooting struggles of Kevin Huerter (29.7 FG% past four games) and Danilo Gallinari (combined 3-for-10 3FGs @ BOS) from affecting the team’s best field day of the season (57.1 team FG%, highest since beating Beal’s Wizards on 1/26/2020). Correcting his personal struggles as a closer in recent games, Young (16 points, 6-for-7 FGs in the 4th quarter) will want to cut down on his eight turnovers in the rematch with the C’s, who will likely have Kemba Walker back in their stead, but not hound-dog Marcus Smart. Yet it was encouraging that the other Hawks, including Reddish, cut down on the goofs while being disruptive on defense. They aided Atlanta in winning Wednesday’s turnover battle (16-15 on team TOs; just 1 TO by Trae and 2 by the Hawks in the 4th-quarter), keeping their final-frame lead, for once, from evaporating. Walker’s back after missing Wednesday’s game due to injury management, but the Massachusetts Ranger is one of the notable veteran guard even TNT hosts won’t pencil in over Young, not this season (career-lows 36.4 FG% and 4.0 APG). If Atlanta can keep Kemba from getting to the free throw line (career-high 90.2 FT%, although on just 3.2 attempts/game), make him chase around screens, and force him to settle for his waning mid-range shots (37.0 2FG% on the season; 40.7 3FG% this month), they can limit the chance for him to regain his “Cardiac Kemba” persona late in this game. Jaylen Brown (sore knee) is listed as questionable, perhaps putting more pressure on Tatum (35 points, 11-for-21 FGs, 10-for-11 FTs, 4 fourth-quarter assists vs. ATL) to earn his All-Star keep. Daniel Theis (team-high 1.80 Defensive RPM) is off the injury report, and he’d only need nine fingers anyway to help Boston thwart the Hawks’ interior attack. To compensate, Atlanta’s perimeter shooting needs to be on point, and Young can pile up even more points by stepping out just a tad bit further – that is to say, on his mid-rangers (3-for-3 2FGs @ BOS, all betw. 21-23 feet from the basket). The Hawks rank 25th in the league on catch-and-shoot three-point makes (8.5 per game, 0.6 more than Boston), and Huerter and Gallo must find their spots, not hesitate, and get good looks up before Celtic defenders with a foot in the paint can recover. One Western Conference team did give the Hawks the hook-up. The Spurs went to Charlotte and gave the short-handed Hornets an L on Valentine’s Day, then left behind a schedule scramble by having four players test COVID+ (RIP to DeMar’s dad, btw) as the Hornets had to hibernate under health ‘n safety protocols. Charlotte hasn’t played in six days, and if they do get to host Golden State tomorrow, it will likely be their last home game in a while, as they’ll have six West Coast games on the road to close out the first half. One of the teams the Hornets would have played today, Denver, got re-routed to Cleveland instead, and have been short-staffed themselves as they prepare to meet the Hawks in Atlanta on Sunday. The Hornets sit happily atop the Southleast Division, but only by 1.0 games ahead of Atlanta, who could outrace Miami to the top of the division if they can pull together for a winning stretch over the next few days. Knowing they’ll get little love from the media punditry, over the next week as coaches place their votes for reserves, Trae, JC, Clint and the Hawks understand they have to make their own All-Star-worthy case. Hearts out to our Squawkfam in Texas. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  10. “Wait a minute… how did I wind up HERE?” Forget what you heard about Punxsutawney Phil. Danny Ainge isn’t wild about seeing his own shadow in February, either. While the Atlanta Hawks are in Boston feeling a little better about their roster construction than they were earlier in the week while playing against the Celtics, fans of their hosts tonight (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Boston) aren’t sure what all the fuss over the NBA Trade Deadline was about. What many realize is that while Trader Dan is known for his Mamba Mentality in poaching stars and draft picks, the Celtics’ longtime lead executive generally prefers to forage and frolic in the summertime. Midseason blockbusters can uproot players’ whole career paths, and Ainge knows this about as well as anyone. In February of 1988, the seventh-year guard was named to his 1st-ever All-Star Game as a member of the hallowed Celtics franchise. Elder statesmen and Boston teammates Larry Bird and Kevin McHale struggled to have much of an impact. But Danny came off the bench to hit three of four three-point shots (only four were made by both teams) to help Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins and the East team edge the West, during the last All-Star Game convened in MJ’s town of Chicago. An established starter on a team that had won NBA Championships #15 and #16 during his tenure, the soon-to-be 29-year-old Ainge was looking forward to his turn at aging gracefully. Larry Bird was still going strong, as were his fellow near-20-PPG scorers in Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, and their point guard Dennis Johnson, all in their 30s, all still together since 1983, all averaging over 30 minutes per contest. As Bird looked to the sunset of his great career, he had a young star in Reggie Lewis already learning the ropes. Ainge, who hit a three in a record 23 consecutive NBA games that season while edging Bird with a 41.5 3FG%, knew he had a niche that was hard to replace. Then, like Marky Mark’s bunch, things started getting a little funky. After nearly getting toppled by Nique’s Hawks in the Eastern semis, the Celtics were tripped up in the conference finals by upstart Detroit, in six games. Ainge’s jumpshot had a hard time falling as the C’s failed to reach the NBA Finals for the first time in a half-decade. Even as the top seed entering those 1988 playoffs, the 57 wins were already perceived as a decline from prior seasons hauling in 59, 67, 63 and 62. In a surprise, legendary coach KC Jones retired shortly thereafter, handing the reins to assistant Jimmy Rodgers as he moved upstairs to the front office. Bone spurs and Achilles’ tendinitis short-circuited the 1988-89 season as Bird would appear in just the first six games before getting shut down. Ainge had knee issues and missed time, too. And while Boston stumbled out of the gate without them, Rodgers and fans were growing enamored with their low-first-round pick from the summer before. Earning just $75,000 in salary, rookie Brian Shaw seemed to fit right in, and suddenly it wasn’t only Lewis who the Celtics saw as a future star. Ainge returned but by December was groveling about his playing time getting cut short. He would get his playing time back. Just not in a place anyone expected. In February of 1989, weeks before turning 30, Ainge found himself suiting up in California Wine Country, with Kenny Smith, Wayman Tisdale, and a Kings franchise that hadn’t been around Sacramento for very long itself. Geographically, functionally, aesthetically, this was a long way’s away from Boston. On a club that checked out that season at 27-55, Ainge made the most of his new humble abode. There, he averaged over 20 PPG for the first time in his career, and he went through the next season as a Kings starter, after which the Western Conference contenders in Portland came calling for his services. Already a West Coast guy growing up, Ainge would continue his career coming off the bench until hanging it up at age 35 in Phoenix. Still, it was obvious that the abrupt departure from what he thought would be a lifelong career in Beantown left him with lingering indigestion. What of Shaw, and the team Ainge left behind? Well, Boston would again lose to the Pistons in the playoffs, only this time in the first round. Also, in the absence of rookie-scale deals, the Celtics failed to guarantee Shaw beyond his first season, and by the summertime of 1989 a new threat was on the horizon. From across the sea. Megabucks Italian side Il Messaggero, which weeks before had lured Duke’s Danny Ferry from wrecking his NBA career as a rookie with the sad-sack LA Clippers, offered a couple million dollars, with an option to repeat the following season, that was too good for Shaw to pass up. Having exchanged Ainge (for the Kings’ frontcourt players Joe Kleine and Easy Ed Pinckney) in order to make room for Shaw, Boston went into the 1989-90 season with neither. The Celtics’ brass flew to Rome to entice Shaw back with a new NBA deal, then spent a year wrangling with his lawyers when Brian reneged on the plan to return to The States. Shaw did return and got his starting gig back in 1990, but even that lasted for just a year-and-a-half. After seeing rookie Dee Brown’s playing time Pump’d up at Shaw’s expense, the new regime shipped the oft-injured, confidence-sagging guard in midseason to Miami for The General, Sherman Douglas. We know things didn’t work out well for Boston going forward. Larry Legend and McHale followed DJ into retirement, Lewis passed away unexpectedly, The Chief had gone on to finish his career elsewhere. During that same period of the early 1990s, Ainge had reached The Finals twice, once each with Portland and Phoenix. There remains a sense of what might have been for the graying Celtics had management found some way to put up with the cranky Ainge and allow him to go off into the sunset with the other stars in Boston. Particularly at a time when three-point marksmanship was becoming more than a mere value for specialists, perhaps Ainge could have helped pass the baton onto youngsters for a new era of clover-green fortune. The Celtics would not make another trip to The Finals after trading Ainge away. By the time they did, it was Ainge pulling the strings in the front office. Now going on 17 years, Ainge continues to live in the afterglow of Championship #17 back in 2008. But when you look back at the totality of Boston’s maneuvers in that time, the Celtics’ signature player transactions tended to occur not at Trade Deadline time, or even really in midseason. The trading away of heart-and-soul guard Isaiah Thomas for tortured-soul Kyrie was in August of 2017. Replacing Kyrie and Terry Rozier with a less-scary All-Star in Charlotte’s free agent Kemba Walker (returning to action tonight) was in July of last year. In 2019, Ainge only lifted a finger high enough to launch the sketchy Jabari Bird into Atlanta’s caproom ether. Before that, you’d have to go back to 2014-15 for a legitimate deadline deal, when the C’s sent out Marcus Thornton, Tayshaun Prince and a future draft pick that became Skal Labissiere, in a three-team deal that was nearly as lauded for the arrival of Detroit’s Jonas Jerebko as it was for the Suns’ Thomas. That was only enough to help second-year head coach Brad Stevens to eke Boston into the playoffs as a 7-seed and enjoy his first playoff venture, a four-game sweep at the hands of LeBron’s Cavaliers. Trading the prior coach, to the Clippers for a future first-rounder, happened only at the end of the 2013 season, rather than allowing the ring-bearing Doc Rivers to quit or be fired amid a down-turning .500 season. Ainge would move the deck chairs in the years before only slightly, getting Jeff Green during 2011’s deadline and another first-rounder for Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson, a move, particularly of Perkins, that soured Rivers and the vets remaining on the roster. Nate had just arrived at the deadline one calendar year before. Summertime is not Ainge’s time to sit back and unwind. The Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett deals from that season of 2007 re-oriented the franchise back to one that expects winning and title contention. Before Ainge arrived, the team had already flubbed the drafting of Joe Johnson, and squandered a draft pick to Phoenix in that deal. In a few years, he would get a pick from the Suns back, in the form of a 2006 draft-day trade for incoming rookie Rajon Rondo. Sending away Antoine Walker in the start of the 2003-04 season was a big deal among the Celtic faithful. Getting Employee #8 back in 2005 at the Trade Deadline for effectively Googs, that future Rondo pick, and Yogi Stewart (Gary Payton would get bought out by Atlanta, just to return to Boston anyway). That’s a ton of Celtic lore, but not a bunch of deadline-day wheeling-and-dealing by Ainge, at least no strategic acquisitions that would make his team championship-competitive with the postseason mere months away. As a matter of course, Ainge will pick up the phone when called, and maybe stash away some intel for the purpose of a bigger scheme in the summer. Yet it’s why there really should not have been much surprise this week when Trader Dan asserted his contentment that the team did the important things to have Boston (35-15, 3rd in NBA East, 1.5 games behind Toronto) in position for a meaningful run back before this season began. “I think our #1 need is health,” said Ainge on Monday to NBC Sports Boston and reporters, before his Celtics outlasted the Hawks, 123-115 in Atlanta. “I think we’re going to look to see if there’s ways to strengthen the end of our bench. We like all of our guys. We do have probably too many really young guys.” Any inkling by Ainge to trade young players or draft assets in a win-now move was probably dashed on Monday night. That was after second-year guard Brad Wanamaker (2-for-3 3FGs, team-highs of 4 FTs and 4 steals, plus 5 assists) and rookie forward Grant Williams (6-for-9 FGs, incl. a game-sealing blow-by layup past the Hawks’ John Collins and a just-passing-through Evan Turner) stepped up at critical junctures, in Walker’s absence, to stop the Hawks from pecking away at Boston’s lead. Further confirmation for Ainge to stand pat came when Wanamaker and Williams (5-for-6 combined 3FGs vs. ORL) made big shots off the bench on Wednesday. Along with rookie Romeo Langford, who took Javonte Green’s momentary place in the starting lineup, the Celtics pulled away from Orlando here at TD Garden, 116-100, marking Boston’s fifth-straight home win and eighth victory in its past nine games. The youthful bench support has been beneficial for Stevens to keep the Holy Cow Trinity of wings, Jaylen Brown (questionable, ankle), Gordon Hayward (questionable, foot) and Jayson Tatum (28 points and 7 rebounds @ ATL, 33 points and 5 assists vs. ORL) from being overtaxed. All three logged 35-38 minutes against the Magic. With a short road trip out West and a return home to face the Clippers prior to the All-Star Break, one can envision Stevens being deferential to his less experienced charges tonight against Atlanta. Not having rookie Cam Reddish (concussion) back on the floor is a detriment for the Hawks to keep up with the Celtics’ swingmen and start the post-Deadline charge on the right foot. A further predictable setback was the unavailability of Clint Capela, Dewayne Dedmon and Labissiere, who have pending trade machinery and/or nagging short-term injuries of their own to get through. Trying to fend off the Timberwolves’ madcap fourth-quarter dash, Trae Young tweaked his ankle late in Wednesday’s 127-120 win in Minneapolis, but he is probable to give it a go along with Jeff Teague (knee). Now just a shade under 40.0 3FG% for the season, Kevin Huerter seems to be working well past his adductor pain. For the Hawks to stay competitive against Walker and the Celts tonight, one other contributor has to be a strong net positive. The Hindenburg. The Dust Bowl. De’Andre Hunter meandering while taking more than two dribbles. There are plenty of disasters in North American history to point to, but the rookie (4 TOs @ MIN, 3 in the second half) should not be attempting to rival them with any on-ball plays other than catch-and-shoot, or catch-and-pass. Wednesday’s win was the first in seven games for Atlanta (14-38) in which Hunter (available, despite an ankle sprain) committed four or more turnovers (incl. 4 second-half TOs during a 12-point loss to Minnesota back in November, if Karl-Anthony can remember back that far), and odd-ball plays on his part helped make the final quarter a bit too close for comfort. Trae (9.0 APG) produces enough wondrous offense to obscure at least some of his 4.9 TOs/game. But Hunter forcing actions toward the rim, for plays that just aren’t there, is glaring, when one isn’t tempted to cover their eyes. Atlanta’s third-leading scorer for just a little longer, Hunter (third-lowest pace on the team, aside from bench players Bruno Fernando, doubtful for tonight with a calf strain, and the recently-arrived Treveon Graham) gets too cerebral with the ball in his hands, or in his general vicinity, and makes things easy for defenders clamp down. As per NBA.com stats, Hunter has a 9.5 TO% on spot-up possessions, second only to Russell Westbrook among players getting four or more such possessions per game (he gets a team-high 4.5). 7.9 percent of De’Andre’s passes turn into assists, a Bembryan value that could stand to climb into the double digits like Huerter (11.2 percent pass-to-assist ratio). Keeping clear of the Celtics’ eager arms and charge-drawing bodies (18.1 points per-48 off opp. TOs, 4th in NBA) will help Hunter keep the Hawks in contention for stealing a road win despite being short-handed themselves. With everybody back for Boston after the deadline, the Celtics will eventually have a roster glut at season’s end. If Hayward and the happy Enes Kanter take their player options, and the team elects to keep Daniel Theis and Semi Ojeleye on board, then Boston is projected to return 13 players when the curtain opens on 2020-21. Brown’s big contract extension kicks in, just as the Celts are expected to negotiate Tatum’s, lifting the salary bloat over $95 million even without the conditionals. Oh, and then there’s as many as three low-first-rounder rookie-scale deals on the docket, thanks in part to picks Ainge pried from Memphis and Milwaukee. But none of those matters are of pressing concern to the Celtics’ front office. All of it can wait until the summer when he really gets busy. In the wintertime, as Tree Rollins would likely say, Danny Ainge is, “once bitten, twice shy”. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  11. “Didn’t I warn you to stay away from Big Baby’s Superb Owl Seven Layer Dip?” Welp, too much of a football-party coma to do any fancy-schmancy write-up for today’s game at State Farm Arena, with the Boston Celtics in town to deal with the Atlanta Hawks (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBA Sports Boston). Instead, please, just mark the date and time, because it isn’t very often that I get to show my appreciation for a Celtic on the Interwebs. Three cheers for Jaylen Brown! Hip Hip! Hooray! New rule: if you are below the age of 30, you do not get to whine about how The Game Done Changed just because you didn’t get your coveted invite to The Big All-Star Dance. You all Devin know the suspects, so there’s no need to call them out Booker by name. Instead, let’s let the Pride of Wheeler High (one of them, anyway, since there’s Shareef, too), demonstrate how to show some class, Marietta-style. “I think there’s a lot of guys to choose from,” Brown told NESN after he was among the players on the outside looking in at the All-Star reserves. “a lot of guys having a good year. It is what it is. Just start gearing your mind, getting ready for the playoffs and stuff like that, building good habits.” It helps a little that teammates Kemba Walker (out tonight, sore knee, along with center Robert Williams) and Jayson Tatum will be headed to Chi-town. Also, that the Celtics (33-15, 3rd in NBA East) are all but assured of a return to the postseason, so the so-called snub can’t use the news Bradley as de-motivation to suddenly now start caring Beal about his team barging their way in as some sort of revenge. Not thinking of anyone in particular. “I try to look at anything and everything as motivation,” said Jaylen, not biting as the media prodded and poked for just a dash of pettiness. “Keep working and getting ready for the playoffs – that’s the stage you want to be in.” The high-minded Brown would rather let his play do all the smack-talking. He scattered and covered the Warriors after last week’s All-Star reserves announcement, then put up a team-high 32 points (despite 1-for-10 3FGs) and 9 rebounds to help Boston smother the 76ers this past weekend without Kemba available. “I thought that Jaylen handled it great,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “Not being named, came out of the gates playing great.” In addition to Walker and Williams (hip edema), Enes Kanter (hip contusion) missed the Philly game and is questionable, while Marcus may make like John Krasinski and Smaht Pahk after sustaining a quad bruise on Saturday night. Unfortunately, the Hawks (13-37) are too inexperienced and not cohesive enough for it to matter much when opponents are missing key players. Particularly those who have a plethora of shooter options and a multitude of defensive looks they can throw in the direction of Trae Young (upgraded to probable, sprained ankle). That was the case in Dallas, as Jalen Brunson, Seth Curry, Dorian Finna-Score, and Maxi Kleber all had a field day from the field, while the double-teamed Young couldn't get into gear until it was too late. Look for Kevin Huerter (6-for-10 3FGs @ DAL) and two-way player Charlie Brown to try and fill the void on the wing with rookies Cam Reddish (concussion) and De’Andre Hunter (sprained ankle), plus DeAndre’ Bembry (neuritis) all on the shelf. The Celtics are strong enough at those positions that Brown, Gordon Hayward (1-for-11 FGs vs. PHI) and Jayson Tatum (7-for-19 FGs vs. PHI) can have off-shooting nights but still win handily if they get to the free throw line a lot (80.3 team FT%, 5th in NBA) while also making defensive stops (BOS 8th in SPG, 6th in BPG, 4th in opponent FG%). Boston gets away with Hayward as the default starting power forward, so opportunities abound for John Collins (last 10 games: 22.9 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 62.5 FG%, 35.5 3FG%, 85.7 FT%, 1,2 BPG, 4.6 fouls/game) to have another monster night on the boards if he and Damian Jones can avoid foul trouble. As far as being close enough to win the game late, as they nearly did in Boston last month but for Daniel Theis’ heroics, without the rookie swingmen or Bruno Fernando (strained calf), Alex Len (hip flexor) and Jabari Parker (impinged shoulder) available? We’ll just have to see what tricks Atlanta has up its sleeve. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  12. Me in the rain, finding out Trae topped all East guards in early-ballot fan voting. So much for a break in the upcoming schedule! The Hawks will get their first homestand of three games or more in nearly two months, tomorrow. But the catch is, they get to kickstart it after first playing the Celtics in Boston tonight (7 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Boston). As Gray Mule, Buzzard and others have well noted, the schedule-makers have done Our Fine Feathered Friends no favors. Everybody the last-place Hawks (7-27) play, in ATL or otherwise, should be a tall order. But the next homestand itself, especially, has no cupcakes on the shelf. Tonight, the Hawks will leave TD Garden and return home to find a Pacers team, one seeking to move back into 4th in the NBA East, already waiting for them. A couple days later, the Nuggets roll into State Farm Arena, 2nd in the NBA West and vengeance-minded after getting toppled back home by a John Collins-less Hawks team back in November. A couple days after that, the Rockets arrive, and we know James Harden needs no introduction. But the Hawks understand they cannot look more than one minute ahead, and certainly not against the Celtics (23-8, 2nd in NBA East), who are 13-2 at home. Atlanta knows it kind of has to make its own breaks. Trae Young, out since spraining an ankle on December 27 versus the Bucks, is scheduled to return to action tonight, in what hopefully will be just the fifth game that he and John Collins have played in full together. Collins’ performances have been up-and-down since his suspension, but he and the Hawks could get more help. Jabari Parker (throat infection) is likely to return, listed as probable as Kevin Huerter (back strain) was removed from the mid-week injury report. Coach Lloyd Pierce may have a full complement of healthy players at his disposal for perhaps the first time since October. As an added break, his crew will appreciate having to hold off until the next Celtics-Hawks matchup to deal with Kemba Walker (questionable, flu-like symptoms). But for a few ill-advised fans going googly-eyed over Kyrie, Kemba (team-highs of 22.5 PPG, 5.2 APG, 39.8 3FG%) could wind up in the Windy City as Trae’s All-Star backcourt partner in the Eastern Conference starting lineup. Flanked by more talented starters than he had in Charlotte while toiling under coach Brad Stevens’ team-oriented approach, Walker’s need to create off drives into the paint has subsided. While off-dribble drives were a signature of his Hornets tenure, his offensive play under Stevens’ watch is as efficient as ever before. Since Walker is indeed a no-go, Stevens will serve Trae a steadier diet of Marcus Smart (1.6 steals per-36), with help from Jaylen Brown, reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week (Boston’s first weekly winner since I.T. in February 2017; 27.0 PPG, 57.9 3FG% in last 3 games), and Jayson Tatum to try taking away Young’s floater game. Returning from flu-type illness himself, Brown was not even active on New Year’s Eve as the Celtics handled the Hornets handily, 109-92 in Kemba’s return to Charlotte. As the Celtics’ talented young swingmen attend to Trae, Huerter, who stepped up late during Monday’s 101-93 slump-busting win in Orlando, and De’Andre Hunter (16 points, 3-for-6 3FGs @ ORL) have to be ready in the corners to let shots fly. As the Hawks without Young experienced down in O-Town, a dash of defense can make a world of difference. And the Hawks may have run into another nice break with the dashing and defense of Brandon Goodwin. The two-way contractor played up the two-way bench guard role nicely in the win over the Magic, hitting open shots all night (team-high 21 points and 6 assists, 3-for-4 3FGs, 4-for-4 FTs @ ORL) and sticking his nose into the fray for steals, rebounds, a block, and deflections (team-best +22 plus/minus @ ORL). Intriguing in the short-term is whether Goodwin is Pierce’s long-sought backup PG who can play alongside Young, allowing Trae some spells without having to initiate and conclude offensive possessions. Having to switch off onto the likes of Brown (40.0 3FG%) or Gordon Hayward (36.2 3FG%, 4.5 assists, 1.7 TOs/game) is not ideal for Young, but if Stevens goes small-ball on occasion, the Hawks could be capable of matching up adequately. The Celtics’ front line has been withered lately, as second-year center Robert Williams (hip bone edema) joined Euro-rookie Vincent Poirier on the sideline. The Hawks may find an advantage along the bench with Parker and Alex Len (9-for-11 2FGs, team-high 12 rebounds off-bench @ ORL) finally able to play together as reserves for Collins and rookie Bruno Fernando, respectively. Fortunately for Boston, they have enjoyed the defensive stylings of – checks notes – Enes Kanter. Not even Stevens could believe the career-high six shots Kanter rejected in Tuesday’s win over Charlotte. If Enes swats a similar number of shots tonight, he’ll have already matched his block tally from 67 games last season. That’s saying nothing of 14 rebounds on Tuesday, his seventh game of 9-or-more boards in his last eight appearances. Atlanta’s bigs will have to do much more than box out to neutralize Kanter this evening. But having Parker and Len available as a bench duo should help offset whatever Kanter and either of Semi Ojeleye or rookie Grant Williams bring to the floor. Even with Al Horford gone to division-rival Philadelphia, the Celtic defense (NBA-best 103.1 opponent PPG; 104.0 D-Rating, 3rd in NBA) remains stout with third-year big Daniel Theis (team-high 1.5 BPG; 6th-best D-Rating among NBA PF/Cs), who is likely to be glued to Collins for much of this contest. Whether it’s Trae, John, or another ball-handler drawing defenders, Fernando needs to be prepared to be fed around the rim, and feast in return with quick scores before the C’s defense collapses around him. While Boston’s defense has been very good, opponents are leaving an awful lot of points on the parquet. To date, Celtic opponents have shot just 74.0 FT% (2nd-worst in NBA), including a woeful 69.6 FT% at the Garden. Atlanta’s charity-stripe marksmanship has improved as the months have gone on (77.8 road FT% in December, 76.8% in November; 69.5 FT% overall in October), an encouraging development amid the losing skids. Converting at the line tonight could at least help keep the game close, or even keep the Hawks ahead, if Walker remains unavailable to contribute with his own free throw mastery. Trae, to his credit, is still a believer that fan talk of Competitanking can still be tuned out. “You see the bottom of the East, there’s not a lot of teams that have created separation besides the top 5-6 teams,” Young told The Athletic’s Jared Weiss and pregame reporters at shootaround. “I always focus on one game and if we do that and focus on one game at a time, you never know what could happen.” Embarking upon month number 4 of the season, Atlanta has yet to gel with a clear set of starters and rotation reserves, featuring rookies and sophomores that have yet to steady themselves with understood roles. The march toward the All-Star Break is about building identity and, eventually, momentum, enough so that Travis Schlenk and the Hawks’ front office could at least consider making moves worthy of a team eager to make a late charge toward the 8-seed (8.0 GB). That momentum may not begin tonight in Boston, or during a daunting spate of home games and back-to-backs ahead. But it hurts no one on the Basketball Club to try hard, one game at a time. Looking too far ahead at the schedule usually leaves NBA teams ripe for letdowns. In the Hawks’ case, looking at the schedule at all, beyond the game right in front of them, would be enough of a downer. Happy New Year! Happy New Decade! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  13. “Braddy’s ALWAYS Happy!” Back on the road (Yours Truly, that is... not the Hawks... Safe travels, everyone!) So let’s keep this one short! Ahhh, sweet, sweet parity! The Warriors, losers of four straight, are hobbled and squabbling. The Wizards are at each other’s throats. Teams like the Jazz and Nuggets, who had thought they had finally turned a corner, are now not quite so sure. Teams like the Lakers and Rockets, who thought an 8-seed playoff spot was a worst-case scenario, are having second thoughts. And then, there’s the lingering post-Thanksgiving heartburn befalling the Boston Celtics (9-9). Celtics fans were supposed to be here at State Farm Arena today (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Boston) for an early coronation, celebrating their team as the hands-down class of the Eastern Conference in this brave, new post-LeBron world. Instead, they’re hoping they’ve found rock bottom with a win over the Atlanta Hawks (3-15), who lately have satisfied themselves with being the momentary salve for just about every struggling NBA outfit. More news ‘n notes (including the fact you won’t have Al Horford to kick around!) in a bit. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record