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  1. “Ask Kenny and Chauncey to slide over. We’ve got to make room for Sister Jean.” L.A., it appears, isn’t proving too much for these men. The Hawks took care of business against the abridged Lakers on Saturday afternoon, setting up an opportunity for an L.A. parlay with the Clippers (10:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Prime Ticket in LAX). Atlanta (22-20) last pulled off the STAPLES Center sweep when they beat Julius Randle’s 12-51 Lakers, and CP3’s 40-21 Clippers club that had lost Blake Griffin for over two months, on consecutive nights in 2016. Blake dunked a basketball last night on behalf of his new team, the Brooklyn Nets, leaving more than a few fans of the Detroit Pistons feeling entitled to a little more compensation. With the distant sunset of what was once heralded as Lob City back in 2017, and the departure of coach Doc Rivers after last season, we’re left with an LA collective that is undergoing a bit of an identity crisis. The head coaching reins have been assumed by Rivers’ assistant Tyronn Lue, and there is no shortage of quality experienced point guards among the coaching staff (Lue, Chauncey Billups, Larry Drew, Kenny Atkinson overseas), although not so much among the playing roster. Shutdown corner Pat Beverley has been out for the past eleven days with a sore knee, prompting Lue to rely on Danilo Gallinari’s fellow Italian native, Reggie Jackson (then-season-high 20 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds @ ATL on Jan. 26), more than a championship contender would find ideal. The top-four recipients of nightly playing time are a quartet of 6-foot-8, 225-ish-pound forwards, all trying to do a bit of everything but giving off an air of redundancy. Nic Batum (43.6 3FG%, 56.0 2FG%) seemed to have a new lease on life on his latest team after years of wallowing in Charlotte. But his production has regressed to more familiar levels, urging Lue to switch him out in favor of Mook Morris (44.0 3FG%) in the Clippers’ starting five. Clipper stars Kawhi Leonard (4 steals vs. CHA on Saturday night) and Paul George (NBA-high 44.5 3FG% w/ min. 7.0 3FGAs; 21 points and 10 assists vs. CHA) give off hints of their impactful two-way imprints. But they’re expected to hold down too much of the fort on defense, especially without the presence of Beverley outside and Serge Ibaka in the interior. Jackson and Lou Williams remain high-volume veteran scorers elevating LA’s offensive punch (116.6 team O-Rating, 2nd in NBA). But they can’t play together in lineups without allowing copious scores at the other end. Elements that were once hallmarks of gritty, yet glitzy “Hollywood Shuffle” are disappearing. The Clips snag the lowest percentage of “50-50” balls when defending (41.1 percent loose-ball recoveries; ATL’s next opponent, Sacramento, is second-worst at 43.8 percent). They’re near the basement with 0.2 charges drawn per-48, just about the polar opposite of their arena mates (Lakers’ NBA-high 0.7 per-48). Even with the long arm of The Klaw, LA’s 6.6 deflections per-48 rank tied with the Kings at 23rd. Even Sacramento, giving up 0.94 points per possession on P&R ball-handler plays, hasn’t been as poor as the league’s worst defense in this category, the Clippers (0.96 opponent PPP, scores on 44.0 percent of plays). Clips exec Lawrence Frank didn’t do much to plug the defense and hustle gaps in the offseason, reeling in Serge Ibaka (out, tight back) from Toronto to offset the departures of Montrezl Harrell, to the Laker locker room, and JaMychal Green, to Denver. Ibaka has been inconsistent, and the Clips have been up-and-down since he exited on March 14 with a back injury. Perhaps, even before that. LA hasn’t won two-straight games since beating the heat on February 15. More formidable at home (last loss at STAPLES to the Nets on February 21), they hope to follow-up Saturday’s 125-98 win over Charlotte with a victory tonight and get a win streak of their own going. Frank parted with guard Landry Shamet in an offseason multi-team deal for Luke Kennard and a trove of second-round draft picks. Kennard has shot the ball well (46.0 3FG%) but, aside from his career-high anomaly of four steals in Atlanta, his defensive deficiencies keep him out of rotations, his one superior skill not as much a necessity with P not so Wayoff in the regular season. There’s a good chance, to stay in his rabid owner’s good graces, that Frank will pull a deal before Thursday to resolve the redundancies, but the return may have to be nominally less than whatever goes out. Atlanta was able to capitalize on the absences of George and Leonard back in January, a 108-99 win that was the penultimate occasion Lloyd Pierce’s Hawks strayed above the .500 mark. Second to Trae Young (38 points vs. LAC; probable, bruised quad) in scoring on that day was forward De’Andre Hunter (questionable, knee), who may return to new coach Nate McMillan’s lineup under limited minutes tonight, if not much later. As the Clippers’ new-look under Lue places a decided emphasis on perimeter and free throw accuracy, McMillan’s Hawks have been remodeling their defense, with noticeable impact in short order. Only Coach Doc’s Sixers (101.4 opponent PPP) have posted a stronger defensive rating this month than Atlanta’s 105.1. The Hawks’ 53.0 opponent eFG% through February was already top-ten, but in March they’ve come in like a lion with a league-best 48.0 eFG% (no other NBA team this month below 50.0 percent). Getting stops and securing rebounds without excessive fouling not only has allowed Atlanta to stay competitive in games, whether their own shooting gets hot or not, but also to sustain leads, especially late (NBA-best 43.3 4th Quarter eFG% in March). Solomon Hill gave Laker Nation his best Dahntay Jones impression on Saturday, but he also gave Clipper Nation a limited opportunity to seize the top-dog position in the Western Conference standings, at least among the Cali clubs. A 10-12 record versus above-.500 competition, however, won’t get it done long-term for LA (27-16, 4th in NBA West; four games behind Utah, one behind the Lakers). Lue and the Clippers need to get hot, raise the defensive pressure and iron out the wrinkles to consistently beat challengers of Atlanta’s current caliber. But the solution to the Clips’ imperfections may involve someone that hasn’t arrived yet. RIP, Elgin Baylor. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  2. “I did all I could, coach. You know what would help us out tonight? Some real good wings.” Postponed! We officially announce that Hell Week #1 has been moved to next week. In the meantime, Atlanta Hawks fans, we’re enjoying Game #2 of Purgatory Week. Having ended a quick road trip in Milwaukee, where De’Andre Hunter and John Collins dropped scoring tallies in the 30s (shoulda been 40 for Hunter, to keep it a Buck) to help the short-taloned Hawks, they return to see State Farm Arena, and a few of the LA Clippers (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Prime Ticket in LAX, NBATV). Hunter and Collins might be a bit surprised to discover, tonight, they’re destined to be the two best forwards on the floor. Clipper stars Paul George and Kawhi Leonard are under wraps, quarantining under the NBA’s Health ‘n Safety protocols. A third starter, grimy guard Patrick Beverley, injured his knee during Sunday’s 108-100 win over Mike Muscala’s Thunder, and he will be sidelined as well. NBA.com stats has Pat Bev and The KLaw as the league’s best 2-man tandem on the floor (min. 300 mins. played) by Net Rating (+20.5), three places ahead of Leonard and PG-13 (+17.7). The latter pairing has a Player Impact Estimate of 57.3, equivalent to that of the Collins and Trae Young combo that serves up the best PIE that any Eastern Conference squad outside of Philadelphia or Milwaukee can offer. Not too far behind is the dystopian duo of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, whose Nets will grace The Farm with their presence tomorrow. Tyronn Lue’s club has performed well in the early going, checking in at 13-4, and they’ll still strive to win their eighth-straight today even without their best leaders. But one must note that six of their past seven games, excepting a trip up the coast to Sacramento, were home games at STAPLES Center. LA’s last loss involved letting Steph Curry go wild in a second half collapse to the Warriors in Frisco. But this is the first Clippers game outside of “The Golden State” since playing around the way in Phoenix on January 3. Further, they’ve made it this deep into their schedule without playing beyond the Pacific or Mountain time zones. The next nine days encompass a six-game East Coast road trip for LA. While opponents won’t exactly constitute a Murderer’s Row, four games are a pair of back-to-backs, including Miami and Orlando on Thursday and Friday, respectively. Returning home from a Brooklyn-Cleveland back-to-back next week, the Clippers will have Boston waiting for them. The only pole position that should matter to Lou Williams tonight is the one held by the Lakers, currently a half-game ahead of the Clips after LeBron’s successful return to Cleveland last night. How well the Clippers finish relative to their banner-raising in-town rivals dictates how successful this regular season can be objectively viewed. The pride of South Gwinnett, Williams has played like a guy sorely in need of a lemon-peppered pep-dance in recent weeks (49.9 season TS%, his lowest since 2005-06; 21.4 FG%, 2.8 APG in past four appearances). To keep up with the Jameses while George and Leonard are shelved, Lue will need LouWill to shake out of his doldrums. The leading active scorer for the Clippers entering today is Serge Ibaka (12.2 PPG, team-highs of 6.5 RPG and 1.0 BPG), which is, well, yeah. A balanced scoring effort versus Atlanta (8-8) is necessary for LA to get this road trip off to a promising start. The newly acquired and contract-extended Luke Kennard (45.0 3FG%) will have to step up, as will point guard Reggie Jackson (5.3 assists per-36, leads active Clips ahead of LouWill’s 5.2). Terrance Mann had some productive minutes when filling in as a rookie for Kawhi against the Not- Ready-for-Prime-Time Hawks back in November 2019 (6-for-8 FGs, 8 assists). The 2019 second-round swingman did the same in winning last season’s finale in the Bubble, when the Clippers sat Kawhi, PG and LouWill, and he’s past due for a quality outing in a game that isn’t a blowout victory. LA leads the league shooting 42.3 percent on threes, but they’re accustomed to Kawhi and PG being the primary creators of open looks. Returning from illness, Marcus Morris will need to be as much of a threat inside the 3-point arc (37.5 2FG%) as outside (47.4 3FG%, highest among active Clippers). Sacre Bleu! Maybe Charlotte was the problem all along? Last season, Nic Batum (34.6 FG% in just 22 games in 2019-20) was behind the glass the Hornets would break only in an emergency. Now, he’s sinking half his shots, digging in defensively (1.3 SPG) and at times looking every bit the multi-tool starter Charlotte thought they were getting back in 2015. The additions of Batum and Ibaka were the key additions in a mediocre offseason directed by GM Lawrence Frank, who bid adieu to Doc Rivers and handed the keys to assistant coach T-Lue (notables on the bench are assistants Larry Drew, Kenny Atkinson and Chauncey Billups). Ibaka has helped take pressure off the green Ivica Zubac, who cannot compare whether starting or otherwise to the departed Sixth Man award winner Montrezl Harrell, now a Laker. But Batum’s renewed competency has allowed Lue, to this point, to get away with a three-swingman starting unit. How the Clippers proceed over the next few games will help assess whether there are alternative rotations that could work at postseason time. The Hawks took advantage of the undermanned Timberwolves and the Pistons to ascend back to a .500 record. Now, with the schedule getting far stronger in the coming weeks, during Purgatory Week, it behooves Lloyd Pierce’s club not to look any gift horse in the mouth. Speaking of Trojan horses, our Man of Troy, firehose-water-guzzling Onyeka Okongwu, did the best he could filling in for Clint Capela (questionable, talk to the hand) in Milwaukee on Sunday. But Giannis and the Bucks nearly doubled up the Hawks on the boards (52-27, incl. 16-5 offensive) in an otherwise entertaining 129-115 loss for Atlanta. The Greek Freak got solid help from Khris Middleton, Donte DiVincenzo, Bobby Portis and even Pat Connaughton, and tonight’s Hawks would do well helping box out and secure boards to win the battle of second chances. LA tops the league with a low 9.8 opponent second-chance points-per-48, but George, Leonard and Beverley aren’t around to help out Ibaka, Zubac and Batum. Ultimately, it would be great to have Young (questionable, back spasms) available for upwards of 70 combined minutes today and tomorrow. But Rajon Rondo (7 assists, 2 TOs in Sunday’s 30-minute start) and Brandon Goodwin will need to provide net-positive production, no matter how long their stints on the floor tonight. Until Cam Reddish (5.9 assist%, lowest among 22 NBA sophs w/ 20+ MPG; 43.1 3FG%, second-lowest) gets his jumper in gear, he’d do well to use his considerable ballhandling skills to help Atlanta keep the rock moving. With or without Trae or Clint tonight, sound passing and rebounding will keep the Clippers chances’ at stealing a victory on some wings and some prayers. Ya Boi is not one of those who will Risk It All to show up at a basketball game, yet there are at least one-to-two thousand of us around The ATL who wouldn’t pass up the opportunity. Fortunately, our Hawks have partnered with Emory Healthcare and Dr. Oz’s outfit, Sharecare, on more than just the floor and jersey sponsorships. Applying the “Safety Six” and “3W” health protocols of their own ought to keep attendees reasonably safe from airborne infection and from each another, while they’re in the building. Wash your hands! Watch your distance! Wear your mask! A fourth “W”? Worry, about any disinformation garbage about masks, tests and vaccines you “learned” from perusing Worldstar forums on your own time, please, and thank you. On top of that, all I ask is that the ticket-goers who saunter into The Farm at any time this season be as True To Atlanta as anybody the Hawks can find. Don’t be That Guy nagging Hawks Customer Service for your money back because Your Guy on the opposing team isn’t suiting up. And don’t let me catch doofuses from Douglasville in there on TV, popping their Nets, Mavs, Lakers, Raptors and Clippers jerseys while trying to distract our Hawks at the free throw line. If we wanted annoying distractions, we’d just hire Pat Beverley full-time. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  3. True To LouWillVille. [I'm too lazy to update my draft. PG's out, Kawhi's out, Pat Bev's out. Bembry's on personal leave. Trae and Alex... we'll see! ~lw3] Hooray! We finally got one! Just once this season have the Atlanta Hawks watched from the comfort of home as an opponent trudges through a road game, the night before arriving to meet up at State Farm Arena. While it would be nice to nab a schedule win against a fellow jabroni, like the victory over the Boneless Warriors over a month and a half ago, whoever shows up for the LA Clippers (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Prime Ticket in LAX, NBATV elsewhere) will have to do. A home win tonight is far from a certainty, but the outcome ought to be far easier on the eyes than the wing-clipping our Hawks endured on a lousy November weekend at Staples Center. Kawhi Leonard was DNP’d when Atlanta got LAmbasted by a 150-101 score, but tonight he may try to pick up where Paul George (out, hammy strain; 37 points, 11-for-11 FTs, 6-for-11 3FGs vs. ATL) left off during his home debut. Cam Reddish (4-for-15 FGs, minus-45 on/off @ LAC) was there to bear the brunt of PG’s onslaught, and the Hawks’ swingman would appreciate not having to cover either PG or Kawhi today. Leonard (27.1 PPG; six consecutive games w/ 30+ points) logged 36 minutes and scored 36 with the aid of 29 FGAs to help his team edge the Mavs yesterday in Lukaland. If Leonard plays tonight, it would be the first time in nine Clipper back-to-back series where coach Doc Rivers fields him in both games. Even before PG returned to action, Coach Doc sat Kawhi on either the front or back end of LA’s first three back-to-backs. Another player who sat the November game out, and may do so yet again, is guard-dog Pat Beverley. Even without him or Kawhi on the floor against Atlanta, Hawks star Trae Young found himself overmatched (2-for-9 2FGs, 2-for-7 3FGs, 6 assists and 3 TOs) as the woeful shooting and the anemic defense brought about by starting Y2J (Young-Jabari-Jones) with two rookies proved insurmountable. The returns of Kevin Huerter and John Collins give Young (questionable, contused thigh) much more to stand toe-to-toe with the Clips at both ends on the floor, especially tonight if Huerter (4-for-19 FGs in last 2 games) shakes out of his recent slump. For all their squabbles about imperfection and inconsistency, not having Leonard, George and Beverley playing a full slate has more to do with the Clippers (31-13, 3.5 games behind the Lakers atop the NBA West) staying in their intown rivals’ shadow. But what they have had to their benefit is a quality bench (NBA-high 51.3 bench PPG and 20.7 bench RPG) loaded with veterans who lead, and developmental guys, like Landry Shamet (5-for-8 3FGs @ DAL) in the clutch last night, who figure out how to step up when needed. Back in his home metro, summertime AEBL star Lou Williams will be eager to show up and show out after a less-than-stellar performance (2-for-8 2FGs, 3-for-11 3FGs) last night in Dallas. Even though Beverley sat against the Hawks in November, a 2019 second-round pick named Terance proved to be a Mann amongst men (team-high 8 assists, career-high 13 points on 6-for-8 FGs) when inserted into the starting lineup. Against Atlanta, the Clips were buoyed not only by super-subs Williams (15-for-15 FTs, 25 points) and Montrezl Harrell, but 2018’s lightly-used draft pick, Jerome Robinson, who sunk five of seven three-point shots along the way to his career-high of 21 points. Against a Mavs team not renowned for their defensive exploits, the Clippers shot just 37.1 percent from the floor last night, including just 12-for-38 on threes. But LA’s fitness is maintained when they keep turnovers low (11-1, incl. last night @ DAL, when committing under 12 player TOs/game) and the charity stripe trips high, especially the backups (NBA-high 12.4 bench FTAs/game). Versus Kawhi’s former team on MLK Day, you’d have thought Atlanta switched the ‘w’ in their team sobriquet with a ‘c’. Coach Lloyd Pierce’s troopers could ill afford another hackfest like they swam through on Monday’s 122-117 loss (season-high 34 personal fouls, 43 Raptor FTAs). Young’s 10-for-12 FTAs was perhaps the only thing keeping the Hawks from losing to the Clippers by 50 back in November, and his 18-for-21 marksmanship kept the Hawks crawling back in Monday’s game. But the Hawks are burrowing animals, and they cannot dig their way out of holes as deep as the ones they create (14-5, 34-22, 112-91 Hawks deficits vs. TOR), certainly not with Thundersticks. And no amounts of Chick-fil-A sandwiches can be piled high enough to climb out of such holes if Trae can’t play. Neutralizing the Clippers’ offense by forcing them to make tough shots and tough passes without fouling will keep the Hawks within shouting distance for 48 minutes, if not ahead late in the game. The upcoming schedule for the Hawks remains a tall order. But now that I’m done colluding with the Ukrainians to max out both Trae Young’s and Alex Len’s vote tallies (quid pro quo, baby! Alex has been upgraded to questionable tonight), I have a new pair of sipping words for the weeks between now and the end of All-Star Weekend. I’ll need our Hawks to cobble together as many W’s between now and then to make the utterance of those words by hoop pundits possible. The sipping words? “ONE OF.” As in, “Trae Young is here in Chicago despite Atlanta being ONE OF the worst team(s) in the NBA.” Or, “I know the Hawks have ONE OF the worst team(s) in the Eastern Conference, but you cannot blame Trae Young for that, and most fans sure haven’t.” At this stage of the season, those two words together would sound, and taste, so sweet. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  4. OK, Boomer. Leave. Doc. Rivers. Alone! Everything’s all lined up for the LA Clippers’ jack-in-the-box kazillionaire owner Steve Ballmer. The reigning Finals MVP and the biggest prize from the 2018 free agent class, Kawhi Leonard, now suits up for him. Third in last year’s MVP voting, Paul George engineered a move to come play with Kawhi, too. PG’s shoulder is now healthy enough that he can play in his Staples Center premiere as a Clipper, tonight against the Atlanta Hawks (10:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Prime Ticket). Pat Beverley, with these two SoCal superstars, can form as sound a defensive trio as you’ll find anywhere in The Association. Throw in perennial Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams, six-foot-seven sugar cube Montrezl Harrell and a slew of contributors that know their roles well. Ballmer has the Clip Joint poised in perfect position to face off with his cross-arena rivals, the Los Angeles LeBronkers, for supremacy in the Western Conference, if not the entire league, over the next two seasons. For Ballmer, the cash will be rolling in like never before. I’m not all that sure, frankly, if Doc Rivers is gonna be able to see this thing through. Sorry, but I just want longevity, fortune and happiness for all our ex-Hawk greats, particularly after the players “retire.” And I’ve never worried so much about poor Glenn running himself into the ground. Now in his third decade of head-coaching in the NBA, Doc has over 1,500 games running the sidelines under his belt, not counting nearly 900 games he logged, spread out over 13 seasons, as a pro player. These days, he gets the pleasure of coaching his Clippers team against players like his son, Austin, and his new son-in-law, Seth Curry. This man has survived getting traded by his Hawks to the LAughingstock Clippers way back in 1991, an appetizer for skeptical Hawks fans a few years before Nique was served up as the main course. He survived watching Charles Smith wall-ball away his last big shot at a title, as a starter, with the Knicks against the ’93 Bulls. Before hanging up his jersey at age 34, he survived Rainbow Brite Rodman on the Spurs. As a first-year head coach, he survived a roster stacked with unknowns Ben Wallace, John Amaechi and Michael Doleac, earning Coach of the Year honors after breaking even with 41 wins in post-Shaq Orlando. He survived spurning would-be Magic star Tim Duncan’s request for family members to fly in the team’s plane, because Rules, and should-be star Grant Hill’s brittle body breaking down before his eyes. He survived three declining years as a coach in Boston and was rewarded with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen along the way to 2008’s NBA title. He survived Allen seeking out greener pastures in Miami, and the perpetual strain of keeping Ref-Bumper Rondo in check. He survived Danny Ainge effectively shopping him to LA, a team that needed his coaching magic to rub off on Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. He survived the Sterlings. The Sterlings! He survived the added duty of being basketball-ops president for three seasons, chasing free agents in the summer, trying to keep the Clippers’ contention afloat. He survived DeAndre’ Jordan nearly bailing for Dallas in the middle of it all. He survived the side-eyes gained from signing and playing Austin for years. He survived Ballmer, through executive Lawrence Frank, blowing the whole thing up, beginning in the summer of 2017 with the CP3 trade. He survived every NBA lockout period. Before all of this, heck, he survived growing up in Chicagoland. Look at the man. Does that look like a guy that has yet to see age 60? Father Time is unkind to us all, but geez. Is that Doc, or Dikembe? Ignore the carefully scrawled “hair” line. I mean this out of pure, nostalgic Hawksfan love: Doc is looking rough, folks. That’s a walking antacids billboard, right there, no cap. I’d rather Rivers be sitting outside, in his yard, yelling at a cloud, not inside, at Tony Brothers, a few dozen nights per year. I’d much prefer Doc giving his money away at the roulette tables, not doling it out by the tens of thousands to Kiki Vandeweghe nearly every time he’s asked for his opinion. Coach Kenny knows what I’m talking about. “You want me to go Doc Rivers on ya?”, Atkinson quipped just this past weekend, the Nets coach pressed by media for his unmitigated “opinion,” about the new greenlight coaches’ challenge rule. “I don’t love it, because I don’t want to be focusing on the referees when I coach.” That, and Kenny’s securing his bag. I mean, c’mon, that man has a family to feed! As does Rivers, as his kids marry Curries and add even more doe-eyed crumb-snatchers to Grampaw Doc’s stable. One minute, you’re smitten with love and unbridled passion. The next minute, you’ve got one kid throwing her arms around this whippersnapper who buries threes on your team’s heads, and another kid egging on the refs, and the crowd, to get you tossed from his arena. “You’re not the boss of us, Paw!” “The refs screwed up,” Doc Don’t Lie told reporters after his Clippers succumbed to James Harden and company in Houston’s 102-93 win on Wednesday. Minutes before, late in the fourth quarter, he challenged an out-of-bounds call. You were right, the refs assured him, but you were a split-second too slow to hit the Greenlight thingamajig, so the errant call stands. However, Doc, good news! We saved money on our car insurance, and you get to keep the timeout you would have forfeited, had your challenge failed. With two timeouts in his pocket and the game hanging in the balance, he calls for one with 90 seconds remaining, only to have Brothers advise him he’s now fresh out of them. “No,” Doc recalls Terrible Tony telling him, “when you called that timeout, you lost it.” No, Tony, Doc will now show you what “losing it” really looks like. What is this, The New Ref Math? Rivers was left looking like the red homie on “Inside Out.” The Rockets’ Austin, probably last chastised by his pops for breaking some expensive vase after being warned not to play ball in the house, could not contain his glee as it was unfolding. You hate to love to see it. In the heat of the moment, I’m just happy Doc didn’t have a helmet to hurl at Tony B. and the Boyz. Fined tens of thousands for ripping the refs… in 2009. In 2013. In 2014. In 2016. In 2018, as Doc’s googol-aire boss watches on in sympathetic solidarity. He’ll get fined, yet again, for his consistent statements on how awful Brothers and his notoriously ratchet brethren are at their jerbs, especially when their egos can’t allow them to own up to blatant mistakes. Doc gets fined for the “inconsistent” statements, too, like earlier this month, about how the injury-managed Leonard (DNP’d on the back-to-back Thursday in New Orleans) is feeling nowadays. “Good morning, how are you today, Klaw?” “Oh, never been better! I’m literally feeling… fine!” Fifty thousand dollars fine, to be exact. “Tell me, Doc, you played against MJ in your day, how does free agent Kawhi compare to His Airness?” He doesn’t even get a penny for his thoughts, but Doc is always expected to give up a dollar when he shares them. Now, what about Pop, you might ask? Gregg’s a different case. First, he’s made it all the way through his 60s, and the man’s got it made. After all, he’s got RINGZ. Plural. He’ll probably get a nice medal in Tokyo next year, too, just for occasionally glaring and pouting and pointing and smart-azz-ing sideline reporters while The Real Dream Team steamrolls Angola or somebody (sorry, Bruno). You think failing to win another NBA title while putting LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay on Front Street is going to tarnish Pop’s legacy, or threaten his job-for-life-if-he-chooses status one iota? You think he stresses over that, either way? Nah, Coach Pop is more of a tenured dean, while Doc is merely an accomplished professor who catches flak from the regents for occasionally going nutty. I think the coaches’ association and the AARP ought to swing a special deal for folks like Pop and Doc. If you’ve reached a certain age, maybe 55, and you can claim at least one NBA ring as a head coach, you get a 75% discount on all fines levied by the league for your ref-rants. Or, for just about anything about which you can’t hold your tongue. So long as you’re not, like, imperiling players and staff overseas with the threat of extrajudicial imprisonment or flogging or bonesaws by offering your views, have at it. Spo, Nurse, Steve, hang on for just a couple more years. Bud, you’ve still got work to do. Rivers does have a near All-Star array of reliable assistant coaches at his side: former Hawks guards Armond Hill and Tyronn Lue, and Sam Cassell most notably. Already having contemplated retirement back in 2011 with Boston before deciding to stick around, I would prefer Doc nominate a successor for future seasons, after NBA win number 1,000 arrives, and get the baton-passing process underway, sooner rather than later. In the meantime, having a healthy PG and Kawhi balling out for him, maybe even together at times, will help the Clippers’ anxiety-burdened coach get through the next 70-plus games a little better. George fell just short of the scoring marks held by Cassell (35), Phil Smith and (don’t remind us) Nique (34 each), by scoring 33 in his Clipper debut on Thursday, a 132-127 loss to the Pels that dropped LA to 7-5 on the season. The argument I made about the Clips’ stout defensive potential is not so much “on paper” as it is on damp, no-frills bathroom tissue. LA has won just one contest in which they’ve allowed more than 102 points to the opposition, and that was to Golden State back on October 24. When Kawhi (26.8 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 2.1 SPG) plays, the Clipper D has tended to hold firm. In the three games he hasn’t, and Doc has to turn to Harrell or LouWill as a lead scorer, the results (0-3, 123.7 opp. PPG, 43.7 opp. 3FG%) haven’t been pretty. Even when Kawhi has contributed, if the Clippers get sloppy defending perimeter shooters as they did in October 26’s 130-122 loss at Phoenix (17-for-43 on 3FGs), they can get burned. George was on hand as they gave up a season-worst 52.9 3FG% on 34 Pelican shots. Surely, with PG and Kawhi (3rd and 4th among active NBA players for SPG) as an on-floor duo, the Clips (98.7 D-Rating in wins, 114.4 in losses) will get better at defensive consistency. We just have yet to see it unfold. Lloyd Pierce knows all about the Suns’ newfound mastery of the long ball. He also knows when his team is getting screwjobbed, one whistle at a time. “10 of the same offensive fouls,” Pierce noted after Atlanta (4-7) was left to sulk through the end of their 128-112 loss in Phoenix on Thursday night. “When our bigs are rolling, and you (random Suns cactus) step underneath our bigs, it’s tough.” Still pretty new to the game as a head coach, Pierce is trying to tip-toe through the media minefield to avoid fine-leveling criticism, much like his bigs and rookies look on their graceless drives into the paint. Cam Reddish may look like Gene Kelly without an umbrella on his forays to the basket, but maybe he’s onto something. He drew two flagrant rookie-call fouls while Bowling for Big Men, and he got to join DeAndre’ Bembry in hitting the showers early. The already short-handed Hawks were about done at that juncture. “Not a fun game,” said LP to postgame reporters, “That’s all I got.” Smart man, Lloyd. Secure the bag. Pierce, like Rivers, is not going to skirt around his team’s on-court failings (13 missed at-rim 2FGs after the 1st quarter; letting folks like Oubre, Saric and Kaminsky go awf) just to center blame on the greyshirts for losses. Against the Clipshow, with two stars likely on the floor together for the first time, Pierce is going to need his longest-tenured Hawk, Bembry, on his best behavior. Assertive, but not prone to wasting his aggressions out on the Ricky Rubios and Pat Beverleys of the world. Bembry ought to leave it to Trae Young to get under these vets’ skin, or through their legs, as the case may be. One of the early signs we had that Trae was starting to grab a toehold on the league came at an exasperated Beverley’s expense, here at Staples, back in January. On the way to a 123-118 victory, Young treated us with a fine offensive performance (26 points, 8-for-11 2FGs, 8 assists, 1 TO), the rookie leaving Bev and just about anyone assigned to him befuddled. Even Alex Len got in on the act, outperforming 6MOY candidate Harrell off the bench with 19 points, 9 boards and a trio of assists in just under 21 minutes. Len’s recent play in his return to a bench role, at Denver and Phoenix, offers tantalizing hope for the Hawks’ future rotations, once starters John Collins and Kevin Huerter and some vet reserves get back up to speed. The Hawks (29.5 O-Reb%, 3rd in NBA) are one of the few teams currently out-doing the Clippers (29.4 O-Reb%, 3rd in NBA) on the offensive glass. Beverley will need help from George and Leonard to force turnovers, keeping Young from getting shots off and cleanly passing to open teammates. But the pressure will be on Ivica Zubac, Harrell and the Clipper bigs to box out and terminate Atlanta possessions with sound rebounds and outlets. Drawing fouls (24.9 personals/game) more than any team other than the Suns (26.0) this season, the Clippers have been treated to more free throw tries than any team without a Giannis or a Harden on the roster, and they just got George (5th in league for FTAs last season) back in the fray. If they can slow the game down and wear down the Hawks early with whistles to open up a sizable lead, Atlanta will be tempted to save its energies for tomorrow in this same venue, when (maybe) LeBron and (maybe) Anthony Davis will be waiting. Doc Rivers’ stellar NBA playing career, including an All-Star appearance in 1988 as a Hawk (we saving his number’s retirement ceremony for Alex Len, or…?), doesn’t pass muster for a spot in Springfield. But his coaching career does pass the smell test. I ask, do you want Austin mumbling through a posthumous induction speech on his dad’s behalf? Of course not. You’ll want to enjoy unvarnished, fine-me-later-if-you-still-can tales and commentary, straight from Doc’s mouth. That’s why, as appreciative Hawks fans, we need to keep Doc’s wellness and his wallet, as he sails the next two championship campaigns amid the rough, unforgiving seas of LA and the national media, in our thoughts and prayers. Yikes, that’s not a good look, Glenn. Is there a small-d doc in the house? Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  5. Bobi and Tobi, with Marcin Gortat and Friends. See what can happen, when you simply let coaches coach? The LA Clippers are swinging by State Farm Arena to face our Atlanta Hawks (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Prime Ticket in LA), and our old chum, Doc Rivers, is out here living his best life. No more appeasing Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, no more traveling cross-country to hold DeAndre Jordan hostage. Team consultant-slash-overseer Jerry West helped Coach Doc and megabucks owner Steve Ballmer move on from delusions of championship grandeur with a bloated, aging roster that never reached the Western Conference Finals. Both the Clippers and Hawks are in transition mode, breaking their perennial playoff teams apart and relieving their sideline taskmasters of the added burdens that come with deal-making duty. A distinction is that the Clips (10-5) elected to try seeing through the rebuild with their incumbent head coach. Climbing out of salary cap purgatory, LA is crafting a team stocked with role players that are blending well on and off the court. Conceivably, it’s a team that could sell itself to prospective free agent stars so Ballmer and Rivers won’t have to soft-shoe so hard in the summertime. In the early going, the Clippers’ scheme is looking good. CP3 facilitated the paradigm shift the prior summer by commandeering a trade to Space City, a deal that brought Pat Beverley, Lou Williams, and Montrezl Harrell to Clipperville. Setting up a trade-and-waive deal for Jamal Crawford, plus cash and a pick that later became Omari Spellman, with the Hawks in a three-team swap brought them Danilo Gallinari to provide short-term, starter-quality offense for the post-CP3 phase. Rather than ride Griffin’s career into the sunset, team president Lawrence Frank and GM Michael Winger shipped his freshly-extended contract to Detroit, gleaning Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, and su-PER-man Boban Marjanovic from the multi-player deal. Also included in that trade was a 2018 first-rounder, which the Clips used on Draft Night to trade up and acquire stringy rookie combo guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Among players not on rookie or short-term contracts, the Clippers are obligated to pay only Gallinari, Williams and Harrell next season, then only Lou on a modest veteran deal in 2020-21. Coach Doc is under no mandate to win-now, nor is he tasked with strategically losing games in a chase for plum draft picks. Instead, players understand, if they play well together under Coach Doc’s watch, they will not only raise their own expiring-contract profiles with other NBA teams, it’s likely they could be asked to return to LA next season, under a brighter marquee. What’s working for the Clippers, who seek to stretch their winning streak to five games tonight? It’s hard to surmise at first glance. Their overall game tempo is decent (9th in pace), yet they’re not hoisting a ton of threes (28th in 3FGAs per game), and they’re not dishing a bunch of dimes (24th in APG). Even with ex-Wizard Marcin Gortat and Marjanovic in the paint, the Clippers aren’t necessarily a stout rebounding team (19th in O-Reb%, 21st in D-Reb%). Even with a healthy Beverley pressuring ballhandlers, LA’s 5.4 steals and 11.7 forced turnovers per game rank last in the league. Unlike a lot of copycat wannabes, the Clippers aren’t trying to out-Warrior the Warriors. Rivers is tasking Harris and his guards with the demand to drive, draw extra defenders, and then either force defensive foul-worthy contact or make the optimal pass. Clipper drives (5th most in NBA, just behind Atlanta) could include kickouts to uncontested shooters outside the paint (NBA-best 41.3 catch-and-shoot 3FG%), be it Africa Game MVP Gallinari (46.3 3FG%), Harris (41.8 3FG%), or former Hawk Mike Scott (45.2 3FG%). Or, maybe to Gortat or Gilgeous-Alexander at the elbows. Or to Harris for a post-up, or Marjanovic for a high-percentage bucket when the gargantuan center barely needs to leave the ground. Or, drivers just advance as far as possible to the hoop, daring defenders to make the stop or risk a shooting foul, so players like Gallo (NBA-best 95.3 FT%, min. 40 attempts) and Lou (94.4 FT% on 5.9 FTAs per game) can feast. Whatever the choice, the decisions with the rock are swift and decisive -- sort of a Bizarro World Hawks offense. Rivers is no longer working outside his strength, specifically conveying X’s and O’s in an uncomplex manner. As he encourages his charges to play wholly to their own individual strengths, the Clippers currently boast the league’s 4th-most efficient offense, scoring 115 or more in nine of their past ten wins (incl. OT home wins over Milwaukee and Golden State). The defense takes a similar approach, daring opponents to barrel the ball inside and coaxing playmakers into shooting over length. As per NBA.com’s hustle stats, LA defenders contest an average of 46.5 2FGAs per game, a volume that leads the league. Their 32.1 Box-Outs per game rank 2nd in the NBA, 0.1 fewer than GSW. They trust that the quality of the shots they derive from drives and screen plays, on offense, will be superior to that of their opponents. Key to the Clipper defense has been sixth-man big Harrell (team-best 3.8 defensive Box Plus/Minus, 9th in NBA; 1.8 BPG). Montrezl’s athleticism and energy at both ends makes it easier on Doc to avoid overusing his starter Gortat (17.5 MPG) or Boban. Blanketing the perimeter from drive-happy guards like Atlanta’s Trae Young would be simpler if the Clippers had guard Avery Bradley (questionable, sprained ankle) and forward Luc Mbah a Moute (out, knee) available. LA will be happy if Young, hounded by Beverley, settles for target-practice clanks well beyond the 3-point arc (0-for-14 3FGs, 7-for-20 2FGs in last 3 games; only three of 95 3FGAs from the corner, all on the right side). The Clips will be less enthralled if Young gets into the paint and darts passes to an improving array of Hawks bigs, especially John Collins. Jean-Baptiste’s persistent paint presence during a guest appearance on Saturday, in combination with Alex Len, helped Atlanta (3-13) build up an early 38-30 lead in the first half on the host Pacers. Unfortunately, poor shot selection during Young’s short-hook stints, and a lot of second-guessing in the second half (33 points), doomed the Hawks’ chances to end their losing streak in a 97-89 defeat in Indy. Collins and Dedmon are likely to see an uptick in minutes, and touches, over the course of Atlanta’s four-game Turkey Week homestand. But for Young to enjoy longer runs on the floor, Coach Lloyd Pierce wants to see better decision-making out of his rookie floor general, setting up teammates from the outside for quality shots and moving more cohesively on defense. Otherwise, Pierce is satisfied handing the reins over to veteran backup Jeremy Lin (24+ minutes, 16 points, 4 TOs, 5 PFs in each of past two games; 3 steals @IND), for better or worse. For Trae, the head-to-head with Beverley serves as a good appetizer with the Lowry-Kyrie-Kemba trifecta up next on the holiday menu. With Taurean Prince (CORRECTION: as per JayBird's note, likely returning from a sore Achilles), Kevin Huerter (team-best +9.5 on/off differential) will join fellow rooks Young and Spellman in the starting lineup tonight. One NBA tenant at Staples Center hopes to woo a 1B free agent superstar in the coming summers to pair with LeBron. Conversely, the Clippers are aiming to show why their happy-go-lucky roster, backed by committed staff, is the one worth joining, especially to a star who wants assurances they’re the bona fide 1A, or a pair of 1As that wants to buddy-ball in a high-profile NBA market. Until then, the 1Cs are quite content to play their hearts out for Coach Doc, letting the Clips fall where they may. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  6. He'll stick around somewhere! At least for a little while. Good for him! ~lw3
  7. Do they make Kias in Detroit? Just askin'... Can you inclu-dig it? ~lw3
  8. “Hmm. Hey, Woody… look at the Sugar, falling out of the sky…” “HAWKS HELP LA END 9-GAME LOSING SKID.” No, that headline isn’t from last night. It’s from back during November’s holiday season. Doc Rivers and his LA Clippers are, much like their NBA tenant mates, eager to give thanks again tonight to the visiting Atlanta Hawks (10:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Prime Ticket in LA) at Staples Center. Doc’s Clippers, then at 5-11, entered that November 22 game shortly after learning they had lost CP3 replacement Patrick Beverley for the season. Rivers has since managed to almost completely right the ship, winning 12 of their next 20 games despite a spate of injuries wiping out nearly the entire starting lineup. But after losing their past two games, with Blake Griffin (concussion) likely out again just a few games after coming back from a weeks-long absence, and with another game at Golden State in a couple days, the Clips need Atlanta (10-29) to do them another solid. One Clipper, in particular. “Tell Me Whyyyyyy…” The NBA’s leading rebounder, DeAndre Jordan (15.1 RPG) has all the countenance these days of the Maytag Repairman. Just 30 months prior, as an unrestricted free agent, he had his spit-in-handshake agreement with Mark Cuban and Chandler Parsons (!!!) to split from Cali and come home to Texas, making himself the center-piece of Dallas’ resurgence. Soon after word leaked out of Jordan’s verbal agreement, and his having second-thoughts, Chris Paul and Griffin led the charge to Houston, by planes, trains and Maybachs, to save DeAndre from himself. Nearly the entire team, Rivers and owner-fan Steve Ballmer included, barricaded themselves inside Jordan’s hometown H-Town estate. To keep Jordan from venturing off into the Lone Star State for the prime of his NBA career, Paul vowed he would commit to repairing his weathered relationship with DeAndre, both on and off the court, in between jovial spades and video games. Circling outside like a shark stuck in a tank, Cuban could only watch from afar, the self-made billionaire getting the “New Phone Who Dis?” treatment. By the time even Jordan’s own agents could get a physical hold of him, the ink was already drying on a new, four-year contract to remain in LA with Chris Paul and Friends. It’s thirty months later. Guess who’s playing NBA ball in Jordan’s hometown? “Ain’t Nothin’ But a Heartache…” After engineering a trade last summer, Paul not only moved on from Jordan on the court, but on TV, too. Now, when people think of State Farm, they think of CP3, James Harden, off-key Trevor Ariza and, maybe, an in-state championship-winning UGA quarterback named Jake. Together, Paul and Harden have boosted the Rockets to the second-best record in the West, and it’s Houston, no longer the Clippers, with the best odds of toppling Golden State. Jordan the Hooper, meanwhile, no longer needs to don a blonde wig, pearls and a little black dress, to convey that, when it comes to his team’s title aspirations, “We’ve Been Robbed!” “DJ,” Cuban advised during his summer 2015 soft-sell, “if you want to be a brand, you have to separate yourself.” Jordan, who finally reached the All-Star Game last year, took the risk of standing pat in hopes of becoming the Clippers’ bona fide third star, in a town known for making many of them. Instead, with Paul in Houston (the point guard visits LA for a game next week), the Rockets’ Clint Capela earning newfound All-Star love while on the receiving end in the New Lob City, goofball Griffin losing favor among casual NBA fans, and the LA locals growing more intrigued by the day in The Lake Show, DeAndre has been left with little choice but to stand out on his own. Some nights, he seems dominant (4th in O-Reb%; 1st in D-Reb%; 2nd in O-Rating). On many others, without Paul around, he looks as forlorn on the court as the Wolverine Crush meme (65.6 FG%, lowest in five seasons; 1.0 BPG, lowest in career as an everyday starter). Jordan does have one ace up his sleeve, however, and that’s the player option he has on his deal with the Clippers, for this coming summer’s red-hot free agency period. Nothing would help this particular “Jordan Brand” more than a trade to a contender that makes a legitimate run toward the NBA title, so the Clips are carefully parsing through offers to swing a cap-relieving haul that’s worth their while. DeAndre (career-best 60.6 FT%), for his part, must remain healthy, and he must continue putting up big numbers for a Clippers team that looks more like a M*A*S*H unit (plus Lou Williams) on most nights. Despite Jordan going a perfect 6-for-6 shooting from the field along the way to 14 points, 16 boards, and a pair of blocks in LA’s 116-103 win in Atlanta back in November, he didn’t have to be a one-man wrecking crew. Help came in the form of Griffin (26 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists @ ATL on Nov. 22) and Austin Rivers (18 points, 5 assists @ ATL), neither of whom will be available for tonight’s action, the latter dealing with an Achilles strain. Danilo Gallinari (glutes) hasn’t been able to stay on the floor, either. Two-way project Jamil Wilson helped to fill the gap from the losses of Griffin and Gallo with nearly a dozen starts, but he was waived this weekend as his 45-day window has nearly closed. Beverley’s backup, Milos Teodosic (plantar fascia), also has to sit this one out, while longtime gunners JJ Redick and Jamal Crawford are now in happier NBA locales. Atlanta can expect a heavy dose of Sweet Lou (40.6 3FG%; 20 points, 3-for-6 3FGs, 8 assists, 6 TOs @ ATL), along with Wesley Johnson. The latter has been scattershot all season from deep (30.3 FG%), but more than a fifth of his makes this season came on a single night at Philips Arena (season-high 24 points, 6-for-7 3FGs), courtesy of the Hawks. To help generate enough offense to stay in games, Doc Hollywood is leaning on rookies, including second-round guard Jawun Evans, who unfortunately started opposite Steph Curry (45 points, 8-for-16 3FGs vs. LAC) on Saturday, but did produce seven assists to just a single turnover. Rivers also learned he’d better call Tyrone Wallace up from Agua Caliente. The new two-way replacement for Wilson, Wallace entered in garbage time and collaborated with fellow rooks Evans and Sindarius Thornwell plus the future Mr. Olivia Harlan, Sam Dekker, to close the Durant-less Warriors’ blowout gap from 27 to 16. Hawks are not part of the ostrich family, but that was hard to discern last night on this floor, as Our Fine Feathered Friends buried their heads in the sand as soon as the Lakers made up their mind to make a run. Magic Johnson surely enjoyed his popcorn as his team, known for its “Showtime!” exploits from a bygone era, whiplashed the Hawks to the tune of a franchise-record 42 fastbreak points. That was about all the advantage the Lakers needed versus a Hawks team that lacked a discernible game plan, regarding either its halfcourt offense or coach Mike Budenholzer’s cherished transition defense. Perhaps things were thrown off-kilter a smidgen once Taurean Prince exited with a sprained ring finger. But the Hawks need better organization and communication from its floor generals. Absent backcourt defensive pressure from the Clippers, Dennis Schröder (27 points, 10-for-19 2FGs, 5 assists @ LAL) will find more room to navigate and stat-pad on offense, even more so whenever Jordan sits. Yet it’s essential that he (career-low 8.1 D-Reb%), and Kent Bazemore (1 D-Reb in past 69 minutes of play), know who to D-up as soon as the ball leaves their teammates’ often-wayward fingers, particularly if they’re not going to be of much help in the rebounding department. The same goes for Atlanta’s backcourt reserves (principally, Malcolm Delaney, Isaiah Taylor, and Marco Belinelli), who displayed woeful defensive positioning in transition as the Atlanta starters’ early lead on Sunday vanished into the LA smog. Rookies John Collins (first of many made NBA 3FGs, vs. LAL) and Tyler Cavanaugh have enough on their plate to get back on defense only to be met by a track meet of opponents running at and around them. DeAndre’ Bembry’s defensive attributes should be missed, but not this much. Starters and bench players alike will all have a little more assistance tonight, with the probable return of season-opening starter Dewayne Dedmon (tibia) to the lineup. Dedmon’s absence short-circuited Hawk fans’ long-held desires to see him in a starting frontcourt tandem with Collins, a stint which began against the Clips in November and lasted all of three more days before the sidelining injury. One would anticipate Coach Bud and the staff bringing Dedmon along slowly, ensuring he’s back up to speed before returning to that pairing with Collins. But Dewayne’s ability to cut down on opponent scoring in the paint, while also surprising with an occasional perimeter shot (8-for-12 3FGs in his last 7 games), is needed, literally, yesterday. Having Ded, Miles Plumlee and Mike Muscala (probable, ankle) healthy together for the first time all season can add new dimensions to Atlanta’s front line. As for Jordan, and his crumbling Clippers, what of their postseason prospects, if their regression continues against the Hawks tonight? Might one suggest, “They’re going DOWN!”? Go Dawgs! Rise Up! And Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  9. "Stop listening to your mom... for the last time, it's stuffing, not dressing!" On the road, and no time for scintillating pregame coverage of the Doc Rivers Coaching Job Preservation Project Los Angeles Clippers' visit to The Highlight Factory to face your Atlanta Hawks (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Prime Ticket), so it's up to you folks to Talk Turkey! Winding down a road trip in Atlanta and Sacramento, the Clippers (5-11) are trying not to lose ten straight. The Hawks (3-14) are just flat-out trying. Oh yeah, and this little news giblet. Is there a Doc in the house? and one more important item... youth shall do the serving! Go Johnny Bap! Happy Thanksgiving! and Let's Go Hawks! ~lw3
  10. Looks like Doc gets the Bud treatment. What GM/PBO+coaches do we have left now? ~lw3
  11. Also a great name for a band, if they ever do a European version of Coming To America. ~lw3
  12. “For better horsepower than you’ll find in any Kia…” Before heading to LA for tonight’s game with the Clippers (10:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL; PRIME TICKET in LA), I sure hope the Atlanta Hawks sent the NBA schedule makers a Valentine’s Day gift. Heading into the All-Star Break, our Hawks have lived a fairly charmed existence this season. Atlanta has played the fewest games against currently-winning NBA teams (17 of them; they’re 8-9) among any NBA teams. Only the Pacers (7-10) and Spurs (13-6) have played nearly as few. By comparison, the sad-sack Nets and Suns have 27 such games under their belts; the Magic and Lakers, 26. If you recall, it wasn’t long ago that Atlanta could boast one of the best records versus plus-.500 squads. That was back in December, when the Knicks, Bucks, and Bulls each had dalliances with winning records. They’ve all since fallen off, and the chasm between winning and losing teams has widened. It is cool that the Hawks (32-23) are on the winning side, defying many professional prognostications thus far. But that foundation was built on the backs of victories, many by the skin of their beaks, against some bad and dysfunctional outfits. Since their New Year’s Day thriller against the Spurs, Atlanta has one solitary game against a winning NBA team – their Groundhog Day comeback thriller in Houston – out of 14 games in their win column. The only other games versus winning clubs since January 1 included the close-shave loss to Boston, and double-digit defeats at home at the hands of the Wizards, the Jazz, and these Clippers, who coincidentally thumped the Jazz by an 88-72 score in Utah on Monday, going up by 27 points after three quarters. There will be ample opportunity for the Hawks’ strength-of-schedule to catch up with much of the league. Beginning at the close of this month, Atlanta plays eight games versus winning teams (plus the Nets and Mavericks) over the space of 18 days. For the players, tonight’s game in LA serves as an appetizer before the main course is served, a warmup before the schedule becomes more arduous shortly after the Break. By the way… did you notice the Clippers moved out of Los Angeles? Technically, yes, they’re still in Tinseltown. But last summer, when they EA Sports’d their logo, Steve Ballmer’s franchise also made a subtle yet significant move to distinguish themselves from their Staples Center timeshare mates. Go look at just about any NBA.com reference to the Clips’ hometown, their website, or social media sites. The Lakers are “Los Angeles”; the Clippers are now the abbreviated, “L.A.,” or just the stylized, “LA”. The media has generally not caught on yet. But the Randy Newmans of the world are actively being forced to take sides. The 115-105 win in Atlanta back on January 23 was the one good blip in a general downturn for the Clippers that began when Chris Paul had thumb surgery the week before. Doc Rivers’ club went 2-7 over a stretch of nine games, the Hawks and Suns being the sole wins, the win in ATL preceding an 11-point loss in Embiid-less, Okafor-less Philly the next night, and a 46-point drubbing in Golden State after three days’ rest. All of that was before the Clippers rattled off three straight road victories. Blake Griffin returned from a month-long absence, after an arthroscopic procedure on his knee, to play the night after LA’s win in Atlanta. The reigning Western Conference Player of the Week has been especially stellar in his past six games (26.7 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 5.9 APG, 1.6 TOs/game, 53.4 FG%), re-asserting himself as his team’s best playmaker in the absence of Paul. The win streak must come as a relief for coach Doc Rivers and company, but the Clippers still find themselves in a precarious spot in the standings. Already 5.0 games behind 3-seed Houston, LA sits just a half-game in front of 5th-seeded Utah and a full-game ahead of 6th-seeded Memphis for the final first-round homecourt spot in the West. The Clips don’t want to create a deeper hole for CP3 to have to help them escape, once he returns in March. So a win tonight holds importance for the home team, and not just for the sake of sustaining momentum or heading into the break among the West’s Top-4. Without a victory tonight, they would go over a full calendar month without securing a win at Staples. The Hawks’ starters have been listless of late when it comes to securing defensive boards, posting a 71.4 D-Reb% this month (28th in NBA) that would make Al Horford proud, while allowing opponents to score 17.3 second-chance points per-48 (2nd-most in NBA). Even without a sturdy center on the floor, Portland’s Mo Harkless and Ed Davis got their hands on six offensive rebounds apiece on Monday, helping the Blazers produce 19 second-chance points to keep themselves in the game until overtime. Would-be starter Thabo Sefolosha ranks third on the team in per-game defensive rebounds (3.5) and likely will continue to sit out to rehab a groin injury. Kent Bazemore (2.6 defensive RPG, 0.2 more than Dennis Schröder) slid into the 3-spot but had not been helping much in this area. But after totaling seven defensive boards in his first five February games, Bazemore has picked up the slack, corralling at least five D-Rebs in consecutive games for the first time since April of last season. He needs to continue mixing it up inside to help relieve the already overtaxed Dwight Howard and Paul Millsap. Including the one-point loss in Sacramento, Atlanta is 7-1 on the season when Baze grabs at least five defensive rebounds, 11-5 with no losses since December 21 when he manages to grab at least four. The Hawks’ undermanned and unsteady bench unit has been particularly poor this month, especially on the offensive end. Only the benches of the Pelicans, Nets, and Magic have posted a worse February offensive efficiency than Atlanta’s (99.2 bench O-Rating, 27th in NBA). Five reserves were a collective 4-for-16 shooting the rock with zero assists during Atlanta’s overtime win in Portland, outplayed by Blazers sub Al-Farouq Aminu alone (4-for-9 3FGs and two dimes) on Monday night. The shifting of Tim Hardaway, Jr. into a starting role, and increased spot-duties for Taurean Prince and DeAndre’ Bembry during Sefolosha’s absence, are contributing factors. But what has also been problematic are the struggles of Malcolm Delaney (34.4 FG%, 2.1 APG in past 15 games) in sparking ball movement when he’s in the game on Schröder’s behalf. Mike Muscala’s ability to make shots around the rim, and on the perimeter (45.8 FG% since Jan. 1, 52.8 FG% before; 3-for-11 February 3FGs) has tailed off. Be it through more effective pick-and-pop or screen-roll action, the Mike-and-Malcolm tandem must work with each other to open up the offense for themselves and their unit mates. The Hawks’ bench similarly tallied just 13 points on 5-for-15 shooting in Atlanta against the Clippers, and one can bet former Hawks Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford (19 points on 9-for-20 FGs, 4 assists vs. ATL on Jan. 23) has no plans to be merciful this evening. LA’s All-Star center DeAndre Jordan hardly had to lift the ball above his shoulders when the Clippers prevailed in Atlanta last month. He attempted only one field goal in 35 minutes, but dished out four assists and grabbed three offensive rebounds. While Jordan was able to park himself under the defensive basket, the Clippers’ small-ball rotation did the heavy lifting on offense. Austin Rivers made it such that no one was missing CP3 in Atlanta. Playing at turns alongside Raymond Felton, J.J. Redick (41.6 3FG%), and Crawford, Rivers was able to set up the offense but also spring free for quite a bit of his own (team-highs of 27 points and 6 assists vs. ATL; 5-for-10 3FGs). Griffin’s return alleviates the Clipper backcourt of some decision-making, especially early in the shot clock. But their Atlanta backcourt counterparts must thwart dribble penetration that severely contracts the defense and allows LA to shoot 58.3 3FG%, as was the case last month. While Griffin gets Millsap’s undivided attention, and as Howard strives to keep Jordan off the glass without fouling, Felton, Rivers, and Crawford will put a lot of offensive pressure on Schröder, Hardaway, and Delaney, until the latter trio figures it out. Proper rotation and communication along the perimeter should help the Hawks better deflect kickouts and contest LA’s jump-shooters. The Hawks starters, including Sefolosha, had a rough time shooting the ball against the Clippers last month. But all five finished in double-figures, led by Bazemore’s 25 points, and could have done more with a little help from the bench. Atlanta began narrowing the double-digit deficit in the third quarter (19-for-33 second half 2FGs; 9-for-26 in the first half) by abandoning the three-point shot and attacking and dishing from the Clippers’ interior. There is little resistance, in kind, on drives by the Clipper backcourt, forcing shifts from Jordan and Luc Mbah a Moute away from their man to compensate. More assertive and decisive action by Schröder and Hardaway at the outset of the game may force LA’s bigs into early foul trouble, forcing Doc to turn to his more defensively-deficient options like Marreese Speights and Brandon Bass. Even without Chris Paul, the Clippers are a tough opponent to face when wrapping-up the pre-All-Star-Break schedule. But today’s game should help the Hawks get acquainted with the tougher opponents that await at the end of this month. After some turbulent games lately, here’s hoping for some smoother sailing tonight. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  13. “Great game, Mike. Hey, maybe you’ll compete for titles like my Hawks, someday? Who knows?” Atlanta Hawks fans at Philips Arena for tonight’s meeting with the Los Angeles Clippers (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Prime Ticket in La-La-Land) may be able to tell their grandkids they were there, when three of their team’s best-ever point guards graced the hardwood at the same time. No, there are no jokes forthcoming about Chris Paul, Atlanta’s would-be 2005 NBA Draftee, who will sit out for the next month or so following surgery for a thumb ligament torn last week. I’m not even jesting about Sam Cassell, the current Clipper assistant and former Florida State star who had to watch his college teammate, Doug Edwards, get plucked by the Hawks nine picks before him in 1993. Since coming on the scene in 2013, Dennis Schröder (6.2 APG this season) has assisted on 33.6 percent of Atlanta’s field goals when he is on the floor. That’s the highest assist percentage in franchise history, and he’s just getting warmed up. He has already compiled 1,031 assists, midway through his first full season as an NBA starter. If all goes well, he’s got at least four more guaranteed years to go under the watchful eye of pace-pushing coach Mike Budenholzer. Knocking on wood, 857 assists from now, Schröder will surpass Armond Hill (5.2 APG as a Hawk), the current Clippers assistant coach who helped guide neophyte head coach Hubie Brown’s Hawks through the late 1970s. Hill was taken with the 9th pick in the 1976 Draft; if the Hawks had waited until the second round, they could have gone after the late Dennis Johnson, taken one spot after Atlanta chose Bob Carrington. But I won’t quibble with the past, because 2,836 assists from now, Dennis would surpass Armond’s boss, a player the Hawks drafted almost exactly 30 years to the day before him, as Atlanta’s all-time leader. Perhaps the best draft work in Hawks history transpired over the course of three years. In 1982, the team traded with Utah to keep Dominique Wilkins in Georgia. In 1984, they stood pat and took Kevin Willis (John Stockton went five picks later, but I promised I’d stop). Having traded away their 1983 first-rounder (who would become Derek Harper… there I go again) back in 1979 for Terry Furlow, the Hawks’ first selection arrived in the second round, in the form of Glenn “Doc” Rivers. Building up his NBA rep by serving as Nique’s steady caddie for many seasons, Rivers (6.8 APG in Atlanta) eventually hung up his sneakers with a Spurs team, well-video coordinated by Budenholzer, in 1996, and has had fortune shine upon him in his subsequent career. Within four seasons, he would become the NBA Coach of the Year in his first try as a head coach, directing a Magic team led by Darrell Armstrong, John Amaechi and no-name Ben Wallace to a 41-41 record. First in Orlando, then in Boston, Doc built up a rep as an affable coach who simply couldn’t get his teams over the hump. This, after eight consecutive seasons without producing a second-round playoff team. Fate would smile upon him, though, in at least two inconceivable ways. Just before he could be canned in 2007, Minnesota decided that, yes, Al Jefferson, Gerald Green. Theo Ratliff and flotsam would be enough to hand over Kevin Garnett, before the athletic forward could fully pass his prime. Doc and the Celtics rode cagey KG and friends to the NBA championship. Before that ship could sail, in 2013, Danny Ainge swung a deal shipping Doc to the Clippers, a move that allowed the coach to inherit two potential Hall of Fame players: Chris Paul, and Blake Griffin. Like KG, CP3 was a superstar that could coach the team himself, if needed. A third stroke of luck came the next year via TMZ-leaked audio, leading to an ownership shakeup that granted Rivers even more power as a team executive, fully in charge of basketball ops. With Paul and Griffin in tow, Coach Doc helped the Clips eclipse the blinding shine of Kobe’s Lakers in L.A. But he has not been able to make a dent in the Clippers’ quest for championship greatness. Four seasons into his Clipper tenure, Doc is back to being perceived as an affable coach who simply can’t get his franchise over the hump, in this case, to at least the Western Conference Finals. Which brings us to tonight’s challenge. Besides having to soldier on without Paul (6th in NBA for Net Rating, 3rd for Assist/TO ratio), the Clippers (29-16) have been without Griffin (arthroscopic knee surgery) since December 18. While he insists he’s ready to go, the temptation is to sit Griffin out tonight, in advance of the back end of this road back-to-back in Embiid-less Philadelphia tomorrow. But the minute the power forward steps on the court, L.A. will have, by far, their team’s best available passer. After their most recent performances, it’s reasonable to suggest that Rivers and the Clippers cannot afford to wait much longer. Beyond Hawksquawk gamethreads, a two-game slide is not normally cause for concern. After all, L.A. outlasted visiting Oklahoma City last week, even after Paul exited the game late in the first quarter, to win their seventh-straight. But the Clips sure have been streaky, even with Paul around. That winning streak was preceded by a six-game losing skid, including a Christmas Day lump-of-coal from their housemate Lakers. Last Thursday, Karl-Anthony went to town on the Clippers with 37 points to help the Wolves steal one at Staples Center. Then, kick-starting a five-game road swing in Denver, the Clippers were breathless at high altitude. One of the league’s worst defenses (stop me if this sounds familiar), the Nuggets held L.A. to 98 points, while scoring 123 themselves. Looking ahead, the good news is the Clippers get a four-day break after playing the Sixers on Tuesday. The bad news? That rest precedes a trip to Golden State. This run of away games is part of an arduous stretch that includes 10-of-11 games on the road, broken up only by a visit next week from the Warriors. Flights to Boston, Toronto, Charlotte, and Utah await. To go into the All-Star break, they’ll conclude with Schröder and the Hawks at Staples, and they’ll kick off the back half of the season in Oakland once again. All of this, without CP3. This upcoming slate doesn’t appear to ease up for Los Angeles until early March. In the meantime, things could go very sideways with a spate of bad losses, and that could imperil the coaching status of not just Rivers, but other former Hawk luminaries on the staff, namely Hill and Mike Woodson. Even with their stars back, a 4-or-5-seed in April spells a titanic first-round clash ahead of pending doom versus a likely-rested Warriors club. An even lower seed would be unfathomable to owner Steve Ballmer, and maybe untenable. But a 6-or-7-seed might be the only rational path to the long-awaited conference finals for Paul and Griffin, who could each opt out and hit the exits this summer if they choose. Tonight, needing a spark of momentum, the Hawks’ all-time assist-maker could stand to catch a break from the most likely candidate (Schröder) to be Atlanta’s future banner-holder. In any case, what Rivers needs even more is some sense of composure and resolve from the key remnants on his roster. That includes his son, guard Austin Rivers. That includes a roster loaded with experienced veterans. And that especially includes Doc’s max-contract, All-NBA 1st Team center. Without Paul around to order him to crash the glass and own the paint, DeAndre Jordan came thoroughly unglued during the third quarter in Denver. As the Nuggets widened the 8-point gap into the twenties, Jordan seemingly wanted out of the game. Rivers would not oblige, so Jordan reacted with three quick fouls, the last one an egregious whack at Nikola Jokic’s arm that earned him a technical, and the rest of the night off. Whichever of the starting centers in tonight’s matchup, Jordan (NBA-high 69.0 2FG%, 64.0% of FGs are dunks, NBA career-leading 67.2 FG%; 34.6 D-Reb%, 3rd in NBA) or Atlanta’s Dwight Howard (31.1 D-Reb%, 6th in NBA), brings less histrionics and more end-to-end production to the court today puts his team in good standing over the course of 48 minutes. With continuously thin rebounding options coming off the bench, Howard must avoid early foul trouble. Plus/minus-wise, Dwight is -38 on the season (14 games) when he piles up four or more personals, +49 (25 games) otherwise. The Clippers have an array of experienced bigs to turn to, including the floor-stretching Marreese Speights (39.4 3FG%) and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (39.1 3FG%). Paul Millsap has to trust that Howard can hold his own keeping Jordan off the offensive glass, stepping out of the paint to make catches-and-shots from three-point territory tough on the Clipper forwards. Three early fouls by Austin in Denver had Papa Doc scrambling, turning to Raymond Felton more than he’d like. Jamal Crawford (25.4 FG% since Dec. 28, 1-for-20 3FGs in past 7 games) and J.J. Redick are not at their best when they’re relied upon as ball-movers, but that’s what the Clippers need when Austin cannot stay on the floor. Backcourt options aside from Rivers should continue to struggle tonight to keep up with Schröder, who remains a cunning passer (9 assists, 1 TO vs. PHI this past Saturday) even when his shot is occasionally off-kilter, and Kent Bazemore (7-for-12 FGs vs. PHI; 41.0 January 3FG%), who continues to seek out his offensive comfort zone while meeting Coach Bud’s defensive demands. Dennis averages 4.8 APG and 2.8 TOs/game on the season when he shoots below his season-average of 47.1 FG%, values that have improved to 5.9 APG and 2.6 TOs/game this month. Schröder also contributed on the defensive end with a pair of steals in the win over Philly, and should continue those efforts tonight to match Rivers’ attempts at steals and deflections. Baze and Thabo Sefolosha need not sag on L.A.’s struggling perimeter shooters, and must make Crawford and Redick (36.1 3FG%) put the ball on the floor and drive inside in search of offense. The Clippers want to stem their downward momentum now, not waiting for Griffin and Paul to get back up to speed. If they struggle now, and in a couple weeks, with teams like Atlanta, Budenholzer may find himself taking queries, from Hawks point guards of the past, about the availability of assistant seats between him and the Hawks point guard of the present and future. Rise Up! And Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  14. Gonna hafta start The Mole, I figure. ~lw3