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  1. “Will Trae ever return to Genoa City? Can he ever forgive Nate for his transgressions? And does the DNA test reveal Aaron as the real father of Baby Justin? Find out next time, on another sizzling episode of…” Cue the bubble machine, and the tiniest of violins! Y’all already know I love me some soaps, especially the daytime variety back in the days when I didn’t need, like, a real jerb or nothing. One thing that would be sure to grind my gears was when a longtime stalwart actor was unceremoniously replaced, on a Thursday, with zero advance warning. “The role of Carly Manning will now be played by Maggie McGillicutty.” The words hurl across the TV banner like a storm warning, with no elaboration as the new B-actress enters the operating room. And we fans are supposed to just sit there on the loveseat with our SnackWells and take it? I think the heck not! You are nobody’s Carly, Maggie, if that is indeed your name! What is this hot New Coke mess? Nobody asked for you. Boo! Hiss! Allow me to put my Monday Morning Ombud hat on, ahead of today’s game between our Atlanta Hawks and the Oklahoma City Thunder (7:30 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL), and try to untangle the latest taut drama between still-fresh franchise face Trae Young and his latest warm-seat head taskmaster, Nate McMillan. If the ulti-Nate-um – go home and catch up on Dawson’s Creek, or, come sit by me, as the curtain rises for Friday’s home match with the Nuggets with Aaron Holiday starting – is as reported by Shams and Sam at The Athletic (we got a beat writer over there yet, or nah?), then you’d have to retrieve an old Thrashers game on DVD to find a worse power play. McMillan failed his own carefully-crafted Basketball C.C.C test. He didn’t stay Calm when he was dismayed about Trae not willing to risk aggravating shoulder discomfort for shootaround. He wasn’t Clear about the reason for Young’s pregame reticence, even though he has assistants and training staff around him that could have given him adequate details before he approached his most valued player. And the pu pu platter of options he presented was a surefire way of getting more disConnected than the pair already was. I emphasize “already was,” here, because the reported approach from Nate suggests there was ample consternation and confrontation between the two well in advance of the loopy fiasco that unfolded Friday morning. Much like misinformation becomes dangerous when formed as disinformation, miscommunication becomes an unhealthy fuel for diss communication, which appears to have transpired during the brooding in Brookhaven. “It was just a miscommunication in that situation with Trae,” Nate explained to media only after The Athletic’s cherry-bombshell coursed its way through the NBA-osphere. “Just as simple as that.” There should be no “simple” miscommunication that causes Hawks fans to miss out on its showcase star on a Friday night against a reigning league MVP, to say nothing Young’s fellow players, who went out and performed as admirably as they have all season long, for a full game, in his and many others’ absence. McMillan inherited Lloyd Pierce’s Frankenstein, but he bristles at his own inability to mold this monstrous talent into one that is the opposite of a defensive liability, that understands how to steer the pace of games to throw opponents out of rhythm, that knows when to unfurl those 30-foot bombs and behind-the-back dishes, and when to just execute a tried-and-true play. McMillan will always be the bigger man, for as long as we have scales and calipers around. Yet the road ahead will test Young to become the bigger man in the proverbial sense. How quickly they genuinely re-connect will be a determining factor in how long they stay members of the Atlanta Hawks Basketball Club. Not just together. Young could choose to stomp and stammer to the front office, estimating that his profile as a fan favorite and McMillan’s lackluster standing grants him leverage, a battle axe that at least approximates what KD wielded over the summer. But if he takes things too far and starts acting like First Aunt Viv on the set, Schlenk and Company could tap Trae’s heels, dangling a mix of second-rounders and swap options in pick-whore executive Sam Presti’s face. Suddenly, we’re extolling the merits of Dejounshai in The A, while Trae finds himself not in Beverly Hills but stuck in somebody else’s rebuild, singing the theme song to 227. I mean no place, child. Whoo! “The anticipated role of Luka Doncic will now be cast by Trae Young.” From the preseason buzzer-beating game-winner in his rookie preseason home debut, to his dazzling, scene-stealing acts just last week in Orlando, All-NBA Trae his been worth all of the flowers and trophies and accolades tossed in his direction, as Atlanta and Hawks fans have grown to embrace him. “The role of Atlanta All-Star-Caliber Mega-Talent will henceforth be played by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.” Sorry, Trae. But I’d just have to lay here on my beanbag and sip my Fresca and deal with it. He was shelved in the closing months of last season, as part of Presti’s Operation Chet scheme, and conveniently made it through just 35 games in 2020-21. But so long as he stays reasonably healthy going forward, Shaivonte Aician Gilgeous-Alexander, about eleven weeks Trae’s elder, is an ongoing S.A.G.A. that I could bingewatch. Shai would be no Maggie McGillicutty. Bursting through with a career-high 31.1 PPG while sinking over half his shots and 90 percent of his freebies? Along with 6.0 APG for coach Mark Daigneault’s amazingly 10-13 club, whose next-best upright talent might be Lugie Dort? Another ballhawk on defense with stocks for days on end? Plus, an extended salary that won’t eclipse $40 million until 2026-27? Don’t touch that dial! Trae may not be right back. Top-ten once more in the league for points and assists, Young can firm up his annual credentials for league MVP consideration. Among the NBA’s most durable and successful coaches, now six victories shy of 750 regular season wins after Friday’s Trae-less win over Denver, McMillan can wake up one day to find himself enshrined in Springfield. But the most likely path to these things happening requires these two committing to work better with each other, Trae in particular displaying a willingness to Leggo his Ego for the greater good. As The Hawks Turn has to be a short-lived drama, and one not White Lotus-style, if only because the glow-up of the blow-up could soon be the center of attention in a sports town that, suddenly, doesn’t have much of its own manufactured spectacles going on. (Bye, DeGrom. Hello, Verlander!) The Knicks are looking to run it back after getting pants-ed by Dejountae last month, while Jacque Vaughn’s Nets are relieved to have Kyrie back with his mind on his hoopin’ and his hoopin’ on his mind. Both Big Apple clubs and their sour apple fans would appreciate catching up with Atlanta (13-10) in the standings, as the visitors have all of their attention fixated inward. The Hawks can’t get caught looking ahead, anyway, not with the supporting cast looking like bed-ridden stand-ins around a bickering Luke and Laura at General Hospital. And not against a Thunder team that’s playing right now like they’ve got One Life to Live. OKC arrived in Atlanta after coaxing the referee-distracted Timberwolves into immolating themselves, Shai waltzing to the charity stripe for 12 perfect free throw attempts along the way to a 135-128 win, the Thunder’s second straight victory. Filling in for the unavailable De’Andre Hunter and John Collins, A.J. Griffin and Jalen Johnson can’t be caught looking like amateur hour opposite Josh Giddey (21 points, 12 rebounds, 7 assists @ MIN) and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. Atlanta’s bench, bolstered by the return of Bogi Bogdanovic, has to at least hold serve against a returning Mike Muscala (missed two weeks after breaking a pinky) the Williams Boys, inclusive of Kenrich and whichever of the Ja. Williams rooks Daigneault elects to throw out there. Much like the Hawks’ up-and-down season to date, the tattered Nate-Trae relationship is still reparable, and there remains ample time to build back better for the benefit of all involved. A maturing Trae can become the Guiding Light that propels the Hawks to higher heights. But if he begins acting publicly like he’d rather be in Another World, and isn’t obliged, then the balance of this season could leave us all just passing the time, like sands through the hourglass. Congrats to The Crime Dog. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  2. “Sorry to intrude on your conversation, kind sir. But if you don’t mind my asking, what is a GMA3?” Is it against the CBA rules to sign Scott Hastings to a ten-day deal? We’d only need the former NBA big man, whose career-high eight starts were during one of five Atlanta Hawks seasons in the mid-1980s, for one of these ten days. And sure, he’s, like, 63 or something, and gainfully employed. But I know of few guys 6-foot-10 and up who have a better read on two-time MVP Nikola Jokic, ahead of tonight’s visit by the Denver Nuggets (7:30 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Altitude TV in DEN), than the longtime Denver sports game analyst (Wiki even tells me he color-commentated Broncos games back in the day. Watch your back, Russell). Come on, Landry and Schlenky. Even a non-guaranteed vet-min for Scotty won’t break Tony’s piggy bank! The front office for our Hawks (12-10, still First Place in the Filthy South!) seemed content with fielding a 14-man roster until at least the mid-December trading window opened. Players and staff seemed content to wait until the official return of wing sniper Bogdan Bogdanovic (questionable, knee injury recovery) to the court before figuring out how to properly gel. Now the Serbian sharpshooter might suit up – might – just in time to get plugged into the 4-spot versus the likes of Aaron Gordon. “Dobrodošli nazad!” Magnificent as usual in Orlando, Trae Young (30 points on 10-for-12 2FGs, 14 assists and 2 TOs) tried to sneak in one more highlight to John Collins before halftime, and Collins’ ankle, upon descent, wound up catching the business end of Paolo Banchero’s protruded heel. JC will miss at least two weeks of NBA action, hopefully preceded by De’Andre Hunter (out, minimum one week), who tried to play through a bum hip only to re-aggravate it seven minutes into the Magic game. Probably from kicking Magic behinds, and himself for blowing the bunny that would have made him a perfect 10-for-10 from the field, Clint Capela has a sore foot and is questionable for tonight’s proceedings. Questionable at most times of the day, Frank Kaminsky shares the same pregame designation as Capela due to a sprained foot. Same for Jalen Johnson, who continues recovering from a sore ankle. Even Justin Holiday, much like Yours Truly, remains under stringent Health ‘n Safety Protocols. Altogether, that does not bode well for the Atlanta front line, such that it is (we need two dots, I'm told, to create a line), versus the reigning two-time MVP. Onyeka Okongwu (+1 plus/minus or worse in last 11 appearances) has had ample opportunities to see what it looks like when a shorthanded opponent goes out and hands it to the Hawks anyway. Now that Atlanta will be on the more-shorthanded side of the coins with its starting forwards out, we’ll see if The Needs to Play Bigger O can help ensure attitudes get flipped, so tails aren’t spanked, and heads won’t roll. Gwu Tang filled in as a starter in Capela’s old stomping grounds last week and failed to get so much as a shot off in over 30 minutes on the floor, as the Rockets, who started a freshly-returning Bruno Fernando in place of Alperen Sengun, thoroughly lapped the Hawks in the rebounding department. Young and Dejounte Murray are fixing the get-shots-off issue for Okongwu, who managed 12 points and 8 boards (incl. 4 O-Rebs) in 17 minutes during Wednesday’s 125-108 gathering of the Magic. But with Collins out and Capela, if available, shadowing Jokic from the three-point line to the elbows, Onyeka’s rim-protection and ball-securing skills will be at a premium. Fortunately, the Hawks’ A.J. Griffin has some girth with his 6-foot-6 frame, enough to play some minutes at the 4-spot, while two-way wing Jarrett Culver (12 boards) showed off some rebounding chops in Orlando. Hawks coach Nate McMillan can pair either or both of these players with one of the league’s better rebounding guards in Dejounte Murray (5.8 RPG, down from 8.3 and 7.1 in his prior two seasons w/ SAS), and there should be enough to negate Gordon's size advantage while limiting Denver’s second-chance opportunities. If Murray isn’t helping to dig for caroms on defense, it’s likely because he is looking to thwart Jamal Murray and Bones Hyland on pull-ups from the perimeter (40.7 and 44.4 pull-up 3FG%, respectively, 4th and 6th among 28 NBA’ers w/ 3.0 pull-up 3FGAs/game), and shots caught from Jokic (career-high 8.9 APG so far; 12 dimes in Wednesday’s blasting of Bruno's Rockets for a second consecutive meeting) in the corners, where Denver’s 44.8 3FG% paces the league. Georgia-grown Nuggets starter Kentavious Caldwell-Pope tends to be a corner-shot beneficiary, while defensive ace Bruce Brown (40.3 3FG% on 3.4 shots/game, doubling his career-high volume) has come into his own as a gunner of late. They’ve been a relief for Jamal Murray (probable, bruised quad), who is still regaining traction after being shelved last season for ACL recovery. Trae (2 thefts over the past 5 games, none in the prior two, after a 10-game steal streak) has to be more than pedestrian on the defensive end of the floor for the Hawks, getting deflections, closing out and anticipating when his man is leaking out for triples. Who’s with me in calling these roster tables “shallowness charts” henceforth? The Nuggets aren’t close to fielding a full squad, either. Michael Porter is back on the IL with a strained heel, forcing Michael Malone’s hand into pressing Brown into productive action. Gordon’s backup Jeff Green has a sore knee and is doubtful to appear. The Nuggets field a full 15, yet Malone finds himself with bench players that are either a bit long in the tooth (Uncle Jeff, DeAndre Jordan, Ish Smith) or a bit wet behind the ears (Peyton Watson, Christian Braun), or a little of both (Davon Reed, Vlatko Cancar). Denver’s faring well at 14-7 (10-0 when compiling 30+ assists), seeking to extend their winning streak to five this evening. But that’s largely because Jokic is Jokic, KCP and Brown have stepped up as excellent additions, and because Jokic and mission-critical players have managed to stay out of early foul trouble. The Nuggets also boast a league-high 8 road wins. But three of Denver’s biggest blowout defeats, 20-plus deficits all on the road, featured the Nuggets hacking over 20 times, even though the recipients of the whistles didn’t shoot their free throws particularly well, certainly not as well as Atlanta (85.3 team home FT%, 2nd in NBA). The downsized frontcourt for Atlanta does not mean Trae and Dejounte need to up their three-point shot volume just to try keeping up with the Nugget shooters from outside. Getting around Jamal and Jokic and driving to the paint, can create enough havoc that it can draw the contact needed to ensure productive possessions. If Dejountrae draws Brown and KCP in to help, and Griffin or, should he be able to join us, Bogi can be the ones canning shots from outside, all the more terrific. On second thought, Mr. Fields, hold off on that call to Hastings, or anyone else, as we’ve got all the help we need in-house. Brian Oliver might be good for some BIG3 buckets, while I think Nique can still catch a well-timed lob or two. Keep your tie on, Bob. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  3. The Hawks’ Secret Offensive Play-caller… REVEALED! There’s no telling what will happen if our Atlanta Hawks find themselves in a late dogfight tonight, against the Magic in down in O-Town (7 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 103.3 FM in ATL, Bally Sports Florida). But the conclusion to Monday’s contest in Philly left echoes from Sunday’s goofs on the gridiron in D.C. Tonight’s final frame may reinforce why the Southeast Division could become the NFC South of the NBA. The Tompa Brady Bucs are atop the NFC Sloth for the same reason the Miami heat haven’t already reasserted their place above the Wizards and Hawks (11-10) in the NBA Filthy South Division. A revolving door of injuries have those Floriduh teams taking their time, making it just on fumes and coaching competency. Atlanta’s bird-brained teams, meanwhile, seem satisfied just trying to fake their way to the top, from one game to the next. Game on the line with seconds to go? Let’s have Marcus Mariota pass the ball Unwashed Russ Wilson Super Bowl-style mere yards away from the end zone, concluding a drive where the opponent had no good answer for Atlanta’s running backs. Or, let’s have John Collins catch the ball with an open three opportunity, only to drive the seconds away amid a forest of defenders, looking to somehow thread a needle for Mr. Reliable Around The Rim, Clint Capela. Go ahead and draw it up yourself, Marcus! Just as well. The Hawks are still an above-.500 team, for the moment. Alas, nothing about their negative-0.9 Net Rating suggests they are bound to stay that way. The Magic (5-16) will remain below-.500, with or without a home win here at Amway Center this evening, and no matter how much young scoring leaders Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner mature along the way. The latter situation is fine though, because Orlando’s stale front office is fine selling to fans the league’s best young novelty act. Coach Jamahl Mosley is eager to place 2022 top-pick Banchero (27.5 3FG%) at the 3-spot, Wagner (31.7 3FG%) at the 2. This allows Mosely to go four-on-the-floor at 6-foot-10 and up, something the Magic could pull off for whole games if Franz’ brother Moe was more skilled, Jonathan Isaac less slept, Carter more a picture of health. Halfcourt defense looks a lot like those floppy things at the car dealership lots. In the Does It Matter Tho? Department, Carter has been out with a strained plantar fascia, while Mo Bamba (questionable) is trying to play despite back spasms. No problem, here in the Quarantine ManCave, because its sole inhabitant is strapped in for another installment of The Bol Bol Show Fo Sho. You’ve seen all the highlights and trending video snippets over the past couple weeks, the galloping 220-pound giant and son of the late Manute a fullcourt feast for the eyes. “Bol’s 7-foot-2, shoots 3s, brings it up the court, makes passes, and blocks shots,” Banchero noted to HoopsHype, ostensibly to hype his teammate up for Most Improved Player candidacy, but also to draw attention to what he’s doing versus NBA-quality talent right now, as scouts and draftniks slobber over “the Victor dude, from France.” Team prez Jeff Weltman and his pal John Hammond have to be giddy at the prospects, and at the prospect of people calling about their top prospects. Once the Magic officially clinch a top-four Repondez S’il Vous Plait for Wemby-don, their cellies won’t stop buzzing with offers for Wagner, Bol, Carter (declining salary through 2025-26), and even Banchero. Isaac’s contract is dump-able before January 10, so a partnership in a big-money deal to get his Oh Noes I’ve Been Canceled World Tour formally underway is possible, too. Whichever of the bigs they keep should have many more assets built around them by the end of next summer, and Bol himself provides plenty of entertainment to pass the time. I am perfectly fine with Mosely handing Bol a third of the team usage, and let the guy act out like Bebe’s Kid at the Disney park – “It’s Ma World!” In the shadow of Lake Buena Vista there are always mice in the house to exploit with Mosely’s tall-ball experiments. They can clear a lane (scores on 65.6% of drives, 3rd in NBA) for Jalen Suggs or each other, or collapse the defense around the rim in hopes either of Gary Harris (47.6 3FG%) or Terrence Ross catch a heater. They find themselves doomed to be a cellar-dweller, at least in the short term, not just because of inexperience playing together, but because at some point, these big galoots have to dribble the ball to the floor, and often the ball doesn’t make its way fully back up. Orlando’s 16.7 TOs per 100 possessions is ahead of only Houston’s rate, their 8.5 opponent steals per-48 right in line with fellow dwellers Houston and San Antonio. There’s a good opportunity for Dejounte Murray to get back up to speed and spark the transition offense, which has been Atlanta’s bread-and-margarine (NBA-high 54.9% scoring frequency on transition plays; 16.6% of all game plays transition, 16th in NBA). Murray and the Atlanta bigs can spark the transition by getting good position inside against an Orlando team that isn’t as stout rebounding the ball as it looks on the floor, especially without Carter, and make things easier on themselves for the later stages of the game. But when does an Atlanta professional team do that this time of year, really? Rise Sideways! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  4. Not Good Enoughie Mob Tidbits time! THANK YOU SIRS, MAY WE HAVE ANOTHER? – Let’s just get this one out the way. Trounced in the second half again yesterday, this time at home, our Atlanta Hawks will try to stop the bleeding on the road, in Philly against the 76ers (7 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Philadelphia). INJURY/ILLNESS REPORT – For the Hawks, Jalen’s questionable (sore ankle), DeAndre’s questionable (sore foot), Clint’s questionable (chewed a jawbreaker). The gamethread writer is under Health and Safety Protocols at Chez Lethal (just HAD to go out to Thanksgiving dinner, didn’t ya? Sigh.) but is day-to-day. For the Sixers, Joel Embiid is upgraded to questionable, while James Harden and Tyrese Maxey remain out. Someone writing the Report is having a grand time typing “tenosynovitis”, which has caused Matisse Thybulle’s ankle to render him questionable. DeAndre’s buddy P.J. Tucker is probable (sore ankle) after getting sat for the second half last night. ERRATA – Orlando Robinson was waived by the heat days ago, his two-way offer extended to Dru Smith, so he shouldn’t have been mentioned on yesterday's gamethread thingy. Also, “scattered, covered and smothered” was fine, but given Sunday’s halftime entertainment, “screwed and chopped” was Right. There. O-TOWN FUNK YOU UP – The Hawks offered up their share of reasons for mailing in the second half last night, while packing to race the Sixers (now also 11-9) to the Philly Airport. Without his Big Three, Doc Rivers has been able to count on Tobias Harris, Shake Milton (season-high 29 points last night) and the troll responsible for Mr. Shoots and Ladders himself, Montrezl Harrell. In Orlando, bench contributions from Danuel House, Paul Reed (career-high 13 boards), Furkan Korkmaz and Georges Niang were more than palpable. The Sixers allowed the Magic to miss more threes than Philly took along the way to a 133-103 cruise. Even with Embiid unavailable, Philadelphia allows an NBA-low 106.0 PPG, opponents hitting just 31.1 percent on 3FGs. Take your time, Mr. Harden. FLYING LOW NOW – Sunday evening’s 106-98 loss to the heat snapped a string of 40 consecutive regular season games (not counting Play-Ins) where Atlanta reached triple digits in scoring. Miami was responsible for holding the Hawks below 100 in three of five playoff games, so it’s safe to simply assume Erik Spoelstra has coach Nate McMillan’s number until further notice. For what it’s worth, Hawks PR notes the 19-game stretch of 100+ points was the longest to kickstart a season in Atlanta-era history, surpassing the 1973-74 club, while falling two games short of the all-time mark set by rookie Lenny Wilkens’ NBA Finalist St. Louis Hawks of 1960-61. LAST NAME TEN – After tying Doc last night, Trae Young (season-high 14 dimes vs. MIA) can surpass him on the Hawks’ franchise list with what would be his 139th double-digit assist tally. C’mon, Glenn. At least, let us have that! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  5. Bucks Be Like… 16 minutes, three rebounds, one point. When Al Horford last set foot on the hardwood where he once reigned, at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena, the five-time NBA All-Star found himself benched by head coach Ime Udoka in the fourth quarter, as third-year forward Grant Williams assumed much of Horford’s role on the Boston Celtics. In 23 minutes versus the Hawks, Williams managed exactly as many field goals and rebounds as Al. Horford was among the more effective Celtics, by default, as Boston sought to shave down a 15-point halftime deficit. But later, as Al looked on from afar, the Hawks began splashing threes in the fourth quarter and aggressively forced Boston into turnovers, pushing the lead back beyond reach. The 108-92 victory moved Atlanta (23-25) to within one game of the Celtics. Two teams, with coaches and star players struggling to gain traction, both of whom seemed to be moving past Horford. It was looking as though Al, well over 35 years of age, would become not much more than a bit player with Boston going forward, assuming he would survive the Trade Deadline. Like Jeezy, Horf is far removed from his “Young” years, his once dedicated Hawk fans having long since shifted their focus to a new Young savior. Boston seemed about ready to move on, as well. But a funny thing happened along the path to near-certain NBA retirement. Against Atlanta, Udoka merely elected to reserve Al’s energies for the business end of a back-to-back, as Boston secured a rare road victory, in New Orleans. The C’s would go on to win eight more games. Their 11-2 stretch before the All-Star Break preceded a 17-5 run afterwards, catapulting Boston out of Play-In Land. Al would proceed to average 35 minutes per game in the Playoffs, leading his team with 48.0 3FG% and 9.3 RPG. With his help, Udoka’s squad impressed the Nets with an opening-round sweep, then outlasted the Bucks and heat in seven games. Suddenly, Al Horford was something he could not become in his nine Atlanta seasons – an NBA Finalist – and he wasn’t satisfied with simply coming along for the ride. His clutch shots, along the way to a team-high 26 points, helped leave Draymond Green looking punch-drunk during a Game 1 upset in San Francisco. Eventually, the Celts would get put to bed by Steph Curry in six games of the championship series. Yet Horford’s fountain-of-youth spurts to set the tone on Boston’s behalf would not go unheralded. Al made his move into 20-mill-ville when he spurned Atlanta as a free agent in 2016. He bailed Beantown in a failed move to Philly three seasons later on a new four-year deal, partially guaranteed for this final season, then gratefully returned to Boston after an exile in OKC. Now, the Celtics (11-3) have returned to their desired perch as veritable Finals contenders (Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have a bit to do with this, too), seeking their eighth-straight victory tonight at Atlanta’s expense (7:30 PM, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, ESPN). Horford, meanwhile, is viewed through a slightly different prism than the one he held at the peak of his Hawks career. Leader. Clutch Player. Essential Cog. When Bawse ruled the roost in The A, such traits struggled to stick to his persona, commensurate with Atlanta’s oft-sketchy playoff exits. Now, if he is instrumental in Boston’s drive to return to The Finals, Al could achieve a status his former Hawks backup, Zaza Pachulia, earned with the Warriors. Cult Hero. And probably a guaranteed post-retirement job, in Brad Stevens’ front office, if the happy New Englander so desires. More unexpected things would transpire before the Celtics could convene for training camp. Udoka was suspended indefinitely by the club, Boston turning to an assistant, in Joe Mazzulla, who problematic relations with the fairer sex were resolved before he could find his way into The Association as a coach. Arthroscopic surgery on Robert Williams’ knee meant his return to play would be delayed for weeks, if not months. On top of offseason acquisition Danilo Gallinari’s untimely knee injury during Eurobasket, R-Will’s absence portended a return to significant reliance on Horford, particularly major minutes at his long-dreaded center role, from the season’s start. It was either that, or long, hard looks at the likes of Luke Kornet, Sam Hauser, the acid-washed Blake Griffin, and Noah Vonleh. Horford, it is. Al (45.3 3FG%) and G-Will (48.8 3FG%) have thrived as floor-spacing bigs, giving both Tatum (31.9 PPG, 3rd-highest in NBA; career-bests of 59.4 2FG% and 8.7 FTAs/game, up from 52.4% and 6.2 last season) and Brown (career-bests of 25.4 PPG, 56.0 2FG% and 83.1 FT%) more room to attack inside and draw munificent trips to the free throw line. Whether this was Udoka’s or Mazzulla’s design from the beginning, the variety of ways Boston (NBA-high 122.6 post-Break O-Rating last season) can get buckets has the Tatum-and-Brown-led collective posting offensive efficiencies (NBA-best 118.8 O-Rating, highest since NBA-ABA merger) that rival those from the latter-stage Bird-and-McHale era. As Horford splashed six threes on eight tries, Boston sandblasted Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets to the tune of 131 regulation points last Friday. The Celtics piled on the points versus Detroit, at Detroit and back home versus OKC in recent days. Defensive slippage on the Celtics’ part, though, nearly cost them their winning streak prematurely versus a game Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Boston outlasting OKC on Monday for the 126-122 win. With this transition from a defensive-facing team to an offensive one, the Celts have been carrying on, lately, without the services of Malcolm Brogdon (out, strained hammy), who is brought into the fold to enhance the play options in relief of Marcus Smart (out, inflamed ankle). Tonight extends a theme for the Hawks (9-5) facing a club suddenly making-do without a key ballhandling guard or two. With Jrue Holiday a late scratch on Monday in Milwaukee, the Bucks (20.7 team 3FG%) could not create enough dribble penetration to draw in help defenders and generate uncontested threes, Atlanta rendering Giannis Antetokounmpo’s output perfunctory as they cruised to a 121-106 victory. The Bucks, without Jrue, also could not stop Trae Young nor Dejounte Murray (combined 40 points, 14 assists, 3 player TOs) from getting wherever on the court they wanted to be. Their scrambling created seams for De’Andre Hunter (10-for-10 FTs, team-high 24 points) to exploit. Atlanta will need Hunter and John Collins active in getting out to the perimeter to contest Boston’s bigs, allowing Clint Capela to play centerfield in retrieving the ball from Tatum and Brown’s shots and drives. Murray and the Hawk guards helping Atlanta to secure defensive rebounds can ignite the break and force Boston’s star scorers to spend more time on their heels than they’d like. A day will come when #15 will hang from the arena rafters for Horford, the mainstay for the once-troubled franchise’s most sustained postseason activity in a couple generations. That was a stretch for the Hawks that began in 2008, when he bedeviled the Celtics along the way to the latter’s last NBA title. If he plays his cards right this season in bringing Boston close to title #18, Horford may one day find a #42 hanging from a Boston arena, too. Further, the Garden may not be the only building in Massachusetts where he finds himself bestowed with a once-unforeseen commemoration. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  6. “The Hawks? Hahaha. DON’T LET THEM FOOL YA!” So much for calm, clear, connected, eh? Frazzled, frayed and frenetic with its top-heavy scoring approach, the Hawks proved too easy for a shorthanded 3-14 Rockets team to topple, Houston walking Atlanta down after the visitors mistook Friday’s game for a walkover. Now Nate McMillan’s team saunters back to Atlanta with their tailfeathers between their legs once more. This time, to face the team that ousted them in 2022’s NBA Playoffs, Erik Spoelstra’s Miami heat (5 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Bally Sports Sun in MIA). Up to 11 of the 17 players on Spoelstra’s roster are either out for today (inclusive of Jimmy Butler and Victor Oladipo with varied knee ailments, plus Omer Yurtseven and two-way big Orlando Robinson) or listed as questionable or probable among the running wounded. The latter grouping includes Tyler Herro, Max Strus, Gabe Vincent, Dewayne Dedmon, Duncan Robinson and Caleb Martin. Yet one gets the sense that 29 coaching staffs conspire to up the ante on how many players, including All-Stars, that they can shelve and still give Nate McMillan’s charges a run for their money. Atlanta (11-8, 1.0 games ahead the Wizards in the Southeast Division) may again have to solider forward without the services of Clint Capela (questionable, too much Thanksgiving peanut brittle). And Bam Adebayo (38 points, 12 rebounds in Friday’s 110—107 win vs. WAS) will look to feast unless Onyeka Okongwu, DeAndre Hunter and John Collins commit to quit getting gashed along the glass. As you’re aware, the Hawks were out-boarded 59-28 along the way to blowing a 15-point second-half edge versus the Rockets. Bradley Beal’s return from a thigh injury to rejoin Kyle Kuzma and Kristaps Porzingis was not enough to close the gap after Wednesday's loss in Miami. With insufficient team approaches to defense, moving without the ball, passing, and defensive rebounding, there won’t be enough high-powered scoring from guards Trae Young (season-high 44 @ HOU) and Dejounte Murray (career-high 39 points) for Atlanta (54.4 assist%, 29th in NBA) to outwit and outlast a heat team that may not need to go more than seven deep. Murray, in particular, needs to understand that you can’t form McMillan’s concept of a coordinated fist if you’re in the dishing-out-middle-fingers business. This is no time to be waffling, not in our house. Will Atlanta show up calm, clear and connected? Or scattered, covered, and smothered? Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  7. “Houston, we have… a Solution!” Steph Curry decided playtime was over. With Eric Gordon approaching in a hands-down defensive posture, Curry hoisted another of his patented, absurd three-point shots that had the touch, the feel of cotton on its trajectory down. Curry offers his lullaby pose to the Houston Rockets crowd in the aftermath of the game-sealing shot, his Warriors winning 127-120 to gain their first road victory of the season. That defeat for the Rockets, dropping them to a league-worst 3-14, was on Sunday night. It was their last game, too, before tonight’s versus the Hawks at Toyota Center (8 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, AT&T SportsNet in HTX). If they chose, Houston could have kicked back and scouted the Hawks’ loss on Monday in Cleveland, and Wednesday’s bounce back win here at State Farm Arena over Sacramento, just to prepare. They could have enjoyed a Thanksgiving feast, then get in line for the Black Friday free-for-alls at Galleria, while awaiting the Hawks’ arrival. Coach Stephen Silas’ crew has had a lot going on since dropping the season-opener, 117-107 in Atlanta. Questions abound whether their spryer leading scorer Jalen Green (probable, sore toe) should subsume more of the ball-handling duties currently shared with Kevin Porter, Jr. Another Junior, rookie Jabari Smith is shooting just 33.3 percent from the field in his first 16 starts, feeling the outside pressure to keep pace with the league’s top pick in Orlando. Another Junior, Kenyon Martin had been feeling crowded out in a rotation that includes Jae’Sean Tate (out, sore ankle) and rookie Tari Eason. Former Hawk backup big Bruno Fernando (questionable, sore knee) is back and getting up to speed after suffering an injury in just his second game of the season, his extended absence upping the burden on Alperen Sengun (doubtful, strained groin) to keep the restricted area restricted. A former sixth-man stalwart now averaging over 30 MPG, the 34-year-old Gordon is trying to keep himself upright, and his bags packed, as trade season approaches. The upshot for the Hawks, though, is these are amazingly well-rested players they’re facing, one in the middle of a four-game homestand, despite the varied injuries and aggravations. Just before Houston’s home stretch began, they were up the road in Dallas, knocking off a Mavericks team that thought it safe enough to DNP-Rest Luka Doncic. It’s always fun to watch Rayford T. Young remind everyone why he is Trae M.F. Young, and he did that on Wednesday with 35 points (9-for-9 FTs, 4-for-5 second-half 3FGs) to help the Hawks (11-7) stiff-arm Sacramento. It is still important for his fellow starters (combined 18-for-50 FGs vs. SAC) to get going on the offensive end. Dejounte Murray and the Hawks can recover in transition by exploiting Houston, the league’s most turnover-prone team (NBA-highs of 17.6 TOs/game, 22.9 opponent points per-48 off TOs). Neutralizing the Rockets (NBA-high 33.6 O-Reb%) further will require Clint Capela, Onyeka Okongwu and John Collins limiting the hosts to one-and-done possessions, then getting out on the fastbreak for quality setups by the guards. Usually, Houston is no Freddy Krueger on the court. But on this night, with or without the tryptophan, they will be as fresh and rested as they’ve been all season long. Whatever you do, Atlanta, don’t fall asleep! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  8. “You know the rules. And so do I!” It’s that season again, and I’m not talking pumpkin spice! This go-round, we’ve got at least one NBA Front Office that ought to be offering an abundance of thanks to the good, giving people at the Atlanta Hawks Basketball Club. Tom Thibodeau might have been on the outs already, and who knows who else up in Gotham, had he not finally come around to figuring out Cameron Reddish should have a spot somewhere in the starting lineup of the Knickerbockers. Before exiting the lineup due to a groin injury sustained while chasing Steph around a few days ago, Cam was scoring regularly in double-digits (16.5 PPG, 2.3 SPG) while being the defensive rover, when motivated, that we grew accustomed to here in the ATL. Shortly after his team’s how-the-turn-tables 112-99 loss to the Hawks at MSG, Thibs plugged in Reddish, in lieu of Evan Fournier and Quentin Grimes. The Knicks knocked off Utah and Denver to help secure a winning five-game road trip, charting a path back to .500 territory. Thibs, you’re safe. Reddish, plus the apparition of Solomon Hill, essentially cost New York Kevin Knox’s expiring rookie deal and a flip-able future Hornets pick. You’re welcome, Leon Rose! The Celtics’ historically good offensive efficiency is second-to-none… at least once more, after last night… and who knows what record-shattering heights it could have reached with an upright Danilo Gallinari? Sorry, Brad Stevens, we did what we could on our end to have Gallo ripe for the picking. Boston will just have to wrangle with a new top contender for O-Rating, if not much more. The prior owner of the top-spot in that category arrived in town early this morning, after a tilt last night in Memphis. And, goodness, these Sacramento Kings (117.7 O-Rating, behind the Celts’ 118.2) are over the moon. Light The Beam! And whatnot. It has been a week since Al Horford’s Celtics offense ran relentlessly roughshod over Atlanta. Now, another familiar face returns to State Farm Arena as the Hawks and Kings square off (7:30 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM, NBC Sports Network California). Kevin Huerter is enjoying a green-light enlightenment under coach Mike Brown’s watch, and neither he nor his new playoff-starved team can escape notice. “He’s playing like Klay, Steph,” effused a fellow Kevin, Mr. Durant, on his Boardroom podcast thingy. “If you’re not a basketball fan and locked in on the league, you gotta watch how Kevin Huerter is shooting the ball right now.” Or even if you are one, I imagine KD was trying to say. Huerter is giving Sacramento (NBA-high 49.8 team FG%) around 16 PPG, which is swell. But he is getting there while shooting a velvety-smooth 50.0 percent on his threes, an ideal supplement for point guard De’Aaron Fox (career-highs 62.6 FG% and 40.8 3FG%), ex-Pacer All-Star center Domantas Sabonis, and rookie forward Keegan Murray. Thanks in part to the Hawks, Huerter is rivaled only by Cleveland’s Donovan Mitchell (4-for-8 3FGs, Cavs-high +14 vs. ATL in Monday’s 114-102 win) with his positive 6.1 plus/minus average, fourth-highest among any NBA snipers (Mitchell, Curry, Desmond Bane) taking seven or more three-point shots per game. Being compared to vintage versions of Thompson is precisely what many Hawks fans dreamed about, when envisioning the 2018 mid-first-rounder’s ceiling as a sweet-shooting, high-energy starter alongside draft mate Trae Young. Right now, Klay is probably among the last people Huerter wants to hear about. Against the woeful Warriors defense on November 7, Huerter managed to find himself open along the left wing for a game-tying shot in the closing seconds. Kloseout Klay fouled Kevin as many times as Lionel Richie loved his lady, yet the referees missed all three contacts. Brown and the Kings would, once again, have to find solace in the league’s subsequent Last Two Minute Report. The week prior, Tyler Herro made like a Flintstones-car-starter before jumping to hit a game-winner for Miami against the Kings with seconds to spare. “It’s tough being a Sacramento King,” the coach told postgame media in strong disagreement with Mel Brooks, after the Dubs game. “I feel bad, because our guys fought. And they didn’t get an opportunity in overtime.” The Kings (10-6, coming off last night’s 113-109 win in Memphis, still averaging over 120 PPG) try to impart on their players the importance of keeping dangerous opponents off the three-point line and playing fullcourt for 48 minutes, lest they be subject to playing 5-on-8 against the league’s darlings with game outcomes on the line. That should be a tough task coming off a game last night. Atlanta’s offense will have to be firing at all cylinders. Sacramento played in October at Golden State one night after losing at home to the Clippers, and while they gave up 130 points, they did hang 125 on the Warriors to make it interesting. The Kings eventually swooned to 0-4 before this 10-2 run, including a landmark seven-game winning streak. But the team’s other five losses had them held below 115 points in each game. The return of De’Andre Hunter (probable, non-COVID illness) as an extra on-ball defender will aid Atlanta in exploiting what was once intended to be a schedule loss on paper. Huerter’s addition cost Sacramento a conditional future first-rounder and Justin Holiday. That’s shaping up to be quite the Black Friday sale, although that deal, and even Sabonis (career-high 6.0 APG to go with his double-double average), may not be enough to make folks in Cali’s capital city forget to wonder what life would be like with Tyrese Haliburton still around town. Much like Huerter, Haliburton is benefitting from a better NBA fit and team-wide commitment. In the spirit of helping fans misremember last season’s Haliburton deal, Kings GM Monte McNair is thankful to the Hawks, who pried Bogdan Bogdanovic (still out, injury recovery) from their grasp back in 2020 to embark on their triumphant return to playoff status. The NBA’s general managers are freshly tantalized by the talent Atlanta’s Landry Fields and Travis Schlenk may one day part with, on the heels of Huerter and Reddish’s respective rises. The departed Hawks’ successes to-date add value to up-and-coming prospects Onyeka Okongwu, Jalen Johnson, and AJ Griffin. While the rumors about the Hawks’ ownership growing gun-shy about the luxury tax abound, Fields and Schlenk may look to attach one of the rookie-scale contracts to a John Collins, a Bogi, or a Clint Capela, in hopes of providing Dejounte Murray and Young a steadier, All-Star-quality third-wheel. We won’t know for a while whether Huerter will cool off, Reddish reverts, or if the Hawks’ front office has sound designs for building the roster to a championship level around their two current All-Stars. But for now, opposing GMs like McNair are grateful for the opportunity to talk turkey with Atlanta, no longer worried if they’re the ones being taken as turkeys at the table. Happy Thanksgiving to You and Yours. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  9. “We plan to go by, ’Donius!’ What do you think, Trae? Kinda catchy, huh?” Eastern Conference Contenders! Boston… Milwaukee… Brooklyn… Philadelphia… Miami… but, don’t forget about Cleveland! The Cavaliers made the big move of this offseason by acquiring Dejounte Murray to balance the backcourt with All-Star Darius Garland. Oh, and you can never count out Toronto… That’s the story we would have heard, in an alternate universe. Trae Young gets to woo his high-scoring All-Star buddy Donovan Mitchell to Atlanta at the end of June, thanks to Trae’s Hawks parting ways with three young players, three first-rounders and a pair of pick-swaps. Cool story, the NBA punditry would say. But right now, we’re turning our attention toward where Kevin Durant is about to land. A couple months later, the Cavs give up three firsts, one not even their own, with just one swap, and a disposable veteran contract for one of the league’s premier two-way guards in Murray, and Cleveland PBO Koby Altman would be credited with The Deal of the Century. Trae and Spida will score in bunches, the NBA consensus would concede in conciliatory fashion. But, but, what about backcourt defense? And depth, what with the extra players heading out? Murray and the defense-challenged Garland, meanwhile, would be heralded as the new best backcourt in the East, a lock to surge the Cavaliers into the Play-In-free upper crust of the NBA East. They’ll vault well past Young and the core of a team that bounced them from the Play-In here at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse this past spring, even with Young’s Hawks now co-led in the scoreboards by Mitchell. Why were, and are, the reactions to the actual trades of these 26-year-old stars so divergent, at a national scale? As the re-tooled Hawks and Cavs tipoff for the first time in the real universe tonight (7 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM, BS Ohio), I reintroduce to you the all-too-familiar Benefit of the Doubt, generated by a player who no longer suits up here. Overinflated preseason prognostications are de rigueur in the fashionable NYC and LA basketball markets. Outside of there, and Boston, your reputation as an oft-bungling franchise that, in modern times, can’t ever win The Big One precedes you. For those of us old enough to recall, San Antonio and Dallas used to look on with scorn as their Texan rival, Houston, was heaped praise for whatever moves they made. Golden State needed something of a seismic effect to shed its decades-long standing as a laughingstock in the deep shadow of the Lakers. But the moment you break through, and achieve one (1) NBA championship, especially if you overachieved in some manner to get it done, the BOTD is bestowed upon you, and it takes many moons before you can shake it off. Toronto gets it. Milwaukee gets it. Miami never lost it. Cleveland gets it. Altman wasn’t sure he would ever get to enjoy the warmth of the BOTD aura LeBron James left behind in his wake. Not before a Cavs fanbase that was satisfied with riding out the Sexland portmanteau, with the help of some young promising big men like rookie Evan Mobley, Lauri Markkanen and Jarrett Allen. Cleveland was already satisfied with riding Kevin Love’s contract into the sunset. So, the thinking went, grow the club under the watchful eye of another uncertain commodity, coach JB Bickerstaff, and see what awaits in a couple seasons on the other side of Love’s mega-deal. Maybe keep Altman around, or maybe move on. Then the 2021-22 season began, with the Cavs getting an unexpected boost from Ricky Rubio. Injuries to Collin Sexton and Rubio put Garland on with elevated usage, and he delivered at an All-Star level. Markkanen seemed to plug the gaping offensive talent hole at small forward. Mobley and Allen put a lid on the defensive rim, and Bickerstaff’s Bucks raced to a 19-12 start. Unexpectedly, the LeBron-less playoff drought looked to be in jeopardy. Here come the BOTDs! More injuries slowed Cleveland’s roll, the Cavs backsliding to a 25-26 season finish and losses to the Nets and Hawks in the Play-Ins. The response from Altman’s front office this summer was to add more offensive firepower, but with more efficiency, as Bickerstaff fine tunes the defensive approach. Robin Lopez was brought in with the returning Rubio, while Sexton and Markkanen and 2022 first-rounder Ochai Agbaji were the player prices to pay to win the sweepstakes for Mitchell. The rave reviews looked warranted as Cleveland (+6.7 Net Rating, 3rd in NBA) sprinted to an 8-1 start to this season. Garland (last 4 games: 35.0 PPG, 56.4 3FG%, 6.8 APG) has overcome an injury and early shooting struggles to get the double-barreled backcourt with Mitchell (early career-highs of 29.9 PPG, 5.8 APG, 40.5 3FG%) blazing. With Mobley and Allen on patrol, opposing offenses know that won’t have a second chance to make a first impression (NBA-lows of 10.8 opponent second-chance points per-48, 43.9 opponent paint points per-48). But wear-and-tear ate at Bickerstaff’s rotations, beginning amid a West Coast road trip as the Cavs lost their next five games. Without either of Allen or Mitchell available, Garland poured on a career-high 51 points last week, but for naught, unable to close a 24-point deficit as Cleveland fell at home to Taurean Prince’s Timberwolves. The Cavs have yet to see Rubio (ACL surgery recovery) return to action, and with Markkanen now showing out elsewhere, Bickerstaff is back to plugging the leak at the 3-spot. Caris LeVert (out, sprained ankle) has struggled at both ends of the court, so the Cavs coach is extending Lamar Stevens an opportunity to lock down his non-guaranteed contract with a spot in the starting lineup. The possible absence of Love (questionable, hairline thumb fracture), along with Dean Wade (out, sore knee) and Dylan Windler (out, sprained ankle) keeps the ranks thin behind the starters. Injuries and illnesses seem to have beset the lion’s share of NBA teams and the Hawks (tied with Cleveland at 10-6) appear to be on the fortunate side, De’Andre Hunter’s questionable status due to illness and Bogi Bogdanovic’s extended recovery the sole blemishes on their pregame availability report. The Cavs righted their listing ship last night by cruising 113-87 past an injury-ravaged Miami team. That second win in Cleveland’s four-game homestand came two days after blowing a 12-point third-quarter lead, only to outlast the LaMelo-less Hornets 132-122 in double-OT. Mitchell’s booms at postseason time factor into his higher expectations with Cleveland, relative to Murray. But the busts, by Donovan and his former team, should be considerations, too. Beyond BOTD, a better rationale for the louder hype around Cleveland’s enhancements is that there is a higher ceiling associated with Mobley and Allen than there is around Clint Capela and a currently out-of-sync John Collins. As an extension, there is room for Bickerstaff’s strategies and rotations to evolve, relative to Atlanta’s venerated head coach. If Hunter is unable to go, Nate McMillan will rely more on rookie hero AJ Griffin (1-for-6 3FGs, but 8 of his 17 points in OT), who was stuntin’ like his daddy used to during overtime of Saturday’s wild finish in the 124-122 win against Toronto. Justin Holiday may get the veteran’s nod in the starting unit, but he has rarely been more effective on the defensive end than Griffin. If so, not enough to make up for Holiday’s 38.4 percent shooting from the field. Young and Murray may be able to freely get over, around and past Mitchell, Garland and whatever help defenders come their way. When they find space, their interior floaters and jumpers need to be on-point tonight, lest the Cavs seize ample defensive boards and grind the game to a crawl with low-tempo clock and possession control. Cleveland and Atlanta both have reasons to celebrate their teams’ biggest offseason moves. Although the scale of the reactions from the NBA world is markedly uneven, thanks largely to BOTD, the Hawks and Cavs can share equal joy that they stuck it to the Knicks. You’ll settle for Jalen Brunson and like it, New York. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  10. “There’s no way I could get along with anyone named Esther, OG. You know anyone named Ginger?” Oh, thank goodness, everybody. The Raptors are here! You see, Toronto, here at the Disappointment Management Division of the Atlanta Hawks Basketball Club, we figured there’s no point in beating both the Bucks and Celtics in consecutive contests, only to let our fans down and get blown out in deflating fashion by you guys again. It’s the reason we had our players mail it in on Wednesday before a national audience. That way, whatever fans imbibe at State Farm Arena this evening (6:00 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, TSN SportsNet north of the border), a blowout loss would taste less like a bitter chaser. You folks with the Raptors (9-7) understand, as much as any NBA team, that whoever is available to play on your behalf is irrelevant against our dear Hawks. Fred Van Vleet is back and running your show, but he wasn’t needed when Atlanta arrived in Toronto off a near brush with victory in Milwaukee, only to get tarred and feathered in a 139-109 lambasting loss. No Pascal Siakam (out, strained adductor; 31 points off 16 FTAs, 12 rebounds, 6 assists, zero TOs vs. ATL) this time, you say? No Precious Achiuwa (sprained ankle), Gary Trent, Jr. (sore hip), Otto Porter (dislocated toe), Justin Champagnie (pained back, might get upgraded to questionable), or Dalano Blanton (sprained ankle on Wednesday vs. MIA)? No problem! Does it matter, really? Boston dusted off Sam "Don't Call Me Doogie" Hauser (5-for-6 3FGs) on Wednesday, and he wound up +35 in 27 bench minutes. Trae the Entertainer, our Rated-R superstar, loves to win, craves competitive hoop, but LIVES for the cameras. While Young focused on going viral before halftime by accusing Grant Williams (4-for-7 3FGs) of being the long-lost progeny of Steeve Ho You Fat, Payton Pritchard (4-for-7 3FGs) was busy nailing the long-range shots that Young (2-for-7 3FGs) and his Traemates (combined 5-for-25 3FGs) could not. To humbling effect, the visiting Celts played the old Budball game of Our Threes Are Better Than All Your Twos. Sure, Atlanta can keep up with teams like yours (51.5 eFG%, 24th in NBA) and the Bucks (51.4 eFG%, 25th) if they can keep one hot hand contained along the perimeter. But when Atlanta’s defensive coverage sags and a multitude of shooters rain down, it gets too hard for the Hawks to plug all the leaks in the tent, and they’ll decide to fold it early. VanVleet (38.7 2FG%, 40.9 3FG%) was rusty after a two-game absence due to illness, his 8 assists just enough to help OG Anunoby (32 points, 10 rebounds vs. MIA) and the Raps stave off Kyle Lowry and the visiting heat on Wednesday. But Fred can certainly help Scottie Barnes prove that treating himself to buckets on Halloween (season-high 21 points, 5-for-9 3FGs vs. ATL; 21.2 3FG% in nine games afterward) was no trick. There remain plenty of frontcourt players at coach Nick Nurse’s disposal to help Anunoby and Barnes crash the glass (32.7 O-Reb%, 3rd in NBA), clustering John “The Bait” Collins and the Hawk forwards around the rim. All that’s needed is a Malachi Flynn or a Raptor wing like Ron Harper, Jr., hovering around the three-point line, to make like Peter and pop off. The Toronto bigs clustering in the paint leave plenty of opportunities for Atlanta to counter with corner shots (NBA-high 11.7 corner 3FGAs by TOR opponents, 40.7 3FG%) of their own. And FVV may struggle getting the transition opportunities his team has grown accustomed to with Siakam and a fuller backcourt (NBA-highs of 23.3 points per-48 off TOs, 19.6 fastbreak points per-48; 4th in NBA transition frequency w/ 19.4% of possessions). But don’t fret, Raptors. Here at the DMD, we know our Hawks play more off vibes 'n likes than off scouting reports. Make it big on Twitter while you still can, Trae! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  11. “I’m The Biggest Bounce of the Summer… Whoops, sorry, wrong phone ad! Isn’t it November, anyway?” Tidbits Time! Not the same Bat Place, but the same Bat Time and Bat Channel (7:30 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Philadelphia) for the 76ers and Atlanta Hawks rematch. WHAT’S UP, DOC? MEEP MEEP! – In the first quarter of Thursday’s 104-95 win over Doc Rivers’ Sixers, Trae Young wasted little time zipping past former Atlanta point guard great Doc Rivers on the Hawks’ all-time scoring list. Doc got himself a prime seat across from Gucci Row to see Trae move up the charts to 16th, with a bullet. Trae (franchise-best 9.1 career APG, which is bananas) still has around 1200 more dimes to go before he can sniff Rivers’ Hawks-career assist record, so, Doc can relax for a few more months. WASH, RISE UP, REPEAT – This unrepentant non-streamer thanks the Sixers and Hawks for helping me forget to check whether Amazon’s Thursday Night Pigskin shindig between what passes for football teams in Atlanta and Charlotte was airing on regular-degular VHF TV. Saved me some antacids. Good news, Matty Ice! Turns out, sometimes, you CAN throw the ball with your back on the ground after all. MAXEY-MUM OVERDRIVE – Thanks, also, to Tyrese Maxey (29.7 FG% in last three games, all without James Harden around), for making me look foolish once more for overselling a mid-tiered scorer as the new, worthy franchise face. Your Jerami Grant Trophy is in the mail. Harden’s absence is drawing the young Sixers guard undue defensive attention, perhaps. But Tyrese has been immensely unhelpful of late to Joel Embiid (26 points on 28 combined FGAs & FTAs, no O-Rebs, 2 assists, 5 personals and 8 TOs vs. ATL) in making Philly’s offense look more than one-dimensional. Hunting mismatches and attacking quicker seems a sensible idea for him, but that’s beyond my paygrade to figure out how. (aside: the offensive/defensive mileage stats have Maxey and Dejounte Murray burnin’ major sneaker rubber at both ends of the floor) ATL SECURITY. IDENTIFY YOURSELF! – Home thefts are up! Atlanta’s 9.3 steals per-48, in State Farm Arena, ranks in the Top 5 among home teams. The Hawks haven’t duplicated that thievery away from their own comfy confines (5.6 road steals per-48 and 14.4 road points off TOs per 48, Bottom 5 in NBA). Gambling for steals isn’t everything, yet a more consistent defensive approach and production will be needed from everyone wearing Hawks gear (116.7 road D-Rating, 25th in NBA), not just Murray (2.3 SPG, 3rd among NBA actives), as Atlanta’s road schedule continues to toughen. DON’T YOU FUR-GET ABOUT ME – Remember when Doc had Furkan Korkmaz starting in an elimination game against the Hawks? Also had Matisse Thybulle out there in the clutch when he needed a stop? What has transpired over the season-plus that makes these guys part of the last-ditch cleanup crew? Former Sixer two-way Paul Reed (6 steals in 18 minutes the week before vs. NYK) has to be happy he gets to appear, the default first big off the bench to spell Embiid. But at Trezz Harrell’s expense? Also, has anyone seen Jaden Springer? Is there a Doc in the house? SWISS, DON’T MISS! – All Hail Clint Capela! He’s hovering near 15&15 territory nightly, and at least against Embiid and the Sixers, it wasn’t simply playing wallball with himself and the glass. Embiid got his buckets on Thursday while also slowing the Hawks’ rolls every time Rivers threw him back out on the court. But it was evident that an illness-slowed Joel didn’t want to mix it up too deeply around the rim on offense, and Capela took advantage of that reticence with impunity. It wasn’t *just* Clint clanking bunnies in the prior game, as Atlanta’s team-wide struggles with rim-competency (65.4 restricted-area FG%, 15th in NBA, admittedly nowhere near as abysmal as PHI’s 59.7%) on non-dunks allowed Philly to keep the game close longer than necessary. NOBODY PUTS BOBI IN A CORNER – But Doc will plant Tobi there every other possession, and with good reason. Tobias Harris is connecting on 46.2% of his corner-three shots, fourth among active players lofting more than two per game (at 1.9 3FGAs per game, Atlanta’s De’Andre Hunter is a spiffy 47.8). Harris leads the charge for a Philly team shooting an NBA-best 47.3 corner 3FG%. The Hawks brought that percentage down a smidgen by allowing 3-for-8 at The Farm, including Harris firing off just two corner-pocket shots and missing both. #EVENTHEHAWKS – The servers at Elon’s Latest Playscape may hit the skids at any moment, leading folks online to reminisce over their favorite red-letter days on The Bird. One of my faves, birthed unwittingly by a stray from Marc Stein at ESPN back in 2014, was the #eventhehawks hashtag. It was funny enough, in hindsight, as the oft-ignored Hawks reportedly meddling with the big-boys (Lakers! Warriors! Rockets! Oh My!) in the summertime sweepstakes for Dwight Howard was what had Stein tweeting out “no team has been told they’ve been eliminated, even the Hawks.” The feeding frenzy of snarky hashtagged tweets, usually directed at a flummoxed Stein, began with the great Hawks fan Jason Walker’s clapbacks, and only ballooned during the joyous 60-win season that followed without the services of D12. We’d wind up getting Our Man in a couple years, anyway, and #eventhesixers, too, during his tumble out the league. I, for one, hope The Jolly Not-Green Giant balls outta control in Taiwan. If, for no other reason than he won’t be breaking up any more wedding proposals here in Piedmont Park (IYKYK). I CAN’T UNSEE IT. NOW YOU CAN’T EITHER – My #eventhehawks Spidey Sense tingles every gamenight, thanks to the General Counsel’s graphics department at NBA Inc. If you stick around any game on TV long enough, at some point in the second half, they’ll come back from a break and hit us with what’s known as the Copyright Warning, the “Expressed Written Consent” legal-ese ad that The Association feels obligated to visually update every season. They flick all 30 team logos at you in quick succession before the wink-what-no-that’s-not-Jerry-West-at-all logo at the end of the 10-second spot. What gets my goat is, they start out with the Boston Celtics’… then go all the way three-by-three to the Washington Wizards’… in precise alphabetical order… before Atlanta’s logo shows up at the far end of the back row. In my very best KRS-One impersonation, “Why Is That?!?” It’s giving, “We might have forgot about a team… which one? Oh, the Hawks. Just tack them on at the end and roll with it, no time for a redo.” I quit using Denorex shampoo months ago, so whenever I am feeling all tingly during fourth quarters, I’m pretty sure I know what’s to blame. MIC HEAT CHECK – Good on The Hardest Working Man in TV Broadcasting. Bob Rathbun put on his ACC hat and joined lethal weapon third Brian Oliver to call a UVA game in Charlottesville last night, before hopping on a redeye to Philly. Bawb is right that he may have just seen De’Andre Hunter Redux, in Cavs freshman Ryan Dunn. ONE RINGY DINGY – Google fooled me once when I was among the first to go all-in on the very first Google Phone gadget back in the day, only to have the world’s hottest tech company pull the plug, and the rug, on me faster than you could scream FTX. Now, they’re trying to convince me that after Giannis and Embiid went at it on blacktop this summer, in The Greatest Pick-Up Game of All-Time (their words, Dr. J, not mine), a presumably victorious Embiid shouts Who Got Next at the crowd, and THE MOUNTAIN, of all people, sneaks up on everybody in the hood in a crummy white tank top, needing Google Translate on Druski’s Pixel 7 to respond, talmbout some “ei æm néxt!” Sure, Jan. Not sure which team, Embiid’s or Björnsson’s, I’d rather be on. Can I have Ivan Johnson as a ringer for my squad, though? Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  12. “These joints the best I’ve had since Magi… Buffalo Wild Wings! Yeah. That’s the ticket!” The god of the underworld, Hades kidnapped Demeter’s daughter, and the goddess of harvest was white hot. Where’s Liam Neeson when you really need him? With no one around to help snatch back Persephone from Hades’ grip, Demeter was unable to provide food for the world, as the ancient Greek myth goes. Thus ushered in what we know as wintertime. However, Persephone was able to take a brief break from her captivity, twice a year. Each time, a jubilant Demeter would endow humans with the gift of bountiful agriculture. The gravity-bound Grecians, women in particular, would celebrate Persephone’s return with a holiday they called Thesmophoria, a three-day celebration around October or November each year. I learned all of this about five minutes ago, as I used a search engine (never buy, Google, Elon. Please, and thank you.) to help answer a burning question: Do the Greeks celebrate Thanksgiving? That was the only way I could wrap my head around the possible reasons Giannis Antetokounmpo got a full calendar week off. Of course, his sore knee is “fine” now, the Milwaukee Bucks’ freakish forward conveniently upgraded to probable ahead of this evening’s re-rematch with the Atlanta Hawks at Fiserv Forum (8 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM, BS Wisconsin). Giannis bounced with about seven-and-a-quarter minutes to go versus Atlanta backups last Monday, Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer leaving in Grayson Allen and Jrue Holiday to help close out the game with what was a 103-86 Hawks lead. A gaffe or two by Allen and Holiday, within a minute later, as Atlanta’s lead ballooned to 22, and Holiday and Allen got the Budhook, too. Jrue (sprained ankle) would earn himself a small-h holiday, along with Giannis, as Milwaukee sat both starters for Wednesday’s claw-back, double-overtime, 136-132 victory at OKC (led by Jevon Carter’s 36 points and 12 assists). The Bucks staff decided Grayson (illness) deserved a break, too, and he proved to be the Jenga block as Milwaukee (10-2, 7-0 at home) slip-slid away to a 111-93 defeat in Bud’s return to San Antonio on Friday. Now Allen and Holiday are upgraded to probable as well, their team granted an extra off-day to recuperate. It’s the spoils for a collective that performs well enough, when reasonably healthy, to be able to climb to the early summit of the NBA East, coupled with a cushy, travel-friendly schedule to begin this season. An occasional stumble on the road isn’t enough to find Milwaukee mired in the morass where, currently, two games separate the conference’s 5th seed from its 12th. Atlanta (8-5, 3rd in NBA East), meanwhile, hasn’t gained the benefit of the Bucks Buffer. That won’t change until the Hawks shed the funk-damentals that betray them as they did in Philadelphia, the Sixers relying on Joel Embiid (a very momentary season-high 42 points with 10 boards) and a plethora of opponent lapses to fend off Atlanta for the 121-109 payback win. “You are not going to get into a flow when you are turning the ball over and you aren’t getting any stops,” funk-master coach Nate McMillan said of his oft-inflexible Hawks after Saturday’s loss. The Bucks lofted 40 three-point attempts last Monday in Atlanta, yet they failed to reach the century mark in scoring. Despite a similarly hot start when Milwaukee finished 14-for-36 against the Hawks on October 29, Milwaukee cooled quickly when the hosts put down the clamps on the perimeter without fouling (13-for-40 3FGs vs. ATL) and forced 18 turnovers (11 off steals). Including two road wins in Detroit and New York, Atlanta is 3-0 when their own contributors turn over the rock less than ten times. Having Onyeka Okongwu (active, missed Saturday’s game @ PHI for personal reasons) back in the fold will be of benefit to Atlanta’s rim-protecting and rebounding tonight. So would McMillan deploying rookie AJ Griffin (2-for-2 4th-quarter 3FGs @ PHI, teammates a combined 4-for-22) for a spark well before opponent runs get out of hand. But as valuable to Atlanta being in position to win again, late, will be avoiding the stilted offense that catches other Hawks, notably starters like John Collins (a foreboding 6 shots, 6 points, 6 boards in over 33 minutes @ PHI), ball-watching as Trae Young (42 points but “only” 5 assists @ MIL on Oct. 29; DNP vs. MIL last week; 4-for-15 3FGs and 15 TOs in last 3 games) and Dejounte Murray (combined w/ Trae for 18 of ATL’s 20 assists @ PHI) sort things out mostly by their individual creations. More intentional cross-court and in-out motion from the off-ball bigs, forwards, and shooters will keep Milwaukee defenders from digging their heels in on Atlanta’s dynamic duo. So long as Atlanta gets out of their own way offensively and avoids the cheap defensive fouls that disrupt the game flow to Milwaukee’s liking (16 Buck FTAs last Monday, 29 vs. ATL on Oct. 29), it won’t matter much what the god of the overworld, Giannis, brings to the floor. That’s enough for now. Now, somebody pass the stuffing, please. And, hey, put some tzatziki on that thang! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  13. Hawks fan late last night: “That’s It, Man. Season Over, Man! Season Over!” Hawks fans! Please give a warm welcome to The Worst Professional Sports Team in Philadelphia! That’s kind of mean, I acknowledge. These days, it’s like calling out the dumbest bloke at the Mensa society gathering. Illadelphians were used to William Penn’s statue atop City Hall being adorned with celebratory gear whenever a sportsball club was amidst a championship run. That began back when such success was rare, an exceptional sight in a town long inured to losing, and its players to booing. Lately, from one cheerful game to the next, Billy Penn doesn’t quite know what to wear to the parties. After enjoying a night out on the town here in Atlanta, while the Hawks were busy spinning their wheels in mud against the Jazz, Doc Rivers’ 76ers enter State Farm Arena (7:30 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Philadelphia, NBATV elsewhere) with a chance to get back to .500 ball. A game under .500, 11 games into an 82-game schedule? That’s not too bad, although if the fourth-quarter flop in last night’s 125-119 loss dropped the Hawks (7-4) to 5-6, the earth beneath Nate McMillan’s feet would be a bit more scorched. Coach Doc is enduring a month-long injury absence by James Harden (foot sprain) and the in-and-out status of Joel Embiid (non-You Know What illness, missed four games). So, under the circumstances, things are not all that bad. Still, it’s not the NL East also-ran Phillies surging into the World Series good (thanks, Bravos.) It isn’t The Union finally breaking through in the playoffs to reach the MLS Cup Final (remember playoffs, Atlanta United?). It isn’t the Iggles making Mercury Morris sweat, undefeated halfway through the NFL season (‘sup, Falcons?). Even the Flyers fans are over their skates right now, the hockey club holding serve in the NHL’s Atlantic Division with a 7-3-2 record following a disastrous 2021-22 season. Philly Sports Fever is ridiculously infectious. Watch in horror as a reporter, completely across the country, asks midfielder Kellyn Acosta at last week’s MLS Cup press conference, “How exciting is it to be in Philly right now?” “Has it sunk in?” Kellyn blinks at the questioner puzzled. As he should be. Acosta plays for LAFC. Los Angeles Football Club, the hosts for American soccer’s Super Bowl. If you didn’t know this before now, that’s fine. If you weren’t aware before showing up with a tape recorder for the presser, the placard with LAFC’s logo next to Acosta’s name on the table serves as a helpful hint. Acosta seeks clarification: “Just playing AGAINST a Philadelphia team, you’re saying?” It still hadn’t sunk in for the reporter, who enjoys hearing himself elaborate. “The excitement right now in Philadelphia! The Phillies are in the World Series, the Eagles are undefeated and You Guys are playing for the championship as well. How exciting is that for you?” LAFC fans had to be in WTAF mode. Dodgers fans wish they didn’t have to chuckle. Kellyn, for his part, was curt but classy in his response: “I don’t play for Philly… hey, but it’s exciting for them, I guess!” It was an exciting time for LAFC, the five-year-old side who proceeded to win their first MLS Cup. It occurred mere hours before former Hank Aaron mentee Dusty Baker nabbed his first World Series ring as a manager, with the Astros’ clean win over the Phillies. Now, you wouldn’t dare ask a sports fan in Los Angeles, or Houston, how thrilling times are around town right now. Alternatively, in Bridesmaid City, the Phils and "The U" and the Eagles are in the limelight, while NBA fans and players alike are firmly in the backdrop. Embiid was at Citizens Bank Park to root, root, root for the home team, as the Phils pushed the Bravos out the playoff paint to reach the NLCS, and he understands where the Sixers now place in the local sports pyramid. “Our season started tonight,” Joel joked after trudging through Monday’s 100-88 win over the fraying Phoenix Suns, still beleaguered by the illness that waylaid him but using his 16-for-16 FTs to pace the team to victory with 33 points. “The Phillies are done, I enjoyed watching them. So, our season started tonight. All the other (Sixer) games don’t count.” While Embiid is cool with his team’s default lot in Philly sports life, from the perspective of 76ers owner Josh Harris, and GM busybody Daryl Morey, it wasn’t supposed to be this way. Joel embraced his moniker as “The Process,” back when the old regime stank and tanked to high heaven. As the small-p process finally borne fruit with Embiid and a sentient Ben Simmons, visions of NBA Finals danced in every cheesesteak chewer’s heads. Lofty expectations remain heightened, particularly after Morey was able to turn Probably Can Play But Won’t Simmons into Wants to Play But Probably Can’t Harden. Unfortunately, the last several postseasons, Embiid and company have found themselves trumped by one superstar after another, from Kawhi, to Trae Young, to Jimmy Buckets (tell us about it). Weary of running into playoff walls while not playing at their optimal best, Rivers plays musical chairs with a hot seat, while The Process risks becoming known around town as The Plateau. Over a half-decade in, it was supposed to be Phillies and Eagles players looking on approvingly in South Philly, as Embiid and the Sixers don conveniently-timed commemorative tees and caps from Fanatics.com. Not the other way around. Heck, don’t let the Flyers get something started. At least they were briefly, in 2020-21, the class of the hyped-up Atlantic Division, the only banner-worthy accomplishment of the prior twenty years. Now they’ve been lapped by the despised Celtics, who can change coaches and not skip a beat. KD is stuck trying to keep the Nets from imploding, the Raptors are set back without Siakam, and the Knicks are the Knicks. Superstar outages aside, how is Philly not already ensconced in second-place in this situation? Consider the rave reviews Morey received, after the 51-win Sixers’ season ended in the conference semis against Miami, when he reeled in the ‘real’ reason Miami was so hard to beat. 37-year-old P.J. Tucker, everyone! You need depth, you say? Put on Montrezl Harrell and Danuel House, for size. Relying on a healthier, spryer Harden, have Tobias Harris swear off eating so much Goldfish, and you’ve got yourself one banger of an offseason, no? This home-and-home series with the Hawks, continuing Saturday at what is still The (Don’t Call Us Wells Fargo) Center, may solve the team’s short-term needs, if they continue to do what Atlanta won’t and take their defensive duties seriously and consistently. Nobody asks me, and it’s a good thing because nobody reads this far anyway (just kidding!), but I believe Philadelphia’s long-term solution is balling out in plain sight. Former league MVP Harden and perennial MVP finalist Embiid are more ball-stoppers than show-stoppers at this stage of their careers. Rivers needs to recognize that the current incarnation of this team needs to be, “Tyrese Maxey and the Philadelphia 76ers.” Harden, when he gets back on the court, brings the ball up off it, Embiid unclogs the lane, and Harden gets the ball to Maxey (23.6 PPG, 4.0 APG) and lets the young man cook. They tried it the old way, letting Harden dominate the rock, and wound up 0-3 for their trouble, finally getting off the schneid versus visiting Indiana. Maxey has led in scoring in five of Philly’s past seven games, and the times they proved unsuccessful was only because Harris and Tucker proved to be insufficient substitutes with Embiid out of commission. Tyrese pumped in 75 points during their two-day stay in Toronto, a 44-point game in a win without Embiid making him join Hal Greer and Allen Iverson as the only Sixers to enjoy a 40-piece meal before the age of 23. The minute he pulls a Adbuwali Muse on Rivers and seizes control of the ship, Maxey’s Sixers will be set to sail farther. “Look at me!” The Hawks have a chance to extend the Sixers’ “preseason,” and add to their malaise. But as Trae Young struggles to get good shots off early, and as Dejounte Murray seeks to plug holes in every dam, Atlanta needs far more production than they’ve received from their starting third-wheel. John Collins enjoyed a birthday cake this past September with a photo of his iconic “Get Over Here!” playoff dunk over Embiid made out of buttercream frosting. Regrettably, after a strong couple of games to start the regular season, it has been a minute since we’ve seen JTB (John The Baptist) look like anything more than a JAG (Just A Guy) out on the court (last 7 games: 9.7 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.7 FTAs/game 50.0 FG%). Over the next few days, Embiid is hopeful Collins receives his just desserts. It's as if Lloyd “I have not run one play for him” Pierce was still here calling the offensive shots. JC either gets in quick foul trouble, blows a defensive assignment, or gets bottled up on a post play, and takes his mind out of games prematurely. Too Late Nate often tries to let the guys on the floor just play through their lapses, a feature that imperiled the Hawks every time Utah sped away yesterday. McMillan needs to set Collins aside for a play or two, reset his focus, and use a few designed plays and defensive assignments to literally get his power forward back in the game. You can’t teach assertiveness, but when Collins isn’t beating his man for the defensive rebound, he can certainly beat him down the floor and make his finishing abilities crystal-clear to his pass-happy guards. After watching Lauri Markkanen score an unfettered season-high 32 points last night, Collins must stay committed to Harris and the floor-spreading Sixer bigs, and he cannot get caught overhelping and/or out of position. Plenty of Philly transplants will fertilize The Farm tonight with their presence, although you might get confused, judging from all the non-Sixer jerseys they’ll wear, just what kind of sport you’re watching. By speeding up the games on the slow-paced Sixers, keeping Embiid off the free throw line and Clint Capela out of foul trouble, and minimizing Maxey and the three-point forward threats, Atlanta can regain its confidence that it belongs among the Eastern Conference’s upper crust. As a bonus, they could also fluster a Philly phanbase into zoning out even more on the franchise that was, for a moment, the apple of their eye. “Say, when does Wings lacrosse get going?” Thank You, Veterans! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  14. “Lock them kids up.” While investigations into LaMelo Ball’s mysterious disappearance have stalled, the Iredell County Sheriff’s Office reports they have reason to believe a chomp on his backyard boogie-board may eventually lead to a suspect, if not necessarily a “person” of interest. “Regretfully, we cannot rule out Normie at this time,” a ICSO spokesperson said. Normie, an amphibious swamp creature known by Charlotte-area denizens to lurk in and around Lake Norman and roughly the size of a giant alligator with fins and bobcat whiskers, is believed to have morphed over the decades from an accidental spill at a Duke Power nuclear plant. Rarely spotted in public, Normie is a purported omnivore with a voracious appetite for Big Ballers and big-mouthed bass. This is just about the only thing that did not go wrong, during one buzzkill of an offseason for the Charlotte Hornets. Kenny Atkinson’s name was being paraded around the Queen City like Marilyn Munster’s latest boyfriend. During the Finals, the Warriors assistant took one good, hard peek at what he was inheriting from James Borrego inside Hornets House, at 1313 Mockingbird Lane, and he couldn’t high-tail it back to the Bay Area fast enough. The club couldn’t get any traction under Steve Clifford, you will recall, so they banished him to Orlando in 2018, then trotted in Borrego in hopes of salvaging Kemba Walker’s career there. The club couldn’t get any traction under Borrego in four seasons, so after whiffing at Atkinson’s announced hire... welcome back, Coach Cliff! The whole sordid mess of an offseason began here at State Farm Arena in mid-April. While Atlanta’s Hawks were bouncing the Hornets from playoff contention, bouncy forward Miles Bridges bounced his nasty mouthpiece off some young Hawk fan’s noggin after he got himself bounced from the Play-In eliminator by the refs. The nadir of the pending restricted free agent’s summer was supposed to be his latest annoying rap video release on The ‘Gram. Miles has a knack for making heads bob, only from left to right. “I’m like a pizza,” Bridges spat. “She can’t have my cheese unless she get to topping.” Don’t ask Rap Genius for the dirty details; just go shine up the Source Award for ole boy. Now, sadly for him, the cheese stands alone. Shifting quickly from TMI to TMZ, Bridges got popped weeks later in L.A. for (alleged!) felony domestic violence and child abuse, artfully flushing away what would have been this summer’s hefty payday, from Charlotte or somebody else. The Hornets got stuck with the qualifying offer he signed just days before his arrest, tethering him to the roster through training camp and preseason as his delayed hearing looms. The faint hope remains that he’ll Ozuna the charges sooner than later, as the team maintains his rights through the circuitous legal process. We’re aware of the charges, the Hornets’ PR playbook says to say, and we’ll withhold further comment at this time. Quibble all you want with the most suitable long-term position for Hawks sophomore James Johnson’s still-budding (basketball, please, not hip-hop!) career. At the moment, the 20th pick in 2021’s draft looks like a steal, even grand theft, when compared to Charlotte’s selection at #11. How are you gonna get cited and/or arrested by the same police force four times in the space of 13 months for reckless driving? Including (allegedly!) regaining consciousness after hours in a parking garage just long enough to run into a pair of police cars, while (legally, allegedly!) holding a Glock in your non-steering hand? So much extra. Good thing for Charlotte that Bouk Lives Matter these days. Get that boy James Bouknight a CATS pass, please! The big bus station’s right across the street from the Hornets’ arena. Next time the barely 22-year-old passes out drunk as a skunk in public, the bus driver can just poke him awake, so he can saunter over to the arena and make it to the game on time. Keep the Glizzy at home, James, and leave the driving to us. We’re aware of the charges and will have no further comment wash, rinse, repeat. Twenty-eight minutes of gametime, so far, and Bouknight’s next made shot will be his first this season (one assist, though, so, there’s that). Yet Clifford has little choice but to let the second-year guard spin his wheels. Charlotte owner Michael Jordan hasn’t been seen lifting a finger since he slapped Malik Monk upside the head almost four years ago. It shows in the form of a shallow Hornets roster with few consequential additions, one now further decimated by injuries this week. Terry Rozier had a scary ankle turn in Friday’s 124-112 home loss to the Flyin’ Zions. Doubtful for today’s game against the Hawks, he could join LaMelo (out, sprained ankle, probably while running from Normie) and one of those Martins (doubtful, sore quad) on the shelf. 2017 Mavs lottery prize and struggle-bus straphanger Dennis Smith would likely grab the starting point guard reins in Rozier’s absence. Dumped by OKC then cut by Houston weeks ago, French two-way guard Theo Maledon is sure to get a bump in floor time as well. So far, the other 2021 pick Hornets exec Mitch Kupchak acquired just ahead of Jalen at #19, Kai Jones, hasn’t been as fortunate. Jones and Charlotte’s mid-round prize from this year’s draft, Mark Williams (plucked ahead of Atlanta’s AJ Griffin at #15), have been granted just half as many frontcourt minutes through two games as their 2021 second-rounder. And that fella, 20-year-old project JT Thor, has only logged eight minutes. Even with Bridges in troubled waters, the younger pups find themselves stuck behind Cody Zeller Award winner Mason Plumlee and a pair of Kentucky boys, P.J. Washington and sixth-man Nick Richards, in Coach Cliff’s long-leashed rotations. LaMelo will emerge from Loch Ness eventually to make triple-double trouble, and his Hornets will be more formidable down the pike once they get healthier and off the court dockets. But they can’t be much of a nightly threat until Jones and Williams can earn their head coach’s trust to contribute in meaningful ways. Fortunately for the Hornets (1-1), they drew the Spurs for the season opener, and host San Antonio waited for their trip to Philadelphia before bothering to show up. Rising to 2-0 on the road this season will be quite the challenge, today (5 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 103.1 FM in ATL), if Rozier can’t play or be effective on that bum ankle. They’ll lean heavily on picture-of-health Gordon Hayward (23.0 PPG, 66.7 2FG%, 4.5 APG), occasional Hawk-killer but more often his-own-team-killer Kelly Oubre, Richards (19-and-10 in 21 minutes @ SAS) and of those McDaniels boys in hopes of packing some offensive punch. Efficiency will remain the name of the game for the host Hawks (2-0) as they hope to conclude their homestand and head out on a five-game, four-town excursion this week on a good note. Despite a McDLT approach of letting one hot shooter stay hot while making the others stay cool, perimeter defense has been an encouraging plus in the early going (NBA-best 24.6 opponent 3FG%, just ahead of CHA’s 26.8). Prevailing in the turnover and personal-foul battles should be enough for a deeper, more experienced Hawks rotation to gain the winning edge over four quarters. Out-executing Clifford-coached teams is always harder than it looks, but by looking to drive and pass a little more, DeAndre Hunter (1.0 APG, obviously third among ATL starters) can aid the deadly dual 20-and-10 backcourt of Trae Young and Dejounte Murray in making this a long defensive day for Hayward and/or Oubre. Charlotte got to the charity stripe for just 14 foul shots on 14 Pelican fouls in Friday’s loss. Keep that game clock running, and eventually the hard-luck Hornets will run flat out of time. Enough of this gamethread-business! Mouthpiece Miles has inspired me to unearth these dope rhyme-spitting skills. I’m like a jambalaya! If you want this sausage, you’d best get to choppin’! Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Ow! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  15. “And that means the #1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft goes… hold on, where’s Utah??? I’m being told... the Lottery machine may have a glitch. So, how about we all go home and try this again tomorrow?” Your guess is as good as mine! I have next to no idea as to what rookie coach Will Hardy is up to with the – checks notes -- Western Conference’s first-place Utah Jazz. The silver lining, as the Jazz (9-3) pays our Atlanta Hawks a visit (7:30 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, AT&T SportsNet in SLC), is that the vast majority of opposing scouts can’t seem to figure it out, either. Danny Ainge doesn’t care whether they do or not. The Jazz’s newest executive architect is charged with a rebuild, and he brought former Celtic hire Hardy to rejoin him in SLC. Hardy’s pro background as an experienced branch of the Spurs’ Poplar Tree, then as a top assistant with the reigning Eastern Conference champs, is interesting. But it’s his playing days at Massachusetts’ Williams College that are the most informative. The D-III powerhouse, the school that first brought you Duncan Robinson, began really making its hay back in the 1990s with a relentless, Grinnell-style offensive attack, the Ephs making the maximization of possessions of highest priority, maybe even above safety. The gist of it: set up offensive players in their areas of strength and execute plays with no hesitation, then pressure the ballhandler, giving teammates the opportunity to get set on defense, particularly along the perimeter. Coax the opponent into going iso and forcing up quick shots instead of passes into the paint, and if that fails, go for steals and foul on the gather before a shot attempt can unfurl, making foes earn their points at the free throw line. Get the ball back, then get back to attack. It’s like bowling for strikes at an alley with the swiftest ball returns. The Jazz Cycle is working well (NBA-high 1,226 possessions), so far, because 2021 All-Star Mike Conley (7.5 APG, 1.5 TOs/game) is reinvigorated, granted free rein by Hardy to run the show with Utah’s former stars long gone. Lauri Markkanen (career-highs of 21.9 PPG, 68.1 2FG%), fresh off a strong Eurobasket run over the summer, is finding his groove, while Jordan Clarkson (near-career-high 18.1 PPG, w/ career-best 42.1 3FG% and 5.2 APG), now in the starting lineup, never really lost it. Everyone, from ATLien rookie Walker Kessler, to former Timberwolf Jarred Vanderbilt, to Kelly Olynyk and seven-footer Markkanen, are expected to batter the offensive boards. Accordingly, the Jazz’s 115.7 O-Rating is highest among the 19 NBA clubs currently pushing above a 100.0 pace. Jazz opponents have had the same struggle opponents of the Hawks (NBA-lows of 32.6 opponent 3FG%, an optical illusion in Atlanta’s case) have had with keeping hot-hands warm throughout games. They also can’t generate offense to their liking (NBA-low 20.2 opponent APG). Opponents do find their way to the charity stripe eventually (22.8 personal fouls drawn, tied-2nd in NBA), but the selective nature of Utah’s grubby hacks has them shooting just 74.3 FT% (3rd-lowest in NBA). It's an impressive strategy and buy-in by a collective that was roundly expected by pundits to fail miserably, and perhaps intentionally, out of the gate. And none of it may matter in just over a month from now. Ainge is entrusted to get this franchise back to the promised-land days of yore. But neither he nor GM Justin Zanik expected to complete this task in 2023, not with a 35-year-old Conley, and fellow tricenarians Clarkson, Rudy Gay and Olynyk leading the charge. Not even with youthful trade acquisitions like Markkanen, Talen Horton-Tucker, Collin Sexton, Vanderbilt (questionable, sore adductor), Kessler and Ochai Agbaji front-and-center. The alarm clock at Trader Dan’s front office is set for 12:00:01 AM on December 15, the date a larger proportion of warm NBA bodies become available for wheeling and dealing. More will come in the opening weeks of January, as certain not-fully-guaranteed contracts are deemed undesirable. Utah is already looking forward to a record-haul of picks from the Rudy Gobert trade with Minnesota, plus the Donovan Mitchell shipment to Cleveland (by Woj’s count, 13 picks with light-to-no protections through 2029). But as James Bond and Northwest Division rival Sam Presti would tell you, the world is not enough. We’re not even a month into the season, and several of the NBA’s sacred-cow franchises are desperate to gain upward traction in the standings before it’s too late. A couple clubs may share Carole King’s view: it’s already too late, and it’s time to plan now for a midseason teardown. Ainge isn’t all-ears yet, but he will be soon. Get all those draft picks ready, fellow GMs and execs. Maybe line up another second-tier star or two, as well. Sexton serves in Clarkson’s sixth-man super-soaker role until a team comes calling for the showcased latter’s modest salary hit, with a player option set for next year that he may not pick up. Conley and Olynyk have non-guaranteed deals for next season, while Malik Beasley’s $16-ish million comes with a handy-dandy club option. Any of the veterans, individually or collectively, could be the short-term sugar rush other teams seek to turn their desperate fans’ frowns upside down. The Jazz intend to start from scratch in due time, but their players are committed to scratching-and-clawing at unsuspecting opponents just to pass the time. Today’s game is tailor-made for Dejounte Murray to thrive once more, but ideally for Atlanta (7-3) if he can have Trae Young (questionable, sore shin) to share the floor and make Conley split defensive duties. Young’s sudden absence forced Nate McMillan’s hand on Monday, and now we’ve all been treated to the blessings of Pastor Griff. Rookie AJ Griffin (24 points, and not all on threes, plus 3 steals vs. MIL) helped Murray and the Hawks turn the tables on the Bucks before putting them through a table, while playing with the revelatory look of a player who doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. The poise displayed by Jalen Johnson (7 D-Rebs and 2 steals in 22 minutes), Onyeka Okongwu and Griffin in that rousing 117-98 victory was great, in that it allows McMillan and the Hawks more time to hash out how best to develop the team’s biggest project. That being, the $90 million extended long-term project known by his government name of De’Andre Hunter. Hunter (one 3FGA, one assist, no stocks, 4 TOs in 24 minutes vs. MIL), conversely, knows what he doesn’t know – how to be in position to shoo three-point threats off the perimeter, how to otherwise help Clint Capela, John Collins and Okongwu bolster what has been a meek defensive rebounding effort (68.5 D-Reb%, 3rd-lowest in NBA but just above Utah’s 68.1), how best to pass out of a dribble drive as the defense closes in, before dribbling the ball off one’s leg. The challenge for McMillan and the Hawks developmental staff is to ensure that their incumbent starting forward doesn’t grow complacent in the areas of his game where he gets caught lacking. Coincidentally, that was where Chicago got with a lost-cause Lauri in 2020. The Bulls declined to settle for an extension before shipping the restricted free agent to their division-rival Cavs in a sign-and-trade the following summer. Markkanen’s jumpshooting helped keep Cleveland from sinking into the abyss and then get just so far in the Play-In with Atlanta last spring. Now, thanks to some committed defensive coaching and an elevated usage, the four-year, $67 million contract he signed to escape Chicago is looking manageable, at worst. As Lauri rounds out the once-ignored elements of his game in Utah, De’Andre, with his physical tools, has ample reason to be of greater value to Atlanta than simply, “put him on the opponent’s best player, stash him in the corner, and hope for the best.” Murray alleviates the need to be a full-time point-of-attack defender. Meanwhile, Dookie Diaper Dandies Griffin and Johnson, when their number is called, are offering early glimpses of the promise Hunter has long held. Atlanta’s front office can’t resist the urge to dig into Coach K’s stable, but the net returns are looking better than they did when we were all waiting on Cam Reddish to become a PTP’er. The longer the former UVA product stalls, the more likely we’ll see the Hawks jockeying for Dariq Whitehead at draft time next season. Or Harrison Ingram, if Stanford alum Landry Fields has a say, That all assumes teams like Utah aren’t hording all the picks by then. The scouting crib-note on outwitting Hardy and defeating the Jazz, these days, looks exactly the same as Ainge’s approach to building a quick-fix contender in Utah. It’s brief, and it’s to the point: “¯\_(ツ)_/¯ “. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  16. The Hawk Starts Here. Sure, they’re unbeaten through nine games. But I’m here to assure you, these Milwaukee Bucks aren’t going to get very far. Not if you’re measuring by flight mileage. After the Bucks edged the Sixers in Philadelphia to kickstart this season, they have basically lived not just at home, but in their Central Time Zone. Further, their cozy road schedule, after tonight’s tangle with the Hawks (8:15 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, BS Wisconsin) in Atlanta, continues in the same fashion until we get close to the All-Star Break. With all due respect to the traveling soap opera that was the Nets, the Hawks (6-3) were the toughest draw in Milwaukee’s six-game home stretch, nearly knocking off Buddy Bud and the Funky Bunch before letting them off the hook in the closing minutes. Following a pair of home wins over division-rival Detroit, the Bucks took a break from their homestand for one (1) day to travel one (1) state to the west, outlasting the T-Wolves on Friday. They then returned to America’s Dairyland on Saturday, but only to find the Thunder waiting for them. This three-game venture for the Bucks sees the Hawks, again, as arguably and hopefully their toughest test. From Atlanta, it’s on to replay the Thunder, this time in OKC, and then visit San Antonio. Then they’ll enjoy a pair of weekend days off before the Hawks, fresh off a home-and-home with Philly, swing by Fiserv Forum once more next Monday. Next week’s contest kicks off a six-games-out-of-seven Milwaukee homestand, interrupted briefly by revisiting a Sixers team that may or may not have Embiid in tow, and certainly not The Bearded One. There will be no other road games after that until the final day of this month, when Giannis Antetokounmpo decides if he’ll hurdle an unsuspecting Knick at MSG. Milwaukee’s away games pick up with greater frequency in December, beginning in Charlotte and, if Nicole is gentle with us all down here, Orlando. Still, even the Western Conference draws are of the CST variety: Dallas, Houston, Memphis, New Orleans, and that’s about it before the Bucks return here to State Farm Arena once more on January 11. By that time, the Hawks will have just returned from a four-game visit with all the Cali teams to pop off the 2023 calendar season. Schedule stickler that Yours Truly is, I note all this because, yes, both clubs had to spend their preseasons in Camel Country (no, not Winston-Salem), but while the Hawks got a friendly strength-of-schedule break of sorts, the Bucks were rewarded with a docket that hardly expects them to lift a hoof. The first-half schedule design seems like a layup custom-made for Mike Budenholzer and his crack staff. It’s welcome for a team still missing three mission-critical swingmen (Khris Middleton, Joe Ingles, Pat Connaughton) due to injuries. Saturday night’s 108-94 win over the visiting Thunder represented Milwaukee’s last SEGABABA this month, and OKC was a timely adversary to allow Coach Bud to rest Antetokounmpo (probable, sore knee) ahead of tonight’s matchup. Barring more extensive injury stints for the Greek Freak, the Bucks look the part of an Eastern Conference heavyweight destined for a historic start to the NBA season. If Milwaukee travels much in any direction, it ought to be north in the standings. Yet the Hawks have more chances over the coming days to be not just the fly in their ointment, but to look the part of a veritable ECF challenger. That is, if they can figure out how to do so for more than just drips and drabs at a time. Just when it seems Atlanta has figured something out, they revert to bad habits and squander whatever momentum they’ve seized. Clint Capela (21 points, 19 boards, 4 swats vs. NOP) finished consecutive buckets at the rim to hoist the Hawks up by 13 on Saturday night, but sloppy ballhandling, rebounding lapses and unneeded desperation heaves allowed Zion Williamson and New Orleans to nearly walk the Hawks down. Many of the same symptoms were present when Atlanta allowed the Bucks to escape with the 123-115 win back on October 29. Still, the Bucks needed all of Brook Lopez’s first-half threes, and Jrue Holiday’s wake-up call performance (34 points, 12 assists, 4 steals), and one fortuitous referee whistle, to set the stage for Giannis’ heroics (17 fourth-quarter points; scored/assisted on 10 of MIL’s last 11 points). The Pels’ Brandon Ingram and Jose Alvarado combined to match the entire Atlanta club’s second-half assist output, at eight, on Saturday night, after 16 Hawk helpers paced Atlanta to a 60-52 halftime lead. Fortunately, Dejounte Midrange Murray’s tough jumpers in the final minutes ushered in a gritty overtime finish, where the Hawks would not spoil his first triple-double (22 points despite 1-for-8 3FGs, 11 assists, 10 rebounds, 3 steals vs. NOP) with his new club. Onyeka Okongwu won’t need motivation to get going against Giannis and Friends, but the Hawks will need more production on the glass than the sixth-man could muster in Saturday’s inert showing (4 points, a rebound, five fouls in under 18 minutes). If Atlanta’s front line, inclusive of second-year pro and Wisconsinite Jalen Johnson, can hold serve versus the likes of Brook Lopez and Bobby Portis, and if outside shots from Trae Young (42 points, 5 assists @ MIL on Oct. 29) and Murray come purely within the flow of an egalitarian offense, the Hawks can give Milwaukee reasons to re-strategize ahead of next week’s rematch. Here's to a full-hearted, full-game effort before a raucous, civic-minded Atlanta crowd being the highlight of a busy 15-game NBA night. The Bucks do look like world-beaters at the moment, but that’s especially because their early basketball schedule, if not their travel schedule, is quite a trip. Vote, Baby, Vote! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  17. “I’m drinking Milk, though. And for the next couple of seasons, I’ll be working out!” Playing in November, the dimpled leather ball in his hands, with the game hanging in the balance off his heave at the end of regulation. Did Matt Ryan ever imagine this, in his wildest dreams? No, of course, not that one. New Orleans coach Willie Green had to rely on rookie Dyson Daniels and second-year pro Trey Murphy in the clutch on Wednesday night at Crypto, lacking either scoring ace Brandon Ingram (back yesterday, after missing nearly five games due to concussion protocols) and defensive specialist Herb Jones (back after missing four games, knee hypertension). The visiting Pelicans almost pulled off a 2-game Crypto sweep this week, against the Lakers and Clips. But up three and securing the rebound on one of Lonnie Walker’s rare misses for the Lakers that evening, Daniels was fouled and missed both freebies with under two seconds remaining. Enter Matty Sleet. Austin “Big County” Reaves inbounded a cross-court pass to Ryan, and with Murphy a shade late on the closeout, Ryan splashed a corner three to force overtime. NBA Top 75’ers LeBron and AD were involved in this play, but only as decoys. Poor shooting and an inability to rebound, as Green resorted to Larry Nance, Jr. instead of Jonas Valanciunas in the extra frame, helped the Lakers avoid overstepping Imhotep Irving for the top segment on First Take the next morning. The ways in which Green’s and Nate McMillan’s teams, entering tonight’s clash (7:30 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, BS New Orleans) at State Farm Arena, would be heralded at the early point in this season would be so much higher, but for some key slip-ups. In New Orleans’ case, having to scramble back last week from a double-digit fourth-quarter deficit at home versus the juggernaut Jazz, only to blow another late lead and then fall short in OT, wasn’t the best look, at the time. At least they could point to injuries among their starters, though. In addition to losing Ingram early versus Utah, they had to rest Zion Williamson, whose hip took (arguably) the worst of a collision with the floor in that game, ahead of what could have been a pivotal contest in Phoenix. The loss to the Suns snuffed out any momentum that would have been gained after their shorthanded victory over visiting Dallas two nights earlier. With Ingram and Williamson back, the Pels (5-3) face a Hawks team that fell behind too deeply versus the LaMelo-less Hornets, the Middleton-less Bucks, and the Van Vleet-less Raptors. Frankly, as scintillating was Wednesday’s numbing of the Knicks, the 23-point hole Atlanta (5-3) dug for themselves was unnecessary. A slow-boil, 42-point late-game lead would have been more satisfying than the table-turning 42-point swing, commandeered with aplomb by Dejounte Murray (career-best 36 points, 9 helpers, 6 thefts) and McMillan’s mid-game shift to a confounding zone defense. Three-pointers will be in short supply tonight, in part due to low shot-volumes (both teams bottom-3 in 3FGAs per 100 possessions) and also what should be unnerving perimeter defense (both teams top-6 for opponent 3FG%). Murray and Ingram (26 points, 5 assists in last night’s fun-run, a 114-105 win vs. DNP-CD GSW) will cancel each other offensively out from the mid-range, as will Trae Young and Milk-Does-A-Body-Good C.J. McCollum shooting from outside and dishing on drives. The relatively rested Hawk bigs need to be more relentless than Williamson, Valanciunas and Nance in attacking the interior, finishing guard-generated opportunities around the rim (Clint’s 57.1 FG% ranks 9th among 10 NBA’ers w/ 8+ paint touches/game) and converting fouls into And-1 buckets. Like the Falcons, the Hawks could use a big win this weekend to maintain a lead in their division. Sadly, Matt Ryan won’t be around to save Atlanta in a close affair this evening. Neither of them, although just one could conceivably be available. Since he’s not being used all that much on the gridiron, maybe Drake London can chip in for the Hawks tonight? Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  18. “Oh, cool! Hawks defender costumes for Halloween!” After getting tarred and feathered a by VanVleet-less Raptor squad, our Atlanta Hawks mercifully conclude their five-game road excursion by facing the Knickerbockers. You all remember the Knicks, no? New York City’s least problematic NBA franchise? Does that help jog your memory? The one with perfectly sound ownership, competent management, a head coach on solid ground, a dedicated legion of ticket-holders, and players who keep their business and their musings off Elon’s latest personal playscape? Including a sensible guard manning the point, and a bucket-hunting forward who, despite his many critics, genuinely seems to want to play here? Y’know, the professional basketball team in Gotham that has their Dellavedova together? Right! The Knicks! They’re the halfway-winning one, too. Despite losing two straight on the road, by 11 at Milwaukee and 13 at Cleveland, the Knicks (3-3) return undefeated, here at home (7:30 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, MSG Network in NYC), finding it unfathomable that nothing they do, on or off the court, earns them high-profile ink space in the tabloid New York Post. Not the back page, not the front page, not Page Six. You want steaming controversy? Best we can drudge up is whether summertime free agent Jalen Brunson consulted his suspiciously-hired assistant-coach pops before bailing Lukaland for the Manhattan project. And, consequentially, whether the Association will rap his new team’s knuckles by, say, snatching up a second-rounder or two, or issuing some ham-fisted press release assuring the public that there is no place for subterfuge anywhere on the planet, that their commitment to free agency ethics is the league’s highest priority, at the moment, or something. In Sunday’s 121-108 defeat of New York, Cleveland’s Donovan Mitchell gave the Knicks Fan Comic Universe accumulating regrets that team prez Leon Rose didn’t give away the store to bring him home in the offseason. But predictable results and hindsight reactions aren’t all that newsworthy. Questions abound whether the team could have fared just as well drafting De’Andre Hunter (44.4 3FG%, essentially a team-high until Hawks coach Nate McMillan discovers AJ Griffin exists) instead of RJ Barrett (17.7 PPG, career-lows of 40.0 FG% and 2.2 APG, and zero steals despite career-high 35.0 MPG). Some aren’t all that sure that Cam Reddish isn’t secretly Two-Face (22 bench points and 3 steals in NYK’s season debut; 42.3 FG% with a blips of stat-lines in the five games since). But that’s not enough banter to fill a Mad Dog radio segment. With all the messy goings-on over in the other b-ball borough, the Hawks drawing a standing-room-only crowd to MSG is quite the palate cleanser. That’s because tonight’s a boffo off-Broadway bonanza, as The Phantom of the Opera, Trae Young is there, still inside Knick Fans’ minds. Sure, Young comes off the rare slip-ple double (14 points, 10 assists, 10 TOs) from Monday’s humbling 139-109 pasting of the Hawks in Toronto, dropping Atlanta (4-3) to 0-2 on third-game-in-four-nights affairs. Yet he plays tonight with a heavy heart following the untimely demise of yet another prominent local rhyme-spitter (Rest in Power, Takeoff!). If Trae bounces back and the Hawks prevail tonight, you can bet his performance will be of the dedicated variety. Grimacing Knick fans were left clutching their Playbills tightly when Young last took the stage here. His 45 points (7-for-15 3FGs) and 8 dimes back in March were EGOT-worthy in getting his team back, momentarily, to .500 ball. But the best supporting role on that evening came from Bogdan Bogdanovic, who stole the ball thrice while piling on 32 points off the bench to steal the show, too. Bogi won’t bail the Hawks out anytime soon. But while he hangs out with deserving Sports Emmy nominee Bob Rathbun behind the microphone, recovering from knee surgery, and as Onyeka Okongwu (questionable) nurses a sore shoulder, the onus is on starters John Collins (team-high 12 rebounds, but 1-for-6 3FGs, one assist, no stocks, one FTA, six fouls @ TOR) and Clint Capela to play like more than what one expects from understudies. Young and Dejounte Murray will find the relative lack of on-ball defensive pressure to their liking. As will the Knicks’ Brunson and Evan Fournier (40.5 3FG%), particularly whenever the Hawks fall for okie-dokes and contract around ballhandlers to leave shooters wide open. But there will be plenty of missed shots to go around, and we will wonder at times whether the defensive bigs for both the Hawks (27th in D-Reb%) and Knicks (28th; NYC’s other team is 29th so, there’s that) fell into some space-time continuum when caroms fall beneath the hoop. If Double-O’s a no-go, bench minutes for Jalen Johnson and Frank Kaminsky are likely to be expanded. Keeping the frontcourt backups from being essential for victory, Collins and Capela must be more active in demanding the rock inside, finishing bunnies, working collaboratively to secure boards, passing from the post, and staying out of foul trouble against Randle, Obi Toppin and Knick windmills Mitchell Robinson and Isiah Hartenstein. Brunson (18.2 PPG, 7.2 APG, 1.7 TOs/game) is not perfect, as Grace Jones might put it, but he’s perfect for this team, one which relied for too long on Derrick Rose and Immanuel Quickley to be the star point guards they either once were or were hoped to become. Brunson’s court composure has taken the pressure off of Randle and Barrett to excel consistently, and thereby taken the Knicks out of the NYC media’s hyperactive headlines. The Knicks faithful are used to being the local laughingstocks. But at least they can go to sleep not worrying whether they’ll wake up to, perhaps, Brunson’s private questions about the veracity of Armenian genocide becoming a breathtaking Breaking News banner. Or Randle hitting send on cryptic tweets, or getting caught clapping back at disaffected fans and fantasy owners with a Firstnamebunchofnumbers account. There’ll be no skepticism if the team issues a full-throated defense of Coach Thibs’ unassailable job standing, no wonders if he’ll be replaced by Isiah Thomas under cover of night. And no concerns as to whether Reddish wants to shoot the ball, or if Cam prefers being a courtside fashion model to playing basketball for money. Much like their division rivals from Toronto, the Knicks got a couple of days off on the heels of a deflating loss before facing Atlanta, all while Brooklyn burned. No matter how well New York plays tonight, it’s unquestionable that the team and its fans, have slept well. Oscar-winning Atlanta native Spike Lee was clowned for years about never coming over to the bright side and becoming a full-time front-row Nets fan, and goodness knows he’s been given ample reasons to take the plunge. At least for now, it appears as though Mookie truly did Do The Right Thing. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  19. “THEY don’t want us to know. But experts I read online tell me the Homo sapiens will lead us to extinction if we let them. Y’all not ready for that conversation, though.” There are the contenders. There are the pretenders. Then, there are the folks in the happy medium. Our Atlanta Hawks are spinning their wheels in hopes of moving firmly into this purgatorial bourgeoisie class of the Eastern Conference. The Toronto Raptors, still-shiny trophy in hand, are just fine hanging around there. What a difference a championship makes. “We will not be in the middle!”, executive extraordinaire Masai Ujiri once promised The 6, back when his Raptors repeatedly bumped their heads on the ceiling built by LeBron James. Their big gamble paid off in 2019, and his Raptors still live in the afterglow, even as much of the mission-critical roster components have moved on. Fred VanVleet sticks around, although the 2022 All-Star’s scoring has dwindled (career-low 12.6 PPG average through six games, 32.3 2FG%). 2020 All-Star Pascal Siakam isn’t going anywhere, conversely threatening to hoist career-best marks (25.3 PPG, 7.7 APG, 9.2 RPG) in his seventh pro season. For a perceived pretender team, like 2022 Play-In MVP Trae Young’s 4-2 Hawks, lofty numbers serve merely as honorable mention. But in Bougie Wonderland, that’s enough to make the case for an MVP finalist. Coach Nick Nurse is snug as a bug in a rug, and he has no intention of taking either of his top talismans off the floor for terribly long (Siakam’s 37.8 MPG a shade below his league-high 37.9 in 2021-22; VanVleet is this season’s NBA leader at 38.0 MPG). Same for OG Anunoby (36.2 MPG), the young former utility forward who moved into the starting unit upon Kawhi Leonard’s departure and hasn’t looked back. Like VanVleet, interior scoring for OG has been a drag (13.5 PPG on 45.9 2FG%, down so far from 17.1 and 51.1%) despite solid defensive play. Turn-sideways-and-disappear Chris Boucher returned from a three-game absence at the outset of this season with a semblance of a jumpshot (5-for-8 on threes). Despite sitting in the furthest reaches of the bench in 2019’s playoffs, the 30-year-old’s the only other remnant playing from that championship season. Heading into November, they’re 3-3 and still enjoying glowing press for their transition, reigning Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes in tow, despite losses like Friday’s 112-90 loss to Tyrese Maxey’s 76ers (Joel Embiid was a DNP) at Scotiabank Arena. Few harbor illusions that the cluster, as constructed, can vie for playoff wins in June. But they’re fully expected by the punditocracy to be a headache as an out for whoever draws them in the postseason, confident there WILL be a postseason, and that’s fine and dandy. Still, I’ve got a watchful eye on Masai. Depth, particularly in the backcourt behind VanVleet and Gary Trent, Jr., was a glaring problem last season and remains shallow in 2022-23. Intentionally, so, I’m averring. We couldn’t get a dozen games into the NBA season without clubs and fanbases bellyaching for trades. Conveniently, Ujiri has a glut of lightly-played bigs behind Siakam and Anunoby – showcased prospects like Christian Koloko and Precious Achiuwa, chill-mode vets like Thaddeus Young, Otto Porter (out, personal reasons), Khem Birch and Juan Hernangomez – ready to ship out at a moment’s notice. Maybe it’s to reel in a plug-and-play veteran that can give VanVleet (7.7 APG, 1.2 TOs/game, NBA-high 2.5 SPG) the breathers he deserves. Nurse’s trust levels for 2020 first-rounder Malachi Flynn and stringy 2021 second-rounder Dalano Banton remain justifiably low. Or… maybe it’s to drag in another disaffected star talent from another market, completing the puzzle to propel Toronto back firmly into the upper tier of what feels like a parity-laden Eastern Conference. Around Canada, the confidence level is high that Ujiri will make an impactful move, but only when the time is right. In the meantime, Nurse and the Raps have to do what teams in the happy middle are expected to do in order to stay there. Soundly drum the dregs of the league, while skating neck-and-neck with the best of the rest. Toronto came out of last weekend splitting a consecutive pair of games in Miami – last Monday’s 98-90 win highlighted by former heat reserve Achiuwa’s 22 rebounds in 34 bench minutes. Then, they returned home and went even-steven with the Sixers, riding Trent’s hot hand (27 points 5-for-10 3FGs) on Wednesday while Siakam, VanVleet and Barnes (26 combines assists, 3 TOs vs. PHI) did their best Dejountrae impressions. The Hawks would have been flying high into Toronto, ahead of today’s game (7:30 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, SportsNet in TOR) had Trae’s fourth-quarter Saturday splurge culminated in a hair-raising victory in Milwaukee. Nonetheless, there are wins and learning opportunities for teams in the non-contender subclass, and Young’s subpar shot selection in the clutch left the Hawks taking another One to Grow On, along their way out of Wisconsin. Late-game lawn darts like the one Young (season-high 42 points, “just” 5 assists @ MIL) needlessly hurled, after having helped bring the Hawks back within a point with just over a minute to play, can be hazardous to the health of any team’s offense. From that point on, Milwaukee was able to grab the crucial rebounds needed to turn a slim 112-111 lead into a 123-115 final score. The Hawks can expect to have their talons full, again, with stingy on-ball defenders and tenacious rebounders tonight. The lengthy Raptors (NBA-high 78.3 D-Reb%) don’t allow for second chances (NBA-best 9.2 opponent second-chance points per-48, Atlanta’s 16.8 allowed ranks them 26th), so Atlanta’s first impressions have to be error-free in execution while fully in the flow of designed offensive sets drawn up by coach Nate McMillan. The Hawks have passed the transition defense test with flying colors so far (NBA-low 8.0 opponent fastbreak points per-48), but they’ll face their biggest test from a Toronto club (NBA-high 20.2 fastbreak points per-48) that’s comfortable at a slow pace (29th, partly a product of their opponents thus far) but doesn’t mind scampering to their preferred spots on the floor. Last season the Hawks finished 22-27 versus teams at .500 or higher, banishing them to the Play-In. Toronto closed the regular season at 28-22 in the same category, finishing five games ahead of Atlanta and getting to enjoy a few extra days off ahead of first-round action. A game squad, the Raps could only go so far in 2022’s playoffs with a worn-down VanVleet missing the final two contests of the six-game series with Philly. Barnes also missed out on a pair of defeats in that series. Another marked difference in 2021-22 was the Raptors’ consistency as a steady winning club in both home (24-17) and away games (24-17), while the Hawks were Rich Man at home (27-14), Poor Man when they weren’t (16-25). A maturing Atlanta team will recognize the long-term value of at least breaking even, especially on the road, against the teams that should be seen as their competitive peers. It is only then when the Hawks will begin getting the kind of positive publicity the Raptors, recent NBA champions, take for granted. Sure, some could ask for a more serious push for contention from Toronto. But frankly, why ask Kawhi? Happy Halloween. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  20. Coach Van Exel: “I woke up feeling the cheesiest!” Now the going gets rougher! Our Atlanta Hawks navigate their first SEGABABA game tonight, (8 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, BS Wisconsin), and any time it has to be on the road against Coach Bud, Giannis and the undefeated Milwaukee Bucks in the midst of their six-game homestand, it’s a scenario that’s far from optimal. Still, this could have been an even taller task for Our Fine Feathered Friends. For one thing, this is the first back-to-back contest of the season for Milwaukee (4-0), too. The Bucks withstood the Knicks here at Fiserv Forum last night, their game having tipped off an hour after the Hawks and Pistons in Detroit. Giannis (NBA leader in Player Impact Estimate and Plus/Minus, first in DREBs and made FGs) has been in Go-Ahead-and-Hand-Me-The-MVP mode from the outset of the season. But it’s not just The Greek Freak’s otherworldly play that makes him award-worthy. It’s that he has kept Milwaukee looking spiffy despite being without two starters (Khris Middleton and veteran free agent pickup Joe Ingles) and a key rotation piece (Pat Connaughton) at the wing due to injury recoveries. Undrafted two-way guard AJ Green has been out with a nasal fracture, while G-Leaguer-turned-first-rounder MarJon Beauchamp has not yet been deemed ready for prime time. Field goal shooting without the swingmen has been mediocre but not atrocious. Jrue Holiday, trip-meister Grayson Allen and even Brook Lopez, second through fourth in floortime for the Bucks, are all shooting sub-40 percentages in the early going, yet Antetokounmpo has kept the entire offense (51.6 eFG%, 24th in NBA) from plunging into the abyss. The same (“mediocre but not atrocious”) could be said for the Bucks’ free throw marksmanship, up to 72.5 team FT% and out of last place after going 22-for-27 last night. Giannis does his part to keep TV producers from switching to picture-in-picture while he practices his charity heaves. It is BudBall defense where Milwaukee is making its gravy, the tried-and-true “we may not score, but you won’t either!” adage (38.5 FG% vs. NYK, who shot 39.8% last night) that has become a hallmark of Mike Budenholzer-coached squads. Buck players are committed to haggling opponents into rushed, poorly-executed and otherwise unwise shots, then to ensure their foes’ possessions are of the one-and-done variety. The Bucks are tops in the league for both blocks and defensive rebounds, which is quite a feat. It doesn’t hurt that they’ve got a junkyard dog clutching a clipboard, either. 2015 Hawks hero DeMarre Carroll is now on the Bucks staff as an assistant, filling in a slot created by the promotion of Charles Lee as Bud’s associate head honcho. It’s not quite plod-and-trod for Milwaukee (tops in NBA East for Pace last season, 2nd in their 2020-21 title season; 17th in the NBA so far this season). But the fervent commitment to playing Antetokounmpo anywhere but the 5-spot, backloading Bobby Portis and Serge Ibaka to fill in the gaps behind Lopez, on what is the eldest team in the league even before Ingles enters the fray, necessitates some abdication of Bud’s pacy, spacy schemes. There is space, only insofar as it involves teammates clearing out in the halfcourt to let the Freak’s flag fly. Propelled by their second-half blitz (and perhaps by PBO Travis Schlenk warning his charges, “Don’t make me come down there!”, at the half), Atlanta wrapped up their proceedings last night about the time Milwaukee reached halftime a time zone away. Giannis’ near-triple-double (30 points, 1-for-6 3FGs, 14 boards, 9 assists) was enough to stiff-arm New York, but Bud needed his ace on the floor for 39 minutes to seal the 119-108 win. The Bucks are bound to hurl Jrue, Jevon Carter, Allen and George Hill at Trae Young in waves, expecting better results than the double-team-for-what Detroit defenders gleaned (36 points on 12-for-20 FGs and 8-for-10 FTs, 12 dimes, 1 player TO in a team-high 30 minutes) in last night’s 136-112 Hawks victory. The Hawks (NBA-high 1.35 points per transition possession; 73.9 transition eFG%, 2nd in NBA) should apply their relative health and rest advantages at the wing, imploring Dejounte Murray, De’Andre Hunter (18 minutes, 2-for-5 3FGs @ DET after early foul trouble) and rookie AJ Griffin to beat their heavy-legged defenders repeatedly down the floor and prepare for quick scoring opportunities. The runouts can be sparked by Clint Capela, John Collins and Onyeka Okongwu boxing Lopez and Portis out while securing possessions for the playmaking guards. Atlanta could find itself in good shape if it can demonstrate, on this day, that two Holidays are better than one. Unlike the Falcons in the NFC South, the Hawks could imagine playing for the top spot in the East by this juncture in their schedule, and they’ve done just enough to earn this opportunity. They’ll face Bud’s Bucks twice more over the next 20 days, but there’s no need to wait for a better or more momentous shot at victory. A ripe chance is before Atlanta to steal a W from Isconsin and hand Miwaukee their first L. If the Hawks play their cards right, another big outing from Antetokounmpo won’t automatically spell disaster. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  21. “Kevin, the ball is ups… y’know what? Let’s just roll with it.” Not much worth sharing ahead of this week’s rematch between our Atlanta Hawks and the Detroit Pistons (7 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, BS Detroit). We all know the adjustments that need to be made for the visitors to pull off the two-game sweep, comfortably, and head to Milwaukee at 4-1. Hopefully, Atlanta’s players and coaches do, too. A shout out, though, is in order. There was a period where I was sure Uncle Arthur riding in on a white horse to save the Hawks from beleaguered ownership was imminent. A decade before that, in 2002, Arthur Blank bought out the Falcons from the Smiths, and he had since dabbled in considerations to buy the Bravos, too. Atlanta? Spirit?? Group??? had pulled a coup with the hiring of Danny Ferry, so the managerial box was adequately checked. It was just, in my mind, a matter of time. One problem, though. What to do with the director of PR and media relations? A fixture at Hawks Inc. since 1989, the Louisiana-raised Arthur Triche was a proud and unapologetic Aints fan. Ergo, you could imagine how I was reading into the news that, in August 2012, Ferry and the Hawks dumped Triche unceremoniously, hardly two months into the new PBO/GM’s tenure. One Arthur out, another one in! That so didn’t happen. As we know, Ferry didn’t get to stick around for terribly long, either. But Triche landed on his feet quite comfortably. Within a couple months of his pink slip, he was named the first Executive Producer of a new media venture, one that began a decade ago this month. Those of you outside the Perimeter often shared my frustrations back when I’d be stuck working late at the office (y’all remember offices?), withstanding the indignity of listening as an AM radio signal fades into nightly oblivion, often just as Steve Holman’s broadcasts were about to tip off. Sports talk, since its local inception as a full-time format in the Olympic age (where have you gone, Tony Schiavone?), had always been an AM dial affair. Modern music was the purview of the FM side. But CBS Radio looked at flagging ratings for its adult-contemporary stations, like Dave FM at 92.9 MHz frequency in Atlanta, and thought the time was right for a multi-market conversion to round-the-clock sports blabber. My grumblings about losing out on coffeeshop radio tunes late at night quickly shifted to glee that I’d get to awaken, around 3:30 in the morning, to hear a show host fielding grievances about Josh Smith’s shot selection (he’d become the star of Pistons talk radio soon enough). 92.9 The Game was born in October 2012, and Triche was the man in charge of getting it off the ground. Triche used his connections in media relations and the talent circulating around NBATV and Turner Sports to draw an array of hosts to the 92.9 stable. Local radio stalwarts like John Fricke, athletes-turned-broadcasters like Hugh Douglas, Randy Cross and Jamie Dukes, round-the-clock basketball chatters like Rick Kamla and Kristen Ledlow. The loyal Get Off My Lawn crowd was not happy about two AM radio stations now having to compete for ears with a third outfit, one with vastly stronger signal coverage. 790 the Zone would quickly evaporate itself, incidentally, in Aints-related controversy. 680 The Fan eventually stepped into the Teens by simulcasting up the dial at 93.7 FM. The Hawks Radio Network jumped over to 92.9 from 680 in 2013, and the Falcons followed suit upon 790’s demise. Getting Holman’s broadcasts on FM, in particular, allowed me to turn my dial to 92.9, and rip the knob off (y’all remember knobs?). 680 The Fan remains the undisputed king of local sports radio, ratings-wise and especially with its FM simulcast. Triche became a victim of corporate shifts again, on the outs not long after Entercom (now d/b/a Audacy) took over the CBS Radio operations in 2017. And the 24-hour local angle didn’t last for long, CBS Radio filling in the late-night slots with national broadcasts (currently, with Atlanta resident JR SportBrief working out of 92.9’s studios in Midtown’s Colony Square). But as 92.9 The Game celebrated its 10-year anniversary last week at a party along the BeltLine, the successes the station has had in modernizing and diversifying sports talk radio in town has Triche’s fingerprints all over it. Not bad work, I’d say, for an Aints fan. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  22. “Bojan said he’s from Mostar? That’s where the aliens from Space Jam come from, right?” Does the schedule maker for the NBA happen to be a Detroit Pistons fan? From France? It is the sole explanation I can conjure up, for a team this youthful to be front-loaded with so many back-to-back games. Dwane Casey’s club has three pairs this month alone and, yes, the season just started seven days ago. Like the Hornets on the road, the Pistons are undefeated at home, and sincerely hope to stay that way with the Atlanta Hawks hanging around for contests today (7 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, BS Detroit) and on Friday night. Cade Cunningham edged Paolo Banchero’s Magic in the battle of most-recent Number 1s here at the Pizza Pizza Palace on the 19th. Their reward was to hit the road, get blown out in New York and lose, the next night, in Indianapolis. Then, while the Hawks (2-1) cleaned their tailfeathers in Motown, following a dreadful home showing versus whatever’s left of Charlotte, Detroit spent last night hooping it up in the nation’s capital. They got waxed by the Wizards, 120-99, before hopping on a red-eye back home. Atlanta will get their first SEGABABA of the season on Saturday, with a quick trek to Milwaukee. But the Pistons are due to make the same trip, for a game on Halloween, after what is likely to feel like Devil’s Night with Steph Curry and Draymond Tyson in town on the 30th. While the strength o’ schedule tightens up a notch soon, the Hawks won’t see their third B2B until nearly the end of next month. By that time, the Pistons will have pushed through three more, doubling their tally to six. Casey should feel confident in his team’s improving preparedness – Detroit finished 6-7 in SEGABABAs last season, including 3-0 to close out what was otherwise a predictable 23-59 campaign. Still, having 20 of your first 45 games coupled in B2Bs feels like setting up your relatively inexperienced team for failure. Or, “success,” depending on how Madame/Monsieur Schedule-maker slices it. We know by now how the path to getting Victor/Victorious works. Stack the roster with talented young prospects, like Cunningham and rookie Jaden Ivey, who are still figuring out how to play with one another. Keep one or two Eighties Babies as tagalongs, usually just to help decipher Nineties and Aughts references for the rest of the rank-and-file until the trade deadline nears and contenders get desperate. Occasionally, you get an Eighties Baby who can still help subpar teams win games, or like LeBron at least stay in the ballpark for awhile. Such is the case with Bojan Bogdanovic, happy-sacked from Utah last month as an upgrade from Kelly Olynyk. Detroit is likely not 0-4 because Bojan sunk the first six three-point attempts of his Pistons career against the Magic. They are likely not dead-last in shot accuracy (52.1 team TS%, 28th in NBA), because Bojangles’ shot (team-high 25 points, 4-for-7 3FGs @ WAS; 51.7 3FG% and 52.0 2FG% through four games) has been as sweet as a Boo-Berry Biscuit. It's nice to have a Bogdanovic who can keep you from getting bogged down from time to time. Casey plugs and plays Bojan at the 4-spot, given he has nowhere else logical to stash his senior-most contributor. Teams continue to dream of the “imagine a guard that passes as prolifically as Trae Young (NBA-high 11.7 APG), only he’s at least 6-foot-6!”, so Cunningham (team-high 6.0 APG, ahead of Ivey, an athletic 2-guard with 5.5 APG) remains the shoehorned unicorn at the point. Saddiq Bey showed durability and promise as a wing shooter last season, so Casey will continue to ride him through his occasional slumps. And there’s no need to be a glutton for punishment, not with Isaiah Stewart, rookie Jalen Duren and Nerlens Noel available to man the pivot. Bojan’s shooting well, and there are few other options at power forward, with the re-signed Marvin Bagley (sprained knee) unavailable, and the incomparable Kevin Knox and Isaiah Livers more suitable for clean-up duties. So until February (some Pistons fans might say, “février”), Bojan at the Four for around 30 minutes a night it is. Only, he’s a sieve defensively who doesn’t cover for the undersized Stewart (one block through 113 minutes) much on the defensive glass. Interior points and putbacks abound against Detroit (118.7 D-Rating, 27th in NBA; 54.0 opponent paint points per-48, 23rd, although not as bad as ATL’s 26th-ranked 56.0) for anyone who bothers to hunt for them. Last season’s Hawks righted the path to a Play-In by not dropping more than three-straight from January 15 onwards. Their biggest slip-up after the All-Star Break, arguably, was during a road SEGABABA on this floor. Atlanta arrived from a triumph in New York (led by Trae and Bogi) only to get blitzed by the now departed Olynyk and Jerami Grant in a 122-101 loss. Relatively rested this time around, Atlanta (8th in NBA for Pace) should have the energy advantage, particularly in the second half against the Pistons trudging through their fourth game in six nights. Hawks coach Nate McMillan will be responsible for keeping his rotation fresh and, in the case of his double-trouble backcourt, out of unnecessary early foul trouble. McMillan stuck to his guns, and shot himself in the foot when Young, already haggled with a pair of quick fouls in the middle of Sunday’s opening quarter, was tagged with a third with under three minutes to spare. The Hawks were up 24-11 on the Hornets, and the slow, painful turning of the tables began at that point. With all due respect, Too Late Nate isn’t looking down the bench at Rajon Rondo and Brandon Goodwin anymore when Trae finds himself in such a predicament. Dejounte Murray could have returned earlier than planned, sharing the court with Aaron Holiday to adequately pest-control the Hornets through at least much of the second quarter. Instead, with the momentum squandered, Young (2-for-8 3FGs; 1-for-3 on the season on corner 3FGAs, 5 of his 7 made triples this season assisted) returned looking more to bring his team back with iso darts from Dahlonega rather than canning corner catch-and-shoots. John Collins (0-for-7 3FGs) also settled for desperate money balls, and in typical Hawks fashion, the preoccupation with offensive woes contaminated the focus on getting defensive stops and transition buckets. They allowed 37 second-quarter points to the visitors, vowed “never again!”, and promptly left the halftime locker room to give up 45 in the third stanza. Pried from McMillan’s cold, dead grasp, Hawks rookie AJ Griffin entered in the fourth and provided as much of a spark defensively with a pair of steals as he did with his shots. It would be a shame if AJ gets unearthed again this week only in the event of games getting out of hand. Justin Holiday is listed as available after a brief, reported non-COVID illness, but McMillan should know he has options when De’Andre Hunter is hesitant and ineffective, or when one of the key guards needs to be preserved for a stretch. Defensive stewardship (i.e., “don’t leave Bojan!”), shot selection and tempo dictation will help Atlanta set the tone for the next couple games. The proud Pistons are sure to make their runs throughout these games, but if the Hawks respond with scattershot, disjointed play, somebody all the way over in Secaucus may get caught screaming, “Sacré Bleu!” Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  23. “Superstar sensation and "Tyler Herro" crooner Jack Harlow with us now. Jack, given this stifling Florida humidity, do you think Verstappen should have gone with the C5 tyres?” Since UK actors slay the award-show ceremonies these days, a BBC interviewer flies out to L.A. to query attendees at the latest Red Carpet ceremony. A tall, curly-haired man approaches in dashing, glittery cherry-red attire, his championship sports bling-ring blinding the onlooking crowd with every twist of his wrist. “Paolo! PAOLO! What’s your opinion on the odds Matthew Macfayden makes it two Emmys in a row…” Patrick Mahomes stares at him, then at the camera, in bewilderment. “…and what did you think of that bonzo Succession finale?” “I… I’m not Paolo Banchero,” the KC quarterback explains. The face of the dour, doughy man clutching the microphone grows flush with disbelief, then disappointment, by the second. “Oh, bollocks! Okay… very well then, Rappaport, who in blazes do you profess to be today? And please, don’t try to convince me you’re some world-renowned sensation, like Jackson Mahomes.” An alarm goes off. Paolo Banchero awakes from his slumber, steps into his slides, and heads to the kitchen in search of some freshly squeezed OJ. Sports media does a great job of finding ways, on the daily, to immolate their respectability. Sure, it’s plausible that a media member from across the pond, already a fish out of water, is wholly unfamiliar with a five-star American hoops sensation, one about to transition from Big Blue-Chip Basketball U to, possibly, the first name called on the night of the next the NBA Draft. But what made this scene at the Miami Grand Prix a viral springtime spectacle was the righteous indignation and dismissiveness the Sky Sports on-scene reporter, hunting for recognizable, accomplished celebrities, displayed in response to Banchero’s mistaken identity. It wasn’t Paolo going, “Who the heck do you think I am?” It was the interviewer acting like, “Who the heck do you think you are? What is this, cosplay? Silly Americans, psssh!” For a kid expecting to be vexed over getting passed up by several teams atop the draft, while the naysayer predraft pundits were having their moment in the sun overanalyzing his game, the Formula 1 incident was an unexpected but more efficient source of race fuel, as Paolo starts his NBA engine in earnest. He didn’t even need a fellow Seattle Rotary alum – new Atlanta Hawk Dejounte Murray – trying to show him up at Jamal Crawford’s Seatown super-summer pro-am, intending to ensure the newly-minted top pick of the Orlando Magic doesn’t grow too big for his teenage britches. No, Mr. Fish and Chips over here (his name is all the more irrelevant… Marvin Bungle something or other, whatever!) would do just fine. Often, top picks from big schools like Paolo’s – OMG, it’s Zion! – are overnight celebrity sensations before they even log a full season in the league. For the time being, Banchero is determined to jog the memories of those yet to make his unique name one of the household variety. “You see Paolo soar over Cory Joseph last night?”, one asks another family member over morning corn flakes. “Paolo who?” There’s ample time for Banchero to rectify that anonymity, one game at a time. He’ll get to do it tonight against the Atlanta Hawks, for an Orlando Magic team (7:30 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Bally Sports Florida) that has grown way too comfortable being the box of No Frills on the cereal aisle. There’s no mistaking Orlando’s identity, as the NBA franchise with no tangible identity to speak of. They’ve lived off of, “Hooray, we survived the Dwightmare! The Vucevic years were pretty cool, eh?”, for far too long. Locked into a contract extension just last year, amid his team’s 22-60 finish, team prez Jeff Weltman is content spinning the wheel for the next Giannis to fall into his lap. If fans have to settle for Bol Bol coming off the bench in the interim, so be it. Paolo produced a team-high 27 points in his formal debut in Motown on Wednesday night, in a battle with the Pistons of Merrimack-Monitor proportions. He and 2022 All-Rookie First Teamer Franz Wagner led the team with a whopping five assists each, but they also combined for 9 turnovers in the 113-109 loss. Orlando started strong with a 28-17 opening quarter, but couldn’t fully recover, despite Paolo’s 13 fourth-quarter points, after allowing 74 points to Detroit in the middle quarters. So far, when you watch Banchero highlights, you’ll notice most of them are clearouts, or fastbreaks where nary a Magician is in the vicinity. That’s the early gameplan schemed up by second-year coach Jamahl Mosley, who has chosen to work Banchero into a roster essentially the same as last year by getting all those other guys out of the way. Mosley has three 6-foot-10 guys in the starting lineup to feed, in Wagner, Banchero and Atlanta native Wendell Carter. There’d be a fourth 6-foot-10 guy, in future face of a supplements franchise Jonathan Isaac, but that’s neither here nor there. The guards, the healthy ones at least (Cole Anthony, Jalen Suggs, R.J. Hampton) haven’t mastered the dark arts of the pick-and-roll just yet, and the bigs, especially Banchero, struggle recognizing their role in such actions. The Hawks can expect a bunch of halfcourt iso-actions, especially when guard Terrence Ross is in the mix, and go-it-alone transition plays where Orlando ballhandlers will penetrate as deeply into the paint as Atlanta allows, then figure it out from there. Guarding without picking up cheap fouls and boxing out will ensure the Magic’s offensive output (29th in O-Rating last season) remains inefficient. Atlanta’s most valuable newcomer, Dejounte Murray was the X-Factor in Wednesday’s opening night win over Houston, one which felt like could have been a deflating blown-lead loss last season under coach Nate McMillan’s watch, barring some historic shooting night from a perimeter shooter. The Hawks started out 0-for-8 from three-point range, and they weren’t much better (9-for-27 3FGs) the rest of the way. But they relied on crisp passing for inside scores (30 assists, 5 player TOs), and transition points off copious steals to exploit a fairly green Rockets team. Orlando’s bigs will clog the paint, but they won’t challenge much beyond that area. John Collins was the one Hawk who has been money inside and out, and he can join forces with Murray and Trae Young to keep tempting the Magic forwards with mid-range shots and floaters. It will aid Atlanta’s cause to put this game away early, though, if they can find a hot hand or two from outside (get well soon, Bogi!). Failing that, and we might find the game on the line, late, in the eager hands of Paolo Banchero. If that is indeed your name, sir. Hearts out to Hawks fans in Florida and PR recovering from hurricanes. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  24. What could possibly go wrong? There were two future Basketball Hall of Famers, albeit honored posthumously. Two magnificent scorers and annual All-Stars, bound to have their jersey numbers one day lofted into arena rafters. Two teammates, sharing the stage, if not equivalently the spotlight, for your Atlanta Hawks. One, in a fit of probably drunken rage, had just bloodied the other’s nose. Had a flustered Lou Hudson swung a not-so-sweet arm in the direction of veteran referee James Capers, Sr., landing instead with an elbow that gave co-star teammate Pete Maravich a mask of crimson as the latter attempted to restrain him, the fallout would have been loud and severe at a national scale. Rather, it was Maravich wylin’ out in Houston, at Hudson’s nasal expense, and thus perhaps you’re just now hearing about it in 2022, Anno Dominique, at the outset of this brave new NBA season. Nonetheless, an onlooking young Rockets star, Rudy Tomjanovich, likely shook his head in astonishment upon witnessing the spectacle. Swinging hands and arms recklessly, with other players in the vicinity? Who does that? A half-decade later, Capers the Elder would signal the first successful conversion of a three-point shot in an NBA regular-season game. But at this moment, in February 1974, this referee’s challenge was to dodge a foul flung by the league’s premier young scoring guard in his general direction, after he dared to whistle Pistol Pete for a technical foul. Hudson’s visage bore the bloody brunt of the fling from Maravich’s meathook. The Atlanta Hawks’ gruesome disarray was officially on full display. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Tom Cousins could not have believed his good fortune in the early spring of 1970. The Hawks franchise he was able to pry from St. Louis just years before, bringing with them veterans like Richie Guerin (by then, serving double-duty as the coach) and talented up-and-comers like Sweet Lou Hudson, was a winning venture on the court and the reigning NBA Western Division champions (regular season, naturally), yet it wasn’t planting booties onto the wooden benches at Georgia Tech’s Coliseum. Attendance was an especially vital factor for the NBA. This was an age where Televised Sports meant viewers tuning in on lazy weekend afternoons, in time to witness the agony of a downhill skier crashing spectacularly in defeat along the slopes, with events often on tape delay hosted by men donning yellow blazers in vivid black-and-white. This was also an age where a rival hoops league dared to siphon off fans, and talent. At the outset of the brave new decade of the Seventies, college basketball’s most prolific all-time scorer was on the market, fresh off a celebrated and historic stint at Louisiana State. Will Pistol be the panacea for the NBA? Or the ABA? San Francisco’s Warriors, eager to replenish its NBA talent base with former ABA defectors, used “future draft considerations” to secure the rights to Atlanta’s center Zelmo Beaty, who had jumped ship for the ABA in L.A. but was already suffering misgivings. The Dubs went on a losing spree to close out 1969-70, yet Cousins’ Hawks, unbeknownst to the general public, clung tightly to San Fran’s first-rounder. The Warriors being the third-worst team in the NBA still seemed to place Maravich just beyond Atlanta’s reach. Besides, there was the matter of being outbid by the ABA. Casual poker player turned Hardee’s restaurant magnate Jim Gardner was putting on a full court press on Press, Pete’s head-coaching father at LSU, to get Pete to sign with his ABA franchise, freshly relocated from Houston to the high-school home of Pete and, coincidentally, Hudson, in the Carolinas. Sensing Cousins’ interest, Gardner went so far as publicly threatening to pilfer even more Hawks for the ABA, including Hudson, if Atlanta dared to both acquire and sign Maravich. But Gardner proved to be too off-putting for Pete’s sake, the prized possession choosing to spurn the Carolina Cougars and have his dad negotiate instead with the NBA team that drafts him. Pete had already stiff-armed any interest from Detroit, the league’s worst team, leaving the San Diego Rockets in pole position for Pistol. But at the last moment, San Diego elected to go with Tomjanovich, allowing Maravich’s draft rights to nestle neatly into Cousins’ lap. The eventual next pick, Florida State’s Dave Cowens, could not glue booties to Atlanta seats, it was surmised. Pete Maravich, though? Absolutely. Here’s a pro-sports record $1.6 million multi-year contract offer, young man! Oh, and a pen. This was huge. On the court, pairing two former Carolina prep standouts like Hudson and Maravich, together on the American Deep South’s sole NBA enterprise, was the type of chemistry you’d have to find in a Union Carbide lab. But this draw meant even more for Cousins, a developer by trade, who was competing with Peachtree Center’s Jim Portman to remake the future look, vibe and feel of downtown Atlanta. Cousins’ grand scheme involved the once-bustling stretch of Marietta Street, west of Five Points. The Omni complex would feature a coliseum suitable for professional hockey and basketball, a massive office and hotel building, and indoor amusement including, if hockey wasn’t enough ice to cool one’s jets, a skating rink to draw visitors. Across the street, a sprawling convention center complex was in the works, also developed by Cousins, with plenty room to grow around the tangle of railroad tracks a few parking levels below. The sports venue would be ready by the start of the 1972-73 NBA season. With this marquee signing, the Omni was destined to be known as The Place The Pistol Built. Atlanta was just strategically shifted from the Western to Eastern Conference, and the NBA’s timing could not have been more apropos. No more wrangling with Wilt’s and Jerry’s Lakers at playoff time, nor would Kareem’s Bucks be standing in the way. The sun was finally setting in the East, specifically in Boston, with the great Bill Russell having retired and the team withering under new ownership and John Havlicek’s on-court stewardship. Sensing blood in Boston’s bay and with a new coliseum of their own on tap, Long Island was actively conniving to do for the Celtics what L.A. had done for Minneapolis’ Lakers. Two NBA teams in New York’s metro, plus the ABA Nets? Who does that? Atlanta had the backcourt of the future, bound to make waves as the new faces of the NBA, at least the East, competing for banners just ahead the opening of a new arena that would revitalize what Atlanta knew, back in the 19th century, as its original downtown. The Pistol Palace! This had to work out. This simply had to work out. How could it not? Alas, the chemistry between Pete and Sweet, as with Pete and most of the other Hawks on the roster, proved more corrosive than amalgamating. Defensive stops, with Maravich on the floor, were few and far between. The elevated pace he enjoyed pushing as a collegian was not so advantageous in the pros, where players had now grown accustomed to the presence of a shot clock. Atlantans generally were lukewarm to the flashy rookie guard. But the newcomers who bothered to buy tickets were vastly more interested in cheering for Pistol’s show-stopper theatrics than victorious team outcomes, straining the team atmosphere. Hudson, Walt Hazzard and the Hawks could have used more scoring punch at the wing. But Joe Caldwell, playoff scoring leader on the Hawks team that just reached the 1970 Western Division Finals, was miffed over the Maravich deal and made good on Gardner’s threat by jumpin’ to Carolina in the ABA before Pete’s inaugural 1970-71 pro season. At playoff time, the Hawks and their rookie star could not contain Atlanta native Clyde Frazier, nor fellow Knicks guard d*ck Barnett. Inside, the tandem of Walt Bellamy and Bill Bridges were outclassed by New York rivals Willis Reed and Dave DeBusschere. Atlanta was swept at home in the 1971 playoffs, falling 4-1 to the top-seeded Knicks. Soon, it would be Boston’s turn to conclude the Hawks’ next two postseasons. In a world still dominated by big men, 1971’s Rookie of the Year, the Celtics’ Cowens, was sorely needed. Boston (44-38) missed the 1971 playoffs only because they finished third in the Atlantic, and the NBA’s new division structure favored the Central’s second-place team, the Hawks, despite the latter’s lackluster 36-46 record. One could say Red Auerbach was not happy. But was he ever, really? Atlanta would coast to that same 36-46 mark in 1972, Maravich hampered for a while by mono while struggling to score. Meanwhile, Boston surged to 56-26 behind Havlicek, Jo Jo White and Cowens, overtaking New York atop the Atlantic. While the Hawks managed to take two games in the ensuing six-game playoff series, their free throw shooting betrayed them, and they could not stop Celtic guards from arriving at the spots on the floor they craved. With his grand plan now teetering, Cousins understood his team had to make drastic improvements. Out went Tom’s brother, Bob, as GM, plugging coach Guerin into the executive spot, at least for a year. They hired a no-nonsense taskmaster in Cotton Fitzsimmons from upstart Phoenix as the replacement head coach. Atlanta’s record flipped in 1973 to 46-36, with Maravich finally joining Hudson as an All-Star. But the postseason results proved to be largely the same against Cowens, that year’s MVP, and the 68-14 Celtics. As the rejuvenated C’s were set to finally make a return to The Finals in 1974, the league had ended the funny business of second-place divisional teams qualifying for playoffs. With Bob McAdoo and Ernie DiGregorio surging in Buffalo, another second-place finish behind the Bullets in the Central Division wasn’t going to cut it, not for an Atlanta team regressing to 35-47. Despite Maravich and Hudson each eclipsing 25 PPG and earning All-Star nods once more, by midseason, the dysfunction centered around Pistol was a bit too, shall we say, on the nose. An 8-5 season start and a jinx-worthy SI cover feature was followed by up-and-down stretches that concluded with a 24-point loss at the Omni to the Celtics, capping a five-game skid before the All-Star Break. Pete was allegedly drinking both during halftime and after the fateful game in Houston, creating further distractions in the locker room and on the flight back home. Surly, you can’t be serious! In a bold strategy by Coach Cotton, Maravich was suspended indefinitely by the Hawks. How did it work out? Not great. Bloodied but barely bowed, Hudson soldiered through part of the next game, a resounding win over the Bullets, before missing the next five. After the Hawks beat Pat Riley’s Lakers without either of their two scoring leaders, Maravich was welcomed back, just in time for the Hawks to get blasted in Philly, by a Sixers team that mailed in a 9-73 record the season before and seemed just marginally better. The sports punditry, especially those in the big-city markets, guffawed at the floundering Hawks while taking dead aim with their ink at Pistol. He simply couldn’t win, despite his theatrics, under his father’s watch at Baton Rouge. Now he couldn’t win in Atlanta despite all that money thrown his way, and all that talent alongside him. Maybe, many inferred, he needs to be situated in a *real* pro sports town to succeed… The burnout wasn’t just apparent on the hardwood. With his real estate collection around the already rusty and half-empty Omni looking more like a boondoggle by the day, Cousins was beginning to literally Flame out. TV revenue wasn’t making up for the un-budged turnstiles at the Omni’s hockey and basketball games. No one wanted any part of the hockey club, not even Ted Turner, who expressed eagerness to pick up local sports to fill the time slots on his local TV station. After all, there were but so many reruns of The Andy Griffith Show to go around. Captain Courageous would eventually sail in to save the Hawks and Bravos in Atlanta. But not before Cousins had to face his most visible sinking cost, the increasingly pugnacious Pistol. With the 1973-74 season over, mere months after having to clean up a bloody mess, the Hawks wasted little time swinging back. Sending the disgruntled Maravich back to the Pelican State, into the excited arms of the NBA’s expansion Jazz franchise, was an easy write-up for locals as the second coming of the Louisiana Purchase. Pete the Panacea would New Orleans’ issue now. “This man has been quicker and faster than Jerry West or Oscar Robertson. He gets the ball up the floor better. He shoots as well. Raw-talentwise, he's the greatest who ever played.” Safely beyond arm’s reach from Maravich, and from the Hawks by 1978, the Lakers’ retiring Sweet Lou Hudson was free to speak his mind, with fondness and forlorn, about the former All-Star who mushed his co-star but couldn’t mesh with him. Hudson’s dual-edged quote would grace the opening of a critical article in SI, in December of 1978, continuing with: “The difference comes down to style. He will be a loser, always, no matter what he does. That's his legacy. It never looked easy being Pete Maravich.” Maravich, the LSU great, in the Superdome wasn’t enough to make the Jazz relevant in the NBA, nor keep Louisiana’s franchise from being shopped, then shipped, to Utah. The post-Pete-and-Sweet Hawks, under Turner’s watch by the mid-70s, avoided a similar westward shift, and while attendance at the Omni was a mixed bag, the ownership and management began making moves that helped engrave the Hawks as Atlanta’s NBA outpost. Nearly five decades later, the Rockets, still representing Houston, are in town at the Omni’s successor, State Farm Arena (Welcome back, Squawkfam! 7:30 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL. AT&T SportsNet in HTX). The current ownership and management regime for the Hawks faces a new, but familiar, prime basketball objective: make it look easy being Trae Young. That’s why 2022 All-Star Dejounte Murray (9.2 APG, 4th in NBA 2021-22, just behind Trae’s 9.7) is here to grace Atlanta’s backcourt, alongside the All-NBA 3rd Teamer in Young, last season’s league leader in compiled points as well as assists. More a product of his resilience and reliability, Trae also ranked first in total turnovers, but on a 43-39 club that, true to head coach Nate McMillan’s form, finished with the fewest turnovers per game anyway. Further stifling opponents’ abilities to compile buckets off turnovers, Murray (2021-22 NBA leader in steals) has the quickness and dexterity to make defensive plays on opponent transitions, a veritable necessity with cheap take fouls now virtually off the table. Dejounte also led his otherwise lackluster Spurs team, and all traditional NBA guards (sorry, Luka) in defensive rebounds. Theoretically, he can make it simpler for Trae (4th in 2021-22 for Usage%) to cross halfcourt without needing the ball in his capable hands. Murray’s Spurs finished second last season in per-game assists, while joining Young’s Hawks among the league’s bottom-five in per-game TOs. His addition should accentuate Atlanta’s top-flight offensive efficiency (115.4 team O-Rating in 2021-22, tops in the NBA East, 2nd overall) while patching up some of the errors in judgement and intensity that had the Hawks bottom-five on the defensive end (113.7 D-Rating, 25th in NBA, ahead of HOU’s league-worst 116.4). Atlanta guards, without Murray last season, were a boon for the league’s most efficient roll-man finishers (NBA-high 66.9 eFG% and 1.31 points per P&R roll-man possessions, league-low 4.0 TO% on these plays). Second in the league with Phoenix (1.24 roll-man PPP) and fourth in the league with Washington (1.20) last season, reserve Aaron Holiday serves as an ample understudy, he and his brother Justin returning to play for more tutelage under McMillan’s watch. Getting jackrabbit John Collins to value avoiding foul trouble, double-double machine Clint Capela to finish around the rim while also getting back above 55 percent on free throws, and energizer-bunny Onyeka Okongwu to stay healthy from the outset can only expand on the exploitation of roll plays, now with Dejounte and Aaron in tow. The Hawks ranked second behind the since-evaporated Jazz in P&R ball-handler frequency, but interior field goal conversions left much to be desired. Murray’s mid-range and elbow-shot mastery will aid in rectifying that for Atlanta’s offense, his daggers blending with the paper-cut effects of Trae’s trusty paint floaters to doom opposing defenses. But with guards capable of penetrating and creating off the dribble, for themselves or anyone, the forwards need to be able to spread the floor. This is where “DeJohndre” is as crucial as “Dejountrae” for advancing Atlanta’s fortunes upward. As was once the case with a highly-drafted Marvin Williams, Atlanta’s freshly extended DeAndre Hunter has a chance to vault Atlanta’s postseason prospects into the stratosphere with a long-awaited star turn. The Hawks (37.4 team 3FG% in 2021-22, 2nd in NBA) bid arrivederci to Danilo Gallinari and Kevin Huerter, two of the top perimeter shooters, as a consequence of deals for Dejounte and Justin, respectively. Bogdan Bogdanovic returns, but the Serbian wing comes off a second consecutive offseason having to address knee issues. As usual, the only thing that can thwart a deadeye rookie of AJ Griffin’s caliber is McMillan’s will. Hunter shot a career-best 37.9 percent on threes last season, but his interior shot-making subsided (47.4 2FG%, down from 58.2% during a more injury-riddled 2020-21). Atlanta needs to rely on him and Collins (36.4 3FG%, down from 39.9 in 2020-21; career-worst 61.0 TS%) to be more balanced finishers, inside and out, at the starting forward spots. To a lesser extent, second-year pro Jalen Johnson will need to make strides as a backup big to account for Gallo’s departure. The presence of Murray, the Holidays and occasional two-way wing Jarrett Culver, with Hunter, Collins, Capela and Okongwu, allows for better blanket defensive coverage in Coach Mac’s lineups, essential to turn around last season’s lottery-quality 113.7 defensive rating (5th-worst in NBA; HOU’s 116.4 ranked the worst). From Reggie Theus to LaPhonso Ellis, to Glenn Robinson and Antoine Walker, the Hawks have had a history of reeling in players whose star-level peaks turned out to be well behind them, in hopes of placating their franchise players. This time feels different, certainly from the Pete and Sweet era, if only because Murray and Young, each repped by Klutch Sports Group, have sought each other’s company. Dejounte didn’t need much convincing, neither about the potential long-term fit with Trae, nor about the appeal of playing to Atlanta crowds in hopes of watching them grow. This “Dejountrae” coupling ought to work out. It simply has to work out. How could it not? By the spring of 2026, when a Hawks fan hoofs it onto Dominique Wilkins Way, she or he will be sharing the street with those rooting for Atlanta Hopefully Still United and the Dead-Money Millionaires down the road at Mercedes Benz Stadium. Whether they are happy or sad about the trajectories of their pro teams, Hawks owner Tony Ressler hopes to have a place for them and another specific set of sports fans, ready to go, when they cross the street. Specifically, a live-work-cheer joint that stitches the Olympic park together with Atlanta’s South Downtown, right at his arena’s doorsteps. The never-ending effort to build out Cousins’ dream of a developed Gulch, Ressler has partnered with the City of Atlanta and another Cali-based development firm to make Centennial Yards a reality, collectively plunging over $5 billion in investment money into the 50-acre mixed-use urban utopia. While 2030 once seemed like a reasonable goal, a little thing called the 2026 FIFA World Cup promises to bring the biggest international influx Atlanta has seen, over the course of several weeks, since the Centennial Olympic Games wrapped up 30 years before it. Now the first major phase has been accelerated, dovetailing with Richard Ressler’s efforts to revive South Downtown and Atlanta’s urgency to make Underground functional again. Concrete, asphalt, and steel cannot make a sports team palatable, to say nothing of good. But a certifiably championship-competitive club can make all the difference for the immediate viability of a new development to become a revenue-churning destination. Word to the Battery. This isn’t Federal Express, and the Hawks do not absolutely, positively have to deliver overnight. But it is literally in the Resslers' best interest that Murray proves worthy of his next negotiated contract taking him into, and beyond, 2026. Also, that Young, possibly entering his walk season by 2026-27 in an NBA world infused by new media revenue, remains amped enough to improve his own game and make the pairing with Murray pay dividends long-term. While this collective is not at the Gold-Ball-or-Bust phase this season, the tipoff is about as favorable as one could ask for the Hawks. The first five games are quite winnable, although another backcourt pairing, Dejounte’s fellow Rainier Beach alum Kevin Porter and Jalen Green, are out to prove tonight that the future is now for Houston (20-62 last season). Relative to Atlanta, many teams have more injury question marks, and internal-fragmentation exclamation points, to deal with as they kick things off. While the NBA East is more daunting a field than in seasons past, a return of the Southeast Division banner to the Farm is an attainable goal, likely to help assure that a Play-In game or two would not be necessary. The defending champions and the team that handed Atlanta its 2022 postseason ouster, the Miami heat did not do demonstrably much in the offseason to enhance their standing. No matter the ultimate record, Hawks fans deserve, for once, a regular season that starts reasonably strong and grows stronger as it reaches its conclusion. Here’s to few extended losing streaks, even fewer pandemic disruptions and nebulous injury stints. Most importantly, here’s to a season that is disarray-free. No internal strife featuring lead players directing pointed fingers, or worse, at each other, while the coaching staff skates on thin ice. I just want my Atlanta Hawks to chain together a couple seasons that, from beginning to end, are bloody good. Not bloody bad. If any noses wind up bleeding along the way, they should belong to cheerful fans packed in seats along the top rows of our majestic downtown arena. Players socking their teammates in the face? Who does that? Thank you Squawkdonors! Fight Deke Fight! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  25. “Lemme tell ya, Spo, I’ve been accused of having a Suspicious Package a few too many times for my liking, y’know what I mean?” Three games under our belts, and we still don’t have a series! We’re often told it’s not a series until somebody steals a road game, or when a team finds itself up for elimination, having lost its third game, for example, in a seven-game series. Neither of those things transpired on Friday, and that still may hold true if the Atlanta Hawks play even incrementally better against the Miami heat tonight at State Farm Arena (7 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, TNT). Atlanta indeed needed every last screech and ca-caw from their swag-surfing fans at The Farm to climb out from a double-digit hole and curtail a heroballing Jimmy Butler at Friday’s final horn. Cramming commuter-fans into their seats in a timely fashion, on a pleasant Sunday evening, shouldn’t be as much of a challenge, so the house should be packed for Game 4 and rocking at tipoff. That should benefit these Hawks, who persistently crow about the advantageous comforts of playing before the home crowd, in producing their best opening quarter in this series. Butler faces the additional challenge of carrying some laboring co-stars. Kyle Lowry’s hamstring is acting up from all of his pratfalls. It rendered him inactive for the pivotal final quarter of Game 3 and pairs his upper-leg ailment with Bam Adebayo’s continuously bruised quad. While the evening tip time does not necessarily translate into a schedule win for Miami, the extra intervening hours that were not afforded Atlanta ahead of Game 1 should aid in the heat players’ recuperation. Neither of Lowry (5.1 PPG below; 31.3 FG% in series) nor Adebayo (9.8 PPG below; 45.0 2FG%) are scoring near their regular-season averages, while the ice is only beginning to crack for sixth-man Tyler Herro (5.6 PPG below, despite a team-high 24 points in Friday’s 111-110 loss). Butler has been ready and willing to be Playoff Jimmy, but it’s hard to foretell whether his perimeter proficiencies (42.9 3FG% on 4.7 3FGAs/game vs. ATL; 23.3% on 2.0 3FGAs/game in regular season) can hold up for an entire series, particularly this one. It is reaching the height of suspicion that heat coach Erik Spoelstra may choose to ride with one of Gabe Vincent (probable for Game 4), on his bum toe, or Herro to offset Lowry’s absence or limitations as a starter, while Victor Oladipo watches Trae Young (19.0 PPG despite 17.4 3FG% vs. MIA) and Delon Wright from afar. “[Caleb Martin] played [in Game 2] and had significant, important minutes in that second half. I anticipate the same thing will happen for Vic and [Markieff Morris],” Spo told media after Game 2, although both vets were scratches on Friday, too. Martin (ankle sprain) now joins Kyle, Bam, and P.J. Tucker (strained calf) on the list of gameday questionables. However Spo rotates his backcourt, Atlanta’s under Nate McMillan has a conditioning advantage to exploit, even with Lou Williams (out, back ache) unlikely to appear unless an elimination game is on the horizon. McMillan cannot be pleased that his Hawks had been losing the turnover margins against Miami (16.0, to MIA’s 15.0), but he must have enjoyed the turnover-free comeback in the fourth-quarter of Game 3. Also, while the languishing nature of Game 1 skews the head-to-head stats, one advantage Atlanta currently holds is in points scored off of those same turnovers (20.3, to MIA’s 18.3). The possibility of having Clint Capela (questionable, hyperextended knee) back in the lineup is tantalizing for the Hawks, particularly in seizing back the rebounding edge going forward. But the immediate task ahead is to run on the weary-legged heat and execute with few unforced errors and out-of-rhythm shots. If Atlanta can continue to tamp down the heat in the middle quarters (MIA +6 in the combined 2nd and 3rd quarters of Game 3, down from +10 in Game 2 and +20 in Game 1), they could find Butler and the heat scrambling late in hopes of avoiding a return to Florida, and later Georgia, with this series knotted at two wins apiece. Closing the books on Game 4 would require the Hawks to commit to limiting catch-and-shoot open perimeter looks (particularly for Max Strus, Tucker, Herro and Duncan Robinson), going over on screens, and staying high enough on heat ballhandlers that they cannot barrel into defenders and draw foul shots with the clock stopped. Let us all make it through Game 5 before anybody starts calling this 1-versus-8 matchup a series. That goes for you, too, Paul Pierce! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3