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  1. Not THIS week, Ronald, please! Read the room, will ya? I’ve got little to share ahead of this Friday night home game for our Atlanta Hawks at The Farm (7:30 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 in ATL & MEM), one that hopefully, given its superstars of questionable status, will be worth attendees’ while. Only an acknowledgement that I’ve been choking on Taylor Jenkins and the Memphis Grizzlies’ dust for months on end. And, my words, too. Here was Yours Truly, with my whole chest out, talkin’ spicy about the hot seat I suspected Pop-and-Bud disciple Jenkins was occupying, ahead of the red-hot Hawks’ post-Thanksgiving visit to Memphis. Coming off a 38-34 season in 2020-21 and a tidy first-round exit versus Utah in last year’s playoffs, Jenkins is challenged to demonstrate growth and a stronger, more playoff-competitive roster. If the defensive lapses continue and young players’ development continues to stall on his watch, Memphis’ coach won’t find himself challenged for much longer. Imagine, an Atlanta Hawks fan, concernstipated about defensive lapses and young players’ development on some other NBA team. It’s a hard ask, I concur, but go on and try. And then Nate McMillan’s crew, with no De’Andre Hunter and no Onyeka Okongwu, strolled into FedEx Forum and blew the doors off the Griz, 132-100, although the skids got greased quick once Memphis’ Ja Morant (questionable for today, missed their 33-point win over Indy with a sore back) went down midway through the first quarter with a knee injury. Oh noes, Memphis, now you’re a game below .500 and, geez, in LeBron’s NBA West that might not be enough to ensure a Play-In. And it’s already November! What will you do? It turns out the Beale Street Bears just went into hibernation early. There was too much offensive emphasis on a recently returning Dillon Brooks, who was too inefficient with his selected shots (Still is.) Perimeter defense was, as I said then, was as soft as Grits-and-Butter, and the offseason acquisition of Jarrett Culver to aid in that endeavor was looking funny in the light. (Still is.) Inside, center Steven Adams seemed to be lost as to his role alongside Jaren Jackson, Jr. (Not so much these days.) It wouldn’t be long before they all got out of their cave. So much of the team’s faults were addressed by the coaching staff as the season went along, and now, Memphis (48-24, now 2nd in the NBA West, a game ahead of the Steph-less Dubs) has become the veritable embodiment of Hustle & Flow. Clearly, Coach Jenkins is in charge, and he’s saying it like he means it. The Grizzlies join the Suns and Culver’s prior team, the Timberwolves (???) as the only clubs sitting Top-10 in both O-Rating (5th) and D-Rating (7th), along with Pace (8th). Jenkins’ joint ranks number-one in the league in O-Reb% (34.2), second-chance points per-48 (18.5), fastbreak points per-48 (17.5), paint points per-48 (57.9), steals per game (9.9), blocks per game (6.5) and loose-ball recoveries per-48 (3.4). They’re fourth in opponent TO% (14.9) and second in Deflections per-48 (8.6). Third in opponent points allowed per-48 off TOs (14.3). Right behind Atlanta (2.05, 5th in NBA) in assist-turnover ratio (1.95). And they’ve got a highlight-reel headliner in Morant (27.5 PPG, 9th in NBA, 49.3 FG% highest among Top-20 scoring guards) giving people buckets. While Trae Young and the Hawks (34-35, Play-In Magic Number: 9) have proven to be an acquired taste, Morant in his third season has firmed up the Grizzlies as a must watch. Memphis, even with Morant, shoot poorly overall due to threes (34.5 team 3FG%, 3rd-lowest in NBA), although they don’t shoot many unless Desmond Bane (41.8 3FG%) is open, and free throws (73.1 team FT%, 3rd-lowest), despite getting sent to the line more than all but three clubs. Hacking to disrupt Memphis’ flow is not McMillan’s style. But whoever pushes the ball for the Hawks will have to press the Grizzlies quickly in transition, not allowing Memphis (12.9 opponent fastbreak-points per-48, 10th-most in NBA) to dig their defensive bear claws into the halfcourt. That assumes the Hawks will have the frontcourt bodies to adequately contest and box out the paint-heavy Grizzlies bigs Jackson and Adams for defensive boards. They’ll have one more at their disposal as Jalen Johnson has arrived from College Park to at least cheer from the sidelines while Danilo Gallinari (questionable after leaving midway through the loss in Charlotte with a bruised bicep) and John Collins (out indefinitely, sprained foot and swole finger) rehab. Just because Jenkins and the Griz seem to have the bacon, lettuce and tomato doesn’t mean McMillan and the Hawks are obligated to provide the toast. If the Hawks allow Memphis’ bigs to control the glass, and the opposing guards to dictate the tempo in both directions, then Atlanta will find itself choking on their fumes, and a gamethread scribbler gagging on more of their dust. Anybody got a Swiffer handy? Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  2. “On second thought, LeBron… Watch MY head!” Is a branch soon to fall from The Poplar? As the Atlanta Hawks fight through the tryptophan to tip off with the Grizzlies in Memphis (8 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL and MEM), former Popovich and Budenholzer acolyte Taylor Jenkins will have to make some lineup maneuvers to address a defense (NBA-worst 115.1 D-Rating; Orlando’s 111.6 ranks next-to-last) that has uncharacteristically, for this proud franchise, become as soft as Grits and Butter. Memphis is 5-0 when holding teams below 110 points. But they’re 9-9, and the 4-9 side of this has become concerning. They were headed toward improving that mark on Wednesday when they held the visiting Toronto Raptors to 25 first-quarter points. Unlike the TVA, this edition of the Grizzlies have a hard time locking down the floodgates. Grizzlie foes have buried nearly half of their corner threes (NBA-worst 49.2 opponent 3FG%), and over 38.4 percent of their treys above-the-break, also a league-worst. Gary Trent and Precious Achiuwa showed they read their scouting reports, going 7-for-8 from beyond Beale Street on Wednesday at FedEx Forum, along the way to 37 of Toronto’s 67 second-half points, as the Raps prevailed 126-113. It's easy to point an accusing finger at Ja Morant (116.8 D-Rating, lowest among NBA players w/ 1000+ possessions). But Jenkins has Kyle Anderson and Brandon Clarke coming off the bench, is giving unready rookie Ziaire Williams way too much time in rotations, and has replacement center Steven Adams looking lost alongside Jaren Jackson, Jr. Minnesota is surging well enough on their own. But when they beat you by 43 points and score 138 in regulation (four T-Wolf guards, incl. Pat Beverley, combining to hit 16 of 26 threes), as was the case this past Saturday, alarm bells ought to be going off. Zach Kleiman and the Memphis front office are due for a bit of self-reflection, too, for their shallow roster construction. But Beverley was a Grizzlie for less than a week in this offseason, as the team unloaded Jonas Valanciunas and Eric Bledsoe in successive trades. The one tangible remnant aside from Adams from those deals, the struggling Jarrett Culver, is getting yo-yo’d to and from the G-League and hasn’t really found a role under Jenkins, not even as a defensive stopgap. Coming off a 38-34 season in 2020-21 and a tidy first-round exit versus Utah in last year’s playoffs, Jenkins is challenged to demonstrate growth and a stronger, more playoff-competitive roster. If the defensive lapses continue and young players’ development continues to stall on his watch, Memphis’ coach won’t find himself challenged for much longer. The Griz only give themselves a shot when they’re able to fight fire with fire, on multiple fronts. They upset the Jazz, 119-118 on Monday in Salt Lake (despite letting That Other Bogdanovic go 7-for-11 from deep) thanks to a big 28-point night from Desmond Bane to supplement Ja and Triple-J. Getting De’Anthony Melton (questionable, strained groin) back will boost the defense, but he’s not the panacea. The team’s second-leading scorer, Dillon Brooks only recently returned fully from an offseason non-shooting hand injury and has been high-volume, low-efficiency on offense (19.3 PPG, 30.0 3FG% in last 4 games). He’s been a net-negative when unproductive on the other side of the floor. Whereas the Hawks’ sixth consecutive win required pummeling the Spurs’ interior before breaking the game open in the second half with timely perimeter shots, stretching the win streak ahead of tomorrow match back home with the Knicks will necessitate an outside-in approach. Open shooters like Kevin Huerter (69.6 eFG% during win streak) will be available off penetration early, and Adams is unlikely to abdicate the paint when John Collins or Danilo Gallinari have clear looks at three-pointers. Later in the contest, Atlanta (10-9) can work the paint and exploit Memphis’ wafer-thin interior, as Anderson and Xavier Tillman routinely find themselves overwhelmed. The Hawks will need their bigs to remain patient and avoid foul trouble off of cheap hacks, particularly those that send the acrobatic Morant to the line for extra points. Boxing out on putback specialist Adams (5.3 O-Rebs per-36, 4th among NBA players w/ 20+ MPG and 10+ games) will be a key to victory as well. The Knicks arrive in the morning after hosting red-hot Phoenix at MSG. Atlanta will likely do well if they put up pinball numbers, but they must remain focused on the task at hand to avoid a TILT before heading home. Y’all be easy out here on Black Friday! Wrangling with strangers in a tug-of-war over the only 5G Bluetooth toaster oven left in Aisle 4 isn’t worth the hassle. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  3. “Hi, there! It’s me, Jaren Jackson, Jr.!” Taylor Jenkins gets it. This is no time for hibernation! The Memphis Grizzlies pulled themselves together in what was supposed to be the middle of last season. They climbed to 28-26 before the All-Star Break, then bounced back from a post-All-Star swoon, and the loss of Jaren Jackson, Jr. to a sprained knee, with a run that included a pair of games pants-ing the Atlanta Hawks to return to .500 basketball. The playoffs, in year one for rookie coach Jenkins and rookie star Ja Morant, were in full view. Then, in a series of unfortunate events, COVID struck, and by the time the season resumed, it was summertime in the Bubble. Jackson returned to play the first three resumptive games only to exit once more after realizing he was trying to play through a meniscus tear. Surpassed in the seeding games by Portland, Memphis’ 2-7 finish to the season left Jenkins’ team heading for home before the Playoffs could even begin. They finished 2019-20 with the same record as Phoenix, at 34-39, a half-game behind the 8-seed Blazers. But the way in which the Grizzlies cratered, and the Suns surged, produced teams with divergent sets of outlooks for the season to come. This spring, the air has a familiar, funky feeling. Memphis sits in the 8-seed spot, likely too far removed from Dallas to catch the Mavericks or any of the Top-6 teams above them in the NBA West. But a late slip or two, and any number of rival clubs beneath the Grizzlies could surpass them. It could be just like 2020, but with the added indignity of falling out of Play-In contention, too. Coach Jenkins can feel it coming in the air. Oh, Lawd. Among head coaches, Jenkins could very well be the Andy Reid of the NBA – in the bad sense, if the reports about his eldest son’s escapades around the Memphis ‘burbs hold true. The Ivy League grad would very much like to have some good comparisons with The Big Tomato to share, but that cannot happen anytime soon, not if the NBA team he coaches bows out of the postseason running two seasons in a row. It’s hard to say he has received much support from his front office. Team counsel-turned-GM Zach Kleiman is still holding out hopes that last season’s Trade Deadline move for Justise Winslow (career-low 34.2 FG%), who missed the first two months and is out yet again with a thigh contusion, will pan out. Winslow was key to the multi-team deal that sent Solomon Hill and the bubble-wrapped Andre Iguodala to Miami. The only other Grizzlies addition from that trade, Gorgui Dieng, was waived two weeks ago after Kleiman failed to find a helpful trade partner for him or, seemingly, anybody or anything else. Dieng’s departure thins out a Memphis frontcourt, led by Jonas Valanciunas (12.5 RPG, 3rd in NBA, ahead of Z-Bo’s franchise record of 12.2), that is heavily dependent on dominating the glass. Second-year pro Brandon Clarke (out tonight) has been in-and-out of the lineup with a sore calf, leaving Jenkins more reliant upon second-rounder rookie Xavier Tillman lately. It sure would help if Jenkins, and the team, had a concrete plan for the return of Jaren “Godot” Jackson, Jr. The club, and Out-of-Action Jackson himself, have been stringing along media and fans with statements of an impending return since mid-January. After insisting his return was just about near at that time, the goalpost has since shifted to just before the All-Star Break, to just after the All-Star Break, to sometime “this month,” the latter statement one can only hope wasn’t issued on the 1st. The Grizzlies’ low-point came on March 19, with a bad loss at home to Steph Curry-less Golden State. Since then, things have been looking up, especially since the Grizzlies (25-23) and the Dubs have traded places in the standings. Memphis beat them the next night in the back-to-back series to kickstart a three-game winning streak. They were swept three times in six nights by Jenkins’ former fellow Bud disciple, Quin Snyder, and his West-leading Jazz. But they’ve prevailed in every other game, to this point. This week, the Bad Blues Bears knocked off the Sixers in Philly and, last night, shortly after the Hawks’ resounding win over New Orleans, the Grizzlies stifled the heat down in Miami. Now, Memphis is seeking a fourth-straight road win in Atlanta (8 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in both ATL and MEM), its third this week with a game at Madison Square Garden coming on Friday. After going 3-9 in the first six pairs of back-to-backs, Atlanta (27-24) is seeking to sweep a back-to-back set for the fourth time in a row under coach Nate McMillan, who got the ball rolling with the victories in Miami and Orlando before the All-Star Break. Comparatively, Memphis is still on the hunt for their first back-to-back sweep this season. This game will definitely be good practice for what lies ahead. Everyone’s schedule is tight in the run-up to the mid-May season finales. The Grizzlies’ is especially arduous given they’ll have to play through SEVEN back-to-back sets AFTER this one concludes tonight. That’s 14 of their final 23 games. Memphis had three January games postponed and crammed into the back half of the schedule, due to at least one positive COVID test and associated protocols. They have not had, and will not have, more than one off-day since returning from the All-Star Break. Quality roster management is key to enduring these quick turnarounds. Early on, Jenkins was trying to make-do with short seven-man and eight-man rotations on game nights. One problem was that he was leaning heavily on Morant, Dillon Brooks, Valanciunas, and Kyle Anderson (36.0 3FG%; 3-for-6 3FGs @ MIA last night, but 7-for-25 in the prior 8 games), his most-utilized 4-Man lineup as per bball-ref, yet only the latter was hitting threes above a 34 percent clip. Jenkins has come to understand that he needs one of Grayson Allen (40.5 3FG%), injured guard De’Anthony Melton or rookie Desmond Bane (45.3 3FG%) on the floor at all times, at least until his hard-to-pin-down stretch-four finally makes it onto the hardwood. The other challenge is tied to Jenkins’ success in Bud-balling the notoriously, historically slow tempo of gritty, grindy Grizzlie hoops (6th in Pace, same as last year; 30th the prior season under JB Bickerstaff). Second Spectrum clocks Memphis’ speed on defense at a league-high 4.00 miles per hour, a particularly impressive feat for a team whose heaviest frontcourt minutes belong to a 265-pound behemoth and a gentleman that understandably goes by the nickname, “Slo-Mo”. That’s a sign that the Grizzlies (15.5 opponent TOs per-100 possessions, 2nd-most in NBA) are roving all around the perimeter, doing all they can to thwart opposing ballhandlers’ penetration and limit passes to open shooters beyond the three-point arc. They lead the league in steals (9.6 team SPG) by committee, with six players averaging one swipe per game and Morant (0.9 SPG) just a shade behind them. When Memphis is connecting on triples (7-1 when hitting 14 3FGs or more, the sole blemish a one-point loss vs. DEN) and winning turnover battles, they’re hard to stop. But they can get in their own way, at times, with excessive fouling. Back when it was still defined as basketball, Trae Young was the beneficiary in Memphis on December 26. He was held to just 1-for-7 shooting from downtown but earning 15 of his 36 points from the free throw line, nine coming in the pivotal fourth-quarter as Atlanta pulled ahead and away for the 122-112 victory. Young (9 assists @ MEM on Dec. 26) also committed just two turnovers on the evening, tag-teaming with reserve guard Kevin Huerter (4-for-5 3FGs, 21 points, 4 assists @ MEM) to neutralize the Grizzlies’ withering defensive blitz. Atlanta has added a few extra offensive tools to help Young (30 points, 6-for-7 3FGs, 12 assists, 3 TOs yesterday vs. NOP) since then, notably Danilo Gallinari (questionable for today, sore ankle), Lou Williams and Tony Snell, to go along with a vastly more confident Bogdan Bogdanovic. All have taken turns during the Hawks’ winning run, including in last night’s 123-107 win over the Pelicans (NBA-record 11-for-11 team 3FGs in the third quarter), putting their offensive wares on display, forcing coaches with the singular Trap Trae and Hope for the Best defensive scheme to head back to the drawing boards. As demonstrated by Young’s understated performance against Curry’s Warriors, and Morant’s play of late (9.7 PPG on 7.7 FGAs/game, 39.1 FG%, 57.1 FT% in last 3 games), both the Hawks and the Grizzlies are figuring out how to survive, and even thrive, without their precocious lead-scoring guards finding it essential to go for 30-plus on the regular. From the looks of things, though, the Hawks have more tools on the floor now, and more coming, than the Grizzlies have to prepare for the road ahead, thanks to superior roster construction. Atlanta has won their last four games when Trae finished under 15 points (0-2 in games prior). Memphis, meanwhile, will be scrambling to get Jackson, Clarke, Melton and Winslow back in the mix. They’ll have to iron out the kinks in the middle of an unrelenting season-ending schedule that, if all goes swimmingly well, will still have them wrangling in a Play-In for the right to take on a 1-seed or a 2-seed in the Western Conference Playoffs. If things don’t continue to go well, Jenkins is bound to catch sneers for Memphis, despite being a young, hobbling and rebuilding team, fumbling away a chance at reaching the playoffs yet again. If he has learned anything from Coach Bud, he will know what to do when the criticizing sharks circle about, and the front office starts to make it look maybe like he’s the problem. Get those resumes printed out, stat! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  4. Vegas says to expect the latter.
  5. “You called that a foul, ref? Man… you’re a TRIP!” You all are familiar with the Memphis Grizzlies by now. Hopefully, our Atlanta Hawks know them a bit better, too. At least well enough to stay neck-and-neck with them as this week’s two-game series shifts to FedEx Forum (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL and MEM; FWIW, Five Stripes’ home opener will be on 94.1 FM and Fox Sports South). Monday’s 127-88 drubbing of the Hawks was the largest road win in Memphis’ franchise history, with a team-high nine Blue Bears ringing up double-figure scores. That 25-year franchise record for road victory margin was matched a mere two nights later in Brooklyn. The Grizzlies cut down the Nets on Wednesday, 118-79, likely the game that caused Kenny Atkinson and Sean Marks to decide they should maybe stop seeing each other. Including the 105-88 win over LeBrongeles in Memphis, making them the first conference opponent this season to beat the Lakers outside of L.A., coach Taylor Jenkins’ club became the first NBA team to hold three consecutive foes below 90 points since yet another Budtree disciple, Quin Snyder, and his Utah Jazz did the deed back in March 2018. It was an impressive feat considering the Grizzlies are still roaming without Jaren Jackson, Brandon Clarke, Justise Winslow and Grayson “Dindu Nuffin” Allen. That party came to an end last night in Lukaville, but was it just an interruption? As the Hawks (19-45) headed to Graceland after Friday’s too-little, almost-not-too-late loss to the Wizards in D.C., the Grizzlies (31-32) slipped back below .500 with a 121-96 road defeat at the hands of a Mavericks team whose owner took quite an L of his own. Dallas rang up 30 assists while turning over the ball about half as much as Memphis (19 TOs, led by Ja Morant’s six). Was Jenkins’ crew simply conserving their energies? If the emerging Cam Reddish shows up and shows out, they’ll be glad they did. Reddish wasn’t available to plug the cracking dam for coach Lloyd Pierce’s club on Monday. But with Trae Young out due to illness last night, Reddish took it upon himself to become a faucet the Wizards would struggle to cut off. 6-for-10 inside the 3-point arc, 5-for-7 beyond it. Coming off the bench, Reddish built his career scoring high with only one free throw attempt (I don’t have a half-million to spare, but c’mon refs), and despite 7 TOs. The next big step for Cam (probable, back pain) is to outdo himself on the back end of back-to-backs. Last weekend at The Farm, he followed up an efficient 26-point performance (6-for-9 3FGs) in the win over Coach Kenny’s Nets with just 8 points in 24 minutes against the Blazers the next evening. In mid-January, 22 points to expunge the Spurs Hex on a Friday, 7 points on 3-for-10 shooting back home on a Saturday, as the Hawks lost at home to Detroit by 33. The back-end game before that one, in late December, Reddish tallied two points on one made bucket on five attempts, as the Hawks fell in Chicago by 35. He was a net minus-21 on that day, an improvement over the minus-23 in yet another 30-plus-point back-end loss in Chi-town just 17 days before. Granted, it shouldn’t all be about The Cam Reddish Show every night, certainly not at this early stage. The Hawks need a multitude of positive contributors at both ends of the floor, more seasoned folks like Kevin Huerter (career-high 11 assists vs. WAS yesterday) and John Collins (26-and-10 plus a pair of blocks vs. WAS; 16 fourth-quarter points), in particular. But the competitive progress Coach Pierce and his staff seeks of his Hawks will reveal itself when arguably(?) their most valuable two-way performer can be counted upon to recover quickly and string very good games together. Cam wasn’t the singular difference between victory and a 40-point tail-whooping. Yet, the Hawks needed Reddish on Monday the way Mississippi State games need more cowbell. The rookie is one critical defensive body that Pierce can use to help Young (still questionable w/ flu-like symptoms) and/or Jeff Teague thwart the Grizzlies’ ballhandlers, and to switch onto Memphis’ best perimeter-shooting forwards and swingmen. Reddish, his fellow rookie De’Andre Hunter (team-high 8 D-Rebs vs. WAS) will also be vital in keeping Jonas Valanciunas (7 O-Rebs @ ATL, none last night @ DAL) from getting easy catches on rolls to the rim and from feasting on the offensive boards. Their interior defensive activity, neutralizing the rebounding edge Valanciunas and Gorgui Dieng seek to establish in the halfcourt, will make it tougher for the Grizzlies to scamper away during Atlanta’s predictable offensive lulls. The Hawks went from a Hunter three-pointer, putting the visitors up 52-48 last night, with five minutes to go before halftime, to a Reddish triple with two minutes left before the end of the third quarter to end a 35-13 Wizards run. No Hawk shots, aside from an 8-foot jumper from Brandon Goodwin were sunk beyond three feet of the rim in that time. Forcing Valanciunas and the Grizzlie bigs to do more than dig in their heels waiting for caroms will require a more diversified attack, exploiting driving lanes, moving the rock inside, outside and back in, and getting Collins, Bruno Fernando and Dewayne Dedmon more post-up opportunities. All eyes were on Morant on Monday, but Memphis’ offensive balance came largely from Tyus Jones (9 assists, 1 TO @ ATL, 6-and-0 @ BRK, 7-and-1 @ DAL), now the NBA’s active leader in assist/turnover ratio (5.3 ratio, actually down from 7.0 last season w/ MIN). It is that level of confidence with one’s own personnel, exhibited by Jones in his first season in Memphis, that Atlanta, with or without Trae, will be challenged to match. Jones’ former protégé with the Timberwolves, Teague made two assists in the opening six minutes of last night’s game, and he wouldn’t make another until Atlanta found themselves down double digits with ten minutes remaining. Young would help minimize those droughts with his passing wizardry and ability to get to the free throw line. But if he remains out tonight, the more balanced offensive approach should begin and end in the hands of Teague and Goodwin. “I ain’t THAT sick y’all… Relax lol”, tweeted Young prior to last night’s game, certainly a relief for fans to hear these days. Feeling better is Priority One for him, but Atlanta can still do plenty of things to aid what ails them on the court, particularly during back-to-backs and on the road. Trae isn’t THAT sick, but after a spirited comeback attempt in D.C., can Cam and the Hawks play THAT well, throughout tonight’s game? Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  6. “So you’re saying I just take the handoff, split the double-team HERE, then hurdle the seven-footer THERE. Got it!” The Race for the 8-Seed is underway! Well, not so much for our dear Atlanta Hawks, who would do well to ignore crazy talk about Tragic Numbers and whatnot. As Atlanta hopes to roar in like a lion in this new month of March, though, their outcomes versus several opponents will have a big role in determining who wins some dates out West with LeBron and LeBrow in the month that follows. Teams like the Memphis Grizzlies, who the Hawks will visit at the end of this week, just days after playing them here at State Farm Arena tonight (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in both MEM and ATL). Not having had Lottery worries since 1997, fans of the San Antonio Spurs may rue the day their team finally let the Hawks off the hook back in November. Like New Orleans and Sacramento, the Spurs are just 3.0 games back of the last team currently in the Western Conference playoffs, the Grizzlies (29-31), and they’d love to have their two losses to Atlanta back. The Lillard-less Trail Blazers (3.5 games back of MEM) squandered their chance at a season-sweep of the Hawks, with Saturday’s 129-117 defeat at The Highlight Farm, as did the Suns (4.5 games behind MEM) back in January. The Kings, finally seeming to get out of their own way, hope to avoid a similar fate later this month. Ending a five-game losing streak that included a pair of defeats at the hands of Kent Bazemore’s Sacramento, Ja Morant and the Grizzlies upstaged the mighty Lakers with a resounding 105-88 win two nights ago at the Grindhouse. Yet, somehow, the first-round matchup for Los Angeles that America wants to see is with a team situated a little further down the Mississippi. The Pelicans, surprise winners of the 2019 Draft Lottery, had bouncy bowling ball Zion Williamson giving poor Kyle Kuzma fits last night in primetime, and now seemingly everyone is setting their dials 90 days early in hopes New Orleans can make a serious run at a series with the Lakers. Like the Grizzlies, before the Pels can dream of a run at The King (not you, Elvis), they must take care of business in a pair of games this month against Trae Young and the Hawks. Morant can be rightfully miffed that the Grizzlies are not the consensus Cinderella darlings in the NBA West. But after a long-needed shakeup and a stroke of good fortune that brought the Murray State product to town, Memphis has a lot of good things going for it right now. Lottery twins De’Andre Hunter (6-for-9 3FGs vs. POR) and Cam Reddish (team-high +16 plus/minus vs. POR, ahead of Hunter’s +12) have given Atlanta Hawks fans reason for optimism with their recent play. However, from the jump, the rookie duo that has taken the league by storm this season is not Hunter and Reddish, but Memphis’ Ja Morant, a three-time Rookie of the Month winner, and Brandon Clarke. Zach Kleiman took over the executive reins for the Grizzlies (when in doubt, get you a Duke Law School guy), and couldn’t believe his luck when the 33-49 club he inherited, like the Pelicans, leaped over several thirsty NBA clubs, including the Hawks, to nab the top two 2019 Draft selections. Memphis happily “settled” for Morant, and Kleiman sweetened the pot. Taking a mid-first-rounder he inherited from Utah for Mike Conley (imagine the former point guard star playing like he is now, only still in Memphis), Kleiman’s Grizzlies traded up two spots with Oklahoma City, giving the Thunder prospect player Darius Bazley in exchange for a more finished product in collegian Brandon Clarke. Morant (17.7 PPG, second now only to Zion; rookie-high 7.0 APG, not far behind 2018-19 rookie Young’s 8.1) has remained the highlight reel he was in the Ohio Valley Conference. Meanwhile, Clarke has been a smooth two-way contributor off the bench, shooting 65.5 2FG% (5th in NBA) while offering per-36 values of 20.0 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks. I can’t say what I expected to see out of a team coached by Taylor Jenkins, the longtime Hawks assistant and Budenholzer disciple. But I didn’t expect a shift from grit-and-grind to grease-and-grace to work out so smoothly in the early going. An uptick in tempo for Memphis (103.4 pace, slightly behind 6th-place ATL) was a long time in coming. But I doubt that, even with 2019’s NCAA assist leader in tow, the entire NBA expected to be looking up at Memphis with a league-high 27.1 assists per game. Jenkins has capable ballhandlers in Tyus Jones and De’Anthony Melton at his disposal, and he uses them liberally to free up Morant. Dillon “the Good” Brooks (37.2 3FG%), armed with a new three-year contract extension, and Jaren Jackson, Jr. have helped spread the floor so Morant doesn’t have to kick the ball out to himself. Several of the Hawks’ recent foes had been struggling in their runs out of the All-Star Break. It’s not terribly surprising that, until Saturday’s win, the Grizzlies seemed to have stubbed their bear claws, too. Jackson has been out of action, the 3-and-PF forward bowing out midway through Memphis’ Western road swing with a sprained knee. Clarke (out, quad strain) followed suit one game later. Getting Andre Iguodala out of contract purgatory before the Trade Deadline also required parting ways with the team’s second-leading minutes-logger, Jae Crowder, and the surprisingly serviceable Solomon Hill. The return haul from Deadline Day maneuvers included Gorgui Dieng from Minnesota, Justise Winslow from Miami and Jordan Bell from Minny via Houston. But J-Win’s slow to return, mostly out since early December while working through back issues, and it will take time for Jenkins to get Dieng and Bell up to speed in the rotation with Jonas Valanciunas (27.6 D-Reb%, 9th in NBA; 20+ rebounds in back-to-back games) while Jackson rehabs. Returning home, however, proved vital for showcasing some of Memphis’ developmental talents. Midway through Saturday’s game, Jenkins trotted out a unit that featured Jones, Dieng, the resurrecting Josh Jackson, and two-way players Jon Konchar and Yuta Watanabe. That crew proved shockingly effective in stymieing a Lakers squad that came into town on an 8-game winning roll. Morant and his pass-happy Grizzlies set up tantalizing matchups this week with Young and the Hawks (19-43, 11-11 over past 22 games), whose 34 assists versus Portland (led by Trae’s 15 dimes, with just 2 TOs on his part) was a season-high. John Collins (4 assists, 2 blocks vs. POR) is threatening to join Karl-Anthony Towns (last three seasons) and Kevin Love (way back in 2010-11) as the only modern-era NBA players to shoot 40 percent on threes while averaging 20 points and 10 boards per game, and he’s showing a willingness to fill out other components of the boxscore as well. With Kevin Huerter (3-for-7 3FGs, 4-for-4 FTs, 8 assists, 3 steals vs. POR) showing signs that he can get it going, Atlanta offered a glimpse of balanced fullcourt effort nearing its peak, one that won’t always need a stellar perimeter outing from Trae (1-for-8 3FGs vs. POR) to thrive. Drawing Valanciunas out of the paint is a tall order, but the Hawks will look to woo the Memphis big man with plenty of open looks for Collins. Whether shooting or driving, Atlanta will want Hunter to catch-and-react quickly against Kyle “Slo-Mo” Anderson. A stout defensive effort to keep Morant from feasting inside and Brooks, who has been shaking out of a shooting slump (last 3 games 26.0 PPG, 35.7 3FG%), cool from outside will be crucial, particularly if Reddish (doubtful w/ back pain) cannot make it on the court tonight. Coach Lloyd Pierce’s crew will want to benefit from standout bench performances, as he did on Saturday from Treveon Graham and Bruno Fernando (combined 10-for-10 FGs vs. POR). If Jeff Teague and Brandon Goodwin can match the Grizzlie subs’ energy and production at the point, then the Hawks’ first three-game winning streak of the season will be within reach. The potential for a strong confidence-building March is here for the Hawks to seize. How many of their foes fare against them this month will become a major subplot in the story of How the 8-Seed in the West was Won. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  7. Wise pick, “Cris” Broussard! Get to da choppa! Forget about Predator, if I had to pick an 80’s Ahnold movie for the many deposed head coaches of tonight’s Hawks opponent, the Memphis Grizzlies (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL), I’d have to go with Raw Deal. In that flick, during a catty exchange between Schwarzenegger and his Aqua-Netted damsel du jour, she tries him with some Tank Fan logic… “Losing builds character!” But he claps back with, “Winning improves your wardrobe!” Despite winning, and often exceeding reasonable expectations, Lionel Hollins, Dave Joerger, and David Fizdale barely had time to load up at JoS. A. Bank by the time the Grizzlies’ axe came for them. Hollins guided the Blue Bears to their best-ever regular season finish, 56 wins, and their first trip to the conference finals, as a 5-seed, in 2013. Alas, his contract expired and wasn’t renewed, due in part to the cardinal sin of getting swept by Gregg Popovich’s Spurs. Joerger took just two seasons to get the team back to 55 wins. But one series victory over the course of three seasons wasn’t enough for a Memphis management team whose Commitment to Excellence is ringing hollower than anything you’d see on an Oakland gridiron these days. Fizdale thought he had the town wrapped around his finger following his first full season, in which his fiery 7-seeded Grizzlies took Pop’s Spurs to the brink of elimination in 2017’s opening playoff round. But along the way, he fell out with Memphian Marc Gasol, the stretchy pivot player who, by the year, is becoming more of a local civic mascot than an NBA All-Star candidate. The plop-plop that relieved Coach Fiz of his duties came just 19 games into last season, not long after Mike Conley went down and out (for the season, we would later discover) due to a heel injury. Conley’s planned replacement was Mario Chalmers (“???”); Gasol was to be relieved by the undersized Jarell Martin. But somehow, the failure to conduct alchemy that would turn this weathered Grizzlies outfit into an annual Finals contender fell squarely upon the head coach. As has become custom around here. You could almost make a good blues song about it all. I tried, but I couldn’t think of anything that rhymes well with J.B. Bickerstaff. “Oh, baby! Mmmm… gimme some o’ dem Bickerstaff Blues!” For Coach J.B., whose initials somehow don’t stand for “Junior Bernie”, the feeling of standing on shaky ground can’t be unfamiliar. Bickerstaff enters his third season as an NBA head coach, but for the first time, he has kicked off the season in that top-dog role. He has twice been the beneficiary when GMs/owners got a quick case of cold feet, in 2015 with Houston (when Kevin McHale got the early heave-ho) and last year after taking the reins from Fizdale. He certainly knows how this goes as well as anybody. Robert Pera, the owner who himself was an uncertainty to hang around the Volunteer State this time last year, signed Bickerstaff to a three-year deal after the 2016-17 season concluded, despite the thin and injury-riddled Griz going 15-48 under the coach’s watch. But Pera set the bar absurdly high, even with the health status of the returning perennial near-All-Star Conley, and Gasol, still up-in-the-air, even before his organization knew what they would do with the #4 pick in the NBA Draft. “I see no reason why we can’t return to being a 50-win-plus team,” Pera boldly declared to Grind City Media, the team-run media outlet. And no, he’s not talking about a “process,” he means, by April 2019. He added, “I have confidence in (Bickerstaff) to be that centerpiece of the culture we want to build.” We’ll get to see just how long that confidence wavers. Chandler Parsons was not Bickerstaff’s fault. Neither was Ben McLemore. Stringing along JaMychal Green in 2017 restricted free agency to the point where the scrappy young pro was sapped of motivation, just when the team needed someone to fill in for departed icon Zach Randolph, wasn’t a coach-created problem. Nor was keeping a red-hot Tyreke Evans around for a pointless close to last season. Nor was rewarding former Hawk Shelvin Mack this summer after a disastrous run in Orlando. Nor was relying on Chalmers last year to do what they expect Mack to do this season. Having next-to-nothing to show for three first-round selections between 2014 and 2016, or any first-rounders since Conley was taken back in 2007, can’t be laid at Bickerstaff’s feet. Or, to clarify, shouldn’t. The myriad of draft and free agency blunders this franchise has made has a common thread, and it’s not some sideline taskmaster. It’s Chris Wallace, the general manager who gets to thrive off the past success of Gasol and Conley, and the mystique of having some hand in setting the foundation for the Celtics’ last championship. In a world where What Have You Done for Me Lately has become the norm, Wallace, and his sidekick stat-head boss John Hollinger, stand out as inexplicable exceptions. In this space, I’ve long tied Wallace to the whipping post just as I have his welcome-overstayed peers in Washington, Sacramento, and Chicago. But none of my bi-annual griping should be seen as a suggestion that Memphis should pull a Suns and start pink-slipping people in the first month of the season. I’m just saying that when the knee-jerk reaction comes, and you can rest assured it will, you can be sure it’s the coach that gets the Raw Deal. What happens when Gasol sours, again, this time because lottery pick Jaren Jackson, Jr. is deservedly gnawing away at the soon-to-be 34-year-old’s floor time? When summer free agent gamble Kyle “Slow-Mo” Anderson, filling Memphis’ oft-vacant swingman role, fails to deliver here, at the FedEx Forum, by elevating his level, and pace, of play? What happens when an overreliance on Mack, Parsons, human lunchpail Garrett Temple, Omri Casspi, and the “Brooks Brothers” (Dillon and MarShon) to keep Memphis in games offensively, has exactly the effect everyone ought to expect? Wait, wait, don’t give away the ending, Memphis! Just promise me that, this time, it will involve some bad dude in a helicopter, a grenade launcher, some C-4, and Schawrzenegger in a beret, slowly walking off as he lights his cigar. By the way, how does a Washington Wizard play a part in this revolving Shakespearean tragedy? Bradley Beal isn’t the first misguided soul to overestimate the value of Jeff “Almost Like LeBron” Green. Wallace and the Grizzlies departed with a loosely-protected (top-8) draft pick, in a 2015 three-team deal to bring Green, from Boston, into the fold, where he quickly became the second-best J. Green on Memphis’ roster. They tried to recoup some value a year later, by getting a lottery-protected 2019 first-rounder in swapping Green for the Clippers’ Lance Stephenson. Oh, but then they gave that pick away, too, months later, to – you guessed it -- those same Celtics. That pick was relinquished for the rights to rent second-round rookies Deyonta Davis (discarded, along with McLemore and another second-rounder, this summer for Temple) and Rade Zagorac (just flat-out discarded, before last season started). Does Danny have some compromising pictures of you that we (don’t) need to know about, Chris? The looming probability of putting yet another lottery pick (9-through-14, this time) into Ainge’s hands could quickly change the calculus for the Grizzlies (0-1), particularly as the sobering reality of a not-50-wins season, or even a playoff spot in the Wild Wild Western Conference, comes into view. Who gets burned at fire sale time? Does Memphis find takers for some of the veteran contracts? Can they make deals without further tampering with their future? So long as Wallace continues running the show, I have a lingering suspicion about how this phase ends. Wallace will probably be here, regardless, as local reports suggest he’s been reduced to a media figurehead in lieu of Pera’s guys, including the G-League GM. But his and Hollinger’s long-term job statuses may have been buoyed by the second-biggest Atlanta Compromise in history. ESPN draft insider Jonathan Givony reported that Travis Schlenk and the Hawks’ front office was dead-set on drafting Jackson, but Atlanta’s fan-frenzied ownership clamored for the showmanship that Luka Doncic could provide. Splitting the baby, reportedly, is why Trae Young is rocking the three-tone triangles, while Triple-J dipped to Memphis. Surprising many with his jumper, Jackson outshined Young, and everybody else on the SummerHawks, in their teams’ July exhibition matchup. The 19-year-old rookie cooled shortly thereafter, and is he expected to be brought along slowly as a backup behind Green and Gasol. That is, except on nights when the Grizzlies are getting grounded-and-pounded inside. Wednesday’s season-opening game found Memphis getting gashed in the paint, 60-16, on the road in Indiana. Gasol was unable to even show up on the scoreboard until the third quarter, where he contributed all his (team-high!) 13 points in a resounding 111-83 defeat. Jackson chipped in 10 points, most of his offense coming from the free throw line (2-for-6 FGs, 6-for-6 FTs). Giving up all those interior points wouldn’t have been so horrific, had the Grizzlies been capable of shooting above 30 percent from the field (29.8 team FG%) themselves. Finding a perimeter defender to cool off Bojan Bogdanovic (3-for-3 on threes, team-high 19 points for the Pacers), would not have hurt either. Fortunately for the Grizzlies (for Bickerstaff, really), they return home to face the Hawks. Or, at least one would think they’re fortunate. Some people have “bad hair days”, but Atlanta had itself a “bad hair quarter” in the second frame of Wednesday’s tipoff game. Hemorrhaging 49 points along the way to a 126-107 loss, the Hawks (0-1) had the Knicks looking like the Harlem Globetrotters before halftime. I could swear I saw Curly Neal assisting Tim Hardaway, Jr. on some of his 31 points. Hasty shot selection, wild passing out of traps, and deficient transition D combined to allow the Knicks to sprint away in a New York minute. You will often hear coaches talk about young players improving their games “once the game slows down for them,” but that notion is merely figurative for Coach Lloyd Pierce. Pierce wants his charges to charge ahead with a high-tempo (ATL-NYK second-highest pace of the season-openers, behind only LAL-POR), but understands that driving full-bore along the learning curve at this speed will lead to some hair-raising hairpin turns during games. The T-n-T duo of Trae (5-for-14 FGs, 5 assists, 4 TOs, minus-20 in his official debut) and Taurean (7-for-15 FGs, 6 assists, 6 TOs for Prince, minus-23 @ NYK), may literally get to see things “slow down” tonight, if Conley and Memphis (MEM-IND second-slowest season-opener) play a lot of keep-away with the rock. With Conley and the high-post-passing Gasol setting up plays, and Bickerstaff espousing the values of player movement and quality reads in lieu of putting the ball on the floor, Memphis intends to again keep turnovers low (7 TOs @ IND), which could present a sizable advantage against a Hawks squad (24 team TOs @ NYK) that is still getting acclimated. For the Grizzlies, it is a matter of taking advantage of any miscues and defensive lapses by this young Atlanta team, not allowing them to hang around for four quarters. After suffering a 44-point paint deficit two nights ago, if you’re not building an interior advantage versus a Hawks team that’s rehabbing of trio of big-man ankles (John Collins, Dewayne Dedmon, probably Omari Spellman) and pressing Prince and two-way stalwart Alex Poythress into 4-man duties, you’re doing it wrong. They’ve got six road games among the first nine on their schedule, including visits to Utah (twice) and Golden State. But this home opener at the Grindhouse, against the half-baked Hawks, is almost custom-made for the Grizzlies to lick their wounds after stumbling out of the gate in Indy. If they find a way to blow it tonight in front of the home crowd, and then fail to turn it around anytime in the next couple weeks? You know how the saying goes, J.B. -- “Hasta la vista, baby!” Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  8. Return of the... King? Temple... of Doom? ~lw3
  9. Look what you made look what you made the Grizzlies do, Hawks... ~lw3
  10. “Uh-oh… better get MAACO!” Not much to say, aside from… Tank Wars SZN! After Sunday’s perfect-storm of sketchy reffing, stellar passing, and Knickscraft of the purest quality in the clutch, Some Fans of our Atlanta Hawks are looking ahead with trepidation at the next pair of games, beginning tonight with the Memphis Grizzlies (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast in ATL and MEM, 92.9 FM) in town. After today, there’s the Rumble in the Bungle on Thursday, as the Hawks (16-37) visit the Magic (16-36) just a few hours after the trade deadline expires, in the scramble for the NBA’s worst record heading into the All-Star Break. I’ve got nothing, really, to alleviate Those Hawks Fans’ anxiety. Previewing almost every angle ahead of today’s Grizzlies-Hawks matchup, figuring out some way this game, played before a Tuesday night Philips Arena crowd of mausoleum-like quality, doesn’t conclude with a Hawks W has me looking like the lady in that GIF with the mathematical signs and equations floating all around her. The starting back-three replacement coach J.B. Bickerstaff throws out there, as it stands, consists of second-year Wayne Selden, rookie Dillon Brooks, and swingman Andrew Harrison. That’s not as disastrous a story as the West Memphis Three, but still, how can any NBA team fathomably underperform that trio? Never mind that knee issues might sideline Selden today, shifting one of Mario Chalmers or Ben McLemore to the top line. The burning question, above, persists. I legit thought “Myke Henry” was some affectionate nickname for JaMychal Green, the starting power forward who got strung along by Memphis’ front office throughout 2017 restricted free agency. But no, there’s an actual Myke Henry, bearing no relation to the World’s Strongest Man. This undrafted rookie guard out of DePaul and the G-League is with Memphis on a two-way deal, and the ink had hardly dried on the contract before even he found himself getting 15-25 minutes a night. Franchise star Mike Conley struggled to stay on the floor and is gone for this season. McLemore (recently returning from a knee injury) and Chandler Parsons (injured again, not much better when he’s not) have exemplified every red-flag warning waved before they were signed to unwise deals. The Grizzlies needed all of Tyreke Evans’ 22 points just to eke past the Hawks, 96-94, at FedEx Forum back in December. But Evans has now been put on ice, so as not to diminish his value prior to the trade deadline. That pretty much leaves Gasol (8 TOs vs. ATL on Dec. 15, career-low 41.6 FG%, career-high 2.7 TOs/game), the 33-year-old former All-Star center, on an island all to himself. Big Spain has to deal with Big’s Pain behind him on the depth chart, too, as Deyonta Davis (knees) is out of action tonight. Memphis broke out to a spiffy 5-1 season start, before the Grizz lost their Fiz during a 4-22 stretch. While Evans was making his case for an All-Star bid, though, they did manage to go 9-8 between late December and the end of last month, and they had to be heartened by the first two contests during this four-game Eastern road trek that concludes today, losing by four at Indy and by two in Detroit on back-to-back nights. They were even down just a point through three quarters in Toronto on Sunday afternoon. Yet without Reke available in the clutch, they just don’t have enough horses offensively to string victories together. Memphis (18-34), who returns home to deal with red-hot Utah tomorrow, has been Grit without much Grind. Dead-last in pace, they will hack opponents to death (NBA-high 23.3 personals per game; 26.2 opponent FTAs per game, 2nd-most in NBA), specifically those that dare attempt to set plays up inside the perimeter (NBA-low 26.0 opponent 2FGs/game). The departure of former mainstays like Z-Bo and Tony Allen have done little to erase the team’s long-held reputation for being terrible perimeter shooters (35.3 team 3FG%, 25th in NBA), and that poor marksmanship is now bleeding inwards (54.2 team 2FG%, 20th in NBA) as well. As expected, given the opponent’s game-planning, the going was tough for Dennis Schröder as a scorer during his last meeting with the Grizzlies (5-for-18 FGs), but he made the most of his trips to the line (7-for-8 FTs; Isaiah Taylor 5-for-6 off the bench) while distributing the ball well (11 assists, 3 TOs). So much as a moderate day from Schröder directing the Hawks offense (15-for-33 3FGs @ NYK on Sunday; 31-for-34 FTs @ BOS on Feb. 2) will be sufficient to put the Beale Street Bears in hibernation. As Atlanta has not gone the route Memphis has gone with Evans, Atlanta’s playmakers should have their full offensive array at their disposal. This is quite possibly the Hawks finale for several players, including Sunday’s “hero”, Kent Bazemore (4-for-7 3FGs @ NYK; 19.3 PPG, 52.2 3FG%, 1.8 TOs/game in last 4 games), Dewayne Dedmon (14 rebounds @ NYK), and Ersan Ilyasova (back in the starting lineup, after missing Sunday’s game with an illness). All veteran trade targets will be hoping for a strong potential-farewell performance and a pleasant, if a bit subdued, send-off from the Highlight Factory crowd. Seventeen combined consecutive postseasons come to an end this April for these two clubs. But upon closer inspection, Atlanta and Memphis appear to have divergent means of sinking toward the NBA bottom. Unlike the Grizzlies, the Hawks chose not to gamble on big contracts, for their 30-ish incumbent veteran stars, in hopes of another shot at a playoff run. Unlike the Hawks, the Grizzlies have made many questionable first-round selections in recent years (backup forward Jarell Martin the sole first-rounder since 2008 who has stuck), and they did an even more questionable job developing them. Unlike the Hawks, the Grizzlies grew skittish as the losses piled up, and reneged on their mutual commitment to build with their head coach. And unlike the Grizzlies, the Hawks’ beneficiary from the NBA’s wild 2016 free agency period might wind up paying his team dividends. That it is Atlanta that has been looking up at Memphis in the standings to this point, and not the other way around, is a testament to the strength of the Hawks’ Competitank. But how much longer can that situation be sustained? Some Enquiring Hawks Fan Minds want to know. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  11. It’s going DOWN in the Mississippi! There’s a Ti-tank-ic clash in store for tonight! The least of the East, our Atlanta Hawks, are flying low, and preparing to tangle with the worst of the West, those Memphis Grizzlies (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in both ATL and MEM). As the Highlander famously quipped, “There Can Be Only One… First-Overall Pick”. As suggested in a pregame thread a couple weeks ago, the fate that recently befell David Fizdale could very well have been visited upon Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer, had incoming exec Travis Schlenk succumbed to his owner’s wishes and fought to keep last year’s corroding core intact. Sub-mediocrity plus miserable, moping vets doesn’t do much to help coaches avoid the pink slip. Instead, Coach Bud rides into town with a three-game losing skid and oodles o’ job security. In Coach Fiz’s wake, there’s J.B. Bickerstaff, who finds himself in a strangely familiar position. He slid over to the big chair when Houston, fresh off a 56-win season and a trip to the 2015 Western Conference Finals, panicked after a 4-7 false start (coincidentally, concluded by a 26-point loss in Memphis) and canned Kevin McHale. He managed to get Harden and Howard’s Rockets back to even keel (41-41) despite several injury absences for Dwight, and even stole an opening-round playoff game from Curry-less Golden State. On a team that, like the Hawks, wanted to get younger (buh-bye, Zach Randolph, Tony Allen and Vince Carter), yet had no intention of regressing, Coach JB has a bigger hole to climb out from, and a much tinier ladder than he had in H-Town. Since the outset of Memphis’ first ten-game slide, the Grizzlies have been off-track without their conductor, point guard Mike Conley. Centerpiece center Marc Gasol (career-high 3.0 TOs/game) prevailed in his battle of wills with Fizdale, but inherits much of the responsibility for quarterbacking successful plays, especially without Conley (Achilles) around. GM Chris Wallace and the Grizzlies’ managerial brass did neither the outgoing or the incumbent coach many favors. In the past decade, Memphis has wasted first-round draft picks (Hasheem Thabeet, Xavier Henry, Dominique Jones, Tony Wroten, Jordan Adams, Wade Baldwin… only backup forward Jarrell Martin remains), engineered questionable deals (e.g., drafting-and-trading Kevin Love, essentially, for O.J. Mayo) and made even more questionable free agent decisions (Chandler Parsons, Rade Zagorac). The resultant roster entering the season consists of tentpoles Gasol and the injured Conley holding up a sagging cast of veterans desperate to show there’s something left in their tanks (Tyreke Evans, Parsons, Mario Chalmers, Brandan Wright) and youngsters still trying to figure out where to fill up (Ben McLemore, Martin, Andrew Harrison, James Ennis, Deyonta Davis). Still, some are finding ways to make the most of their opportunity. The Grizzlie with the second-most NBA starts this season? How about swingman Dillon Brooks, the former Oregon Duck selected in the second-round of this year’s draft, four picks after former teammate and Hawk guard Tyler Dorsey. Brooks is averaging a whopping 28.0 minutes per game. Both Fizdale and Bickerstaff have been pleased with Brooks’ (relative) on-ball defensive effort, and it didn’t hurt his case when he contributed 19 points and four steals in his regular-season debut. He’ll be dressed to impress with Dorsey watching mostly from the sideline. Strung along all summer as a restricted free agent before settling for a front-loaded two-year deal prior to training camp, power forward JaMychal Green is also taking initiative. His 15 points (3-for-4 3FGs) and 15 rebounds on Wednesday nearly got Memphis out of its offensive doldrums, during a 93-87 road loss to the Wizards. Without Conley around, the Griz need unusual suspects like Brooks, Green and Harrison (20 points, 7 assists @ WAS) to do the heavy lifting on what remains the league’s most stilted, bearish offense (30th in pace, NBA-low -10.7 net rating). Despite the new coach’s vow to open things up, the only teams during Memphis’ last nine games under Bickerstaff, with a worse offensive efficiency are Dwight’s Hornets and… oh, whaddya know… the Pistons! Nobody remind the Hawks (6-22; -8.2 net rating last nine games, ahead of only Memphis) about last night’s proceedings against the visitors from Detroit, where Andre Drummond unlocked Wilt The Stilt mode, and the best shooter in The Highlight Factory picked up $10,000 for his trouble. “I hope the Philips Arena staff took that lid off the rim,” joked Hawks’ salary-leader Kent Bazemore (2-for-10 FGs vs. DET) after doubling up the bucket total of “Norman from accounting”. The sole Hawk players to find the center of the basket routinely last night, Ersan Ilyasova (10-for-14 FGs) and poster-meister John Collins (7-for-10 FGs in a limited 20 minutes), rarely shared the floor. For now, Collins and Ilyasova (58 minutes together this season) may have to play more in tandem as offensive threats, so opponents like Detroit cannot simply pack the paint and limit Dennis Schröder (2-for-5 2FGs) from making hay inside. From Jarrett Jack to Jose Calderon, the defensively stagnant Schröder (next to last in Defensive RPM among active NBA players) must be tired of getting young-fella’d by one elderly court-caddy after another. But he’ll have to deal with infamous SNL punchline Mario Chalmers often tonight, especially if Conley and Evans (sore hip) are no-goes. Dennis and the Hawks have been stymied by a lack of floor leadership in recent days, especially on lost assignments in transition. The Pistons got back on their defensive assignments and clamped down on the Hawks in last night’s 105-91 win, allowing Atlanta just five fastbreak points. Another low-possession, shot-clock-draining, halfcourt back-and-forth tonight would suit Gasol (career-low 41.8 FG%) and the Grizzlies just fine. It is on Schröder (10 assists, 2 TOs vs. DET) to dictate the tempo of this contest, at both ends of the court, if the Hawks intend to establish an advantage. It is essential for he and his teammates to get inside with the rock, and earn trips to the line versus a Memphis team whose defensive identity has devolved into Grit-and-Grab (22.8 personal fouls and 24.8 opponent FTAs per game, 3rd-most in NBA). The final score on Thursday again belied the scale of the blowout during most of the contest, but Atlanta did not help its cause by missing ten of their 26 free throw shots in front of a friendly home crowd. I haven’t kept track, but this feels like the fifth Star Wars Night featuring the Hawks as a visitor. With the Celtics arriving for a run tomorrow, and a trip to Oakland to put up with the Warriors afterwards, these Grizzlies can be expected to drill down tonight, eager to use this game as one more firebreak in what is becoming a disastrous season. Look for Memphis fans, with honeybuns attached to their ears, clamoring from the stands: “Help us, Atlanta Hawks. You’re our only hope!” Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  12. “I Mean… they’re no Three 6 Mafia, but…” Range/Rain Drops! Drop Top! Did our Hawks finally make the Flops Stop? Despite some soul-crushing defeats to some quality opponents, our Atlanta Hawks haven’t managed to lose a game by double digits in a few weeks now. They’ll have a chance to firm up playoff positioning with a pair of home games against hungry Western Conference opponents, beginning tonight with the Memphis Grizzlies (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, 92.9 FM). Portland’s wannabe rhyme-spitter Damian Lillard ought to be a bit miffed that he’ll miss out on tonight’s entertainers by just a couple days. Maybe I’m old-fashioned (maybe… ha), but I couldn’t fathom ever being interested in hittin’ the club with my parents’ siblings, nevermind taking the stage together as a rap outfit. But Uncle Takeoff is just close enough in age to his nephew, Quavo, and Quavo’s cousin, Offset, that the trio can pull it off. Together, as Migos, tonight’s halftime act has taken the world by storm. If you’ve ever scratched your head at the Dab craze, or the inability for people to avoid screaming “Versace!” less than 18 times in succession (or “Hannah Montana!” less than 8), then you have the Y.R.N. (Young Rich… Neighbas!), from the hardscrabble six-lane median-separated streets of Lawrenceville, to thank for your itchy dome. It’ll be easy for the Hawks (37-30) to be preoccupied by the cult-scale attention directed tonight toward our Northside superstars, and even more unfocused on the Grizzlies after catching them in hibernation mode just days ago. This won’t be the same opponent that dropped its fifth consecutive game with a 107-90 loss at home to Atlanta on Saturday. Since that defeat, Coach David Fizdale rejuggled the starting lineup to include vets Tony Allen and Vince Carter, the latter a necessity once the disappointing Chandler Parsons (partial meniscus tear) was likely lost for the remainder of the season. Back in April 2003, Michael Jordan bid farewell to Miami with 25 points, and no player over the age of 40 had scored at least 24 points in an NBA game since. That was until Carter unveiled his impression of Half Man, Half Reggie Miller (8-for-8 FGs, 6-for-6 3FGs) and added three steals as Memphis surprised resurgent Milwaukee 113-93 on Monday. If you know Allen, you know offense ain’t his feng shui, but he wasn’t too bad (6-for-10 FGs), either. Memphis (38-30) flew in last night on a red-eye from the Windy City, and hopefully their arms are a bit tired. They grit-and-grinded the Bulls on the interior, holding trade-deadline target Jimmy Butler to just 4-for-16 from the field, and the whole Chicago team to 23-for-63 2FGs, 41 second-half points, and 15 free throw attempts. It’s a far cry from the 50% Memphis allowed from the field, the 61 bench points ceded to the Hawks, and the 26 freebies granted to Atlanta on Saturday without Dwight Howard even joining the fray. The Griz began this season surging on the strength of an 8-0 start (2-4 since) on the second nights of back-to-backs just like this one. Back to reppin’ their grit-and-grind Culture, they hope a third-straight victory will prove they’ve got their mojo back just in time for a final frenzied playoff push. Allen and Carter hope to make open looks harder to find for wings Kent Bazemore, Thabo Sefolosha, Birthday Boy Junior Hardaway, and Taurean Prince, the latter contributing a team-high 17 points in a balanced effort on Saturday. That Atlanta quartet had the nets smokin’ like a cookie in the hot box, sinking 10 of their 18 three-point attempts and taking a lot of pressure off of Dennis Schröder (16 points, 8 assists, 3 steals @ MEM) and Paul Millsap (16 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists) to carry the scoring load. Memphis’ sole offensive bright spot on Saturday was forward JaMychal Green, who returned to the starting unit and contributed 20 points and 11 rebounds. Not having to go against the Hawks’ small-ball lineups from the outset today, he and Marc Gasol (27 points, 6 assists @ CHI on Wednesday) will try to ensure any points Millsap and Howard earn come from the charity stripe. Atlanta’s frontcourt duo was 7-for-16 at the free throw line in San Antonio, the Spurs effectively Offsetting their 8-for-18 field goal shooting. Despite sound on-ball interior defense, the Grizzlies only managed to force a season-low 5 turnovers from iso-heavy Chicago last night, including just two steals. Mike Conley (27 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists @ CHI on Wednesday) will be out to make amends for his subpar showing (5 steals, but 1-for-7 3FGs) against Schröder and the Hawks on Saturday. Despite 18 turnovers forced by Memphis, they converted those into only 13 points. Conversely, the Hawks turned the Grizzlies’ 13 turnovers into 25 points, 13 in the first quarter as they built up a 33-15 advantage, and need to push the pace in transition against the Grizzlies’ hopefully tired legs. Schröder was judicious with the rock in San Antonio (10 assists, 2 TOs, plus 10-for-18 2FGs), but after six turnovers in Memphis over the weekend, he cannot afford for his neck and his wrists to be so sloppy tonight. Atlanta benefits from being one of just three Eastern Conference clubs currently at least three games above-.500 at home and on the road this season. But after a spate of underwhelming performances on their home floor, they need to give us Philips Arena faithful something worth looking at during the games -- a little Dab won’t do ya. They’ll perform much better if they acknowledge it won’t be so simple to knock the Grizzlies out like Fight Night. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  13. “Cry Me a (Mississippi) River…” May I present to you The Worst NBA Free Agent Contract from the Summer of 2016? Before you start typing B-a-z… know that there’s at least one guy whose deal is way worse, and he doesn’t suit up for your Atlanta Hawks. Courtesy of tonight’s opponents, the Memphis Grizzlies (9:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast in ATL and MEM, 92.9 FM in ATL), I present to you the max contract of one Mr. Chandler Parsons! Yes, Kent Bazemore shoots only 34.3 percent from the three-point line, a value not helped by going 1-for-4 in last night’s win over the Raptors in Atlanta. But imagine if he shot worse than that (34.0 FG%, 26.4 3FG%) from the whole entire floor! Yes, Baze is an overeager defender (1.2 SPG, 0.8 BPG) that gets burned by talented stars (minus-42 during three homestand losses) on occasion. Yet, imagine if he was never associated with the notion of defense (0.6 SPG, 0.1 BPG) at all! Yes, Kent claims he has been recuperating from knee soreness since the offseason. Still, imagine if your starting swingman’s career, through three NBA towns, has been defined by his inability to bounce back from injuries. Imagine if he hadn’t played more than eight consecutive games this season, missing 32 of your 65 games, contributing over 20 minutes in barely half of those 33 games, and 25 minutes in just one (contributing two points in that one game, at Brooklyn). Yes, Bazemore was handed a four-year, $70 million deal last July (year #4 a player-option gimme), and the early returns have not been promising. But imagine if Bazemore was playing worse than he is currently, and was owed $72.3 million in the NEXT three seasons alone! Guaranteed dough, with no options either way. To say nothing of the $22.1 million he would be raking in this year, the 15th-highest salary in the league. Imagine, further, if one of his teammates is the NBA’s second highest-paid player, after signing the biggest contract in league history last summer, and if another teammate makes just a shade less than him. And imagine if a four-game losing streak dropped their team down to 7th place in their conference. Imagine if that third loss was at home, against Brooklyn, by 13 points. Such is the life for Mister Parsons these days. What do you have to say for yourself? “I suck right now. There’s no sugarcoating it,” he told postgame media after making one basket in 20 minutes of last Saturday’s 123-108 loss to the Rockets, who have been doing quite fine without either of Parsons or Dwight Howard in their rotation. A longtime DM target of over-excited Twitter followers, the part-time fashion model and full-time “Ho Hound” (as deemed by ATL reality star Todd Chrisley, whose daughter is dating Parsons, after he dumped his former Victoria’s Secret model girlfriend over the winter) has elected to shut down all his social media platforms. This, after posts about his All-Star Break trip to Cancun drew Grizzlies fans’ ire, and his play since then (10-for-35 FGs post-Break) showed the time off didn’t help much. But the hard reality for Memphis (36-29, 14-15 since January 1), and first-year coach David Fizdale, is they have little choice but to trot Parsons out there. With persistent soreness in his own knee, Chandler sat out of Thursday’s home game against the Clippers. The resulting 114-98 deficit proved to fans that the Addition By Subtraction rule doesn’t apply here. Without Parsons, Fizdale’s alternate options at the wing include James Ennis, Andrew Harrison, or long-in-the-tooth Vince Carter and Tony Allen. Parsons serves the team not only as a 6-foot-10 swingman but also as a small-ball four. Just as Bazemore can miss shots and try-to-defend at three positions, Parsons can miss shots and not-defend at three spots on the floor. Versatility has its price. “I’m just going to continue to work, continue to grind,” said Parsons. Oh, yeah, about the “grind” thing. With a couple championship rings on his fingers from his Miami assistant coaching days, Fizdale is taking great pains to indicate that the “Grit and Grind” philosophy isn’t going away, but that for Memphis to ascend to higher heights, the status quo regarding past coaches’ rotations needs to be directed to The Round File. He’s bending over not backward, but forward, to assert his point. “That’s the problem, the whole image of this group is that if we’re underdogs and don’t win it, that’s okay. No!” contended Coach Fiz. “I won’t settle for that. I’ll continue to shuffle (lineups) until I find something that works best, that gives us the best chance to hold the trophy. And if people don’t like it, they can kiss my (synonym for donkey).” Nobody’s out to apply pucks to the posterior of Fizdale, but they will apply a foot or two if his team cannot shake their current slide. It does suck that the team with the NBA’s sixth-highest salary base is struggling this late in the season, but one similarity they share with the Hawks (also 36-29) is they are leaning on their longstanding veterans to help pull them out of their rut. “The teams that don’t have a culture, they will break in moments like this,” said Coach Fiz. “The teams that do, they weather this stuff, and they’re better on the back side for it. I’m expecting this team to be better on the back side for this.” Fizdale seems laser-focused on backsides. Memphis needs a quick turnaround to avoid being stuck in the 7-seed position, first-round fodder for either Kawhi’s Spurs or the returning KD’s Warriors. Opening the playoffs as a 6-seed in Harden’s Houston doesn’t sound too hot either, even for a Memphis team that built its NBA identity as The First-Round Underdog That Could. A win tonight would go a long way toward a more desirable 4/5 matchup with the similarly gritty but under-experienced Utah Jazz, who are currently 5 games up on Memphis with 17 left to play. Our Hawks finally caught a break from the constant three-point bombardment last night, with Toronto clanking 21 of 25 attempts. Might Atlanta be charmed enough to make it two games in a row? The Grizzlies went 7-for-20 on three-pointers in the loss to the Clips, 3-for-15 if you removed bench guard Troy Daniels (13 points in 16 minutes) from the equation. Money Mike Conley (team-highs of 40.8 3FG%, 1.3 SPG and 6.2 APG) is doing all he can to hold up his end of last summer’s free agent non-bargain. But the depth challenges have been troublesome, at his positions and others across the lineup. Behind him on the depth chart is rookie Wade Baldwin IV, who gets only 12.9 minutes per game more than Wade Baldwin III. After Conley and center Marc Gasol (career-highs of 20.4 PPG and 4.4 APG), Memphis’ next leading assist man is Andrew Harrison (2.8 APG), a 2015 second-rounder getting his first taste of NBA action this season. Last month’s vet addition was roasted on Thursday by a fan who missed a car-winning halfcourt shot. “Still had as many points on one less shot than Toney Douglas (2.7 APG, 16.7 3FG% in 21 games) tho”, the fan tweeted. To help Fizdale get the Grizzlies offense (18th in O-Rating) off the ground, Gasol is taking the 2014 Paul Millsap approach to shooting three-pointers out of the blue. A longtime solid long-range two-point shooter, Gasol shot just 12-for-66 in his first eight NBA season, but has lofted 228 shots from deep this season, and is hitting them fairly well (38.6 3FG%; 39.3% since the All-Star Break). Gasol will try to lure Howard out of the paint to contest, but is more likely to have Paul Millsap switching to cover him and make not only his shots, but his pinpoint passes, tougher to execute. Millsap’s fullcourt activity will be crucial for the Hawks to pull off wins on back-to-back nights for the first time since mid-January. Zach Randolph (team-high 8.3 RPG) was benched at the outset of the season to allow JaMychal Green (7.3 RPG, second-most on team; a Randolphian 20-and-10 @ HOU last week) a chance to step up. Now both Green and Z-Bo share the pine; the booty-offering Fizdale has turned in recent days to Brandan Wright, the butt of many local jokes after appearing in just 23 games over the past two seasons. Millsap played 36 minutes (7-for-13 FGs) in the win over Toronto yesterday. But with Conley blanketing Dennis Schröder (last 7 games: 21.9 PPG, 5.4 APG, 50.9 FG%, 96.4 FT%), Allen and Carter trying to keep up with Junior Hardaway (3-for-5 3FGs and six assists vs. TOR; 20 straight games of double-figure scores), and Gasol desperate to keep Howard (8 straight games of double-figure rebounds) away from the rim, Sap’s offense against Memphis’ unsteady rotation of power forwards could give Atlanta a needed edge. Memphis desperately needs a win tonight at the Fed Ex Forum, and on Monday versus red-hot Milwaukee, to salvage their own homestand. Atlanta knows all about that kind of pressure. Which team can control the tempo to their liking and “grind” out the win? The postgame Baze Gazes are indeed very costly, but require not nearly as pretty a penny as a Parsons Pose. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  14. A remnant from our Joe Trade is back in the league, at least for a 10-day cup of tea. ~lw3