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  1. “Yo, Jimmy, how long you stuck down there in Miami?” Alright, Atlanta Hawks fans. The Recalibration STARTS NOW! Well, not NOW now, but soon. Real, real soon! First off, congratulations to Messrs. Tony Ressler and Steve Koonin. You guys did it! Y’all did the dang thing! State Farm Arena: NUMBER ONE in the NBA for overall in-game experience among season-ticket holders, according to a survey the NBA itself conducted. We’re not merely striving to be some measly 8-seed with a first-round exit. Among the league’s local fanbases plunking down serious coin, our Hawks’ nest holds homecourt advantage throughout. Mind you, for the second-straight year! This is shaping up to be a true fan-experience dynasty, right here in The A! STAPLES what? Mercedes-Benz who? Everybody knows we’ve long had the best ushers on the face of the planet, the best announcers, the best mascot, and the best DJ. Throw in all the whiz-bang technology, the improved viewing angles, the upgraded grub ‘n booze, kid-friendly accommodations, the way-better retail options at the Hawks Shop, the Top Golf, the Barber Shop. Then, at every tier of the building, we’ve got whole sections of smart Hawks fans who know how to get raucous without getting flat-out rambunctious. From choking through stale popcorn while bellowing to stop J-Smoove from heaving threes in the general vicinity of the rim, Hawks fans, we have already come a long way. State Farm Arena is not just certified-LEED anymore, it’s a certified SHOW. And we’ve got ourselves a certified showman at center court. If you’re not paying rapt attention, you just might miss him swishing a jumper from that very spot. Second, shouts out to The Real MVP of All-Star Weekend: Jalaiah! Girlfriend was nearly just the next ATL-area kid to find her skills brutally appropriated by lesser talents, But now here she is, once toiling in Tik Tok obscurity, now featured in the New York Times, center stage at All-Star Weekend. Do that Renegade, youngblood, and get that Bag! Shoot, I’m still stuck over here trying to Wobble Baby Wobble. If you were just casually peeking at the festivities this weekend, you’d have thought the All-Star Game was being hosted right here in the 404. Jalaiah, 2Chainz, Luda, Quavo ‘n Offset, Chris Tucker, Wondaland’s Jidenna. Claim ATL-native Kanye, if you dare, or ATL-resident Ricky Rozay (sir, keep your local mansion’s valuables off the ‘Gram, please). Even Spike Lee, noted long-suffering Knicks fan, showed up rocking his Morehouse sweatshirt. We’ve got the show-stopping mega-stars repping The ATL, whenever or wherever it’s time for stars to shine. Having endured years of incessant ownership tumult, we’ve now got happy fans begging the Hawks to shut up and take their money. We’ve got a young All-Star who other All-Stars, current and future, are taking great pleasure right now in beating. That is, if they cannot join him. Behold, the unbridled joy by players smothering Team Giannis’ Trae Young after he canned the buzzer-beater, paying homage if not paying back his Rising Star draft-buddy Luka, who wouldn’t even pretend to D Trae up after missing his own 3-point attempt right before halftime. Young’s bomb closed the second-quarter proceedings at 51-30 in Team Giannis’ favor, a defensive clampdown that turned the tide and granted his East-heavy squad a cozy 92-83 lead. Young only got a shade under 16 minutes of action in the midseason showcase, benched by Nick Nurse ostensibly for defensive reasons (heh heh) so he could entrust his real-life point god Kyle Lowry to take charge(s) and seal the deal. Still, Trae snuck in ten very strategic assists to teammates during those brief stints. With his team needing just 24 points to win the contest, I’m sure Trae was chilling on the bench, poking teammate Jimmy Butler and bragging, “Hey, guess what? This game is OVER!” “this man @thetraeyoung was a teller of the future,” trolled Jimmy Buckets after his heat saved themselves from near-certain defeat against the Hawks back in December, coming back from 117-111 down with a minute to spare to force overtime and prevail, 135-121. “game WAS over!” Young was doing some trolling of his own after his tasty dish to Alex Len (remember him?) for a not-blown dunk put Atlanta up six, giving Miami’s bench his best Vince Carter Dunk Contest impression. It’s OVER! Imagine, a team that was 6-17, waltzing out of Miami while flexing. A sad 1-for-10 from the field in the fourth up until that point, the miffed Butler was left with no choice but to get these Young whippersnappers off his lawn. Although, Jimmy needed a little help from a kid named Duncan Robinson, inexplicably born before the Spurs even got their act together, dishing and crushing threes (five 3FGs plus 4 assists, for 24 of the heat’s final 34 points from the mid-4th quarter on) to help him save the heat’s bacon. Thanks in part to Trae’s late-game antics, this heat-Hawks rivalry finally has some sizzle. With the heat in town at The Farm tonight (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Sun in MIA), it’s now up to Atlanta to bring not just sizzle, but steak, to the party. Speaking of parties… foolish me, but back in the spring of 2009, I thought D-Wade was just about D-one. Not just down in Miami, where the heat had just lost an unsightly seven-game, first-round series to Josh Smith’s Hawks. But in general, as an NBA headliner. There he was, about to turn 28, still unable to stretch the floor, dependent on the likes of a withering Jermaine O’Neal, Udonis Haslem and Michael Beasley to get the once-proud heat back into championship contention. Despite a league-best 30.2 scoring average to end 2009’s regular season, Wade was looking more and more like a Flash in the pan, playing through injuries, logging ridiculous minutes. A 4-1 pasting of his team the following season at the hands of the mighty Celtics made Wade’s farewell from Florida all the more likely. Erik Spoelstra’s, too. Then, in Wade’s critical 2010 season of free agency, Pat Riley rolled up his sleeves. Now, the Weekend of Wade ahead is a three-day party down in South Beach to honor #3 and retire his jersey. Wade is rightfully feted for not only getting Miami quickly out of the lottery morass when he was drafted 5th overall back in 2003, but for becoming the co-star that sizable Hall of Fame-caliber superstars would cling to on an annual quest for rings, from Shaq and Zo, to Bron and Bosh. Wade could have casually name-dropped L.A., or his hometown of Chicago, along the way. But he trusted Riley, stayed True to Wade County, and has three NBA titles and five Finals appearances to show for his troubles. It’s a lesson in persistence, and wherewithal, and making one’s NBA city a veritable star destination, that I’m sure a kid drafted 5th overall fifteen years after Wade is sure to take heed. Even with Wade finally hanging it up last season, Miami (35-19, 4th in NBA East) remains clearly the class of the NBA’s Dirty South Division. Team exec-extraordinaire Riley has uncongested the books of salary-cap calamities, making ample room to accommodate Butler and the once-exiled Andre Iguodala with multi-year deals. Spoelstra’s staff has solved longstanding depth problems with former unknowns like Robinson (43.8 3FG%) and Kendrick Nunn (Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for every month so far, despite going undrafted). Butler (20.6 PPG; career-highs of 6.8 RPG and 6.1 APG) is successfully swinging his persona from star malcontent to star magnet. Adebayo (10.4 RPG, 10th in NBA; 4th in NBA for Defensive BPM; 4.9 APG) has emerged as the supplementary All-Star that many heat fans hoped Justise Winslow would someday become. Even with so much having gone right thus far for the heat, one could reasonably envision the Hawks being the team coming into tonight’s game seeking the head-to-head season sweep. The Hawks, then an upbeat 2-1 after losing by just two points to Finals-hopeful Philly, were going toe-to-toe with host Miami back in October when Young turned an ankle early in the first quarter. Returning to Atlanta a couple days later, the heat did the best they could to skate away with a blowout win, but Young’s sudden replacement, Tyrone Wallace, and Jabari Parker (remember them?) were giving them a hard time in the fourth quarter. Then there was the December game when the Hawks, with Young (but not John Collins) back on the floor, had Miami backed into a corner, a three-wins-in four games stretch clearly in sight. Failing to stick the landing, the next 10-game losing spiral commenced for coach Lloyd Pierce’s club. Pierce’s Hawks (15-41) have squandered opportunities all season to seize prosperity by the horns. You can include the most recent flops at reeling Orlando and Cleveland before the Break, when an inefficient-shooting Young (5-for-18 while settling at times for 3FGs in last two games) played like a guy with Chicago on his mind, and his fellow Hawks (42 4th-quarter points allowed @ ORL; 19 1st-quarter points @ CLE) played like a bunch of slugs. Besides Trae’s singular All-Star exploits on behalf of the Hawks, heat players had themselves a fairly eventful weekend, too. Showing off the Scrabble-colored unis, Derrick Jones got some home cooking from Dwayne Wade and his Dunk Contest judging panel that clearly flunked at both collusion and addition. Adebayo reinforced the notion that indeed, Big Men got skills in the 2020s. Trae was a dud in the Three-Point contest, but it was Robinson who was the betting favorite and didn’t do that much better. At least Duncan was present, something few would have predicted coming off a two-way contract season where he shot just 28.6 3FG% in spot duty. By the way, did you see who was among the first to embrace Buddy Hield as the Sooner sealed the win? We see you out here, Trae. Much like Young, Bam got The Nick Nurse Treatment after leading Team Giannis in first-quarter scoring on Sunday night. He found himself subbed out and watching the next quarter from the sideline in favor of Nurse’s frontcourt star, Pascal Siakam. Adebayo wound up playing under 12 minutes, second-lowest among any All-Star who appeared, and not much more than Butler’s 13 minutes as a Team Giannis reserve. The good news for Coach Spo is that Bam and Jimmy each return from the Break not the worse for wear. Meanwhile, Jones will try to parlay his Dunk Contest infamy (bless you, Aaron Gordon) and new Puma shoe deal into a splash of free agency cash with a strong close to the season. After slaughtering the Sixers at home on February 3, the heat went into the Break with a five-game road trip, and had just one win, at lowly Golden State, to show for their troubles. Iguodala, who arrived before the Trade Deadline with momentary Hawk Solomon Hill and rabble-rousing Jae Crowder, will help Butler and Goran Dragic apply the defensive screws for Miami, which have been caught slipping away from home (106.0 D-Rating in home games, 111.0 on road). But the revival of a floundering offense (106.6 O-Rating in past 5 games, 27th in NBA) is what the heat must put on display, beginning tonight. The 137-point bonanza against Philly being the exception, Miami hasn’t exceeded 115 points in the past nine games, nor 120 points in their past 15 contests. The gritty-grindy pace that Spoelstra prefers has much to do with it, but so does his team failing to exceed 45 percent from the floor while failing to create second-chances. In Salt Lake back on the 12th, the heat chilled to just 43.2 percent, sinking just a third of their three-point shots, while getting thoroughly out-boarded 53-37 along the way to a 116-101 loss to the Jazz. Playing without Butler in Portland a few days before, Miami was worse inside the 3-point arc (19-for-49 2FGs, season-high 20-for-49 3FGs) than outside, while Adebayo found himself overwhelmed by Whiteside as the heat fell short, 115-109. A few days before that, no one aside Robinson could even hit threes, mustering just 21 fourth-quarter points in a 105-97 loss at Sacramento, the Kings’ benched guard Hield matching Adebayo with a game-high seven rebounds. Atlanta already knows Clint Capela, who’s healing his heel through at least the start of next month, won’t be around to save the day defensively. If Collins and Dewayne Dedmon can be just a bit more imposing on the boards than they were in Cleveland and avoid succumbing to early foul trouble, that’s half the battle won. Next year’s All-Star festivities are in Indiana, and several Hawks ought to have some goals to be right in the thick of it all. Three-point threat Kevin Huerter (probable, allergic reaction probably to Angel’s Food cake) on Saturday, Collins with Young on Sunday. Collins has lots of work cut out for him, competing with the likes of Adebayo and Siakam for frontcourt reserve attention once KD returns to form. But becoming a better passer and plus-defender, and a more consistent double-double machine (12 combined rebounds in losses at ORL and CLE) while helping Atlanta become a winning collective will help turn enough heads his way. On Friday of that weekend, beside whoever Atlanta takes with their 2020 lottery pick, we’d better see De’Andre Hunter (questionable, ankle sprain) and Cam Reddish earning unassailable selections to the Rising Stars’ USA Team. Offensive enhancements are important for the rooks going forward. Perhaps most importantly, becoming active and productive passers such that Trae, Brandon Goodwin, Jeff Teague or whoever’s running point can become omnipresent quick-strike threats off the ball. For a team that ranks last in the league with a 33.6 catch-and-shoot 3FG% (only team in NBA with a sub-50 percent eFG% on these plays), having Hunter, Collins and Reddish capable of drawing in overeager defenders and setting up the guards to score off the catch is an element of the offense that is yet to be unlocked. The Hawks are more reliant upon pull-up threes (6th most pull-up 3FGAs in NBA) than most teams in the league, but their 31.7 3FG% on those shots are less than desirable. Teams that catch-and-shoot proficiently, like Miami (57.8 C&S eFG%, 2nd in NBA; 39.1 C&S 3FG%, 3rd in NBA), tend to make things easier on themselves. Going forward, neither the postseason-hopeful heat, nor the hopefully upwardly mobile Hawks can afford long stretches of anemic offense without strategic game-plan shifts. The team that plays quarters as if there’s some 24-point Elam Ending to aim for will come away disappointed with the final score this evening. After just a few years of rebuilding in this town, the lights, the cameras, and the camera-ready star are already among the NBA’s best and brightest. All that Atlanta’s fans patiently await is some darn good action, the kind that puts Ws in the column. With six of the next seven games at home, starting today would be great! But if not, no worries! Just make it soon, very soon. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  2. Getting the sense that this Diongoing plight is the BEST thing that could have happened to this team. ~lw3
  3. Did the Gummie Bears look like this? ~lw3
  4. “Dressed up as John Collins today… Sike! I’m just Joshin’, tryna put a scare in y’all. Happy Halloween, Hawks fans!” “Hello, Tankathon, my old friend... I’ve come to check you out again…” I really promised that website, last spring, I wouldn’t be a Stranger. Thing is, that was one of my favorite haunts over the past few down-seasons. For all they do for us fans of non-playoff teams, Tankathon deserves some clicks once the NBA season is over and the Draft concludes. But it can be like a hot date you have no intention of marrying for life. Or, so I’ve been told. I start feeling all brand new, once I get a satisfying offseason or two, or a promising start to the next regular season. “New phone, who dis?” Yet it was almost midway through Tuesday night’s loss, after Trae Young Teagued-up his ankle and my Atlanta Hawks gently slid into the Miami morass, that I caught myself wanting to text the ‘Thon. “U up?” The comparable merits of Theo Maledon, Amir Sylla and Deni Avdija suddenly became matters of great intrigue. I was feeling extra miserable from a fantasy perspective, too. I had been rocking and rolling on ESPN Fantasy hoops, after Week 1, with Trae leading the charge for my faux squad. Now, he’s gone ghost for an indeterminate period, although the prognosis for recovery is much brighter now (1-2 weeks on the shelf) than it was in the moments following the injury. Oh well, at least I have you around, Joel Embi—Hello? Jojo? Hey, Myles Turner, what’s the deal with Joel – Myles? Say, Steph, you have any idea where those guys – uh, Steph?? Okay, I’d better get out of here, something’s up. Should I go hide behind all the chainsaws in Jim Spanfeller’s garage, or hop in the running convertible? Decisions, decisions. Fortunately for us Hawks fans, John Collins wasn’t tricked into playing Embiid’s reindeer games on Monday night, the way Karl-Anthony fell for Mr. Candy Corn’s scare tactics in Philly yesterday. Thanks to that, we got to enjoy one of the league’s most versatile big men pull off a Creepshow (30 points, 5-for-8 3FGs, 5-for-6 FTs, 5-for-9 2FGs, 4 assists, 1 steal, 1 swat, 1 TO) one evening later, versus the heat. We’ll need Collins to do the Monster Mash once more, with the heat in our house before a national audience tonight (7:00 PM Eastern, TNT schedule-makers can’t catch a break, 92.9 FM in ATL). But much like John Carpenter’s The Thing, Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce will need to see more of what Collins brings to the floor shape-shifting inside a few of his teammates. We did not spend a calendar year hyping up the whole Red Velvet thing only to watch Miami’s Tyler Herro be paraded as the sweet-shooting treat that can’t be beat. In both preseason and regular season, Herro (29 points, 12-for-16 FTs, 3-for-4 3FGs on Tuesday vs. ATL; 4-for-15 3FGs and 2 FTAs vs. three prior foes) has made himself an early draft darling, largely on the backs of his hack-happy Atlanta defenders. Tonight, it’s time for Kevin Huerter (4-for-14 3FGs; 3 assists, 3 TOs @ MIA) to be the big-play maker and big-shot taker that Cam Reddish (0-for-14 3FGs; 6 assists, 6 TOs, 2-for-10 FGs @ MIA) is still trying to become. An on-time and on-target Huerter, pulling Jimmy Butler and Justise Winslow (questionable, stiff back) toward the defensive perimeter, should open up Miami’s interior for Collins, Alex Len and Bruno Fernando, as well as a slashing DeAndre’ Bembry, who has had a nice moment or two on a TNT broadcast before. Better offensive balance by the Hawks (44-34 advantage in the paint in Tuesday’s 112-97 loss) could overwhelm Bam Adebayo and Meyers Leonard (16 combined D-Rebs vs. ATL), who were generally left alone to cherry-pick for boards generated by Atlanta’s wayward long-range shots (6-for-14 3FGs pre-Young’s injury, 5-for-25 3FGs after). For more rebounding reinforcement, coach Erik Spoelstra will activate James Johnson tonight. Bembry (5 assists, 0 TOs vs. MIA) and newcomer Tyrone Wallace showed an ability to take care of the ball and find scoring opportunities for others. Either could alleviate Reddish from putting too much on his own plate while trying to compensate for Young’s absence (“I hope we get to elevate Cam,” Pierce told the AJC’s Sarah Spencer today, “and see Cam grow up tonight.”) Wallace was also useful in drawing fouls during his unexpected garbage-time stint. If more glass needs to be broken in case of emergency, LP will have two-way guard Brandon Goodwin at his disposal. It shouldn’t be left to the fans in the State Farm Arena stands to frighten Miami’s scorers off the free throw line. 45 FTAs by Miami (3-1) on Tuesday, including 41 attempts by Herro, Butler and Adebayo alone, were the most a Coach Spo-led team has enjoyed since November 2015, against a Jahlil Okafor-led Sixers team that fell to 0-14. Yet that volume was also in line with the heat’s modus operandi during two other victories (39 versus Memphis, 31 at Milwaukee), as Spoelstra urges his players to attack baskets quickly and trick opponents into defending out of desperation. Comparatively, Karl-Anthony’s Wolves permitted just 15 FTAs during Miami’s sole loss this past Sunday. Players should at least don some hockey masks if we’re going to hack people so much today. Better defensive discipline by De’Andre Hunter, Jabari Parker and the Hawks, and more assertive rebounding by Collins’ cobwebbed mates in the middle, will go a long way toward stifling the heat and keeping Atlanta (2-2) in this game tonight. If things get a bit too eerie, you can find me checking out draft prospect measurables, and refreshing the Tankathon draft power rankings for updates. Hey, Brooklyn, what are you still doing on that webpage? Get Out! Let’s Ghoul Hawks! ~lw3
  5. ~lw3
  6. “If I may, Sir, allow me to explain, but I disagree that Cardi B was completely in the wrong here…” Calling another audible! Yeah, yeah, we’ve got Lloy Pierce’s Atlanta Hawks flapping their defensive wings once again, back at The Farm tonight against the Miami heat (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Sun in MIA). But we’re playing them again in just a few weeks. So, I’d like to get something off else my chest right now. What the heck is wrong with you, Washington Wizards? For those who have heard this shpiel from the Atlanta Dream forum, skip the next four paragraphs. The Washington Valor made it to Arena Bowl XXXI this summer. Sure, they had a lousy 2-10 record to close the regular season. But there are four teams in the whole league, and they all get into the playoffs. Not satisfied with accepting a participation trophy, the Valor pulled off the semifinal upset over first-place Albany. So much for discretion. The upset launched the Valor right into the Arena Bowl championship against their arch rivals form up I-95, the Baltimore Brigade. With both teams in just their second season of existence, the Valor and the Brigade squared off in hopes of earning their owner America’s most prestigious indoor football title. Yes, I said, “owner”. Not “owners”. Because, you know, we’re talking about the same dude here. At the title game in Baltimore, Monumental Sports’ Ted Leonsis was sitting there in the afterglow of his Washington Capitals finally shaking off their longtime hex, just weeks before his competing Arena Bowl teams met. The Capitals have had their share of stars, even arguably (sorry, Crosby) the best player in all of modern pro hockey. But they never were able to pull it together and meet their own lofty expectations. Not until 2018, their 28th postseason try, when the top-seeded Caps beat Crosby and their nemeses from Pittsburgh, along the way to besting inaugural-season Vegas and finally hoisting Lord Stanley’s coveted punchbowl. Leonsis’ teams weren’t done grinding their way into championship games this summer. In September, his Washington Mystics ended Atlanta’s Dream season in the playoffs, reaching the WNBA Finals for the first time in their 20-year history. They were the last of the current WNBA franchises to get there. But they put their heads down, made no excuses, and got there, together. So pardon your boss, John Wall and Bradley Beal, if he has no more time for your perpetual wailing and whining. It’s time for your Ted Talk. We’ve been hearing it all summer, the screeching growing louder as the season approached. LeBron was gone from the NBA East, and with all the hub-bub about the Celtics and the Sixers, Kawhi and the Greek Freak – let’s all say it in SpongeBob language, “nObOdY iS tAlKiNg AbOuT Us WiZaRdS.” That was a common refrain even back when LeBron was in Miami. So much claptrap about putting some respeck on the name of “The Best Backcourt in the East”, for so many seasons, half of that tandem the Fastest Man in the NBA. And, So. Much. Posing. We get it, John, there are some street corners in Raleigh with some gangs that want people to think they’re scary. That’s cute. Look, pal. You were the #1 pick in a draft from eight years ago. Never mind the conference finals. Have you been on a team that’s won 50 games, yet? You’re running out of chances to get that elusive win total this season, too, Johnny Blaze. I know, last year, you were struggling through injuries, and you fell out with your starting center. But what does that have to do with starting out this season 1-7? A record that’s not 0-8, only because Markieff Morris managed to find a way not to get himself ejected? What good is all that top-end speed, John, if you can't get out of your own way? You came into this season healthy, as did Beal, as did broken third-wheel Otto Porter. Your peeved Polish pivot player got shipped out the conference, traded for Austin Rivers, replaced by the guy the center used to sub in Dwight Howard. Your GM with obviously dirty pics of the owner stashed away, Ernie Grunfeld, also brought in Jeff Green and rookie Troy Brown to shore up coach Scotty Brooks’ roster behind your sterling starting unit. So, what’s the deal, Mr. Wall, Mr. Beal? For all your consternation about disrespect in the East, all the people looking past you as a suitable bridesmaid for the NBA Finals, the Southeast Division is tailor made for you to dominate. No, seriously, we want you to have it. It's our gift to you. Just act like you want it. All you have to overcome is the Nilla Wafers of the league in the Charlotte Hornets, a team only made appetizing whenever Kemba Walker, the All-Star ballhandler who makes no excuses, doesn't whine for attention, and is never too into himself ((cough)) goes bananas. If anybody deserves to be dealing with distractions in this division, it’s Erik Spoelstra’s club, not yours. For the better part of two months, virtually every player on the heat (3-4) has lived with the dreaded prospect of Pat Riley tapping them on the shoulder, to advise they’re being flown from South Beach to the North Star State, just in time for the wintry season. Right now, .500 ball is all anyone could reasonably ask of the heat, or the Hornets. Surely, you intend better than that, Washington? Atlanta (2-6) has allowed 126, 131, 136, and 146 points in half of their games already this year. Yet somehow, they’re not the NBA team whose defense, if that’s what you wish to call it, is allowing the most points per game of any NBA team since Doug Moe’s Nuggets of 1990-91. Venture a guess as to whose team that is, John and Brad? No, Dwight can’t save you, not in 2018. He’s sagging, and not just on pick and rolls these days. If you had any hope otherwise, last night’s drubbing on your home floor to Dennis Schröder’s OKC Thunder drove the point home adequately. You’re relying on mature play off the bench from… Kelly Oubre? Defensive stops from… Green, Rivers, and Jason Smith? Your biggest threat to hit a perimeter shot is… Morris? Whose plans is this? Your schedule is lightening up this month, Wizards, but our Hawks don’t get to see you until December 5, seventeen games from now. By the time we do get to see you, Wall and company, you had better have some things figured out. There is no point in the Gregorian calendar where Atlanta is supposed to be looking down at you in the NBA standings. Atlanta is rooting for you, Washington Wizards. Heck, Orlando is rooting for you. If they’re being honest with themselves, Charlotte and Miami are rooting for you. We are ALL rooting for you! How dare you? Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  7. Mama Didn’t Raise No Fool! Brain freeze! I’ve grown comfortably numb in the afterglow of last night’s thrilling Tankwin by our Atlanta Hawks over the Miami heat. Instead of a semi-cogent game thread for the rematch at Philips Arena tonight (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Sun in MIA), I’m just going to roll into Stream of Consciousness mode and see what flows out of that. Apologies in advance. Who wants a shiny arena banner? Anybody? Remember back in the day, when division championships meant something? Now that the league has taken away a first-round homecourt guarantee, it’s just fancy-schmancy window dressing. The heat and the Wizards, neck-and-neck at 42-36 apiece, are more concerned about avoiding LeBron – oops, did I say that out loud? I meant playoff positioning – than besting one another for the Dirty South Division title. The Hawks might have a say in who ultimately claims the Southeast. But, hopefully not. Of more pressing strategic interest for Atlanta: do you want probably-playoff-bound Milwaukee to get a 1st-rounder this year, or not? The Bucks’ draft pick to the Suns is 17-30 protected, and my favorite burnt-orange-colored website, Tankathon, has the Bucks at #17, their 42-36 record tied with the Hawks’ next two opponents, Miami and Washington. Our ideal strategery would push the heat and Wiz out of the first two non-lottery slots, making room for Milwaukee (You’re welcome, Phoenix! Don’t be greedy with all them picks. Let us hold somethin’!) at #16, and our dear Thibobullves at #15. Players Only! Shaq the analyst displayed his soft spot for big men last night, in commenting on heat pivot Hassan Whiteside’s travails of late. “He has a legitimate beef,” Shaq said last night on TNT while inadvertently making himself hungry. “He made the comments, ‘hey, there’s a lot of teams that want a center.’ He is correct. But he needs to understand strategy. If I was him, I would say, ‘O.K., I’m going to [let] Coach [Spo] do what he do. But I’m going to get a rest!’ Because, playoff time, when the game slows down, they’re going to need you, big man… I know, as a player, I didn’t win championships until I had 15, 20 games off.” Not entirely true, as it was more like 5-10 days off during his first Laker title years, but it’s a nice tale to tell. Whiteside finally being able to make a meaningful play at the close of the game did wonders for his psyche. Somebody went after Dewayne Dedmon’s rib (Shaq: “mmm, ribs!”), which might become the most fortunate circumstance involving a rib since the days when Adam loafed around the desert leaving toilet seats up everywhere. Dedmon’s questionable to play tonight. G-League superstar Tyler Cavanaugh will be available to sop up minutes so it won’t be all put on Miles Plumlee and Mike Muscala in the clutch. Say, does Hassan like Barbeque Chicken? Don’t ask Shaq, at least not until I get ahead of him in line at Fat Matt’s. By the way, I’m only half-serious, Miami. You’re not obligated to have another late-game “clutch.” The Miami Herald notes the heat’s 52 games with a five-point margin with 5 or fewer minutes to play leads the NBA. “I don’t know what it is,” said Dragic after last night’s scramble-from-behind, skin-of-their-teeth 101-98 victory. I’m hoping [Wednesday] is not going to be close, but you know, that’s us.” Cavahellyeah brought along some of our favorite Bayhawk pals with him, including Andrew White (I don’t like using Jr. or III, IV or the like, unless Daddy played in the Association, too. Andrew White works just fine until Andrew White IV gets here), 10-day contractor Jeremy Evans (welcome back!), and Josh “Yung Bud” Magette. I know they’ve got some crazy playoff stories from Fort Wayne to share with the rest of the crew before they head back. Evans, 30, has averaged nearly a double-double up Nawf (naw not dat way, DAT way) for the B-hawks and has earned himself another quick sip of NBA tea. He and Chris McCullough (wait, Erie got him too? Sheesh! Don’t hurt ‘em, Malik Rose!) could get a nice dunk contest going. Is John Collins well on his way to becoming what we all imagined Al Horford would one day be when he grew up? Rebounds without the flinching, threes without the jab-stepping, infrequent turnovers without the clapping. Develop those passing chops (Shaq: “mmm, chops!”) and I say it’s a wrap! (Shaq: “mmm, wraps!”) Taurean Prince still seems to be in good spirits! On the Hawks’ leading scorer from the past two Atlanta-Miami matchups, Mike Budenholzer pulled out the dreaded “Coach’s Decision” card ten minutes into the game, jussssssssst in time to affect the final outcome. I’m always got my eye on Taurean the DeLorean (all 78 games played), who seemed to be running low on fuel lately (17 total points and 11.1 3FG% in two games prior to last night), to see if he’ll pull a Whiteside on Coach Bud in the media (we still have media, right?) after a short-hook. Thankfully, Taurean keeps the banter between them on the sideline. Atlanta is 3-15 when Prince gets crowned with less than 25 minutes, including 0-4 when he gets under 20 of them. Nice! For all his struggles getting it going all season long, it was kinda nice seeing DeAndre’ Bembry back and mixing it up out there! Rebounded well, got some steals, dished a few dimes, hit a three, and everythang. Had a few too many turnovers, but, hey, you can’t just go from 0 to 60 in… okay, that was bad, nevermind. Bembry (abs) and Antonius Cleveland (ankle) are each listed as probable for today, but I’d really like to see what Cleveland could do in his NBA debut before the home crowd tonight. C’mon Coach Bud, give our NBA virgin the AC Greenlight! Okay, that was somehow even worse, sorry. Just get on out there and break a leg, Antonius! Broadway-style, that is, not like Tony Finau. More like Fin-owwww, amirite? Okay, okay, sorry! That was really sub-par. Ohhh, while I got my mind on the links, congrats to Malcolm Delaney, 2018 Hawks Masters champ! Those Red Jackets are a nice look. If the heat are legitimately trying to do more than simply show up as a low-seed for the first round of the Playoffs (0-5 in postseason series history under such circumstances), they have got to show they can beat teams at least as intentionally underwhleming as the Hawks (22-56) when they’re away from their own comfy confines (I don’t miss the “White Hot!” T-shirt white-outs, not at all). The only playoff-probable clubs with worse away-game records than Miami (17-22) are both in the West: Minnesota (darn it, Thibs!) and the Spurs (gasp! I wonder Kawhi that is…) How does one know, for certain, that a restaurant's She-Crab Soup is 100% feminine? Dare I ask? Stuff like this keeps me up at night. (photo credit above: the supreme @DOLLAONE on Twitter) Happy 404 Day! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  8. heat center trying to read the Hawks’ pick-and-roll scheme. The Miami heat have no reason to mess around. Winning either of two back-to-back games against our Atlanta Hawks, beginning tonight with the good guys down in South Beach (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Sun in MIA) before returning to play here, or another loss by the Pistons, would be enough to secure a playoff spot for just the second time in the four seasons since Mr. Not One Not Two skipped town. Everyone, aside from Do-It-Yourself Dion Waiters, is healthy enough to suit up for coach Erik Spoelstra, tonight and tomorrow. Following a Tank-busting overtime home loss to Brooklyn, Miami (41-36) has also had two full days off to rest, recalibrate and prepare for whatever Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer has up his sleeve. So, why is the team’s highest paid player deciding that now is a good time to make himself the center of attention? “Why we matching up?”, notoriously brooding big-man Hassan Whiteside complained to media outlets, following Saturday’s 110-109 loss to the Nets at AmericanAirlines Arena, when Coach Spo countered Coach Kenny’s small-ball lineups with one of his own. “We got one of the best centers in the league,” Whiteside asserted to the postgame microphones, quite self-assuredly in third person before again begging the question, “Why we matching up? A lot of teams don’t have a good center. They’re going to use their strength. It’s bull(Shinola!). It’s really bull(pucky!), man. There’s a lot of teams that could use a center. (Shucks!). That’s bull(chips!).” Whiteside had returned to action in just his second game after missing most of March with a strained hip, and Spoelstra was already being cautious by restricting him to under 20 minutes in the prior game. But if Hassan sincerely wanted to be in the Nets game at crunch time, he didn’t help matters by calling for a sub just under five minutes into the start of the game. Instead of Whiteside, who sat through the final quarter plus OT on Saturday, and rookie Bam Adebayo (DNP-ankle, but available today) Coach Spo relied on his floor-spacing Fabio, Kelly Olynyk, to relieve James Johnson at the 5-spot. That irritated Whiteside enough to disrespect his head coach’s “authoritah.” “I don’t know if it’s because I was on a minutes restriction,” Whiteside continued, characteristically digging himself a deeper hole. “The minutes have been like that all year.” When queried whether this issue made him question his future with the heat, Hassan (two more seasons guaranteed for $51.5 million) couldn’t resist chomping on the bait. “I don’t know. I don’t know.” This is no way to head into April, as your team sizes itself up for one of Boston, Cleveland or Toronto in the first round. Before Whiteside could infest the rest of the locker room with his ball-so-hard attitude, Miami wanted to fine him. Along with the undisclosed payment from Whiteside came a begrudging apology. “…I could have handled it different,” Whiteside explained to the Palm Beach Post and the Miami Herald after practice on Monday. “But I got so caught up in wanting to get that win. I get real competitive,” he added, perhaps confusing impetuousness with competitiveness. “I really want to be out there. But I just trust coach’s decision.” Spoelstra tried to put a nice face on the whole ordeal with a bulleted response on Monday. “We’re going to help him continue to learn how to be a better professional, how to be a better leader in this locker room, how to be a better teammate and, ultimately, how to be a better winner.” Adding levity to the PowerPoint he conveyed to Whiteside, Coach Spo quipped, “If guys want to throw a few eggs at my car after the game, or T.P. [toilet paper] my house, that’s actually a better way to deal with it than speaking to all of you [in the lamestream media] about their frustrations.” All’s well that ends well in South Beach. That is, so long as tonight’s game ends well for the home team. Even with the levied fine, Miami can expect to endure more moody-blues if they fail to clinch tonight, and if Whiteside is on the bench at any time that the Hawks’ Miles Plumlee is ballin’ outta control. One of the teams that couldn’t use a decent center right now is Atlanta. Dewayne Dedmon isn’t just getting his double-doubles (#14 versus Orlando on Sunday, shooting 3-for-7 on threes, five double-doubs in his past seven games) by parking himself around the post and demanding the rock. As sketchy as the Hawks’ overall offensive efficiency can be (99.8 March O-Rating, 3rd-worst in NBA) with so many moving parts, it improves when Dedmon’s paired with John Collins, whose surefire 58.5 FG% (6th in NBA) is presently the best shot accuracy by an NBA rookie since Otis Thorpe in 1984-85. Collins and Dedmon with the standard starting backcourt (Taurean Prince, Kent Bazemore, Dennis Schröder) produced a positive +8.1 Net Rating (109.9 O-Rating) in 118 minutes together. Replacing Dedmon and Collins with Ersan Ilyasova and the lumbering Plumlee, Atlanta’s efficiencies plummeted to minus-7.0 Net and 100.2 O-Ratings, in thrice the floor time (352 minutes). Hopefully, Hassan is taking notes when he’s not in the game. The struggles for Whiteside (career-highs of 19.9 points, 16.3 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.1 steals per-36; 25.6 MPG, lowest since his magical renaissance in 2014-15; 54.4 2FG%, lowest since 2011-12) beyond the boxscore is exemplary of Today’s NBA, where the Howards and Drummonds of the world are having a hard time coping with their growing disutility. The seven-footer blessed with a 7-foot-7 wingspan aches to dominate with his post-up game, at a time when the number-crunchers suggest that even a decent day exploiting mismatches around the rim can prove to be under-efficient for the larger team offense. Miami has a tepid 104.6 O-Rating (19th in NBA; up to 109.1 and 11th since the Break, mostly without Whiteside available) and moves up-and-down the court with a bottom-five pace (97.6 possessions per-48, 26th in NBA; up to 17th since the Break). It wasn’t like there was some behemoth tempering the heat while Whiteside looked on. It was Brooklyn’s swingmen, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Caris LeVert, flummoxing Miami counterparts Josh Richardson, Wayne Ellington and Justise Winslow. Relying on the pick-and-roll, featuring James Johnson in tandem with Goran Dragic in the fourth quarter, helped Miami narrow the gap and force overtime in the first place. Winslow sunk a three-pointer to give Miami a 37-26 lead on the Nets early in the second quarter. Tellingly, Miami didn’t convert on another one for the remainder of Saturday’s contest (0-for-7 3FGs, after starting out 7-for-10), including OT. Failing to LTMFF won’t fly if they expect to make any pleasant noise in the playoffs, and Spoelstra recognizes Whiteside can’t help in that department. Ellington went full Ogunbowale on the Dennis Schröder-less Hawks when they last visited Miami, saving the Whiteside-less heat’s bacon by contributing 19 second-quarter points while nailing 6 of 8 threes in a 104-93 win. But it wasn’t exactly Wayne’s World when the heat (again without Whiteside; also missing Goran Dragic, James Johnson, and Winslow) played in Atlanta two months later. Ellington ran into foul trouble and shot just 1-for-6 from the field, and the shorthanded heat (7-for-25 3FGs) proved to be no match for Schröder and Taurean Prince, the swingman who played less like a frog (team-highs of 24 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks, a DiVincenzoan 4-for-7 3FGs) in his Hawks’ 110-104 victory. Despite 7 critical turnovers in the October meeting, Prince balanced things out with a game-high three steals plus team-high scoring (20 points) in that contest as well. Vital to victory for Miami, today and tomorrow against Atlanta (22-55), will be clipping the Hawks’ wings (including Prince and Tyler Dorsey, whose 19 bench points helped subdue the Magic on Sunday) while finding some consistent offensive attack at the same position. Richardson, Ellington Tyler Johnson and the returning Dwyane Wade shot a combined 13-for-38 from the field against the Nets. Another player who knows a thing or two about airing his grievances through the media, Dragic (2 assists in 39 minutes, 4 TOs vs. BRK; DNP @ ATL on Dec. 18) must be a better facilitator, finding shooters and passers in position to finish perimeter plays off his drives. Miami is 5-2 when Dragic (25.5 assist%, lowest in his Miami-era) registers 8 or more assists. But the fact that this sample represents less than a tenth of the first-time All-Star’s 72 appearances is the rub, Whiteside aside. It’s on the heat to put hard-charging Detroit firmly in the rear-view mirror, and build positive momentum toward the playoff’s opening round, preferably in a way that better incorporates Whiteside as he returns to full health. Spoelstra will need all the time he can to craft a winning strategy against far more arduous opponents than the Hawks. He can’t be wasting precious time scrubbing breakfast off his car. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  9. ~lw3
  10. Okay, Cavs, slow down for a minute lol ~lw3
  11. I was gonna go with "Miami in a Vice," but that's not really true for them. Still, they'd have loved to have him at playoff time. ~lw3
  12. CAPTION: Excited fans line up on Sunday to buy tickets to Atlanta Hawks games Never say never! Sure, the Atlanta Hawks haven’t claimed a win in over the visiting Miami heat (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Sun in MIA) in 22 months. Yes, the Hawks are crawling back home on a four-game losing streak, after blowing another fourth-quarter lead, this time a seven-point advantage with seven minutes to go against the worst team in the West. Yes, the chance for another victory anytime soon looks dire. But, you know what? People used to say you would never see Chick-fil-A open on a Sunday. And look what happened! All it took was a spark. Sure, in this case, a spark that turned into a blaze that shut down The World’s Busiest Airport for almost a full day, but still! Sometimes, a spark is all it takes to turn “never!” into “well, except that one time…” Who could provide the win-kindling spark for the Hawks tonight at the Highlight Factory? Atlanta (6-23, NBA-low 3-10 at home) will need more than another double-double from Dennis Schröder. Dennis displayed his worthiness as an NBA starter back in 2014-15, when he filled in for Jeff Teague on ten occasions and logged five double-doubles, four of them in victorious fashion. He collected ten more point+assist double-doubles as a full-time starter last season, Atlanta going 7-3 in those regular-season contests. Yet through 27 starts this season, the mercurial point guard has just a pair of doub-doubs, and his 18 points (season-high-tying 8 FT attempts) and 11 assists at Memphis on Friday were insufficient for the Hawks to avoid succumbing to a Grizzlies team that was sorely missing Mike Conley. Friday was only the fourth time this season Dennis (6.7 APG, 5th in the NBA East) led all players (his own team and his opponents) in assists for a game, and it was the first time that happened in back-to-back games. The diminution of knowledgeable veteran talent, by design, has been obvious from the jump. But Atlanta needs more than Schröder making plays to win games, and that means better play is needed from his backup and his fellow starters. “Tough game… too many turnovers,” tweeted player-analyst Malcolm Delaney following yesterday’s loss. Ironic joking aside, this was an astute observation. Fans have clamored for the supplanting of Delaney with Isaiah Taylor as Schröder’s primary backup, once the latter returned just weeks ago from an eye injury. But there are signs that Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer is looking for other answers, and Taylor has struggled lately to support his own cause. Opponents are clogging the paint on Taylor with greater propensity, daring him to either shoot or dish the rock, with mixed results at best. He’s made just two of his last 11 field goals over the past four games, his minutes dwindling from 18 last week in Cleveland to 13 versus Detroit and ten in Bluff City. While he clearly outclasses Delaney as a defender at the point guard position, Taylor’s turnover rate (13.1 per 100 possessions) threatens to eclipse Delaney’s (13.3, although that value has declined now that he plays more off-ball). With Taylor handling the basketball, the bench squandered the Hawks’ early gains against the Pistons on Thursday, and there was a similar effect one evening later. At critical junctures against the Grizzlies, in lieu of Taylor, Coach Bud deployed lineups featuring as many as four play-setting swingmen, ranging from the perpetual high-wire act of Kent Bazemore (last 3 games: 14 assists, *only* six TOs) to the outright calamitous, trial-by-fire DeAndre’ Bembry (21.5 TOs per 100 possessions, team-high among non-frontcourt players). Taylor’s decision-making and execution needs to be of a nature that averts Coach Bud’s propensity for excessive lineup tinkering. Friday’s defeat also wasted a solid perimeter-shooting effort from Taurean Prince, who was 5-for-8 from three-point territory but was not the decisive factor the Hawks needed inside (1-for-6 2FGs, 3 D-Rebs, 1 assist, 4 TOs in 36 minutes). Prince and Atlanta’s help defenders were the perfect pest for Memphis’ Marc Gasol (8 TOs vs. ATL), but the Hawks lacked a balancing interior presence. Budenholzer supported the intrinsically overmatched Miles Plumlee with only a minutes-restricted John Collins (2 FGAs vs. MEM in 24 minutes; 4 assists, 4 steals, 2 blocks) off the bench, while Ersan Ilyasova and Luke Babbitt could do but so much to keep random Grizzlie bigs off the glass. All of these factors overtax Schröder, who will already have his hands full if he and Miami’s Goran Dragic spend this evening not-stopping one another from getting into the paint. Miami (15-14) has won four of its past five games, but The Dragon hasn’t been at his fire-spitting best on offense recently (last 3 games: 30.3 FG%, 14.3 3FG%, 61.5 FT%). Not having center Hassan Whiteside (bruised knee) around as a threat has been a factor, but Goran has amassed a season-high of just seven assists four times this season. Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra could use more effective command of the offense from Dragic (4.4 APG) tonight, as the team’s second-leading dime-dropper, forward James Johnson (4.1 APG), was left behind in South Beach to heal his ankle bursitis, and guard Dion Waiters (3.7 APG, 39.2 FG%) remains as erratic as ever. Complicating matters for Coach Spo is that Dragic (elbow) is questionable to play tonight himself, while Waiters is fighting through an illness, potentially leaving Miami with no more than eight healthy suit-able players. Neither Dragic nor Waiters participated in shootaround this morning. Dragic’s absence may lead to a healthy heaping of Tyler Johnson at the point, and hopes that gunner Wayne Ellington (6-for-8 3FGs vs. ATL on Oct. 23, team-high 42.8 3FG%) can provide more deep-threat magic. Miami is thin at small forward behind Josh Richardson, as Justise Winslow (knee strain) is doubtful to appear, while Rodney McGruder (tibia) and Okaro White (foot) are out indefinitely. Jordan Mickey and Kelly Olynyk should provide some energy up front, with Bam Adebayo filling the gaps behind them. Even without Whiteside, thanks to this trio, the heat have posted the second-best D-Rating (96.9 opponent points per 100 possessions) over this 4-1 stretch that includes road wins at Brooklyn, Memphis (by 25 points just one week ago) and Charlotte. But keeping up that defensive intensity will be tough without a catalyst like Johnson available. Offensively for the Hawks, there should be very little to keep Schröder and (knock-on-wood) Taylor from connecting above the rim with Collins, or around the 3-point arc with Tyler Cavanaugh (9-for-18 3FGs, 6.2 RPG in his past five appearances). Collins will hopefully be available to provide more significant fullcourt production with added floortime. The latter rookie is the league’s newest one-way player after signing a contract to stick around for a full season. Perhaps, Tyler The Three-ator was DNP-CD’d in Memphis just to ensure he didn’t injure his signing hand, but he should ((looks at Bud)) have a key role in tonight’s outcome, especially if he rebounds well. Indeed, Atlanta has made a cottage industry out of blowing games against severely short-handed outfits (don’t catch this bug tonight, Falcons!), and that didn’t begin with this season. But does that mean you should never count on the Hawks to handle their business, particularly in front of an at least lukewarm home crowd starving for a feel-good win? As Agent 007 might suggest, never say never again! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  13. That Moment When you realize Hassan Whiteside outweighs you by 75 pounds. Back to back, Jack! There is no time to dwell too hard on yesterday’s disappointing loss in Brooklyn for the Atlanta Hawks, who have flown down the Atlantic and will take on a Miami heat team (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports SUN in MIA) that, like the Hawks, will be playing without their leading scorer. Hawks players and pregame thread writers alike must steel themselves for a lot of these quick turnarounds. The NBA tried to stretch out the schedule to add a couple weeks’ worth of rest time, but the Hawks might be benefitting as little as anyone in the league from the revision. This is the back end for the first of 15 back-to-back contests Atlanta will play in this season. Only Memphis, Sacramento, and Utah will have to suffer through such series more often (16 times each). The Eastern clubs with the fewest (13)? Cleveland, and Miami. Nice work, schedule-makers. Including overlaps, tonight will be the first among 16 occasions this season that the Hawks are participating in their third game in four calendar days. Tonight also initiates first of 17 times this season that they’ll have played in their fourth game over the course of six nights. One silver lining is that of the Hawks’ back-to-backs, just seven of those pairs will be exclusively on the road (only Charlotte, with six, has less). And Atlanta (1-2) can scratch one of that septet off the list today in South Beach. As exemplified by the old, notorious Hotel Mutiny off Biscayne Bay, by the 1980s rise of big-time college football in nearby Coral Gables, and by the flashy but shady characters regularly seen on “Miami Vice”, Miamians with money know very well how to stash their cash. The same seems true on the hardwood, where team president Pat Riley spends owner Micky Arison’s dough like it’s going out of style, much unlike Riley’s impeccable fashion sense. With the dead-money owed to Chris Bosh included, Miami’s $126 million total team payout is among the top of the league. And there’s not much relief in sight over the next two seasons for a franchise that just ducked the punitive repeater tax by the skin of their teeth back in 2016. Hassan Whiteside leads the way, currently kicking off year two of a 4/98 max contract that, for this year and next, sits just below what the team still must dole out to Bosh. The year before locking down Whiteside, they made-good with Goran Dragic on a 5/90 near-max deal. This offseason, they brought back James Johnson on a 4/60 tip, and Dion Waiters with a 4/52. They re-signed eternal heat big-man Udonis Haslem, who is free to re-up with this club for as long as he’s willing and able, and backup guard Wayne Ellington, of whom Riley noted to the Sun-Sentinel, “It would have killed me to let him go.” Former Celtic Kelly Olynyk got himself a 4/50 deal, too. Josh Richardson was rewarded with a 4/42 contract extension that kicks in next season. The poison pill Miami agreed to swallow to keep 2016 restricted free agent Tyler Johnson from bolting to Brooklyn? That won’t kick in until next year, either, tripling his current salary to over $19 million per year. The slowly developing Justise Winslow’s third-year option got picked up. Excepting the killer-threat Ellington and Haslem, all of the aforementioned are on guaranteed salaries in 2018-19. One wonders, to what end? Erik Spoelstra is a fine, proven NBA head coach, and there is ample talent and depth on this roster to reach the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. But this is a lot of spending, now and in the foreseeable future, for a team that’s a nice ragtag bunch, but from whom hardly anyone projects big things. In this season alone, 22 of 23 ESPN prognosticators (the esteemed Amin Elhassan being the exception), are rolling with Washington as the head of the class in the Southeast Division, with Miami situated closer to Charlotte than the Wizards in most minds. If this remains the case going into 2019, without a healthy and MVP-caliber Whiteside by then, it is easy to envision the heat’s spending scheme toppling fast. Tonight, Miami will soldier on without Whiteside, who beasted in a losing effort during the season-opener at Orlando (26 points, 22 rebounds), but suffered a bone bruise in his left knee in the third quarter. It’s the same spot, he noted, where he hurt himself colliding with Taurean Prince, during the heat’s preseason-opener versus Atlanta. The good news for the heat (1-1) is they showed they can play well, at least offensively, without him in the lineup. Despite the Pacers’ Victor Oladipo finding himself unfettered for much of Saturday night, plus Al Jefferson finding a fountain-of-youth, the heat were able to avoid squandering a 21-point lead to Indiana and held on for the 112-108 win. The originator of “I Dont wanna be here,” Goran Dragic (7-for-11 2FGs, 2-for-2 3FGs vs. IND) had his inside-outside game working as well as ever, while Josh Richardson (8 rebounds, 7 defensive) and James Johnson did a lot of the dirty work (8 assists, 5 blocks) so replacement center Jordan Mickey wouldn’t have to. Dennis Schröder will have his share of rough patches during this season, especially when his fellow Hawks fail to adequately move, get open, and hit jumpshots (teammates 7-for-23 3FGs @ BKN). But Hawks fans will get hopefully just a taste of how arduous an evening without their lead guard in tow could be. Schröder (5-for-18 2FGs, 0-for-4 3FGs on Sunday) sprained an ankle in yesterday’s 116-104 loss to Brooklyn, shortly after the Hawks made a final charge to tie the game at 99 apiece in the fourth quarter. Despite a harrowing day shooting the rock, Dennis did manage to reach 8 assists (2 TOs) and sink all seven of his free throw attempts to help keep Atlanta in the running. He was also a defensive sieve (minus-12 +/- in 31 minutes) versus the Nets’ D’Angelo Russell. Yet it remains to be seen how much Malcolm Delaney (minus-9 in 22 minutes, 1-for-5 FGs, 4 assists, 1 TO) can improve upon that defensive effort tonight. Whether the assignment falls more heavily upon Delaney or Kent Bazemore, the Hawks will have their hands full staying in front of Dragic. The heat guard’s 11.9 drives per game last season (52.8 FG%) were surpassed only by Schröder (12.3) and Thomas. Not far behind Dragic in driving to the hoop last season was Waiters (11.0 drives per game, 6th-most in NBA), whose 12.6 assist percentage even eclipsed Dragic’s 11.0, although he shot poorly when calling his own number (42.8 FG%). Hawks wing players Bazemore, Prince, and Marco Belinelli need to use active hands to limit and deflect the drive-and-kickouts by heat guards and wings. Tonight’s game will also grant Hawks fans a chance to see what it looks like to pull the plug on the stop gap at the 4… although it’s arguable how much gap-stopping Ersan Ilyasova (27.8 FG%) has done to opponents, when he’s not laying out for drawn charges. Ilyasova strained his left knee and will be on the shelf along with Schröder tonight. Ersan’s absence means that we will (should? Pretty please, Coach Bud?) see more pairing of rookie forward John Collins with center Dewayne Dedmon in this game. Collins collected the first of hopefully many double-doubles in his career on Sunday (14 points, 13 boards in just 21 bench minutes). But he and Dedmon have struggled to stay out of foul trouble, so Mike Muscala and former heat player Luke Babbitt (41.4 3FG% for MIA in 2016-17) will have significant roles as well in the rotation today. Luke got a quick hook after failing to contain the Nets’ Trevor Booker n Sunday, and it may not be wise to attach him to James Johnson today. But Babbs has a jumper that must not go unnoticed (by his own teammates, anyway) whenever he’s in this game. Dedmon appears increasingly comfortable joining Babbitt and Moose as perimeter options, so Delaney and Baze would do well not to over-dribble and over-think things as ballhandlers, instead finding halfcourt opportunities to drive and turn the heat defense inside-out. Miami opponents have turned the ball over on just 12.4 percent of possessions (2nd-lowest in NBA). Especially without Whiteside around to help heat defenders, the on-ball pressure might only be in the heads of those in charge of directing the Atlanta offense. With Dedmon and Collins leading the way for the team, the Hawks’ 5.3 screen assists per game rank second in the league, behind only Quin Snyder’s Jazz (5.7) at this early stage. “Lots of good things from the first 3 games,” the sunny-side-up Baze offered, in truly non-Bledsoe fashion, on Twitter in the aftermath of Sunday’s loss, “Have to learn how to do it for 48!” For an under-experienced bunch playing at least 48 minutes at a high tempo, and given limited chances for rest in between, Hawks players indeed must figure things out in real time, taking advantage of winning opportunities as they arise, rather than squandering them. If the Hawks do manage to figure it out, some of them might even find Pat Riley chilling behind a palm tree next summer, with their next paycheck in hand. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  14. “Y’all still got a roster spot open? Just asking for my brother Zoran.” And down the stretch they crawl! The Southeast Division banner remains up for grabs, and the red-hot Washington Wizards and the Atlanta Hawks are making moves in the chase for that top spot and, perchance, a first-round homecourt seed. But now, there’s a third team coming around the outside, looking to do more than just show. It’s the hard-charging Miami heat, who are in the house tonight at Philips Arena (8:00 PM Eastern, 1:00 AM if you’re Dennis Schröder; Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Sun in MIA). Are you constantly worried about Losing Something For Nothing? Imagine being hardly three seasons removed from having LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh in your stead, and having a handful of exceptions and cap space to show for that. Coach Spo has made the most of a rough situation even while his team riddled with constant injuries to role players. Just the idea of postseason play was laughable back in mid-January, when the heat were palling around with Brooklyn in the basement of the East. Then came a fiery 14-2 stretch that has Erik Spoelstra’s club within 2.5 games of the 8-seed. Yes, those two defeats came at the hands of the 76ers and Magic. But any notion that their recent 13-game winning streak was an oddly long blip was quashed when they walked into Houston and grounded the Rockets before going into the All-Star Break. The Hawks (32-24) know how good the heat (25-32) can become, even without guard Josh Richardson (foot sprain), the starting 2-guard who rejoins the lineup tonight after a 19-game absence. Richardson’s departure allowed Dion Waiters to step in and do Dion Waiters things (21.0 PPG, 5.1 APG, 46.6 3FG% since the win streak began on Jan. 17). Waiters is just one of four heat players nailing threes at a minimum 40-percent clip since mid-January, including lead guard Goran Dragic (48.4 3FG%), hired-gun Wayne Ellington (40.0%), and the stretchy Luke Babbitt (44.4%). Richardson’s replacement in the lineup, Rodney McGruder (38.8 3FG%) isn’t all that far behind. The Hawks have to figure out how to close out opponents like Miami properly around the perimeter, and the return of (a hopefully healthy) Thabo Sefolosha to the lineup should help in that regard. Atlanta foes shoot 42.1 3FG% from the right corner, 37.8 3FG% from the left side. The only playoff team that allows teams higher corner shot percentages, Denver, is a half-game away from falling to 9th out West. Since Sefolosha aggravated his groin injury back on January, the left-corner defense has been great (NBA-best 21.3 opponent 3FG%), but the right-corner D has sagged (47.3 opponent 3FG%, 3rd-worst in NBA). Being able to mix Sefolosha’s minutes in with rookie wings Taurean Prince and DeAndre’ Bembry will make things easier on coach Mike Budenholzer to provide fuller halfcourt coverage. His Hawks are 7-19 when opponents nail more than 37 percent on triples, a gaudy 25-4 otherwise. The heat barely cleared the bar by shooting 37.5% on threes during their 116-93 drubbing of the Hawks down in Miami on February 1. But Atlanta was much worse, shooting 26.9% from deep to stretch their two-game malaise versus Miami to 11-for-45 3FGs on the season. Compounding matters were virtual no-show efforts (irony alert) from Schröder (12 points, 2 assists, 4 TOs, one rebound in 26 minutes), Dwight Howard (2-for-6 FGs in 25 minutes), and Paul Millsap (9 points, 4-for-9 2FGs in 24 minutes), each of whom must elevate their production when their teammates are cold. As was the case in Miami’s recent win over Atlanta, Hassan Whiteside (18 points, 18 rebounds) stepped up in the heat’s last game in Houston (23 points, 14 rebounds and 5 blocks). He’s continually sore about the laurels thrown at higher-regarded and not-more-accomplished bigs like Porzingis, Antetokounmpo, and Embiid. He’s also sore from his semi-flop, courtesy of Prince’s foul late in the February 1 contest, that left him singing like Snow Patrol: “If I just lay here…” The ensuing reaction from Whiteside’s sell cost Number One Super Guy James Johnson a fine, one which Hassan vowed to repay. He’d love another go at “fake tough guy” Prince, but his bigger priority should be to again outshine Howard, who schooled the young big man the last time these teams faced off on this floor (23 points, 17 boards, 4 assists). That game resulted in a 103-95 win for the Hawks on December 7, a margin that only grew close because of a fourth-quarter spurt from sixth-man guard Tyler Johnson (27 points, 5 assists vs. ATL on Dec. 7). Tonight, Dragic and Johnson will try to exploit a Hawks team that is suddenly short on experienced ballhandlers. Traveling to Germany without his visa, Dennis had to deal with some overseas shenanigans trying to return, causing him to miss yesterday’s practice and compelling the Hawks to suspend him for tonight’s game. The suspension gives Malcolm Delaney his first start tonight. Starters Kent Bazemore and Tim Hardaway, Jr. will offer some support, and the returning Lama Patterson (signed for the balance of the season, along with Ryan Kelly) will be available. But the onus is on Delaney to provide significant, productive minutes at the point. Delaney has thus far been unable to balance the need to provide an occasional offensive spark with the ability to set up teammates. Tonight, he’ll be charged with doing both. In ten games where he has scored in double digits, Malcolm has totaled 18 assists and 16 turnovers. In the other 46 games (4.6 PPG), he has averaged 2.9 assists and 1.3 TOs. Backed by his team’s unwavering commitment, Schröder has coasted at times during the season, but Coach Bud has had few recourses to this point. The team is in search of a veteran to help back these two point guards up, but hopefully the reasons why won’t become painfully obvious tonight. Delaney will get some help with a new perimeter shot-maker on the roster. How do you rid yourself of two players and improve your depth at forward at the same time? Mike Scott and Tiago Splitter are gone, and Ersan Ilyasova adequately takes their place. Previously Philly’s leading scorer not named Embiid (career-best 14.3 PPG), Ilyasova’s jumper has cooled (23.4 February 3FG%) in recent weeks, but not so much that he wouldn’t be a welcome addition to the Hawks roster behind Millsap. Getting spot-up shots from Ilyasova and fellow bench-mate Mike Dunleavy, Jr. should stretch the floor and boost the Hawks’ woeful bench production, assuming each of the team’s bigs and ballhandlers make efforts to draw defenders inward and find them open. Drawing early foul trouble out of Whiteside will be the body blow that pulls his fellow heat defenders off the three-point line and sets up Atlanta for better-quality looks later in the game. On this High Voltage Friday, up against an amped Miami squad, the Hawks can ill afford another power outage to start this stretch run toward the postseason. Which Hawks will step up and electrify this crowd tonight? Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  15. “We always hang in a Buffalo Stance…” No beads for you, Bud! Well, it’s not set-in-stone quite yet. But Atlanta Hawks’ Mike Budenholzer and his coaching staff probably won’t be heading to The Big Easy for any pre-Mardi Gras action, at least not without buying a ticket. At the minimum, the Hawks must win three straight games, beginning with a road win tonight versus the Miami heat (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Sun in MIA), and then hope for some divine intervention. Nonetheless, it’s probably for the best that someone other than the Hawks’ coaching crew is wasting time fake-game-planning for Paul Millsap and the Eastern Conference All-Stars. A couple weeks of rest, re-assessment, and re-calibration should prove beneficial for a staff and roster that endured some humbling defeats during the first half of the season, but also pulled a few plums out of the pie. 28 victories at this point of the season (11-4 since Christmas Day, 2nd in the East; 14-10 at home and on the road) is above most outsider expectations, given the sea-changes at several positions. But the Hawks’ positioning in the NBA standings also reflects how much more they could have accomplished by now, with a little tightening-up and strategic adjustments on both ends of the floor. Despite the departure of Kyle Korver, the Hawks have improved their perimeter shooting significantly (39.4 January 3FG%, 6th in NBA; 32.6% and 29th in NBA before last month). The rise is good enough that, apparently, the memo has been passed on to Dwight Howard: Budball is back in season. We’ve had many chuckles at Al Horford’s expense over the Hawks’ rise to modest respectability in the defensive rebounding department. But in the past month, Atlanta’s 74.0 D-Reb% was not a laughing matter, in a virtual tie with Milwaukee as the worst in the league. The NBA’s leading cherry-picker (4.3 O-Rebs per game), Howard is indeed curbing his appetite for second-chance opportunities (3.4 O-Rebs per game in January, down from 5.4 in December). But his deep positioning for post-up and lob plays diminishes Atlanta’s defensive cohesion, whenever opponents get live-ball stops and move in transition. The thin bench options behind Howard and Millsap only exacerbate the defensive rebounding issues, and the rush by teammates to help compensate inside are part of the reason the Hawks slack on opponents attacking from the corners. Atlanta is one of just four teams, and the only team in the East (Dallas, Phoenix, Sacramento), allowing foes to hit on over 40 percent of threes from both the left and right corners. Beyond getting back in position for rebounds, Dwight also finds himself increasingly out of position to help with blocks (2+ swats just once in his last 20 games; 12 times in his first 20 games). Rectifying defensive positioning and activity can enhance the Hawks’ already solid defensive rating (6th in the NBA since January 1), allowing them to sustain competitive ball even when they’re amidst the occasional offensive swoon. Howard has to entrust his teammates, as they execute their first-shot plays, and abandon the offensive paint quicker. That’s particularly if he is to help the Hawks get over their first-quarter malaise (minus-5.7 1st quarter net rating, 2nd-worst in East, slightly worse than Miami’s minus-5.3). It’s apropos that the heat are the hottest team in the East right now, albeit a tad startling. When last we left Erik Spoelstra’s club, Miami, losers at Philips Arena by a 103-95 score on December 7, were shorthanded and in the middle of a rough slide. Through January 13, they had won just once in 11 games, just twice in 15 games, just four times in 22 games. They’re still shorthanded even today. Josh McRoberts (foot stress fracture) and Justise Winslow (labrum tear) are both probably out for the season. Josh Richardson (sprained foot) hasn’t played for weeks, Luke Babbitt remains questionable with an injured ankle, and James Johnson (probable) suffered a shoulder stinger in his last game. But just as things started looking bleak, the heat came out of nowhere like a Royal Rumble-winning signature move. “It’s the East,” Dion Waiters reasoned to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, “You can win five games, and be right back in the playoff hunt.” The heat went on to prove his assertion by rattling off eight consecutive victories, a streak highlighted by Waiters serving up back-to-back game-winning threes to topple the Warriors and Nets last week. Dion himself missed a chunk of time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day due to a groin tear, and the never gun-shy gunner has enlivened Miami’s offense (27th in NBA for O-Rating, but 13th since Jan. 15) by simply picking up where he left off. “I’d rather go 0-for-30 than 0-for-9,” Waiters (21.8 PPG, 48.9 3FG%, 4.8 APG during the win streak), the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week, postulated yesterday, “because, you go, 0-for-9, that means you stopped shooting. That means you lost confidence.” One wonders if the Philly native followed that plagiarized quip with, “I don’t want to be the next Michael Jordan. I only want to be Kobe Bryant.” Now, despite being a half-game in front of the 15-seed, the heat (19-30) find themselves within four games of the 8-seed. Seeing badly-struggling teams in the 8-through-11 spots, Miami is starting to catch a case of playoff fever. “Same goal we had at the beginning: make the playoffs,” insisted forward James Johnson on Monday. It ain’t no (re)building year for us.” That we’ve gotten this far without mentioning Miami’s two leading scorers is telling. Hassan Whiteside’s double-doubles haven’t been as impactful (11.6 PPG and 10.7 RPG during streak, down from 16.6 and 13.7, respectively) as he continues to struggle staying on the floor and out of foul trouble. Count Blockula is adequately sealing off the rim, but he can’t quite sink his teeth into opposing ballhandlers beyond the restricted area, certainly not without some steady help. Despite his imposing presence, Miami allows an NBA-high 6.7 field goals per game in this interior zone (in-the-paint, non-restricted area). A sprained ankle was bothering Whiteside as he slogged through last week’s game in Brooklyn. Coach Spo sat him in favor of Willie Reed, who defensively keyed the heat’s fourth-quarter comeback from 18 points down, then put up 20 points on 9-for-11 shooting to help the heat win in Chicago two nights later. Reed (73.5 FG% during streak) has not been the only surprise coming off the bench in Miami’s depleted frontcourt. Okaro White is not your Superman. He’s not the kind of guy that you can leave open, and think that everything is okay (61.5 FG%, 55.6 3FG% in last 4 games). On Miami’s roster thanks to a roster exemption, the 6-foot-8 stretch-four has done quite a bit during his two 10-day-contract periods, making key plays during the winning streak to remain in Coach Spo’s late-game rotations. Okaro has been White-hot, enough so that the team is reportedly looking to give one of the other heatles the heave-ho before White’s contract expires on Sunday. Disappointing free agent pick-up Derrick Williams (48 seconds of play in the past two weeks) is the most likely suspect. Tonight’s game may represent a last-chance for Williams or Babbitt to prove their worth and, maybe, keep Pat Riley from cutting bait. Don’t expect any ring-chasing trade-deadline demands from Goran Dragic. Averaging 21.6 PPG (51.0 FG%, 42.3 3FG%) and 6.0 APG this month, the Dragon is quite satisfied with the direction of the team, especially compared to his situation in Phoenix where he was surrounded by redundancy. “I feel like I’m in the right spot,” he told the Palm Beach Post recently. “The city is awesome, the fans are great, the organization is the top organization in the league.” Waiters’ emergence as an extra-passer and a quick-fire shooter has relieved the point guards, helping Dragic (career-high 26.6 Usage%) and Tyler Johnson (27 points, 13 in 4th-quarter, 4-for-5 3FGs off-bench @ ATL on Dec. 7) cut down on the ballhandling turnovers. Improved shooting from Rodney McGruder (47.4 3FG% during streak; 30.7% before) and Wayne Ellington (4-for-9 3FGs @ ATL on Dec. 7) has further elevated the heat’s efficacy on offense. Tempering the heat tonight involves the Hawks’ defenders shooing Miami’s jump-shooters out of those pesky corners. Two days removed from a 68-minute war of attrition with the Knicks, it will really help Atlanta’s marathon men if a rehabbed Thabo Sefolosha (groin strain) can contribute on the floor. After helping Kent Bazemore chase Carmelo Anthony all over the court, Millsap should find more room to roam at both ends versus Miami’s limited stock of forwards. Reinforcements in the backcourt should include Lamar Patterson, who returns on a 10-day contract after a decent run in the D-League. Coach Bud likes Patterson’s passing and versatility, and may turn to him in mid-game situations if the lead is close, and to rookies DeAndre’ Bembry or Taurean Prince if the lead is huge in either direction. As one might imagine, Dennis Schroder has been a plus/minus negative, or a net-zero, in every game the Hawks have lost by double-digits. He caught somewhat of a defensive break without Derrick Rose on the floor Sunday, but he’ll need to make great reads to keep Dragic from feasting off screen plays and drives to the hoop. The Hawks remain ahead of only Cleveland (ha.) in allowing 0.90 points per possession and 50.5 eFG% on P&R ballhandler plays. Miami ranks second in the league with 34.8 drives per game, and pass out of them an NBA-high 38.1% of the time, but score only 44.3 FG% on shot attempts from those drives (27th in NBA; Atlanta’s 44.2% ranks 28th). Just a quick diversion from Millsap or Howard should be enough to produce wayward shots. While Atlanta’s swingmen need to anticipate Miami’s kickouts off penetration, their bigs must shield Whiteside and the heat from tip-ins and second-chance rebounds. Also, knowing the halfcourt habits of frontcourt personnel like Whiteside is key. The heat pass only 16.6% of the time (last in NBA, tied with Detroit) off of touches in the paint. When Whiteside brings the ball down below his shoulders, it could be ripe for the picking if the Hawks act quickly. Howard (five straight double-doubles) was sloppy during his last visit to Miami (5 TOs in 24 minutes, during a 93-90 Hawks win on Nov. 15). But he was downright masterful the last time the two teams met in December (9-for-11 from the field, 5-for-6 from the free throw line, 17 rebounds, four assists, one turnover), thoroughly flummoxing Whiteside for three quarters. The Hawks don’t need to engage in another 48-plus-minute dogfight, certainly not with James Harden and the Rockets lying in wait tomorrow in Dwight’s former stomping grounds. If Howard and the Hawks handle their transition and defensive tasks well, especially from the outset, they’ll find themselves in an ideal late-game situation tonight, one where Waiters’ hero-ball tactics won’t matter. As for Coach Bud? Heck, he can laissez les bon temps rouler just as well from home. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  16. MOOD. So, we’ve finally reached the floor, right? Right? All the signs are there that a bounce is in the cards for the Atlanta Hawks, as the Miami heat pay a visit to the Flickering Light Factory (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Sun in MIA). A little home cooking and practice, a tweak to the starting lineup, some recuperation time for the forwards. And an opponent that’s 7-14 and struggling to string complete nights together with an incomplete roster, arriving in town after a 114-103 loss to New York last night. I’ve already misspelled the heat’s hometown. Right now, it’s M*I*A*M*I. Goran Dragic strained a shoulder last night, shortly after healing his swollen ankle, and will try to give it a go after pacing the heat with 29 points (11-for-17 FGs). Dion Waiters got a tear in an unmentionable, barely-spellable area and is out of action. Josh Richardson is a no-go due to a sprained ankle, and Justise Winslow hasn’t played in nearly a month as he deals with a sprained wrist. James Johnson? Rotator cuff strain. Luke Babbitt? Hip flexor. Wayne Ellington just returned after sitting out the start of the season with a quad contusion, Derrick Williams just getting back up to speed last night after missing time with back spasms. There’s not even time to waste mentioning Chris Bosh anymore. I’m halfway expecting Radar, Hot Lips Houlihan, and Klinger in a muumuu to accompany coach Erik Spoelstra and the heat tonight. The Hawks (10-12), hoping to plug their seven-game losing streak, know that no one in the stands is suffering a case of fan-nesia. Or, at least, that’s what they should know. M*I*A*M*I last came to Philips Arena in February without top-scorer Dwayne Wade (knee), fellow All-Star Bosh (calf), or mega-rebounder Hassan Whiteside (suspended). Yet the Hawks, coming off the All-Star Break, allowed for The Josh McRoberts Variety Hour to air. McBob’s 19 points and 10 assists off the bench (plus Luol Deng’s 30 points) propelled the heat to an 115-111 victory. Atlantans know the heat could put Burnie in the lineup, and an inexcusable L for the Hawks could still not be ruled out. With so many walking wounded, who does Spoelstra turn to in a pinch this time? “He’s got better rookie Win Shares than Malcolm Delaney… MCGRUDER!” The undrafted K-State product in his first NBA season has been pushed front-and-center into the M*I*A*M*I starting lineup. Last season, Rodney helped lead their Sioux Falls affiliate to the D-League title. Currently on a nine-game Threak, McGruder is working in tandem with Ellington (and bench man Tyler Johnson) in hopes of spacing the floor for Dragic drives and Whiteside post maneuvers. They’ll be met tonight by Atlanta’s newly-formulated starting pair at the wing. Thabo Sefolosha filled in capably at small forward in place of Kyle Korver, who seemed to find some footing off the bench during the latest loss to OKC. Thabo will slide to small forward, and will be joined tonight by Tim Hardaway, Jr., who takes over at shooting guard while Kent Bazemore sits out a couple games to be treated for a sore knee. Timmy had 15 bench points, including 5-for-6 2FGs, in the Hawks’ 93-90 win at South Beach on November 15, back when things were going pretty good for his ballclub. He and Thabo combined for 5 of Atlanta’s 14 steals in that game, a tally the Hawks haven’t surpassed since (13 steals at OKC being the high-water mark lately). While the “TNT” duo has benefitted by being part of far more efficient bench rotations, Hardaway-Sefolosha has netted the Hawks +6.2 points per 100 possessions (as per Basketball-Reference). Throw in Paul Millsap (probable, while continuing to nurse a sore hip), and the trio leads the Hawks with +19.6 net points per-100. Today’s matchup of strategies will feature Hack-a-Hawk versus Hack-a-heat. M*I*A*M*I comes into this game as the league’s worst free throw shooting team (66.5 FT%), and the only other NBA squad clanking more than thirty percent of their shots are their hosts tonight, Atlanta shooting 69.9 FT%. After allowing the Knicks to pile up 56 points in the paint last night, versus their own 36, the heat will have little appetite for Millsap (4 missed FTs in Monday’s loss to OKC; 73.2 FT%, lowest in past three seasons) and Dwight Howard (career-low 48.3 FT%) getting easy buckets. Coach Spo will rotate in Udonis Haslem, Willie Reed and Williams (4 personals in 15 minutes vs. NYK), to help keep McRoberts (9 rebounds and 5 assists vs. NYK) and Whiteside (NBA-high 14.9 RPG; career-high 25 rebounds vs. ATL on Nov. 15; 23 points, 14 rebounds, 3 blocks vs. NYK) out of early foul trouble. M*I*A*M*I hopes the extra whistles will help slow down Mike Budenholzer’s preferred pace (101.5 possessions per-48, 6th in NBA; 102.7 before Nov. 18, 100.3 since) to one that’s more to their weathered 9-man rotation’s liking. The heat has once again called upon a shot doctor to help fix their free throw woes. Rob “The Shooting Guy” Fodor has long been in South Florida helping players with their busted shot mechanics, including the father of Hardaway (63.0 FT%, down from 89.3% last season), who starts tonight and could use a little tutelage as well. Fodor’s advice didn’t pay off at home for the heat against the Knicks (11 missed FTs in the 11-point loss; Whiteside 3-for-9). But Spoelstra is confident his team can turn it around, particularly in away games, where they have managed to shoot just a little better (67.8 road FT%). Dennis Schröder got a front-row view of a maestro in action on Monday, Russell Westbrook’s floor leadership on full-court display especially in crunch time. Still learning on-the-fly, Schröder (last 3 outings: 16.3 PPG, 46.5 FG%, 87.5 FT%, 8.3 APG, 1.3 TOs per game) has the benefit of scouting the league’s starting lead guards and picking up traits that could help his game as well. That includes the more experienced guards of the Southeast Division, like Dragic, who is about as good as can be when it comes to finishing in the paint. It’s easy to see why Schröder struggles at times to finish on drives to the hoop; Howard’s man is usually in the vicinity, rather than chasing pick-and-poppers outside the paint. Dennis makes 49.7% of his attempts within 10 feet of the hoop, with a much-higher proportion of attempts coming beyond 3 feet from the rim than in 2015-16. But the challenge is often the same for the point guard who plays alongside Whiteside. And yet Dragic continues to excel. Goran is a taller, sturdier guard, and while he has struggled mightily at times with two-point jumpers outside the paint, he remains surehanded when he gets inside. While his 57.4 at-rim FG% is the lowest since his rookie season, The Dragon still breathes fire within ten feet of the hoop (53.1 2FG%). Coupled with a career-best 42.1 3FG%, Dragic remains a reliable offensive asset whenever he calls his own number. He’s balancing his best scoring values (17.8 PPG) since his All-NBA 3rd Team and Most Improved Player campaign in 2013-14, with his best assist numbers (6.7 APG, 10th in NBA) since 2012-13. Schröder could find better looks around the rim tonight if he uses his speed to force the issue on the break. Dennis’ 1.4 PPG on fastbreaks is bottom-third among starting guards, and probably not where Budenholzer needs him to be considering the tempo the coach prefers. But Dennis has had to work with an assortment of starting lineup mates lumbering and laboring with lingering leg issues. With Hardaway and Sefolosha running the wings (and Korver waiting-in-the wings off the bench), Schröder’s enhanced activity in transition could be one spark Atlanta’s offense needs (NBA-low 92.3 O-Rating in last 20 days; Dallas and Philly rating 97.5; NBA-low 49.4 TS% since Nov. 18) to shake out of its doldrums. The Hawks should know better than to look down on its opponents, not the least of which because there are many fewer teams in the standings to look down upon. After climbing the Wall last night, Orlando has caught up with Atlanta at 10-12 (no matter the sport, we just can’t shake free of these Central Florida teams). Now, the heat have a chance to shrink their gap with the Hawks down to just 1.5 games. Despite their current record and their myriad injuries, M*I*A*M*I went 2-2 and 2-1 in road trips over the past three weeks, including a squeaker in Utah last Thursday. They would like to get this trek off to a roaring start before playing in a back-to-back at Cleveland and Chicago over the weekend. But a rested, refocused, resolute Hawks team won’t give their division-foe visitors the satisfaction this evening. Right? Right? Honor our past and present service members on this Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day! And Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  17. “8 Surefire Keys to Success: (1) Inherit Magic, Worthy and Kareem. (2) Inherit Ewing, beat the Bulls without MJ. (3) Go get Zo and Timmy. (4) Draft D-Wade. (5) Go get Shaq. (6) Go get LeBron, Bosh, and Ray. (7) ??? (8) PROFIT!” “And there’s the cowbell. Your final score from the Wigwam: the Anderson Packers 110, the Tri-Cities Blackhawks 87.” It took the franchise that is today the Atlanta Hawks just three games to fall below .500. Replacing the head coach early in the 1949-50 season to Red Auerbach slowed the slide, but didn’t end it. Despite three franchise moves, one NBA championship, three more Finals appearances, seven more Final Four appearances, and two more playoff visits, it would take the Hawks over 20 years before they concluded a season knowing they’ve won more games in their history than they’ve lost. Outlasting the Denver Nuggets at Wharton Field House in Tri-Cities’ October 1949 season-opener allowed this franchise to be one with more NBA victories (1) than defeats (0) on its ledger. They could not say that again until December 9, 1969, having relocated from Moline to Milwaukee to St. Louis and, finally, to Atlanta. That brief above-.500 status would disappear, in less than one calendar year. The Hawks slipped back into becoming a break-even franchise in November 1970, and kept right on slipping for most of the next seven years. When they reached that .500 status again, it was February 1989, and by then the Third Atlanta Renaissance was well underway. Sustaining regular season success for the longest stretch in its history, the Hawks maxed out (51.5 Win% all-time, 52.7% in Atlanta) after the strike-shortened 1998-99 season ended. When team management gambled on names like Rider, Reef, Robinson and Ratliff, Terry, Toine and Tyronn, the descent back into a losing legacy wouldn’t take long. “And there’s the horn. Your final score from Staples Center: the Los Angeles Lakers 106, and your Atlanta Hawks 90.” Mike Woodson had barely taken over the coaching reins from Terry Stotts when the loss on November 7, 2004 dropped the Hawks’ all-time record back below .500. The Hawks’ all-time-worst season record of 13-69 in 2004-05 created yet another ditch, one from which it would take over 12 years, nine consecutive playoff appearances and three head coaches just to try climbing out. As of today, with Mike Budenholzer running the show, the Hawks’ all-time record sits at 2,657 wins, and 2,658 losses. The Hawks have an opportunity to move back into above-.500 territory as a franchise if they can be victorious in this upcoming back-to-back series, both games showcasing a young and long-limbed opposing talent. They visit the heat tonight in Miami (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Sun in MIA), where center Hassan Whiteside has been racking up double-doubles (8 in 9 games; 23 points and 17 rebounds last night vs. SAS), mostly in a vacuum. In what seems like a broken record, the Hawks will then return home where an opponent enjoying several off-days awaits them. This time, it’ll be Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks, the franchise that replaced the Hawks up in Milwaukee. It took the heat (presently 87 games above .500 all-time) six seasons from their franchise start in 1988 to end a regular season with a winning record, and even that mark was a mere 42-40. Within a couple years, Pat Riley took over as coach and team president, and by 1996-97, Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway, Sr. were lighting the South Beach pilot. One reset to Dwyane Wade and Shaq, with Riley alternating between GM and coach, and the heat were celebrating their first championship in 2006. Miami was still 22 games below-.500 as a franchise, and minus-52 when The Big Three decided to set up shop there. Another reset to Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh, under the managerial eye of Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra, and by 2013 (now, officially, a “winning” NBA outfit) two more trophies had come down the pike. In the time it takes to abandon AmericanAirlines Arena, the heat are always doing something to have their fair-weather fans running right back toward the front doors. The takeaway from Miami’s less-than-three decades of NBA existence is clear. If you can turn around your franchise story quickly, within the span of the first two decades, the stench of past mistakes don’t stick around and hover over you for very long. No one’s around Miami to guffaw about the days of Rory Sparrow, Rony Seikaly, and Sherman Douglas, or the time they thought they hit the draft jackpot with “Baby Jordan” Harold Miner. No one recalls when the heat turned to Ricky Davis and went 15-67 (again) in 2007-08. Organizations long-associated with success are perceived as reloading and rebuilding, while others (Kings, Hawks, etc.) are perpetually presumed to be somehow regressing, no matter what they do. The Big Three are no longer suiting up for the heat, but Riley remains, primed for yet another reset. LeBron James surprised everyone with a move back to Ohio in 2014. Riley locked up Chris Bosh that summer to a long-term max-deal, but not Wade, the franchise face who had always seemed willingly deferential, salary-wise, for the sake of his team. Miffed by a lack of communication over the summer, free agent Wade decided to follow LeBron’s lead and headed for home. Meanwhile, an impasse over Bosh’s perilous health status has made the likelihood he’s played his last basketball for the heat a foregone conclusion. So, what’s left around here? “I don’t trust them anymore… they give promises they don’t keep.” “They,” to 2013-14 Third-Team All-NBA point guard Goran Dragic, were the Phoenix Suns, who continued to crowd him out of star-quality floor time with brutally redundant guard acquisitions. And “The Dragon” wasn’t shy about spewing fire upon his employers in public. In 2015, right before the deadline, he issued a trade ultimatum to his reluctant team, who had to be scratching their heads a bit. Dragic didn’t want a trade to a team with a better record than the Suns (one like, say, the then-red-hot Hawks). No, he demanded to be shipped to a team like Miami, one with reliable, accomplished stalwarts like Wade and Bosh on the roster. Together with an emerging pickup pivot in Whiteside, Dragic felt his addition would be enough to reignite the Superteam era in South Beach for years to come. Trusting Riley and the heat, Goran re-upped with the heat in the summer of 2015. Miami, Dragic conjectured, was an organization he could rely upon, one that would allow him to lead them back on the road to glory. Well, that turned out to be a bit of a miscalculation. Two postseasons later, Miami has one playoff series victory (thank you, Purple Shirt Guy) to show for its trouble. Wade and Bosh are on the outs, as are two first-round picks to Phoenix, including perhaps next summer’s top-7-protected pick. “We have a pick this year,” Riley insisted to recently, referring to this protected pick while tipping his hand as to his true feelings about this season’s aspirations. Meanwhile, Dragic (16.3 PPG, 5.9 APG, 48.3 3FG%) has slowed his roll, not the least of which due to a sprained ankle that has kept him on the shelf since injuring it last Thursday. Having just shedded his walking boot yesterday, his status for today’s contest remains questionable. Miami nearly bumped their heads on the repeater-tax ceiling last season, and now Riley is cleaning house by going young. “Nobody who was 30 and up was coming back,” stated Joe Johnson, a buyout-acquisition for last spring’s playoff run who now resides in Salt Lake City, to the Miami Herald this past weekend. Wade shouldn’t feel too bad, because Luol Deng didn’t get a call from Riley, either. In the starting lineup, Wade has become the shoot-first, shoot-last Dion Waiters (12-for-26!!! FGs, 27 points last night @ SAS), and their former All-Star Bosh was morphed into Luke Babbitt (Spoelstra switched to Derrick Williams last night, to little avail). Gerald Green left for greener pastures (he thinks), while Amar’e Stoudemire hopped over to Israel. And that leaves Dragic, aside from the statuesque Udonis Haslem the oldest active player on the roster, now age 30 with a gimpy ankle. Riley told “We feel that with Hassan, and with Justise (Winslow) and Tyler (Johnson) and Josh (Smith… just kidding! Richardson), and some of the new guys who we got this summer, four or five of those young guys can create a nucleus.” That quote literally highlights Dragic by omission. Dragic won’t get to steer his way toward a “trustworthy” NBA locale this time around. It appears Riley is shopping him around, hoping another first-round pick will land in his lap. Now the good news in Miami is, Whiteside is still here, and isn’t going anywhere. Yes, the heat are down to 2-7 on the season, losing last night in San Antonio, on Saturday to Joe’s Jazz, who themselves had a lot of missing pieces (Derrick Favors, George Hill, Alec Burks, Boris Diaw), and in Wade’s triumphant return to Miami last week. Yes, they’ve dropped five straight, and four of five at home. But Whiteside is certainly putting up the numbers, satisfying Fantasy GMs everywhere: NBA-high 14.9 RPG, 11 defensive; 2.4 BPG, third-best in the league. Among the NBA’s top-ten rebounders, only Anthony Davis’ 30.5 PPG eclipses Hassan’s 18.1. And who knows if Miami would have prevailed in their seven-game playoff series with Toronto, had Whiteside (and the Raptors’ Jonas Valanciunas) not gone down with injuries in Game 3, helping to make Bismack Biyombo a $72 million backup? How can Coach Spo channel his prized center’s efforts in a way that, Riley be damned, leads to more Ws? Whiteside hardly needs to compete with his own teammates for lob catches, rebounds and putbacks. So there are times in heat games where, à la Mike James of yore, he seems enthralled with padding his stats rather than doing non-boxscore things, like staying with his man, setting effective picks, and passing out of the post. Whiteside (9.7) is the only player getting more post touches per game than Atlanta’s Dwight Howard (8.8). But among the NBA’s ten top post recipients, his frequency of passing (9.2% of the time) is tied with Andre Drummond for second-lowest. While Howard has a scintillating 2.5 TO% with the ball in the post, Whiteside’s 10.3 TO% is behind only Drummond. Spoelstra gave Whiteside a quick hook in the third quarter of Saturday’s home loss to Utah, after he lackadaisically allowed Rudy Gobert to treat the rims like a playground swingset. The season-long challenge for Spoelstra is to keep the notoriously moody Whiteside from flaming out, no matter how far the heat sink in the standings. “We’re not even ten games into the season. We’re not getting down,” Whiteside assured the postgame media after Monday’s loss. “We had a tough schedule so far, so we’re going to keep pushing. We played the Spurs great.” That last statement was half-true. Miami almost completely turned the tables on the Spurs, bouncing back from a 55-30 first-half deficit to hold San Antonio to 26.2 FG% in the second, “winning” the back half 50-39. Offensively, without Dragic around, Spoelstra is relying on a committee of replacement starter Richardson (just back after tearing an MCL in offseason workouts) and Tyler Johnson to hold the fort, while also looking to Winslow and Josh McRoberts (10 assists @ ATL last February) to play point-forward roles. So far, that aspect of the offense is working well. Winslow contributed five assists, Johnson six, McRoberts three against the surprisingly complacent Spurs (4 total steals?) on Monday, with not one turnover committed among the trio. Miami would fare much better over the course of 48 minutes moving the rock and getting teammates involved, rather than dumping the ball to Whiteside and Waiters and watching them suck the life out of offensive possessions (96.5 O-Rating, 47.2 eFG%, and 49.9 TS%, all next-to-last in NBA). Tonight’s free throw shots are brought to you by your friends at The Thundersticks Company. Miami (67.2 FT%, 66.1% at home) and Atlanta (68.2 FT%, 66.3 on the road) are the only NBA teams sinking less than 70 percent of their free throws, one of the few categories in sports ((looks at Blair Walsh)) where “2 out of 3” is bad. It’s easy to point an accusing foam finger at higher-profile foul magnets like Whiteside and Howard. But teammates like Waiters (11-for-21 FTs), Paul Millsap (72.1 FT%) and the once-surehanded Tim Hardaway, Jr. (65.2 FT%) haven’t helping matters. Sooner or later, there will be an abnormally high number of muffed free throw attempts, or crucial misses with “Dos! Minutos!” remaining, that costs these teams a victory. Hopefully, the Hawks (not just Howard) are actively working on their mechanics. Both bigs must be ready to keep the lane clear of opponents whenever the predictable free throw miss bounces off the rim. Dwight? Sap? Thabo? May I add one more name into the hopper for way-too-early DPOY candidates? Opponents that currently shoot 58.2FG% on shots within six feet of the rim are connecting on a paltry 32.3 FG% when faced with the imposing arms, antlers, and Man Bun of Mike Muscala. That differential of minus-25.9 percentage points is the best among any NBA player defending at least three such shots per game (min. 5 games played). That measure of rim protection has been better than that of either Hassan (minus-19.5, 6th in NBA) or D8 (minus-17.1, 8th in NBA). Having not just one but two centers adhering to The Pachulia Principle around the rim is making halfcourt defense a breeze for the Hawks. Dare I add one more way-too-early contender? Using the same criteria, Tim Hardway, Jr.’s -20.7% differential on three pointers defended ranks 2nd in the NBA. That’s even better than Sefolosha, whose minus-12.5% on ALL opponent shots (min. 5 FGAs defended) ranks 7th and just below Whiteside (minus-12.7). Second-place on that list is Miami’s James Johnson, who will be entrusted to come off the bench and cool off anyone, like Hardaway (5-for-10 3FGs vs. PHI on Saturday) or Kyle Korver, who gets hot from the perimeter. Balanced offensive execution by the Hawks, under the direction of Dennis Schröder (8 assists, 5 TOs vs. PHI), and persistent on-ball defensive pressure are essential for keeping the heat at Biscayne Bay all night. But minimizing Miami’s points off turnovers will further stifle the heat and get the Hawks one step closer to being an above-.500 NBA franchise again. Sustaining that fullcourt effort well into the future, under the watchful eye of Coach Bud and Friends, will ensure the Hawks step firmly out of the red, and into the green, for good. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  18. Another bummer for Bosh. Based on just snooping around, post-Birdman trade, it appears Riley needs to shave off another 3-4 million in salary to get under the luxury tax (and avoid that dreaded repeater tax). I presume the Bosh development and Birdman trade means Whiteside's a keeper, for now? But who goes next? (Dragic? Deng? Beno? McBob?) ~lw3
  19. A partial MCL tear won't be too bad recovery-wise, but it will be a setback for a team heading into training camp with Wade gone and Bosh iffy. EDIT: ~lw3
  20. “Wade in the Water…” Hail, hail, the gang’s all* here! What the heck do we care now? *Well, just about the whole gang is back for the Atlanta Hawks is back, ready to kick off the post-All-Star schedule with tonight’s meeting with the Miami heat (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, SUN Sports). And Hawks Nation couldn’t possibly be happy… umm… happier, that is! The GM-foreplay session otherwise known as NBA Trading Season finally wrapped up yesterday, and few teams came away pregnant with a title contender due to arrive in June. After the smoke cleared at the deadline, every Hawk that was bantered about for months on end, by media and fans alike, was still standing right here in Georgia Granite Gray. The two players that did get sent packing were among the most forgotten. Third-stringer point guard Shelvin Mack reunites with Gordon Hayward and Quin Snyder in Utah in hopes of an expanded role. Meanwhile, the season-long developmental plans for Justin Holiday were kicked to the curb, as he was dealt to Chicago. As part of that 3-way deal, our old friend Kirk Hinrich will give it another go in the 404. Yes, Al Horford is still an ATLien. He did indeed have to leave the country, though – off to Mexico for vacation, then a quick globe-trot to Canada as a willing, last-minute All-Star replacement. Hate it or love it, Al’s here for as long as Coach/Exec Mike Budenholzer is around to admire him. Horf does absolutely everything the Hawks staff asks him to do, and swears off doing a few things that they ask him not to do. No overpursuing offensive rebounds. No diving and wrestling with minimum-contract opponents for 50/50 balls bouncing below his waist. Let your teammates help you out on the glass. He’s absolutely “integrAl” to everything Budenholzer planned to do since the coach first arrived here from San Antonio. Bawse remains a 50% shooter from the floor despite raising his three-point shot volume by nearly 500 percent. He’s still a key component to the Hawks’ improved defensive efficiency despite poor defensive rebounding, and he’s well on pace to send his prior-season tallies in blocked-shots out into the second row. If Al chooses to cash in on a multi-year-guaranteed Max-infused deal this summer, Atlanta’s brain trust is confident they have options (well short of a 5-year Max, but nothing approaching the mythical Hometown Discount) that beat whatever 4-year deals are thrown his way from outsiders (including the tax-haven teams) in terms of take-home cash. If Budenholzer is Dr. Frankenstein, Al Horford is the monster he’s counting on, for better or worse, and yesterday’s non-events made that clear. When last we saw Hinrich (unavailable tonight) with the Hawks, it was in the 2012 Playoffs, when he returned to the bench as Horford arrived for the final two games of the ill-fated first-round matchup with the Celtics. The prior postseason, Captain Kirk was the starting point guard, capably guiding the Hawks toward an upset of the Magic – until his hamstring gave out with just three minutes left in Game 6, forcing Atlanta to turn the floor-leader keys over in the next round, to a fresh-faced Jeff Teague. In that time, Teague has transformed from OMG-is-he-ready to Y’know-he-ain’t-so-bad, to steady playoff-caliber starter, to All-Star on a conference leader, to a shaky-ankled trade target in 2016. As was the case with Horford and perhaps Kyle Korver, Hawks Brass was on the phones waiting for a deal that would knock their socks off. And yet there they stood as the sun set on Thursday, shoes still laced tight. Coach Bud still believes there’s more juice worthy of squeezing out of Teague’s orange, and Jeff’s solid, resurgent play in the weeks prior to the All-Star Break (20.0 PPG, 51.1 FG%, 53.8 3FG%, 5.5 APG in February) lends credence to that notion. “We really like our group,” Budenholzer crowed yesterday, after somebody apparently yanked the pull string in his back. He intends to rely on the pillars of Horford and Teague, along with All-Star forward Paul Millsap, plus improved shooting from Kyle Korver (51.7 February 3FG%), a bounceback from the struggling Kent Bazemore, and enhanced bench production from Dennis Schröder, Hinrich, Thabo Sefolosha, Mike Scott, Mike Muscala and/or Edy Tavares, to carry the day through a very daunting close to the regular season. Going forward, here is what the Hawks (31-24) are up against. After squandering much of a fairly cupcake schedule, Atlanta has the toughest schedule of opponents remaining in the East, a collective 55% opponent winning percentage. No team in the East (including five teams currently at 50%) has a closing slate that even approaches Atlanta’s. They’ll face juggernaut Golden State twice in a span of ten days. Then there will be back-to-back nights at Staples versus Kobe and the Clippers, part of a five-game road swing that concludes in second-seeded Toronto. Five of their final seven regular season contests are against the East’s current Top 3: the Cavs, Raps, and Celts. Add a few dashes of playoff-hungry teams (Pistons twice, Wizards thrice, Hornets, Bulls, heat, Jazz, Pacers, Grizzlies, Rockets) to taste, and you’ve got yourself quite a hearty stew. There are 15 home games left in this 27-game stretch. But a third of them come during this five-game homestand that begins tonight and concludes the month of February. Including tonight and tomorrow’s game (vs. Milwaukee), ten of their next 19 games will be on back-to-back nights. Are these Hawks up to the task of facing adversity and finishing strong? We’ll find out soon, because if the NBA Trade Deadline showed anything, most of the NBA Southeast has no plans of relenting against the reigning division champs. Charlotte (3 GB of ATL, winners of last 3 games) always seems like they’re one-step-forward-two-steps-back, but the Hornets re-tooled after losing Michael Kidd-Gilchrist again, acquiring Courtney Lee from Memphis ahead of Al Jefferson’s return to action. Washington (5.5 GB of ATL, division-best 7-4 vs. Southeast teams) reunited smoldering Sun Markieff Morris with Marcin Gortat and Jared Dudley, news that seems to have reinvigorated their aging center. Orlando (6.5 GB of ATL) won’t have the Hawks to kick around, but they brought in some veteran talent to couch around Dunk Contestants Victor Oladipo and Aaron Gordon for a heady stretch run. And what about Miami (29-24, 1 GB of ATL, winners of last two games w/ ATL)? Well… Maybe the biggest winners of all in yesterday’s limited player movement action were Micky Arison’s pockets. Mastermind Pat Riley saved the heat owner quite a bit of repeater tax dough by getting the team below the luxury tax line, and he did it without moving any of stars Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade or even free-agent-to-be Hassan Whiteside. Having barely missed the postseason in 2015, the playoffs remain of paramount importance to the heat. Not the least of those reasons is because this summer’s first-rounder (top-10 protected) likely goes to Philadelphia anyway, courtesy of the LeBron 2010 compensation and, subsequently, fleeing LeBron’s commandeered Cavs trade for Kevin Love that sent Thad Young from Philly to Minnesota in 2014. Nonetheless, any excitement in South Beach over keeping the Big Two around for the playoff run has been muted. Horford’s cross-continental trek during All-Star weekend came as a result of Bosh discovering another potential blood-clot scare, this time in his strained calf. While there’s still hope, a return to blood thinners for the heat’s leading scorer could put him on the shelf for a few months, at the very least. Lightly-used Chris Andersen and Jarnell Stokes became balance-sheet casualties of the trade deadline, leaving Miami with Whiteside, virtual American Airlines Arena statue Udonis Haslem, and Josh McRoberts to back up Luol Deng (likely shifting to the 4-spot, as rookie Justise Winslow takes over at small forward) and Amar’e Stoudemire. In recent weeks, Coach Spo had been benching Whiteside for whole games (including during Miami’s 105-87 home win over the listless Hawks on January 31), and even sitting him for whole fourth quarters. Now without Bosh, and with Stoudemire (5-for-7 FGs, 5 O-Rebs vs. ATL on Jan. 31) not having logged a 30-minute game since December 2014, Spoelstra will need his moody big man to step up in a big way going forward. But Whiteside won’t be available tonight, since a flagrant-2 elbow toward the Spurs’ Boban Marjanovic on February 10 will have him suspended for tonight’s contest. The Miami bigs will be desperate to avoid early foul trouble, something the heat is customarily quite good at doing (league-low 17.5 personals per-48). It’s up to the Hawks’ guards and wings to drive and cut to the basket for shots at the rim, while the bigs pick-and-pop early and often. Atlanta can then flip the script in the second half with Millsap and Horford attacking the rack as Miami’s options thin out. The Hawks have been pushing the tempo (5th in pace since Jan. 1; Miami ranks 27th) and are capable of wearing down what’s left of Miami’s frontline if they look for good shot opportunities early in the shot clock and move the ball cross-court. Wade, like Bosh, had been quite the ironman for Miami all season long, on pace for his most regular-season appearances since 2010-11. But now he’s suffering from soreness in the back of a knee, and is a gametime decision for tonight’s affair (the heat host Washington tomorrow). His sitting out would leave Goran Dragic (12.2 PPG) as the heat’s leading scorer among returning starters, on a team that went into the break ranked 24th in offensive efficiency. Rotator cuff surgery for second-year player Tyler Johnson leaves the heat similarly thin at the guard spots if Wade cannot go. For however long Wade (31.6 usage%, 5th in NBA) sits, Dragic at least won’t have to deal with the struggles trying to mesh his own ball-dominant play with Wade’s. Dragic will have free range to Tetris his way into the lane (what he recently called his “attack mode”) in search of layups and the occasional kick-outs to Gerald Green (team-high 4.3 3-point attempts/game, 31.9 3FG%), McRoberts and Deng (36.1 3FG%). For as long as Spoelstra can tolerate it, Green will resort to Go For Yours offense in an attempt to pick up the slack. Teague and Schröder have to apply pressure up the court and stay with Dragic and Beno Udrih on drives, leaving it to the wings and forwards to intercept the Miami guards’ passes to the perimeter and kickstart the transition offense. Korver and Bazemore also need to alternate perimeter defense with help-rebounding duties. From Kyrie Irving and Jonas Valanciunas, to Al Jefferson and Rudy Gay, to Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight to Tobias Harris and Blake Griffin, you could field a nice little All-Star Game with the array of NBA stars absent on teams that went on to beat the Hawks anyway this season. The Hawks’ offensive execution especially at critical junctures (late games, falling behind by double-digits) has long been, as Budenzolzer says ((pull-string)), “not where it needs to be,” a key part of the blame he laid to explain the underwhelming pre-All-Star start to the season. Miami is 11-2 this season in games decided by 5 or fewer points. Even without their two top scorers, top rebounder and shot-blocker, top 3-point shooter, and top assist-man, this isn’t a team Atlanta wants to leave hanging around late in the second half. This homestand will go a long way toward establishing whether these Atlanta Hawks are a team that desires homecourt advantage in the playoffs, or even the playoffs in the first place, and whether they’re a squad that’s out to make noise in the playoffs, noise that’s not a whimper, once they get there. The gang’s all here. And they understand that it’s up to them to remind Atlanta’s rabid hoops fans why they should care. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  21. “Phew! Got LeBron out of here just in time!” The race to be the Best of the Rest is still on! For all their losing ways of late, the Atlanta Hawks have a chance to regain their clutch on the third-seed in the Eastern Conference, with another road win in Miami against the heat (6:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, SUN Sports). With another road loss, what would be their third in their last four away games, they could drop as far as sixth. The Hawks can’t say their Southeast Division foes haven’t given them ample opportunity to pull away. Charlotte floundered but is surviving through the absences of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Al Jefferson, while the Wizards have struggled to keep Bradley Beal on the floor. Orlando has stayed relatively intact but have missed Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo for spells recently. Only the Magicians have failed to regain their footing in the division, and even with amid an 8-game losing skid, they’re still just 5.5 games behind Atlanta (27-21). Erik Spoelstra’s club went through a 2-8 stretch in mid-January, with wins coming only at Phoenix and at Denver, grinning and bearing their way through the schedule despite injuries hampering Dwyane Wade, Goran Dragic, Luol Deng, and Hassan Whiteside (strained oblique, missed last four games and out again today). In addition to dealing with injuries, home games like today’s have become a rarity for Miami. After a home-friendly start to the year, this will be just the second game at AmericanAirlines Arena since January 6. The heat return home with their spirits lifted after three straight road wins in Chicago, Brooklyn, and Milwaukee. But even after today’s game, the heat hit the road again for three games (at Houston, Dallas and Charlotte), before returning to host the Clippers and Spurs. Part of Miami’s turnaround of late has to do with boosting the pace and making smart offensive plays. Looking as healthy as he has in awhile, Wade has led the charge in his past four games (25.3 PPG, 6.0 APG, 3.0 TOs/game, 51.3 FG%). The heat are not great 3-point shooters (32.9 team 3FG%, 27th in NBA), and Wade isn’t wasting much time with those (8 3FG attempts since Miami won in Atlanta on Dec. 14, no 3FGs made since Dec. 16). What he is doing is penetrating lanes, getting to the free throw line (10-for-13 FTs @MIL last Friday), dishing the ball to teammates in advantageous positions (15 total assists in last two games). He’s also finding his comfort zone on long-distance two-pointers, particularly on the left side of the rim. But it’s not all on offense where the 34-year-old star is making his mark. “He can’t do it the whole game,” Chris Bosh remarked to the Palm Beach Post, “but late in the game he can guard their best guy. Period. And that guy’s probably not gonna get open. If he really wants to, he ‘s gonna lock him up.” The heat have only won by four or five points in their past three games, and Wade has been prominent in sealing the deal. Wade stripped Giannis Antetokounmpo at the rim on Friday with under 30 seconds to go, keeping the big Buck from tying the game. If Miami is turning to Wade to help out in the paint, particularly since Whiteside and Chris Andersen (knee soreness) cannot go, Atlanta’s perimeter shooters have to be primed and ready to catch-and-shoot quickly. The Hawks were not aided on Friday by either Kyle Korver or Mike Scott (combined 2-for-13 3FGs). Ultimately, if you’re going to get a jump on Miami with offense, you’d better do it early. Even with the recent absence of Whiteside, the heat has the league’s best fourth-quarter defensive rating (97.7 opponent points per 100 possessions) and hold teams to just 41.7 FG% in the closing frame. Thanks to this, according to Jason Lieser of the Palm Beach Post, their fourth-quarter +1.1 is their only net positive point differential in quarters of games. Despite a +1.7 fourth-quarter differential that ranks 4th in the league, the past two games (17-21 vs. LAC, 17-29 vs. IND) haven’t helped Atlanta’s standing. After playing from behind for much of the contest, the Hawks clawed their way to a 90-88 lead in Indy on Friday night, only to pull the rip cord and watch the Pacers go on a blistering 23-2 run to close the game out. Despite playing through nagging injuries from time to time, the Hawks have held together physically, if not psychologically, through much of the season. All-Star forward Paul Millsap sprained an ankle midway through the loss in Indiana, but is expected to be good-to-go at tip-off time today. Still, all of the signs of pending collapse are there for Atlanta, after a disappointing January (6-8) that concludes this evening. Having played the East’s second-easiest strength of schedule so far (48% winning percentage of played opponents, as per, they now face the East’s most daunting schedule going forward (54% winning percentage of remaining opponents). Particularly without Millsap, the Hawks could find no means of stopping Indiana’s offense. Al Horford was out-Horforded by rookie first-time starter Myles Turner in Indiana, and needs to put up a stronger two-way effort against his fellow floor-spreading big Bosh (22.0 PPG, 52.8 FG% in last six games) today. Both Millsap and Horford need to keep starting center Amar’e Stoudemire occupied in the paint. With the aid of Deng and rookie reserve Justise Winslow, Miami clamped down on the Hawks’ starting guards (Jeff Teague and Korver 4-for-24 FGs) in last month’s 100-88 win. Kent Bazemore was left open and carried the team offensively (28 points, 11-for-18 FGs, 3-for-7 3FGs), but he cannot get it done himself. Thabo Sefolosha’s offense (4-for-5 FTs, 13 points) awoke after a month-long slumber, but Atlanta’s reserves universally struggled on the floor defensively on Friday. The bench has to keep Gerald Green (20 points on 9-for-14 FGs in Miami’s 100-88 win in Atlanta on Dec. 14) from getting the green-light shots he wants, particularly in transition. Tyler Johnson is questionable with a strained shoulder, adding to the need for the Hawks’ bench to build a sizable advantage. Dragic returned against Milwaukee (12 points, 8 assists) after missing eight games with a calf injury, and it’s hoped he’ll continue elevating the pace of play (29th in NBA) for Miami. Jeff Teague and Dennis Schröder need to be the one-two punch for Atlanta that pushes the tempo and puts Dragic (and Wade) to work on defense, early and often. The Hawks will be visited by Miami on February 19, and by that time the trading deadline will have expired. Despite the recent upturn in play for the heat, another slide will likely compel team president Pat Riley to make critical trade offers that get the team below the punitive luxury tax apron. Today is the last opportunity Atlanta will have to kick those executive phone calls into high drive. Another losing skid for either team would drop them from the Best of the Rest and leave them competing among the Least o the East. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  22. “Merry Krampus!” Despite getting his lunch snatched away and gobbled up by his mentor for the third straight time, this is hardly a time for Mike Budenholzer and his Atlanta Hawks to engage in panic-button pushing. They can look to tonight’s visitors, the Miami heat (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, SUN Sports), as one example for how to engage in some quick slump-busting. With so many teams huddled together in the Eastern Conference from 1-to-10, all it takes is stringing together a couple wins to not only stay afloat, but thrive. Miami (13-9) had lost three straight games, all by double digits, and was getting blown out at home in the second half by Memphis just last night. But after a dash of fourth-quarter heroics from Dwyane Wade, the heat prevailed, and they now sit in 6th place in the East. That’s just a half-game ahead of 9th-seeded Atlanta (14-11) and a half-game behind division-leading Charlotte. Miami seems to have all anyone would need, on paper, to be a bona fide championship contender, certainly many of the things most teams covet. A certified Hall of Fame scorer, a likely Hall of Fame sidekick, an aggressive young rim-protector, a big-money point guard, a trusty glue guy at small forward, a jumping jack off the bench, a rookie who’s already a top-flight on-ball defender… all of that led by a head coach and staff rocking multiple championship rings. Yet all of that ought to add up to more than 13-9 by now. Wade and Chris Bosh are as healthy together as they’ve been in some time, but they’re the sole two performers among coach Erik Speolstra’s regular rotation that have tasted championship success in Miami. The duo leads a set of youngsters that struggle to live up to past glories, and a few old-timers who are better at setting an example off the court than on. Aside from losses like the 98-92 setback handed to them by the Hawks back on November 3, the heat have generally held serve within the friendly confines of American Airlines Arena (11-4, most home games in the NBA). November featured a seven-game homestand, and that was followed shortly thereafter by a four-game homestand, with another four-game homestand beginning at the end of this week. Despite such a home-friendly start to the season, Miami has generally wilted in their NBA-low seven away games (2-5). Miami has also bested the West, last night’s victory extending their record versus the opposing conference to 7-1. Yet they’re only 6-8 against their Eastern rivals, 1-3 in the Dirty South Division. The uneven play has led, much like Atlanta (4-0 in the Southeast Division), to changing positions among the conference’s not-so-elite. Last week, Miami sat in first place, then slid to second, third, and seventh, before moving up to sixth for the moment. Miami knows they must play better away from home (last in the NBA with 88.1 road PPG, 30.1 road 3FG%, 7.6 road offensive RPG) and against their fellow East opponents (92.9 PPG vs. East, 29th in NBA; NBA-low 5.9 steals per game vs. East) to stay near the top. The heat visit Brooklyn before embarking on that next extended homestand, and could conceivably make a climb back up the standings by the time their Christmas Day game versus the Pelicans arrive. After crawling out of the hole last night, they hope to get positive momentum rolling by tipping into the ATL and tripping up a Hawks team that can’t seem to find its bearings for terribly long. Finishing shots around the rim is hard enough when you’ve got Hassan Whiteside (zero blocks for the first time all season Sunday) to contend with, but it’s near impossible when you are your own worst enemy. During Saturday’s thrashing by San Antonio, the Hawks continued a laughable trend of blowing layups and short-rimming shots, often barely contested, in the paint. Missing nearly a dozen shots within 3 feet of the rim, there’s little wonder why they got down 22 points at halftime versus the crafty Spurs, or down by double digits several times in OKC last Thursday. Atlanta ranks 10th in the league with 28.7 restricted-area shot attempts but are only 18th in field goal percentage (57.9%) at that close range. A team more likely to rely on dunks from Whiteside and Gerald Green than prayers off the glass, Miami comes into tonight’s contest ranked 1st in that restricted-area FG% category (66.9%). The Hawks’ ability to finish interior plays could again be a difference-maker in tonight’s contest. Having shot just 28.8 percent from 3-point range in the past two games, it’s clear that the long-ball can no longer serve as a band-aid for Atlanta’s persistent errors in shot selection and execution. Similar to the defensive effort provided by the Spurs’ Danny Green on Saturday, rookie Justise Winslow will not grant Kyle Korver (1-for-6 3FGs @ MIA on Nov. 3) much of a break. But lax defensive effort from Wade on the back end of back-to-back nights could mean some openings will be available for returning starter Kent Bazemore (team-high 42.9 3FG%) and Thabo Sefolosha in the corners and beyond the arc. As Bazemore put it succinctly, to the AJC, “A lot of guys left a lot of points on the floor” on Saturday. Following a listless 0-for-5 shooting display (plus five turnovers) against the Spurs, Jeff Teague has to be the All-eged-Star that shakes the Hawks out of their offensive doldrums. Teague (26 points, 9 assists @ MIA on Nov. 3) has to at least outperform Miami’s Goran Dragic, who started out 1-for-10 on FGs against Memphis yesterday and struggles to achieve a symbiosis alongside an increasingly frustrated Wade. If Atlanta is turning to Dennis Schröder (7 assists and no turnovers, unless we’re counting the giveaways while shooting 2-for-10 on FGs), and not Teague, to be the difference-maker, things will once again get dicey quickly. As a big man, widening the floor and opening up the lane is useful only when your guards and forwards know how to take advantage. Another All-eged-Star, Al Horford (last 5 games: 42.6 FG%, 12.0 PPG, 23.1 3FG%, 42.6 FG%), has to abandon his multiple-three-point-shooting experimentation, no matter how enticing it will be to try keeping up with Miami’s Bosh (1-for-6 3FGs vs. ATL on Nov. 3) tonight. Horford is shooting 41.1 3FG% above the arc (discounting the corners, where he shoots poorly), but seems all too reticent to leave critical duties in the paint, at both ends, to Paul Millsap or whoever else shares the frontcourt with him. The Hawks are 6-1 when Horford collects just seven defensive rebounds in a game, but those occasions are too infrequent. For all his flaws this season, Al is shooting a solid 71.3% in the restricted area. He can make Whiteside (23 points, 14 rebounds, 4 blocks, no fouls vs. ATL on Nov. 3) pay for his help defense by focusing on catching-and-finishing around the rim, rather than from mid-range out. This game should be over by the time the clock strikes midnight, but the calendar turn will also usher in a greatly expanded field of available NBA trading prospects. Neither the Hawks nor the heat will be making rash decisions anytime soon, especially with such parity in the conference right now. But if either team fails to gain traction in the near future, the clamoring for a shakeup from their fanbases will be hard for the front-offices to ignore. At least in Miami, as demonstrated most recently with the November trade-off of Mario Chalmers, the head coach doesn’t have to worry about also being the executive pulling the trigger. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  23. We missed his presence last night in the heat-Hawks game, and we're getting hints as to why: We now turn to our chief NBA medical correspondent, TMZ Sports: The Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel reports the teammate was Mario Chalmers, and that no one was arrested in association with the incident at the condo. Whatever it is... get well soon, Gerald! ~lw3