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  1. “The Hawks? Hahaha. DON’T LET THEM FOOL YA!” So much for calm, clear, connected, eh? Frazzled, frayed and frenetic with its top-heavy scoring approach, the Hawks proved too easy for a shorthanded 3-14 Rockets team to topple, Houston walking Atlanta down after the visitors mistook Friday’s game for a walkover. Now Nate McMillan’s team saunters back to Atlanta with their tailfeathers between their legs once more. This time, to face the team that ousted them in 2022’s NBA Playoffs, Erik Spoelstra’s Miami heat (5 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Bally Sports Sun in MIA). Up to 11 of the 17 players on Spoelstra’s roster are either out for today (inclusive of Jimmy Butler and Victor Oladipo with varied knee ailments, plus Omer Yurtseven and two-way big Orlando Robinson) or listed as questionable or probable among the running wounded. The latter grouping includes Tyler Herro, Max Strus, Gabe Vincent, Dewayne Dedmon, Duncan Robinson and Caleb Martin. Yet one gets the sense that 29 coaching staffs conspire to up the ante on how many players, including All-Stars, that they can shelve and still give Nate McMillan’s charges a run for their money. Atlanta (11-8, 1.0 games ahead the Wizards in the Southeast Division) may again have to solider forward without the services of Clint Capela (questionable, too much Thanksgiving peanut brittle). And Bam Adebayo (38 points, 12 rebounds in Friday’s 110—107 win vs. WAS) will look to feast unless Onyeka Okongwu, DeAndre Hunter and John Collins commit to quit getting gashed along the glass. As you’re aware, the Hawks were out-boarded 59-28 along the way to blowing a 15-point second-half edge versus the Rockets. Bradley Beal’s return from a thigh injury to rejoin Kyle Kuzma and Kristaps Porzingis was not enough to close the gap after Wednesday's loss in Miami. With insufficient team approaches to defense, moving without the ball, passing, and defensive rebounding, there won’t be enough high-powered scoring from guards Trae Young (season-high 44 @ HOU) and Dejounte Murray (career-high 39 points) for Atlanta (54.4 assist%, 29th in NBA) to outwit and outlast a heat team that may not need to go more than seven deep. Murray, in particular, needs to understand that you can’t form McMillan’s concept of a coordinated fist if you’re in the dishing-out-middle-fingers business. This is no time to be waffling, not in our house. Will Atlanta show up calm, clear and connected? Or scattered, covered, and smothered? Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  2. “Lemme tell ya, Spo, I’ve been accused of having a Suspicious Package a few too many times for my liking, y’know what I mean?” Three games under our belts, and we still don’t have a series! We’re often told it’s not a series until somebody steals a road game, or when a team finds itself up for elimination, having lost its third game, for example, in a seven-game series. Neither of those things transpired on Friday, and that still may hold true if the Atlanta Hawks play even incrementally better against the Miami heat tonight at State Farm Arena (7 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, TNT). Atlanta indeed needed every last screech and ca-caw from their swag-surfing fans at The Farm to climb out from a double-digit hole and curtail a heroballing Jimmy Butler at Friday’s final horn. Cramming commuter-fans into their seats in a timely fashion, on a pleasant Sunday evening, shouldn’t be as much of a challenge, so the house should be packed for Game 4 and rocking at tipoff. That should benefit these Hawks, who persistently crow about the advantageous comforts of playing before the home crowd, in producing their best opening quarter in this series. Butler faces the additional challenge of carrying some laboring co-stars. Kyle Lowry’s hamstring is acting up from all of his pratfalls. It rendered him inactive for the pivotal final quarter of Game 3 and pairs his upper-leg ailment with Bam Adebayo’s continuously bruised quad. While the evening tip time does not necessarily translate into a schedule win for Miami, the extra intervening hours that were not afforded Atlanta ahead of Game 1 should aid in the heat players’ recuperation. Neither of Lowry (5.1 PPG below; 31.3 FG% in series) nor Adebayo (9.8 PPG below; 45.0 2FG%) are scoring near their regular-season averages, while the ice is only beginning to crack for sixth-man Tyler Herro (5.6 PPG below, despite a team-high 24 points in Friday’s 111-110 loss). Butler has been ready and willing to be Playoff Jimmy, but it’s hard to foretell whether his perimeter proficiencies (42.9 3FG% on 4.7 3FGAs/game vs. ATL; 23.3% on 2.0 3FGAs/game in regular season) can hold up for an entire series, particularly this one. It is reaching the height of suspicion that heat coach Erik Spoelstra may choose to ride with one of Gabe Vincent (probable for Game 4), on his bum toe, or Herro to offset Lowry’s absence or limitations as a starter, while Victor Oladipo watches Trae Young (19.0 PPG despite 17.4 3FG% vs. MIA) and Delon Wright from afar. “[Caleb Martin] played [in Game 2] and had significant, important minutes in that second half. I anticipate the same thing will happen for Vic and [Markieff Morris],” Spo told media after Game 2, although both vets were scratches on Friday, too. Martin (ankle sprain) now joins Kyle, Bam, and P.J. Tucker (strained calf) on the list of gameday questionables. However Spo rotates his backcourt, Atlanta’s under Nate McMillan has a conditioning advantage to exploit, even with Lou Williams (out, back ache) unlikely to appear unless an elimination game is on the horizon. McMillan cannot be pleased that his Hawks had been losing the turnover margins against Miami (16.0, to MIA’s 15.0), but he must have enjoyed the turnover-free comeback in the fourth-quarter of Game 3. Also, while the languishing nature of Game 1 skews the head-to-head stats, one advantage Atlanta currently holds is in points scored off of those same turnovers (20.3, to MIA’s 18.3). The possibility of having Clint Capela (questionable, hyperextended knee) back in the lineup is tantalizing for the Hawks, particularly in seizing back the rebounding edge going forward. But the immediate task ahead is to run on the weary-legged heat and execute with few unforced errors and out-of-rhythm shots. If Atlanta can continue to tamp down the heat in the middle quarters (MIA +6 in the combined 2nd and 3rd quarters of Game 3, down from +10 in Game 2 and +20 in Game 1), they could find Butler and the heat scrambling late in hopes of avoiding a return to Florida, and later Georgia, with this series knotted at two wins apiece. Closing the books on Game 4 would require the Hawks to commit to limiting catch-and-shoot open perimeter looks (particularly for Max Strus, Tucker, Herro and Duncan Robinson), going over on screens, and staying high enough on heat ballhandlers that they cannot barrel into defenders and draw foul shots with the clock stopped. Let us all make it through Game 5 before anybody starts calling this 1-versus-8 matchup a series. That goes for you, too, Paul Pierce! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  3. The only PEG I acknowledge. We PEGging out here? Ugh! Oh, how I loathe me some Playoff Ending Gamethreads. The only thing worse than a PEG is the prospect of having to scribe at least two more. And I don't have the cholesterol to even think about IG-friendly offseason resorts like Tulum. As a twisty, turny campaign appears to be nearing its sunset for our dear Atlanta Hawks, I’m just about ready to hang the DIDN’T GET SWEPT LOLZ 2021-22 banner within bird’s-eye view of the SWAG Shop and turn that page. A few Knicks fans feel me on that. There is one other element, with Game 5 versus the top-seeded Miami heat looming at FTX Arena (7 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBATV), that has me eagerly looking forward. Beginning with next season’s tipoff, our view of the Hawks, and especially the internal perception by the team, will no longer be framed by the starry close to the postseason summer of 2021, the reverberations of which were still being felt yesterday, in Philadelphia, and in at least one borough of New York City. Barring retirement or some desire to return to assistant-ship, Nate McMillan will still be here running the show. Amid last season’s magical late-season carpet ride, McMillan shared with The Athletic’s Jeff Schultz about how “Old Nate” is a relic of the past. The cold, curt, curmudgeonly sideline general had transitioned to a new philosophy, one that began in his latter years with Indiana. Transferring an air of being Calm, Clear, and Connected to his staff and players serves to the benefit, as I trust any cardiologist for upper-50-year-olds would acknowledge, of Nate himself, at minimum. McMillan professed that his recent years as an overseer helped him learn a lot about how best to adapt his coaching style to the new kids of the NBA today. I, for one, would love to see how what “New Nate” has learned translates to a competitive advantage on the modern NBA floor. Because we sure didn’t see much of that from his Hawks at home in Game 4. Yes, Nate was able to outfox groveling peers like Doc Rivers and Tom Thibodeau at playoff time last year. But teeth-grinding coaches like Mike Budenholzer, and Miami’s Erik Spoelstra, are able to secure longevity and sustain success by adjusting on the fly until something works, not by sticking to a preconceived gameplan in hopes it will eventually work. Midway through the second quarter of Game 4, Spoelstra dialed up the zone defense and aggressive switching to neu-Trae-lize the Hawks’ solitary-star-reliant offense, Atlanta’s 86 points the puniest playoff output since getting mowed down by Matthew Dellavedova’s Cavs in Game 2 of the 2015 ECF. A harried Trae Young took just one shot inside the three-point arc, a point-blank miss near the end of the first half as the Hawks’ momentum had slipped away. Further, Young’s one free throw, a missed technical foul shot after the heat’s P.J. Tucker took it upon himself to get under every doe-eyed Hawk’s skin in the third quarter, set the tone for the remainder of the contest. Dour, Doomed, and Discombobulated. The Traemates did little on Sunday evening to lessen their perception as a skin-of-their-teeth 8-seed, one that did not deserve to share the floor with Jimmy Butler and the East’s top-seeded heat. Atlanta’s one-note offensive attack came at the heat repeatedly from the left corner at the outset of Game 4. But once Spoelstra and Butler switched up the coverage, McMillan was caught without a reliable Plan B. The contest exposed not simply the scale of one-upmanship by the heat on the floor, and along the sideline, but in the front office, too. Sitting smugly in the stands during Game 4, heat team prez Pat Riley did not need to drown his coach in a motel shower (is that a spoiler? I think that might be a spoiler…) to get Spoelstra to reassess his strategies after Miami got bounced by Bud’s Bucks in 2021’s opening round. Riley had a little more time than Atlanta’s Travis Schlenk to transition into 2021-22. But he only needed a couple of days to re-tool the roster with limited salary room, and he did so quite effectively. Using Percious Achiuwa and a trade exception to upgrade Goran Dragic into Kyle Lowry, Riley brought back the oft-injured Victor Oladipo, while prying Tucker, the Bucks’ hero from the 2021 ECF, from Milwaukee. Riley also brought back several underwhelming young players to buttress the team depth, and he put his player development staff to work. I have written on several occasions in season’s past about Anthony Carter, the former streetball hustler who dropped out of Atlanta’s Crim High as a freshman but made his way to JuCo ball, then D-1 at the University of Hawaii, before kicking off his 13-year NBA career with the heat. Riley wooed him back to his program as an assistant for their G-League team in Sioux Falls in 2016, then continued promoting him over the years with heightened expectations. Now the heat’s designated director of player development, assistant coach Carter was handed a guard, in Gabe Vincent, that shot just 37.8% of field goals, and a swimgman, in Max Strus, that shot just 33.8 percent on threes, each while averaging 13 minutes per game in 2020-21. Both immensely improved their output in elevated playing time under Carter’s and Spoelstra’s watches this season. This was essential for a program that endured the struggling Duncan Robinson all season while missing veterans Oladipo and Markieff Morris for the lion’s share. Strus and Vincent represent two of Miami’s nine undrafted players on the conference’s first-place roster, punctuating Riley’s defiance of the tank-and-they-will-come approach applied by many struggling NBA staffs. As an injured Kyle Lowry looked on, Strus (+34 plus/minus in Game 4) and Vincent plugged in capably on Sunday, sinking seven of Miami’s 13 triples and dishing 7 assists (1 combined turnover) while helping Butler and Oladipo thoroughly scuttle Atlanta’s ballhandlers. Conversely, Schlenk’s sole impactful addition from last offseason, Delon Wright was underwhelming aside from his offensive rebounds. Much is made of the need for the Hawks, perhaps hamstrung by the forthcoming salary raises for its young core, to acquire a secondary veteran star in this offseason to alleviate Young from having to be alpha and omega for McMillan’s offense. But it will be as important, in my estimation, to bring in plug-and-playable veterans infinitely more capable than Gorgui Dieng and Lou Williams, to foster rookies and young players in anticipation of positive inputs at playoff time, and to develop the existing core players to have more dimensions to their fullcourt game than just waiting to see if Trae graces them the opportunity to finish plays. Just as much as Schlenk stepping up to compete full-bore with the Rileys, Horsts and Ujiris of the world is essential going forward, enhanced success for the Hawks is also going to require an evolution from McMillan and his staff to get on Spoelstra’s level. Modifying his approaches to relying on under-experienced players earlier in the regular season, to using timeouts to disrupt adverse game flows, to deepening his bench contributions, should all be a part of the “New Nate” Hawks fans ought to see by 2023. “New Travis” working with Nate to re-tool the assistants and developmental staff would be an integral part of Atlanta’s evolution. While all of that rumination rightfully has me PEGged as a defeatist in preparing to close the books on 2022, I still get the sense that if there is any 8-seeded team capable of pulling off a possum job and winning three straight head-to-heads, including two here in Miami, it’s this one, despite their struggles on the road versus decent competition. Throughout this season, Atlanta has often looked like the lazy college kid, self-satisfied with his high school accomplishments, who wanders into class late, scribbles anime in his notebook during lectures, flubs group projects, is last to turn in assignments, teeters on flunking out, yet somehow shows up on graduation day as the salutatorian. If the banged-up John Collins and Clint Capela are none the worse for wear after Game 4, they and Onyeka Okongwu should be able to provide a more united front for a Hawks defense that actually did reasonably well in keeping Miami to another mild 110-point outing. It was Atlanta’s offensive inertia, and the deflating shots from the Gray Mule line, that needed the most correction. Fixing that while stifling Bam Adebayo and the heat’s second-chance and extra-chance opportunities could help them, as Toronto did yesterday, prolong the series and give the faithful fans back home a final first-round do-over in Game 6. At least momentarily, we are back to the Woody-style years of ruing our Hawks’ perennially disappointing postseason conclusions. There are occasions when I miss the serenity of the Tank years under Bailout Bud and LP, when there were few postseason heartbreak possibilities abound. Just Game #82 or whatever, and the obligatory, accompanying Season Ending Gamethreads. But without vast offseason improvements by personnel from the top down, we may all find ourselves back in that Game-82 mindset next spring: “Let’s talk about SEGs, baby! Let’s talk about all the good things, and the bad things, that may be!” Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  4. “Wait, is that… James? James Butler, from Tomball High???” Joe Johnson was giving people buckets! So, for that matter, was Josh McRoberts. And Justise Winslow. Such was the case the last time the Miami heat won a playoff game in Miami-Wade County. Just ask Erik Spoelstra, he was there. Or, better yet, ask Kyle Lowry. He was giving buckets, too, albeit for the other side. May 13, 2016, to refresh your memory. After getting dispatched for years as the marquee performer on the annually playoff-bound Atlanta Hawks, Joe never got a chance at playoff vengeance against the Cleveland Cavaliers’ superstar during his latter runs to glory as a founding member of the heatles. Instead, the eventual 34-year-old had transitioned fully into If You Can’t Beat ‘Em mode, previously with KG and the ex-Celts in Brooklyn, then in Miami with D-Wade, with Udonis Haslem helping Coach Spo keep everyone’s bench seats warm. The Three J’s were doing all they could to help Dwyane and Goran Dragic earn their keep in the aftermath of the Return of the Former King to Ohio. They would do enough to help the heat outlast the Raptors’ static duo of Lowry and DeMar DeRozan in Game 6, but their production was not enough for Miami in the series finale at Toronto. We have established the Miami heat as the gold standard of the Southeast Division, if not the Eastern Conference, and this season’s slow, if unsteady rise to a conference-leading 53-29 record did little to tarnish that reputation. Spoelstra’s got his shiny rings, team godfather Pat Riley has more than his share. But I get this gnawing feeling that the heat are like the Sears Roebuck of the 1990s NYSE. They’re atop the charts, as they have been for awhile, looking pretty, with zero idea what is soon to befall them. Wade and Shaq helped salvage the heat’s reputation as a good club that couldn’t get it done when it mattered most. That was less than a decade after Coach Riley’s 1-seed heat were stunned at home by the 8-seed Knicks in the fifth and final game of the first-round series. Beset by injuries and chemistry challenges during a truncated regular season, scrambling late in the season just to get playoff-qualified, arch-enemy New York upset Miami in the first round, for the second year in a row, this time on the path to The Finals. If you catch yourself wondering why you’ve been treated to the random musings of Jeff Van Gundy on a weekly basis for decades on end, thank Riley’s heat from the ‘90s. Had Stan not gotten canned by Riley early in 2005-06’s title season, we’d never get either brother’s opinions off our TV sets. Wade’s Miami campaign seemed to be coming to a close, and Spoelstra’s rookie run taking over for Riley about to be one-and-done, in 2009 when the heat lost a seven-game rockfight at the hands of Joe, Flip Murray and the Hawks. It was 4-seed Atlanta’s first series win in ages. As Joe’s Hawks finally looked to be on the precipice of breaking through as Orlando’s top challenger, for Wade, Spoelstra and Haslem, they seemed to be nearing the end of the Metromover line. Dwyane and his banana boatmates had other ideas. I can’t possibly ask for much out of this series that begins today (1 PM Eastern, really ought to be later in the day like the Pelicans but okay, 92.9 FM in ATL, TNT), furthering another chapter in the Hawks-heat rivalry. My hurried fingers aren’t even typing were it not for “The Big Chill”, Trae Young, being Shot-on-Ehlo-GOOD in the second half of Friday’s triumphant high-wire act in Cleveland. All I can request, whichever way it falls, is that these contests look pretty. And not pretty ugly. The 2009 series rivaled 2010’s seven games against Brandon Jennings’ Bucks as the butt-ugliest Best-of-7 NBA playoff round in recent memory. Thirteen years later, there should be nothing reminiscent of Iso Joe milking the shot clock dry, Smoove daring his own fans with off-balance, off-rhythm threes, Al jap-stepping with no follow-up plan, no wild shooting off the bench from the likes of Marvin, Flip, Mo and Zaza. At the other end of the sideline, with all respect due, there will be many better options for Spoelstra to deploy in 2022 than Mike Beasley and Daequan Cook. Sixth-man extraordinaire Tyler Herro, bucket splasher Duncan Robinson and defensive backstop Bam Adebayo (active, Straight Outta COVID) will offer ample support for Lowry and Jimmy Butler, each of whom commandeered their way to Miami in hopes of extending past glories at playoff time. The desperation for Riley and Miami to acquire Lowry, a ring-bearing point guard, was heightened after last season’s Playoffs. First, Butler and the heat were stifled by Giannis’ Bucks in a first-round sweep loaded with blowouts. Then, they watched Young’s upstart Hawks push those same Bucks nearly to the brink in the Eastern Conference Finals. Miami won those conference finals in a Bubble just up the road in Disney World in 2020. But they haven’t been successful as the home team, in a venue that didn’t feature Max Headrooms and cardboard-cutout celebrities, since the spring of 2016. Old Man and the Three’s J.J. Redick, along with Marco Belinelli and Dario Saric carried precocious Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid to a gentleman’s sweep of Wade and the heat in 2018 that included two Sixer wins in what is now FTX Arena. Miami's horrible fans didn’t even want to be let back in by games' end. Over the last 15 games of this season, it was the heat (9-6; 3.7 Net Rating, 8th in NBA East) that looked more the part of an 8-seed than Atlanta (10-5; 5.6 Net Rating, 7th in NBA). That’s not counting the past week’s Play-In contests. Miami having Adebayo and P.J. Tucker (probable, strained calf) will aid in securing defensive boards, as is their team’s frontcourt forte. Where Miami could fall into trouble is in failing to get shots up without turning over the ball (14.4 team TOs per-48, tied w/ CLE and ORL for most in NBA East). Lowry, Herro, Adebayo, Butler and even Victor Oladipo commit at least two turnovers per game, in all but Butler’s case close to three per 36 minutes. The turnovers that the heat, in particular Lowry, produces tend to be more of the dead-ball variety, allowing opponents a moment to recover. If Atlanta can win the live-ball turnover game, along with the fastbreak scoring (MIA minus-1.5 net fastbreak points per-48 since the All-Star Break; ATL opponent’s 10.7 fastbreak points per-36 in the regular season lowest among Playoff teams), they can control the pace and keep the heat cooled on their heels. While the short turnaround in the schedule is disconcerting for the Hawks, and the absence of Clint Capela (out through at least Game 3, hyperextended knee) and the tentative return of South Floridian John Collins a bit disorienting, Atlanta affirmed that when they’re not over-reliant on either Young or the supporting cast to carry the entire day, they can be a tough cover, and a tougher out. Against this version of the heat, Onyeka Okongwu is free to play the role of ’99 Marcus Camby, as the breakout young center pressed into prominence in a playoff pinch. Obviously, these Hawks already know the drill: steal a game or two here in Miami, take care of business back home, move on and move on up. Ultimately, I hope to see two decent teams, led by well-seasoned coaches, play like it, and if there can to be only one, make it Nate McMillan’s. However long this series lasts, I want to see crisp closeouts, bodacious boxouts, scintillating screens, rational rotations, and handy dribble hand-offs. Pretty, please. With sugar on top! Ramadan Mubarak! Chag Pesach sameach! Happy Easter! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  5. The Hero We Deserve. Nerlens Noel thought he had the solution. Just as his New York Knicks thought they might narrow Atlanta's playoff series lead to 3-2 at Mad Square Garden, here goes that pesky Trae Young again, this time with a nine-point second quarter to help widen the Hawks’ lead to five. If only Nerlens could show Young and the Knicks’ faithful in the stands that he and his team still had some fight left. Alas, he’s not in the game. What to do? What to do… As the refs depart for halftime and Young gets plowed by Julius Randle into Taj Gibson on a floater attempt, in that order, Noel decides the time is right to be a Roxbury Guy and bump Trae, too. He’d greet him with a blindside shoulder bump as he passes by at halfcourt, he thought. Nerlens Noel thought, which was the start of his problems. He didn’t have Solomon Hill as part of his calculation. After seeing his star guard get accosted, Hill promptly showed Noel how to deliver a proper shoulder shiver. How do you do, Nerlens? The Knicks never saw the lead again, as Atlanta’s final lead of the series ballooned to double digits in the second half. New York hardly saw much more of Noel, either. After inking a three-year, $32 million deal over the summer, he appeared in just 25 games, averaging 3.2 PPG, before getting shelved with a foot ailment before the All-Star Break. The cogwheels in Noel’s head were creaking earlier in the 2021 playoff series, too. Early in Game 3, with the series still up for grabs at one win apiece, he was standing around the paint, then moonwalked into a flop in a failed attempt to get the refs’ attention. Solo stands his ground, lowers that boulder of a shoulder, and makes the flop worth Nerlens’ while. The cogwheels were shaken free of cobwebs, and not for the last time. Can I help you up from that wet spot, Nerlens? Hill offers his floor-bound foe a hand before artfully retrieving it. The Hawks weren’t able to get much during this regular season out of Hill, on the court, before he was attached to Cam Reddish in New York’s trade-off of Kevin Knox. But what has felt missing thus far in this year’s first-round series versus the Miami heat, which continues with Game 3 before a hopefully early-arriving crowd at State Farm Arena (7 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, ESPN), is a veteran who can set the tone, without regard to his direct impact on the boxscore. Hill had the peak of his NBA playing time with then-associate head coach Nate McMillan and the Pacers, but not the zenith of his playoff success. That came as an end-of-bench glue guy with coach Erik Spoelstra’s heat, as Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro surged in the 2020 Bubble to come out of the East and reach the NBA Finals. Despite being able to stake his claim as an Eastern Conference champion, make no mistake that Hill leaves little clue as to where he butters his bread in this Hawks-heat series. “he for the moment,” tweeted Hill last week as the series began, reminding followers of Trae’s future portrait in the Louvre from the Hawks star’s time at MSG. “might have to pull up for a game,” Hill tweeted as a follow-up. Right now, Hawks fans wouldn’t mind Solo pulling up for a game or three. Without his presence to counter the goonery that Young (9-for-15 2FGs, 2-for-17 3FGs @ MIA in-series) faces on the court, there is one guy that Solo, and Yours Truly, identify who needs to make his mark in this series and fully put the heat’s heels on their heels. “i thought JC was hurt,” tweeted Hill last week in his signature small-caps style, as the Hawks were beginning to turn the elimination tables on the Cavaliers in Cleveland. “he just switched to #8.” Il numero otto is Danilo Gallinari, who played a team-high 41 minutes against the Cavs and splashed a crucial third-quarter triple that helped Trae and the Hawks, without John Collins and then without Clint Capela, climb the mountain before overtaking it. Young was spectacular and essential in the second half, but Gallo finished that half with just one assist, no rebounds, and two more points off free throws, but a team-best +18 as his offensive gravity and length to cool off Lauri Markkanen threw the Cavs off-balance just enough for Atlanta to come away victorious, granting the Hawks at least two home playoff games. To have a chance at one more playoff game at The Farm, at the minimum, requires the veteran who is the second-highest salaried Hawk, and potentially the third-highest next season with a contract guarantee, to produce more efficiently and effectively (4-for-11 2FGs, 1-for-7 3FGs, 1 assist in 51 minutes @ MIA) than he has to this point in the first-round series. Drawing charges, getting strips and deflections, seizing loose balls – these are things that, while far from Gallo’s forte, can ease the tasks ahead for Collins and Onyeka Okongwu in keeping Adebayo suppressed (4-for-11 FGs, 7.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG vs. ATL) and Butler overextended. At worst, Danilo has to outpoint heat forward Duncan Robinson, who was hardly needed in Game 2 (under seven bench minutes, after going 8-for-9 on threes in Game 1) as Gallinari went 0-for-6 from the field and 2-for-2 from the line (DNP’d in the 4th quarter, minus-12 in the pivotal 3rd) in Atlanta’s 115-105 loss. At best, he’s helping to get under the skin of Lowry and the smaller heat, either by making them pay for flop attempts in the paint or by scoring on his patented periscope-up shots when bigs switch onto Trae. The Hawks need more decisive execution to disallow Miami defenders to sink their hooks into Young (10 af ATL's 19 player TOs, 2-for-10 3FGs in Game 2) and Atlanta’s ballhandlers and would-be finishers. Even without Capela available, Atlanta has been winning possessions by rebounding, and the Hawks must turn these advantages into hesitation-free transition buckets. Young and Bogdan Bogdanovic corner threes helped narrow the gap in Miami near the end of Game 2, and Gallo, Kevin Huerter and De’Andre Hunter can help create the gap in Game 3 by picking up the pace and getting defenders behind them on chases to the corners. Hunter stood his ground in the middle of the second quarter and barked at Lowry, but his on-court bite in Game 2 (nine 1st quarter points) dulled as the contest went on. It would be swell if McMillan could turn more to gentle giant Gorgui Dieng, or the young pups Knox and Jalen Johnson, for pivotal playing time to offset the frontcourt minutes lost by Capela’s extended absence and Collins’ painful re-acclimation. But winning this weekend’s home games are instrumental in changing the tenor of this series, and the Hawks will need Gallinari to be their Stradivari. Should Lowry and the heat try any funny business with Young, Gallo is the ideal guy to be their Jeff Jarrett. “El Kabong!” Feel free to pull up at any time, Solo! We can find you some nice seats behind the heat bench. Bring Zaza and Ivan with you! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  6. First in Flight! Which one of y’all is Orville? For a moment, I believed I finally unmasked Harry. “He always used to dress in costumes,” shared Dorell Wright, the former preps-to-pros draft pick of the Miami heat, and eleven-year NBA player, of his younger brother, Delon. He told VICE Sports in 2017, “whatever team I was on, he was always the mascot.” It is funny to imagine a nimble 14-year-old Delon donning the Burnie getup at what is now FTX Arena, during the heat’s first run to an NBA championship in 2006. Beginning, at that time, to follow in his elder bro’s footsteps out of South Central L.A. as a star hooper for SoCal’s Leuzinger High, Delon had ample reason to look up to his three-point shooting NBA hero. Now the tables have turned, and the retired Dorell does all the caping. By day, or at least by evening in the Bay Area, Dorell toils as the Golden State Warriors’ studio analyst for NBC Sports. Still, there is no withholding his enthusiasm for how far Delon has run with the Wright family’s NBA baton. “OMG, I’m bad,” Dorell confessed to HoopsHype back in 2017 about watching the then-Raptors upstart while finishing up his own pro career in Europe. “I want him to do so well. I find myself yelling and fussing a lot when he’s playing.” (Mark your calendars, as Dorell’s son Devin is a Class of 2026 guard prospect entering high school). Yes, a schedule-weary Atlanta Hawks team found itself ransacked by the top-seeded heat in the opener to the NBA Playoffs. But as the scene shifts to Game 2 tonight (7:30 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, TNT), one would be hard pressed to find a Hawks player more primed for the moment. That player will be hard pressed to discover a bigger supporter in his corner, albeit from afar. “Facts!!”, Dorell breathlessly quote-tweeted, as The Athletic’s Tony Jones noted following Friday’s Hawks win in Cleveland that Delon, “gave a masterclass tonight on how to change a basketball game without touching the basketball.” The “100” emoji was Dorell’s reaction when Sky Sports analyst Mo Mooncey tweeted, “Trae (Young) will get all the glory (and rightly so, he was amazing) but if Delon Wright didn’t put the clamps on the defensive end, the Hawks wouldn’t have won that.” “One thing about Delon,” offered Dorell in his own, understandably biased view, “…he’s going to impact the game and a lot of the things he (does) won’t show up on the stat sheet. Winning Player!!! #situpinclass.” Young will assuredly be more glorious than he was in Game 1 (1-for-12 FGs, 6-for-7 FTs, 4 assists and 6 TOs), especially if the referees don’t allow him to get tenderized by the hosts without chalking it up to Playoff Basketball. Neither, for that matter, will sixth-man Bogdan Bogdanovic (0-for-8 FGs) having combined with Trae to go 0-for-11 on threes versus Miami’s grubby defense. Danilo Gallinari (1-for-3 3FGs) will be looking to get more shots off, and in. “I think mentally we needed to recover,” Hawks coach Nate McMillan told the AJC today, “and we should be better both mentally and physically tonight.” The extra stretch of rest and video review on Monday preceded this morning’s shootaround. With the returning John Collins having a half-game under his belt, the Hawks will be better prepared to counter the onslaught brought forth by heat headliners Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro and Kyle Lowry, who were able to lean heavily on their own defensive energy and teammates’ big shots to carry the day in Game 1. Despite a mild shooting display of his own, Delon was the steadiest guard that McMillan had at his disposal in Game 1. Wright registered a team-high six assists while turning over the rock just once, collecting a pair of steals without drawing a single foul. He’s up to 18 dimes and two turnovers in his bench minutes over five games against the heat this season. Even as Herro struggled at the offensive end (2-for-7 2FGs, 0-for-4 3FGs, 5 assists but 5 TOs, incl. each of Wright’s second-quarter thefts as Miami’s margin was momentarily dialed back to single digits) while being stalked by Delon in Game 1, Wright’s teammates let white-hot heat players, namely Duncan Robinson and ageless wonder P.J. Tucker (combined 12-for-13 3FGs) have carte blanche access to the three-point line. Robinson and Tucker being allowed to treat the hoop like a cornhole made it easy for Miami to thwart any chance for Atlanta to come up for air. Herro, Max Strus and Gabe Vincent can be counted on for better stretches in this series, but key for Atlanta to stay in contention will be the activity of the Hawk wings and guards on the defensive boards. Miami had just four offensive rebounds in Game 1 -- half of those by former Hawk Dewayne Dedmon in the first two quarters and none by Adebayo -- but primarily because there weren’t many off-rhythm shots worth chasing, thanks to confused Atlanta defenders’ many missed assignments. Anyone not in position to defuse the heat’s three-point threats need to be beating Adebayo, Tucker, Dedmon and their own assignments to the ball. Young absorbed a lot of Game 1 punishment going after boards and loose balls that should have found their way to De’Andre Hunter, Kevin Huerter and Bogdanovic (combined to tie Trae with five D-Rebs). Defensively, Trae needs not to be as active in the paint in this contest, especially with Collins around to aid Gallo and Onyeka Okongwu for longer stretches. Yet he will be needed to be impactful in flustering Lowry (9 assists, zero TOs in Game 1) and Butler and luring them into settling for one-r-hero-ball shots outside the paint. Atlanta will play to win Game 2, but they recognize it is essential to come out on top at least once in Miami’s house if they hope to have their season continue beyond next week, coincidentally as Delon hits The Big 3-0. As the Hawks’ stars improve their all-around performance in this series, they may very well have the ideal teammate, one who is unselfish to a fault, defensive-minded and familiar with these environs since his teenage years, to eventually make this happen. Delon’s older brother holds no qualms about flapping his wings with pride, even if the team who presently employs him faced the Hawks in The Finals. "Just to show support for my little brother," Dorell told VICE Sports five years ago, "it means the world to me. We come from the same place, we come from a struggle, and I know what it takes and all the hard work we had to put into get to where we are today." Dorell earned a ring as a memento from his long tenure in Miami, but he leaves no doubts these days as to where his allegiances lie. In this series, blood is thicker than heat. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  7. “I’m not telling you again. A hot dog is NOT a sandwich, UD! And tomato ketchup does NOT count as a fruit. What, are you some kind of fruity sandwich guy? And what maniac washes their chicken before frying it, but seasons the grease?” “Catch me outside, Jimmy! How ‘bout dat?” The Miami heat get to borrow back their Dirty South Division title for one more season. The Atlanta Hawks are a gracious lot, but if all goes well, that munificence might not last for much longer. This is the way we ball, but I know I’m the among the few NBA fans left who give a lil’ flip about subregional rivalries these days. Despite crawling toward a second consecutive winning season, this was far from a banner year for our Hawks, so I’m resigned to accept that Miami gets to hold the pennant for a few hundred more days. Here’s the deal, though. If my team cannot have first in the Southeast in any particular season, then, by golly, I want second-place all to my lonesome. It's selfish, but that’s another reason it would greatly benefit the Hawks, tonight (8 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, BS Sun in MIA), to win at FTX Arena and offer the heat a taste of what might be coming down the pike, should Atlanta and Charlotte wind up in the Chase for #8. #7 would be heaven, but short of that, I simply like to see Charlotte beneath Atlanta in the standings. In any standings. Don’t even get me started on the MLS action at the Five Stripes’ Little Brother’s house this weekend. Per my back-of-napkin work, the Hawks have the superior divisional record, granting them the two-team tiebreaker, as well as the edge over Charlotte in the event of a four-way tie at 43-39. But in a three-way scenario where Brooklyn gets involved, the Hornets would earn the higher seed over Atlanta, due to finishing with the best three-way head-to-head. Sorry, Charlotte, but I’m just greedy, in this narrow, one-upping way. Besides, I don’t want Atlanta’s Road to the Playoffs to roll through the nest of a Hornets team that hasn’t been there since Purple Shirt Guy’s big mouth got them dispatched all the way back in 2016. Keeping them entrenched at the 10-spot, the Horcats would need a pair of miraculous road wins just to get there, much like the Wizards need chemistry and the Magic need some milk to sneak in next season. In the meantime, I’d rather enjoy snootily looking down upon them all. Pat Riley’s and Eric Spoelstra’s heat are used to enjoying this perch above all of us, having made this pedestal all their own pretty much since the Heatles arrived and the Dwightmare unfolded. They’ve leased out the division title to the Goody Two Shoes Hawks, The Best Backcourt in The East Wizards, and the Parity Magic on occasion, yet they always find their way back on top. Still, even while bearing the best record in the NBA East (52-28; 12-2 intra-division) this season, the sands seem a little shifty down in SoBe. Almost midway through a four-game losing skid a couple weeks ago, as Jimmy Butler let a Warrior not named Steph Curry zip by him as part of a 19-0 Golden State run, Coach Spo called a timeout, and squabbled with Jimmy Buckets before the heat’s unofficial team mascot piped up. The spat between Butler and Udonis Haslem ignited a verbal sideline fracas, featuring a clipboard-slamming Spoelstra, that burned through another Miami timeout. After losing that game, the fuming heat went on to let the Knicks go on a winning 19-2 fourth-quarter run, then fell behind by 37 at home to the Nets. Fortunately, with a five-game win streak that included back-to-back wins this week at Jimmy and Kyle Lowry’s old stomping grounds of Chicago and Toronto, they’ve since righted the ship. For the time being, Butler and Miami are feeling like Kings of the World. For the record, I’m on Team Jimmy. Yes, I want The Human Napalm to stick to that franchise long enough that I can enjoy the eventual Miami meltdown. And, yes, Jimmy being loaded up on a personally crafted double espresso instead of a General Foods International Coffee doesn’t help matters when things get tense and go left. But much like Full Force with their fully functioning olfactory receptors in House Party, Butler loves to sense what he sees as sawftness among his cohorts and bosses. Calling it out, sooner than later, tends to turn his would-be empires into washed-out sandcastles. This time around, he perceives that Spoelstra and everyone else in the heat organization lack the gumption to thank Haslem for all he did back when LIVESTRONG wristbands were cool, hand that man the obligatory golf clubs, cancel his key card and order him to skedaddle. The man and his team can’t tell you whether he’s an assistant coach, a heckler, or a sergeant-at-arms. But at Markieff Morris’ salary, UD’s the highest-paid at each profession in the NBA. This isn’t Auburn Hills. Why is a 41-year-old threatening to beat the donkey of an NBA star? And who gets the authority to do this while in official team gear, and cashing a paycheck? We get it, Miami, you’re grateful for your local legend. But turn the dadgum page, why don’tcha? Riley has Butler, Bam Adebayo, Kyle Lowry and Duncan Robinson locked in through 2023-24 ($126 million guaranteed for the quarrelsome quartet at that time), and Spoelstra show no signs of retiring. It would be fun to watch Haslem and Butler complete the slow-motion implosion from afar, especially if they pull a 1999 and fail to reach the second round. I’ll be over here on the hillside just in case, fiddle in hand. Tonight, Hasbeen probably isn’t planning on exceeding the 11 minutes he logged during the COVID craziness of December. But Spo may not have much choice in the matter. Starters customarily get to dress up like Udonis after clinching the 1-seed during the final weekend of the regular season. But the heat also have a litany of reserves designated as questionable on the pregame injury/illness list. The Nobel Peace Prize nominee for his role in last month’s sideline skirmish, Dewayne Dedmon is dealing with a sprained ankle. Omer Yurtseven’s got a tummy bug. For Gabe Vincent, the piggy that went to market is bruised. Keef and Haywood Highsmith have matching hip flexors. P.J. Tucker is definitely on the outs, having joined Caleb Martin with a calf injury. Many of these guys will play today anyway, aside from Tucker, having had two off-days to recuperate. Plugging Sixth Man Award frontrunner Tyler Herro, Robinson and Max Strus alongside a reacclimating Victor Oladipo (no consecutive games played since March 11; DNP’d in MIA’s 144-115 win over CHA) ought to serve just fine as a kickstarter without much contribution from Lowry or Butler. But if Adebayo is due for any rest, with limited healthy frontcourt options, it may be Turn Back the Clock Night for UD in what ought to – excuse me, could – be the Miami native’s career home regular season finale. While there is still no word on the timetable (oh, how I despise that word) for South Floridian John Collins, the Hawks’ injury list is much shorter, as Bogi Bogdanovic’s sore knee and Lou Williams’ back discomfort (each questionable for today) are the only other citations. Particularly without the BLAH offense (Butler, Lowry, Adebayo, Herro) around to do much for long stretches today, Atlanta should have the talent advantage on the floor from start to finish, to go along with the health-and-conditioning edge. Whether these Hawks have the will edge, avoiding the bad habits with transition and perimeter defense, offensive inertia and shot selection that put them in the Play-In position, will be a determinant for whether they’ll get a Play-In game or two back home. Had they played the hand of cards they were dealt better earlier in the season, Atlanta would be right up there trading paint with Boston, Milwaukee, and Philly for a home Play-Off opening round. But now that they’re in this situation, they need to make good on the perception that they’re a team no one, be it Miami or Charlotte, wants to see at elimination time. If you’re not first, you’re last, sure. But in the Dirty South Division, I want the team I root for to be the best last. And I don’t mind if the Hawks, and not the Hornets, perform well enough going forward to have the chance to become the last team top-seeded Miami sees during the playoffs. With all respect due to a NASCAR racing clan, it’s the one way I get to be a Petty year-round. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  8. “I’m told you thought Bonnie Tyler’s hit song came from Shrek 2. Is that true?” I’m not asking for Pud Galvin or Warren Spahn to get strolled out here onto the State Farm Arena hardwood. I humbly beseech for a Complete Game out of our Atlanta Hawks. The Miami heat are back in town (7:30 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, BS Sun in MIA), meeting the Hawks for the third time in ten days. This go-round, I want the reigning Dirty South Division Champions to play a full 48 minutes like they know they deserve to share the floor. The whole heat team isn’t here, of course. Tyler Herro is holding out for a negative test for You Know What, having missed Miami’s last game at home against the Trail Blazers. Also staying back in SoFla, Kyle Lowry is out on personal leave. Markieff Morris (out, reconditioning) still hasn’t returned. But does it matter? “Seems like whenever I text one of my teammates, they would always say something like, ‘We don’t need you,’ ‘we’re winning without you’,” shared professional insult comic Jimmy Butler to the postgame press, after he and the heat toppled former in-state rival Toronto on Monday. “Especially Dewayne Dedmon… He’s an honest guy.” Butler took Dedmon and his heatmates at their word, getting himself tossed after berating an official just 15 minutes and one bucket into Wednesday’s home clash with Portland. Yes, the Lillard-less, formerly McCollum-less squad that kicked off this calendar year by hanging 136 regulation points on Atlanta. No matter! Because in steps Caleb “The Other One” Martin (team-high 26 points, plus 8 boards) to carry Jimmy’s load. The Blazers have CJ McCollum back, and the heat lose Jimmy’s Buckets, but the latter’s vice-grip defense (107.4 D-Rating, tie-6th-best in NBA) held the visitors to 12 fourth-quarter points on the way to a 104-92 victory. You all know how envious I get about The heat Way. Once, just once, would I like to be standing in applause as a tearful Ivan Johnson’s jersey ascends to the rafters. I think tears are possible, anyway. Malcolm Delaney, welcome to The Hawks Ring of Honor! Meanwhile, Pat Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra and these cats just pull one Duncan Robinson after another Max Strus after another Omer Yurtseven after another out of their ying-yangs, and it gets perturbing after a while, y’know? They pick up guys off the unsigned free agent heap, from Dewayne Dedmon (12 points and 8 rebounds vs. POR on Wednesday) to Martin (initially signed in September as a two-way player). Now Gaucho Gabe Vincent is starting in place of Kyle Lowry (personal leave). And it doesn’t matter. It never does. The heat rarely have to blow their cap space gambling with flawed, but well-known commodities. It’s not an expectation that these supporting castmates have to morph into all-timers. They just have to be functional, serviceable, a majority of them in unison, for 82-plus games per season. Shoot, they took a flyer on an undrafted Miami-area kid, one who got cut in the preseason by the Hawks, then had to be found hooping across the hills of eastern France. It’s almost 20 years later, and they still can’t get rid of the guy! That’s to say nothing of another Guy, one who only got picked up last month as a pandemic emergency yet immediately plays well enough to bump somebody else out of their two-way deal. Since selecting Michael Beasley #2 in 2008, the heat haven’t had to draft a top-five prospect to carry them anywhere. They can hit on Herro at the end of one Lottery, Bam Adebayo (5 steals, 20 points and 11 rebounds vs. POR, his second game back since thumb surgery) at the close of another. They used 2021’s first-rounder as capital to hold Goran Dragic for a minute. They flipped 2020’s first-round pick, Precious Achiuwa, and Dragic for a supposed upgrade in Lowry. A win today would have Miami (29-16, percentage points behind the 1st-place, Lonzo-less Bulls in the NBA East; Chicago is in Milwaukee tonight) bearing the best winning mark since LeBron’s 2013-14 NBA finalists. They have yet to lose more than thrice in a row all season. That occurred back in early November, not long before their only divisional loss of the season thus far (8-1 vs. Southeast foes). Importantly, when the heat do fall behind, it’s not by much. Since losing in Cleveland by 11 points back on December 13, the heat have been on a 13-4 sprint up the standings, with no more than one of those defeats by over ten points. Miami shot just 38.4 percent from the field versus Philly last Saturday, but they kept the game close until Joel Embiid and Georges Niang could pull their Sixers away by 11 points in the final six minutes. There’s just not much slippage, no matter who Coach Spo goes with in his rotations. I’m just reporting, I’m not hating! With Adebayo back up to speed, John Collins and Onyeka Okongwu will need to avoid foul trouble in order to be around later in this contest, what with Clint “The Present” Capela (sprained ankle), Gorgui Dieng (non-You Know What illness), and Danilo Gallinari (sore Achilles) all listed as game-time decisions. Okongwu needs just 12 points to supplant Cam Reddish as the eighth scorer on Atlanta’s balanced offensive roster averaging over 10 PPG. With the rooks on G-League assignment, look for Nate McMillan to ramp up spot duties for Kevin Knox mid-game. It is all about defense for the Hawks (19-25; 113.9 D-Rating, 28th in NBA), particularly not letting Robinson and whoever fills Herro’s shoes get comfortable with pull-ups and open looks beyond the three-point arc (36.2 opponent 3FG%, 4th-highest in NBA), while not letting Adebayo, Dedmon and a rested Yurtseven create second-chance shots. No Hawk opponent has committed more than 16 player turnovers in a game this season, and the 15 conceded by the heat in Miami last Friday gave the Hawks a fighting chance before blowing the lead late in a 124-118 defeat. A scrappier Hawks team around the perimeter, with more timely substitutions by Nate Mac, and who knows? With or without Greg Maddux around, a complete game, with balanced focus at both ends, early and late in each quarter, would keep Atlanta more than simply in the ballpark. At The Farm, with heat fans eager to pack the building and gloat once more, I just want my division champs to play like a team that understands Hawks Fans Matter, that this division and this season still matter. Getting out of their own heads and adjusting to cut opponent runs short, this Hawks home game and the ones in the coming weeks need to be about Matter over Mind. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  9. “You can’t fire ME, Ross! I don’t even work for you!” Ugh! This team is cheeks! That’s what we fans were thinking as our Atlanta Hawks were getting toasted, by a Miami heat team that didn’t even have the services of the caffeinating Jimmy Butler. To be fair, we didn’t have Cam Reddish at our disposal, and we had to tolerate the noise of way too many happy heat fans in the building. There our Hawks were standing, six games below .500, playing so poorly that we weren’t sure there was much of an appetite to moonwalk into one of those Play-In games. The next game on the docket, in Miami two nights later, simply felt like another opportunity to lead these soft lambs to slaughter. But a funny thing happened on the way to the Lottery. Lloyd Pierce got canned. Much for the listless efforts by the team, particularly an uncommunicative, bottom-ten defense that negated signs of decent if uncreative offensive play, usually led when it was done well by Trae Young. As much for the limited development of the first- and second-year youngsters, like the injured Reddish, Kevin Huerter and Onyeka Okongwu, that had them looking lost in the wilderness during the most crucial moments of many games. The lone exception, De’Andre Hunter, couldn’t return from injury in time to keep LP’s jerb from being imperiled. Even with Trae’s uncanny ability to move the rock, there were too many nights where his fellow shooters, youth and veteran alike, couldn’t throw a pebble in the ocean, and couldn’t help him much at the other end of the floor. Young’s boxscore-busting nights were being wasted, as were those of jackrabbit John Collins and rebounding savant Clint Capela. Perhaps a trade or two, with the Deadline approaching, would shake things up and turn fortunes around. But, seriously, after a 4-11 tumble loaded with double-digit defeats and games blown to ostensibly inferior competition, who wants to see THIS team in the NBA Playoffs? We know you didn’t sign up for this, Nate McMillan, but here are the keys. Catch! Simply drive us to the impound lot, where we’ll have a whole summer to figure out what to do next. It should be noted that the heat, previously down in the dumps at 11-17, trampled the Hawks to get back to .500 on that February evening for the first time since the reigning Eastern Conference champions were 3-3. While they weren’t bound to finish as well as they did in the prior regular season, coach Erik Spoelstra’s club did go on a smooth 29-15 tear to close out 2020-21. Heading boldly into March, Coach Spo’s club had no reason to expect looking up to find McMillan’s Hawks turning the calendar and the tables, to begin pulling off one of the great play-possum jobs in modern NBA history, confirming, for a wholly different reason, why no one should have wanted to see THIS Atlanta team at postseason time. Like the final standings in May, the heat had no reason to expect looking up, aghast, at the scoreboard so soon in March, either. It was just two nights later, in Miami, when visiting Atlanta bifurcated what would have otherwise been a 12-game winning streak for the heat. A spark from a why-is-he-starting player whose first name began with a T, a sprinkling of the returning Bogdan Bogdanovic, and stunning seal-tight team defense caught Tyler Herro and the wayward-shooting heat off-guard, along the way to a 94-80 victory, Miami’s lowest scoring output since November 2019. Hmm. Nate’s about to spoil our shot at a decent draft pick like Jalen Johnson, isn’t he? One big difference between that game, coming off a pivotal loss, and tonight’s affair down in South Beach (8 PM Eastern, why are we playing so late with a game back home tomorrow?, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, BS Sun), is the 2021 Hawks had to suffer through the preceding turmoil from the comfort of downy hotel pillows. This season’s edition had to take its lumps back home, drubbed from the end of the second-quarter on to lose 115-91 and flopping to 0-9 at The Funny Farm following an 8-1 start, before flying the friendly skies on down to Florida. The shakeup in between heat games, this time around? Cam got traded on his day off. New Yawkers have been quite unpleasant to their not-much-longer-reigning All-Star, largely for his clunky shot-taking and his inert defensive effort. Hopefully, for his sake, Reddish will have the stomach to endure whatever Thibs and the Bing Bongers plan to spew in his direction when he struggles. If Reddish’s ankle heals up, we may get to see him pester Trae and company as soon as tomorrow, when the Knicks return to town to keep the ATL home skid they kickstarted back on November 27 rolling. Last season’s about-face under McMillan, beginning on this rechristened FTX Arena floor, had Hawks fans suddenly giddy about trade prospects. Yet we were left scratching our heads a bit as the Hawks and Clippers swapped a pair of washed veteran guards at the Deadline. A net pair of down-the-road second-rounders? Is that all there is? With the possible, if momentary, suiting up of Kevin Knox, it is helpful to remember, as was the case with 2021’s acquisition of Lou Williams, that Atlanta head-honcho Travis Schlenk’s mysterious, muddling maneuvers don’t always wind up looking so funny in the light. Reddish may have been pleading Schlenk and company, behind the scenes, for a Hawk-xit, but I suspect it’s not just players who may soon be on the outs. I turn the dial to NBATV, usually on nights when Hawk lowlights aren’t possible to regurgitate, and I get a bit worried. Some nights, there’s My Main Man, Sam Mitchell. Others, it’s NC State’s Finest, Vinny Del Negro, or General Jim Boylen, or Stan The Man Van. Aside from maybe Smitch, I don’t think Atlanta’s Turner Sports studios, playing along at 11 PM Eastern time and reacting to the dunks and crossovers of the night and such, are where these folks imagined riding out their professional careers. This isn’t to suggest that we may wake up to find creepy Isiah Thomas sitting in Nate’s chair. Rather, I look down the bench, at Sonny Mac, at Nick The Quick, at holdovers like Matt Hill and Chris Jent, and I don’t have a grasp on exactly what they’re responsible for doing, to help Nate get these Hawks in gear on a nightly basis. I can only hope the players do. But when I hear it’s Bogi playing the swami for Clint Capela’s free throw shooting, my Spidey senses get all tingly. Maybe it’s just the Selsun Blue in my itchy scalp, I dunno. At least I had some semblance of what The Chairman, Melvin Hunt, was up to while he was here, during and post-LP. Might we awaken, soon, to find Candace Parker part-timing it in what was once Jamelle’s comfy seat? No matter who suits up for the heat (26-15), you get five guys on the court with a clue, versus teams like the Hawks that obviously do not. Miami packs the paint on D, forms a bleeping wall around the rim (NBA-low 44.4 opponent 2FGAs/game), and dares its foes (39.1 opponent 3FGAs/game) to out-snipe Duncan Robinson, Herro (NBA-high 20.7 bench PPG), Max Strus, Gabe Vincent, and Hawk-killer P.J. Tucker. Taking a combined two three-point shots per game, absent starters Butler and Bam Adebayo aren’t even part of that offensive equation. With or without them, Kyle Lowry can grind the tempo to a snail’s pace, confident he can get the ball out to shooters who are confident as to where on the floor they want to be to get the shots they want up. It's a confidence game, and Miami knows who the fish are at the table. When you exude confidence, as Spoelstra (10 games behind Phil Jackson with 728 regular+postseason career wins) infuses throughout his team, you can afford to plug-and-play an undrafted rookie like Omer Yurtseven (team-high +19 plus-minus vs. ATL, 13 rebounds, six assists) ahead of Dewayne Dedmon, or one of those Martin twins, in the starting unit and still expect favorable results. Robinson may go 3-for-10 on triples, as he did on Wednesday evening in Atlanta, and Herro 1-for-6, yet still look like a whitecapped version of the Splash Bros. That’s particularly when they’re juxtaposed by a Hawks offense (37.8 FG% vs. MIA, incl. 28.9 3FG%; 7 missed FTs on 23 attempts) whose players aren’t sure they want the ball in their hands, much less whether they should have it, or what precisely to do with it, or what to do without it, or what to do when they lose it, or... Last year’s victory in Miami ignited an unanticipated 8-game win streak for the Hawks. Getting Bogi reacclimated, Huerter (14 straight double-digit-scoring starts, shooting 52.4 FG% and averaging 1.4 SPG to close out 2020-21; questionable for today, bruised foot) enlivened, and eventually supplanting That T Guy’s minutes made a huge difference. Assertive and confident wings and backups, protecting the perimeter while sinking open shots, to complement Young, Collins and Capela made all the difference in Atlanta’s 2021 ascension. If there is to be another one in 2022, Hunter, Huerter, Bogi, and hopefully (Nathaniel...) the rookies, will all have a prominent say in the story of how the Hawks finally gelled. Whatever our current Mr. T can do to help pass the time is appreciated for now, but he’s not part of La Solution long-term. We’re at the mid-point of the season, we hope, after this game concludes, and a 27-11-style sprint to the finish line, however unlikely, remains possible. Much like the situation heading into Miami last year, there’s no good reason for the turnaround not to start tonight. I’m still mired in the middle of my MLK Day draft thread-post, so I hope you’ll excuse the brevity of tomorrow’s icebreaker, as local-yokel Knick fans follow up their heat cousins in packing The Farm in hopes of going 3-0 against Atlanta. I also hope that the Hawks remaining on this roster don’t half-azz their on-court play, over the next few days, as much as I intend to do with Saturday’s thread-opener, and the close to this one. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  10. Darn Good, Dawgs! The massive wannabe basketball player and aspiring party DJ from Charlotte had only played organized football for less than a year, after transferring and being dragged into the sport by the registrar’s husband, the high school football coach. Yet here he was, already a four-star recruit at Defensive Tackle, already a top-ten prospect in the Tar Heel State, already hot on the radars of the good folks at Chapel Hill and NC State. The Wolfpack, like the Heels, invited the swift 300-pounder to their offseason camp. Each school enthusiastically handed him a scholarship offer. He was grateful, to be sure, although he knew he’d have to give up on his true athletic dream. “I held on to basketball until the very end,” he’d say as reported by ESPN, “but football had a real future.” Unbeknownst to those rival schools, Jordan Davis already had another postsecondary school blipping on his radar. UNC’s D-Line coach had made his way to Kirby Smart’s upstart program in Athens, Georgia. Davis would soon follow, defying the hopes of other programs, like Miami, Michigan, Florida and Florida State, that wished to switch him to the other side of the scrimmage line. Football wasn’t his first love. But to the football scouts, he was vastly becoming theirs. Particularly, NC State, who held out hope to the bitter end that he wouldn’t leave the state for UGA. There was a time, not too long ago depending on how old you are, when it was rare for a blue-chip recruit, hotly contested by multiple North Carolina programs, to spurn them all for a far-flung locale like Georgia. It was rare because the stakes for the athletic programs’ boosters, competing against one another for what they thought was exclusively their “crop,” was absurdly high. And whenever a game-changing young athlete departed for what they perceive as greener pastures, the bitterness would spew out, down multiple avenues. It would appear in the form of late-night calls to the parent’s house phone, highlighted by either heavy breathing or boisterous threats. It would show up through letters at the mailbox, containing spiteful sentiments carefully collected through glued magazine cutouts. It would NOT appear, in the form of a retired jersey in a prep-school gymnasium, for more than a decade after the now-adult retired from professional sports. Washington (NC) High’s Dominique Wilkins matured faster than a bunch of Carolina-area “fans” ever could. He went through all that, endured, persevered, and thrived so, thankfully, Mallard Creek’s Jordan Davis and many others would only have to do the latter. Nique watched the college he chose make beaucoup bucks off of his stardom, while in and subsequently on bigger stages beyond Athens. In 1985, he stole the show at Market Square Arena in downtown Indianapolis to win his first NBA Slam Dunk Contest. How much revenue that buzz generated for his alma mater, he would never know. This week, on his ride home from Indianapolis, the retired Hall of Famer will be sure to zip by a highway billboard for Morgan & Morgan, the “For The People” law firm, bearing the flexing image of Jordan Davis and his winning smile. (SPOILER: Future Falcon and Bama O-lineman Evan Neal has one of those “PAID ENDORSEMENTS”, too. Because, “Size Matters!”). There is nothing our Atlanta Hawks can do tonight to flatten the winning smile off of Nique, or pretty much anyone else who affiliates with Dawg Nation. First of all, today is the Paris-born broadcaster’s birthday, and anyone around or above his age who has made it through the past couple of years, none the worse for wear, is worthy of celebration at birthday time. Second, Wilkins may never have donned a helmet and pads for the Red-and-Black. Yet whenever one of their college teams reach the mountaintop, especially in the case of Davis' trophy-hoisting football squad, every Bulldog eats. Glory, glory! The Hawks (17-22, 8 straight home losses) waited too late to unveil its new banner of consolidated division titles, just to stick its tongue out at the visiting Miami heat (7:30 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, BS Sun) in their first official meeting this season. Nah-nah-na-boo-boo, you miserable current division leaders! Now you just sit there, Miami (25-15), and watch our fans be asked to give a standing O to the remnants of a team that, for a time last season, didn’t lay down on D. Sit there and take it! I was hoping this would be the rare day where we knew more about who would be available for our team than the opponents. Alas, De’Andre Hunter (questionable, wrist) is more likely to appear for Atlanta than Cam Reddish (doubtful, sprained ankle) or Clint Capela (doubtful, ankle sprain on the other side). Throw in the probable status of John Collins (tense back) for good measure, making the probability high for Gorgui Dieng to play backup minutes in his return from You Know What. At least we will have coach Nate McMillan back from his health ‘n safety hiatus. He’ll match wits with Erik Spoelstra, who has been making do just dandy without either of Jimmy Butler (out, sprained ankle) or Bam Adebayo (out, thumb surgery). Without either of those heat stars, Kyle Lowry and Miami’s “Tres Leches” contingent (I totally stole that off Twitter) of Max Strus, Duncan Robinson, and Tyler Herro, waltzed into Phoenix and promptly blotted out the Suns, 123-100 on Saturday. Having enjoyed three off-days to recover from their 3-2 road swing, they’ll come into State Farm Arena with a comprehensive gameplan, one that they actually comprehend. Lowry (13 assists and 2 TOs last Saturday) drives and collapses the defense. One of Robinson, Herro, or Strus (combined 74 points 56.5 FG% @ PHX, incl. 15-for-28 on threes) pops from the perimeter. Whomever’s defender scrambles out of the paint to contest leaves a big like P.J. Tucker, or Omer Yurtseven (16 boards and 8 dimes @ PHX while filling in for Dewayne Dedmon, who’s questionable with a sprained knee) to chase after second-chances. Then, they’ll get set on defense, fully cognizant of their assignments, while the opponent is snatching the ball out of the net. The reigning Western champs couldn’t figure these guys out, so I harbor doubts about the preparation of Trae Young and his half-baked reigning Eastern finalists, especially to avoid Lowry’s turnover-sponge charges. The Hawks collectively getting cooked by Lowry (8.4 APG; 32.5 3FG%, lowest since 2009-10) on banner-raised night would be humbling enough. But McMillan and the Hawks can’t afford any more randos, like NC State transfers Caleb Martin or Yurtseven, turning their life story arcs into some heartstring-tugging Disney+ film feature. “Propelled by the devastating loss of his beloved pet bunny rabbit during a tragic accident at the local hasenpfeffer plant back home in Gabon, Chris Silva had himself a night to remember, hopping behind Atlanta’s unsuspecting defense and breaking NBA records with career-defining boxscore numbers, in The Blind Side, Part II. Now streaming!” I think I made all that up. Maybe I’m thinking of Hunter’s old UVA champion teammate, ten-day contractor Kyle Guy, and his poor pet ewe at the mutton factory. No matter. My only other hopes ahead of today’s game is that Nique kicks back and enjoys being fed-and-fanned throughout tonight’s broadcast, and doesn’t unnerve Wolfpack alum McMillan with tales of the latest, greatest Carolina kid who got away… Vince? Yo, Vince! Why is Rathbun breathing all heavy into your cellphone? Hunker UP! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  11. “DO NOT LISTEN TO YOUR CRAZY UNCLE ON SOCIAL MEDIA!” Friday Tidbits! A gaggle of Atlanta Hawks will convene at The Farm tonight and try, once more, to beat the Miami heat (7:30 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, BS Sun in MIA). I can’t let this month pass without serving up some Squawklove for our top-flight Public Address Announcer. Just last April, it was sounding like 6-to-8 weeks, or months, would be a great prognosis for our local radio legend, Ryan Cameron. Sepsis was the case that they gave him, on top of his longstanding congenital heart condition, and he spent weeks in touch-and-go status in the ICU after undergoing surgery. Cameron fought it off, was back on the airwaves by August, and holding down the mic at State Farm Arena’s center court when the Hawks’ season commenced in December. I can’t tell you how much joy I get hearing those golden pipes get put to the test. By Tony Snell against the Nuggets. By Danilo Gallinari against a Celtics team that still doesn’t know what hit them. By Steph Curry and All-Stars that made the arena rims look like troughs. Lately, by our fearless Leader of Horde, Bogi Bogdanovic. By Red Velvet against the Pacers. And as always, by Trae Young, whose return from a Grade 2 lateral ankle sprain (out at least a couple games, including Sunday’s versus Milwaukee) will be worth the wait. “FOR THREEEEEEEEEEEE!” All hail The Ryan King! The bad news? We’re reaching the point where Nate MacMillan and the Hawks’ coaching staff will have no choice but to sort out optimal rotations, involving returning would-be-starters and bench guys, on the fly after the regular season concludes (Magic Numbers: 7 for Play-In, w/ WAS; 12 for Top-6 Playoffs, w/ MIA). The good news? I was worried our other players returning to the floor jussssst in time for Trae/Clint Capela/John Collins to catch demoralizing injury bugs was destined to be a May problem, not April. Capela (questionable, bruised back, because Atlanta Sports) nearly summoned the spirit of Willis Reed during Wednesday’s OT loss at Madison Square Garden. His will to fight through obvious discomfort, in vain hopes of salvaging a late lead for victory after Young was carried off, should be inspiration to some on the Atlanta IL to get off their dunn, er, duff, and overcome whatever currently ails them. Let’s go, “KD”. (Snell has been upgraded, to doubtful, so that’s something. Gallo remains questionable). Due to an inflamed knee, Miami star Jimmy Butler wasn’t available to save his team on March 2, when the heat got the deep-freeze from Ice Trae (13 fourth-quarter points) in a 94-80 win that proved to be a pivot point for the Hawks (32-27). In the fourth quarter, MacMillan was able to rest Collins for a game the next evening, a win in Orlando. The Hawks win dropped Erik Spoelstra’s reigning conference champs back below .500, and recovering to their current standing, at 31-28 has been a long slog. They’ve won three straight since Butler called out his team’s effort as “sawft”, following a loss in Minnesota this time last week. Miami would love to dig themselves out of the Play-In hole and, like the Knicks, dip past the Hawks in the standings with a win tonight, especially with the knowledge somebody not named Trae has to beat them. They’ll fly home tomorrow for a two-games-in-three-nights affair with the 11th-seeded Bulls, a team that’s also figuring out how to make-do without their headlining, double-team-drawing star guard. Be it Brandon Goodwin (under 10 career mins. vs. MIA, half of them w/ DEN), who starts in place of Young tonight, his Gwinnett chum Lou Williams, Point Huerter or Point Bogi setting the plays, execution on offense must be at a premium. Atlanta committed a combined 38 turnovers in the two-game series straddling the turn to March down in Miami, including a heat season-high 16 steals despite the Hawks’ victory in that latter meeting. Miami, meanwhile, must make like a streetballing barbershop quartet and stay mindful to pass the ball. The heat are 0-5 when they assist on 20 or fewer baskets, including a season-low 15 when they last lost to the Hawks. Only seven heat turnovers in that game, too, but if you’re shooting 37.3 from the field, you’re not having a field day playing iso-ball (41.7 iso-play eFG%, 24th in NBA). Combined with a deliberately slow pace, Miami has finished six games so far without exceeding 90 points (all losses; 5 times in 73 games last year), which is unacceptable in this day and age unless your last name is Spoelstra. They’ve been without Trade Deadline pickup Victor Oladipo (out, sore knee) and Tyler Herro (questionable, sore foot), but their absences may only help with their perimeter marksmanship. Miami has shot just 35.0 3FG% as a team (24th in NBA). Thanks to Kendrick Nunn in this week’s home wins over Brooklyn and Houston (11-for-20 combined 3FGs), and Herro shaking off the barnacles in San Antonio on Wednesday (5-for-6 3FGs), the heat have outshot their foes on threes in nine of their past 10 wins (the exception involving a kid named Steph, naturally). Even if Capela’s a late scratch, rookie Onyeka Okongwu will need to be ready to help Collins and former heat forward Solomon Hill, particularly to keep Bam Adebayo guessing if it’s ever safe to vacate the paint. The heat depend not on blocking shots (4.1 team BPG, 29th in NBA) but making opponents take contested interior shots over height, without fouling. Their mediocre team rebounding, though (72.6 D-Reb%, 4th-worst in East; 2.8 opponent putbacks/game, 3rd-most in East) can allow Collins and Okongwu plenty of chances at cleanup duty when tough shots go up. In the aftermath of Kelly Olynyk’s trade to Houston and Meyers Leonard’s career immolation, former Hawk starter Dewayne Dedmon has been brought in and is already munching away at rookie Achiuwa’s precious floor time. Over the past 25 NBA seasons, only one team, the 2009-10 Trail Blazers, have had to watch opponents shoot over 80 percent from the charity stripe (80.3 opponent FT%). Our Fine Feathered Friends ought to be feeling a bit ruffled, this deep in the season, as their foes shoot 80.5 FT%, a percentage that only dropped a smidgen as the Knicks made 20 of 25 foul shots on Wednesday. It’s a shame, since the Hawks themselves have been reasonably good in this area (81.0 team FT%, 2nd-best in NBA), and a prolonged absence by Young (career-highs of 87.4 FT% on 8.8 attempts/game) may worst be felt here. Kevin Huerter and Bogdanovic have combined to take 1.9 FTAs per game, less than Williams’ 2.5, and our demure wing duo could stand to draw more contact on their trips to the paint. Goodwin’s 62.9 FT% (37-for-41 in prior two pro seasons, 22-for-35 in this one) may be more of a small-sample anomaly, but he’ll need to be on-point when earning points from the line this weekend and going forward. I know I’m not the only Hawks fan who notices this, too. On the legally obligatory “Without the Expressed Written Consent” ad during any NBA game, the rolling graphic of team logos begins with Boston’s, continues three-by-three in exact alphabetical order by NBA team locale, and ends, after Washington’s, with Atlanta’s. As KRS-One might say, “Why Is That???” Also, I figured out the Hawks players did their “Take The Shot” pro-vaxx PSA in some swanky Emory Healthcare facility (I think they just replaced the TV ad with Clint’s great one-liner, sadly, after some Uncles got in their feelings and called Hawks Customer Service. Still up on the radio, though!). And I was relieved, because I was ready to hand Johnny Bap the max early, after catching him on the balcony up those fancy curved stairs with that monstrous chandelier, in what I thought was Collins’ MTV crib selfie. “Pay the Man!”, I shouted at first, “because I know the Man has some bills due!” I’m still not going to games or public events, including the latest MLK-themed Unity Night today. But I did rather enjoy kicking back in a socially-distanced stadium seat mid-day yesterday, watching crew members drawing up the play lines for Atlanta United’s MLS home opener tomorrow versus the Chicago Fire (Saturday night, 8 PM Eastern Bally Sports South). I had time to chill in The Benz after getting poked, awaiting side effects that never came. Spicoli’s CORE Response, Uncle Arthur’s foundation, and the team of Army soldiers delivering the shots, themselves vaccinated by the Georgia National Guard, had that whole joint running smoother than a fresh jar of Skippy. Now, it helped indubitably that there were next-to-no lines, although I can’t speak for the rush hour crowds (hours vary if you go without an appointment, but they’re open until 4:30 today, and have been open as late as 10 PM mid-week). A full 24 hours later? To disagree just slightly with our dear rock-band buddies from Athens, it is NOT the End of the World as We Know It, and I Feel Fine. Take The Shot! (Qs and As are at Hush, Uncle Karl, hush!) Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  12. When life gives you Meyers' lemons... Squeeze! ~lw3
  13. “Don’t sweat the game tonight, Trae. Just chalk it up to a Bad Hair Day.” STATEMENT FROM THE ATLANTA HAWKS BASKETBALL CLUB ATLANTA, GEORGIA -- “Accountability matters,” says Principal Owner, and Chair of the Board of Directors for the Atlanta Hawks Basketball Club, Tony Ressler. “When we’re losing for weeks on end, and the performance on the floor is not up to snuff, someone has to be held accountable.” For that reason, the Hawks have relieved Lethal Weapon 3 (“LW3”) of his duties as Head Gamethread Writer (“HGW”) at, effective immediately after tonight’s game with the Miami heat (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Sun). “We need insightful, portable analysis ahead of games if we have any chance of reaching the Playoffs,” said Ressler. “Like my wife’s performance in Twister, I demand precision and perfection out of everyone around me. When we’re about to play the Hornets, we can’t afford Storytime With Lethal veering off-topic about his ten most favorite Charlotte Flair matches. I’m sorry, but that’s not what I’m not paying for!” President of Basketball Operations and General Manager Travis Schlenk made the announcement today. “We needed a new voice for the second half of our season, to get us where we needed to go,” said Schlenk, adding, “¯\_(ツ)_/¯”. The Hawks (14-20) have won just 10 of 29 games after a promising 4-1 start to the 2020-21 season, including four wins in their last 15 contests. Over his seven-year career as HGW on HawkSquawk (“The Squawk”), LW3, a Philadelphia native in his third decade as an Atlanta transplant, averaged 84.7 Gamethread Posts Per Season (GaPPS). In that time, he amassed 14.3 season tickets per year, 3.5 likes per post and 0.99 stars per thread. “Lethal’s injury updates, ultimately, were an unfair reflection of where our Club is improving, health-wise,” said Mildred Ratched, R.N., Vice President of Athletic Performance and Sports Medicine. “Particularly our free agents. In fact, we’re wheeling out Bogdan Bogdanovic for a few minutes, in time for this next game. Kris Dunn is getting better by leaps and bounds, although, I admit, we’re still working on the whole leaping-and-bounding part. And Rajon Rondo would be activated by now if he would just bother to return my calls. Excuse me, he’s what?” “Anyway, just to find the positive news in the Gamethreads, you’ll get some silly sidebar from Lethal about memorable scenes from Mommie Dearest,” said Nurse Ratched. “I mean, enough about Tina and the Axe, already! Ugh!” “He’s a fine enough fellow, who cares way more about Atlanta and its sports history than any sane sentient being should. But, frankly, have you seen the ego on this guy? Unmanageable!”, added Uniform Fashion Guru, Organizational Fire Ranger and Chief Executive Officer Steve Koonin. “Believe me, I’ve had to work directly with Future on a weekly basis, so I know unmanagea— just a minute, folks, I’ve got to take this call… Hey, Camye. Hold on. What do you mean, that was 2Chainz?” “Don’t nobody look at me,” said Pope Francis, Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the State of Vatican City, Servant of the Servants of God. “I’m totally just in this for the sweet, free jerseys. Do these come in full-length?” Gamethread viewership on The Squawk peaked in Atlanta’s 60-win season in 2014-15, and during LW3’s perennial Trade Deadline Karaoke. He has assailed over 600 current and former players, coaches, TV analysts, owners and general managers, and occasionally Russell Wilson, during his tenure as HGW. “Indeed, this month is the ten-year anniversary of when Dominique gave that former referee and suit tailor a shiner,” noted Head Coach Lloyd Pierce. “And while that’s nice trivia to know, it’s not the content I need when I turn to The Squawk to prepare for the Miami heat game. I need to read about how we’re going to get Trae to move without the ball after a double-team, how on Earth we’re going to keep Kendrick Nunn from getting wide-open corner jumpshots in transition!” “I depend on the Squawk to alert me, our scouts, my staff, and my players, that we’ve got to be physical,” said Pierce. “That we’ve got a tag on rollers. We’ve got a punch-on. We have to wipe the post. We’ve got to be into bodies and go over screens. We’ve got to be up to touch in the pick and roll. We’ve got to tag rollers. We have to get to closeouts. We have to force hot shooters to dribble. We’ve got to make our adjustments at the level to screen. We’ve got to X out on the perimeter. We’ve got to be multiple effort. We’ve got to be airspace on the closeouts. We got to pick up full court and get into bodies and change directions and try to spin some ballhandlers. We’ve got to deflect on the ballhandlers. We’ve got to make sure that, when they’re making their crossover, someone’s sitting there. When there’s a driving gap, we’ve got to be in the gaps. We’ve got to make sure that there’s an extra pass on every single possession. When there’s an extra pass, we got to make sure we get out and contest. We’ve got to do it with discipline, so that no one is fouling shooters on the perimeter. We’ve got to make sure we find bodies on the perimeter. We’ve got to come in and make our hits. We’ve got to rebound the basketball, so we can get out and run… oh, fellas, this is Tony on the line, I’ll finish my thoughts later. After all, we’ve got a big rematch with the heat coming up! Nate, wrap up practice!” “Can you believe nobody realizes I’m still here?”, asks Senior Basketball Advisor and former General Manager Rick Sund, from the Hawks’ corporate headquarters on Marietta Street. “Just between us? Nobody knows I’ve been The Mole this whole time. Shhh! I’m hiding out in an office behind the Coke machine!” The Atlanta Hawks Basketball Club has won one National Basketball Association championship in its 75-year history, as the St. Louis Hawks in 1958. They have won one Southeast Division championship in the years since LW3 assumed Gamethread duties on The Squawk. In the interim, Hawks fans will post random team stats and stat leaders, betting lines and trends, until they can convince Hubie Brown to take over HGW duties. For more information, please visit Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  14. “Stop the game! That jersey clashes with our pink and blue!” “What’s our record, Jordan, with our #fullsquad?”, David Lee wanted to know. He didn’t know to add the hashtag yet, while pressing his postgame media contingent. But he would, soon. “What’s our record? #Fullsquad. When we have everybody? Does anybody know what our record is? When we’ve got Andre, and Steph, and everybody in the lineup? We’re pretty darn good.” The excitement had been waning for Lee’s emerging Golden State Warriors. Coming off a breakthrough 2012-13 season, where the Dubs won their first playoff series since the We Believe era ended, head coach Mark Jackson found himself juggling the starting lineups in 2013-14, and he was losing believers fast. A 14-13 start to the season simply wasn’t good enough. But in Jackson’s defense, Lee inferred, fifth-year pro (and, soon-to-be first-time All-Star) Stephen Curry was in and out of the lineup with nagging ankle injuries. By the time Curry could be stabilized, the Warriors found themselves without their key offseason addition. Andre Iguodala, by then nearing age 30, wasn’t asked to fill too much of the boxscore, an open three-point jumpshot here, a steal or two and a fastbreak jam over there. Acquired over the summer via a surprising sign-and-trade from Denver, he was seen as the glue guy that made the Warriors’ competitive streak stick. But his hamstring injury had him missing nearly a month, greasing the skids on Golden State’s swoon toward mediocrity. But then, Iguodala returned. And in mere days, the Warriors went on a splashy run. A 19-point home win over the Lakers kickstarted a ten-game winning streak. To win their seventh-straight, Golden State had to erase a 15-point Hawks lead at Philips Arena with under seven minutes to play. Iguodala came through in the final minute, with an assist for a short Curry jumper, a defensive stop (with Curry being O-D subbed for Draymond Green) leading to a Paul Millsap miss, and his only swished three-pointer of the game at the buzzer, assisted by Curry, to win by one. It took the brilliance of Brooklyn Net Joe Johnson to finally stop Golden State, keeping the Warriors from becoming the first club in NBA history to go undefeated on a seven-game road trip. But by then, #FullSquad, uttered by Lee and reiterated in fun by Iguodala and multiple Warriors, had become a meme on Vine and a perpetually trending topic on Twitter. 2015’s Finals MVP, Iguodala returned around this time last year to the Bay Area, honored by the teammates who stuck together just long enough, with a little coaching change and a little more help, to win three NBA titles. Dre was returning with his latest team, the Miami heat. “We’ve got one of the greatest Warriors in the history of the organization back,” said Klay Thompson, who was recovering from the leg injury that ended both Golden State’s Finals run in 2019 and the 2019-20 season before it could begin. “I can’t wait to see your jersey in the rafters one of these days.” Addressing what we once recognized as a crowd at the new Warriors arena, Iguodala assured the fanbase about the absences of the Splash Brothers with a term they know so well. “My brothers will be back in action, #FullSquad next year, to wreak havoc on the league for 80 games. Love y’all!” What, Andre, not 82? He didn’t know it yet, but Iguodala would be a key “glue guy” element for his current NBA club’s surprise return to the NBA Finals in 2020. He, like most who ran through the Warriors’ reign in the 20-teens, knows as well as anybody that the most important ability is availability. For the Miami heat, their “culture” is built on defying the need for a #FullSquad to thrive. While their visitors for the next couple of days, the Atlanta Hawks (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Sun), spin their wheels, the defending Eastern Conference champs are finally taking off, seeking to win their sixth and seventh consecutive games at the Hawks’ expense. Coach Erik Spoelstra’s club has had to endure the wrath of COVID (guard Avery Bradley tested positive, while Tyler Herro had to quarantine when his housemate came down COVID+). Franchise All-Star guard Jimmy Butler caught Da Rona missed almost a dozen games. Kendrick Nunn and Goran Dragic have missed stretches. But down on South Beach, heat Culture dictates there’s always a “next man up.” Last year’s surprises of Duncan Robinson and Nunn have moved comfortably into Coach Spo’s starting lineups. When the heat needed offense in Butler’s and Bam Adebayo’s absences, two-way player Gabe Vincent stepped up with 46 points during a two-game series in Philly. Around once a week, the other two-way player, Max Strus, drops in and drops between three-to-five three-pointers in a game. Rookie first-rounder Precious Achiuwa has rendered free agent vet Moe Harkless nearly unnecessary. The team has been sloppy (8.7 opponent SPG and 16.1 player TOs/game, 2nd-most in NBA), and are routinely outshot on three-pointers with Butler and Adebayo ineffective from that range. But Miami is coming together at the right time, with the All-Star Break approaching. Having bigs like Adebayo (career-highs of 19.6 PPG and 5.5 APG) who can not only finish around the paint but also pass the ball enlivens an offense. Having vets like Iguodala and Butler who have not only preached about perseverance through adversity as a team, but lived through it, goes a long way, too. “We know what adversity is,” Jimmy Buckets shared with Rachel Nichols for ESPN’s The Jump, as his team, then at 11-17 while looking up at Atlanta and many others in the Eastern Conference standings, was preparing for its current winning run. “We’re supposed to be better. We’re supposed to get better and bring everybody up with us. Maybe here and there we’ve forgotten that. We will get back to it, though. I promise you that. We will.” So far, with a .500 record on the horizon, it appears they have. In recognition of our team’s dear hosts in Miami, here are a couple lines of dialogue from one of The U.’s favorite sons. “Hey, Jabroni. Who are the Atlanta Hawks’ opponents missing today?” “Well, Tyler Herro’s got a bum hip, Meyers Leonard’s out for the season, and Avery Br—” “IT DOESN’T MATTER WHO’S OUT FOR THE HAWKS’ OPPONENTS!” Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  15. “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
  16. Getting the sense that this Diongoing plight is the BEST thing that could have happened to this team. ~lw3
  17. Did the Gummie Bears look like this? ~lw3
  18. “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
  19. ~lw3
  20. “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
  21. 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
  22. 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