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  1. “Guys! I think we’ve finally just turned a corner!” Just when you thought it was safe to go back into mediocrity! Remember all my claptrap about an “easier” schedule for our Hawks by March? Well, the trick is, Atlanta still must learn to make things easier on themselves. As the Hawks spin their wheels in mud, it turns out, several teams in the sad-sack Lottery East aren’t just sitting around waiting to be lapped. For example, the Cavaliers leapfrogged the Hawks in the right-side-up standings with a pair of home wins over Denver and San Antonio. The Knicks aren’t winning in the customer relations department these days, but at least they know how to beat the Pistons at MSG, along with the fizzling Rockets and Bulls during their recent eight-day homestand. The Wizards may not have enough to sneak into the playoff picture, but they’ve done enough to stiff-arm the Warriors and the Hawks in recent days. Even out West, the Pelicans and Warriors don’t project to be the same squads we saw earlier in the season, with the respective re-introductions of Zion and Steph to their rosters. The Hawks will get to play those teams on three occasions in the back half of what was supposed to be the very merry month of March, but only after a three-game, week-long homestand that begins tonight. Speaking of which, there are coach James Borrego’s Charlotte Hornets, who buzz their way into State Farm Arena this evening (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast in ATL and CLT, 92.9 FM). Sunday’s home win over the Rockets has made them victors in six of their last 11 games, and any stretch remotely above .500 is good enough to surge Lottery teams up the standings. Sure, Charlotte (22-41, Tragic Number 13) had recently lost three straight. But those defeats were sandwiched between wins at Toronto and versus Houston. All three losses, to Milwaukee, Sam Antonio and Denver amid a seven-day homestand, were by single-digit margins. They’ve held the Raptors to 96 points, the Bucks to 93, and the Rockets to 99. Good things happen when they control the pace (NBA-low 96.4 possessions per 48 minutes) and put the clamps on opponents defensively. Many of the league’s tougher opponents await on the remainder of the Hornets’ schedule, but many of those contests will be at home, and none of them include the three games the Hawks (19-46) and Hornets have yet to play. So there remains a glimmer of hope among Charlotteans, so long as they can avoid being inundated by Trae Young like they were in December. Young had 30 points and 9 assists, making all 8 free throws in a rare early road win for the Hawks, a 122-107 sprint to the checkered flag in Charlotte. Trae is reportedly over the flu bug, now passed on to Jeff Teague (available for tonight anyway), and should be chomping at the bit to make up for the waxing he endured yet again at the Grizzlies’ hands this past week (1-for-14 3FGs, 6 total assists and 12 TOs over 2 games vs. MEM). Against his division rivals, Young will want to shake a perimeter funk that extends back a half-dozen games (17.6 3FG% in his past six appearances). Even if the struggle continues, Atlanta (19-46, hasn’t lost 4 in a row since Jan. 12) can still give themselves a puncher’s chance at victory. The NBA’s two worst defensive rebounding squads take the court tonight at The Highlight Farm. The worst of the two by default, visiting Charlotte nonetheless nabbed a season-high 47 in a balanced effort to topple the Raptors during the Hornets’ last road trek. They will need more of the same tonight, but the Hawks hope those guys will be spending more time retrieving the ball from the inner bottom of the net. This contest could hinge on which team creates more havoc on the offensive glass, earns productive trips to the foul line and extends possessions. Charlotte will lean on Cody Zeller, Bismack Biyombo (DNP vs. HOU on Saturday) and Willy Hernangomez to sneak in and create extra opportunities for Terry Rozier, PJ Washington and Devonte’ Graham (combined 13-for-23 on threes vs. HOU). Lloyd Pierce’s club will wish to counter with John Collins (probable, thigh bruise), who was suspended and unavailable for the December win in Charlotte, Bruno Fernando (team-high 8.6 O-Reb%) and Dewayne Dedmon, who would do well to match the five O-Rebs Alex Len contributed during 19 minutes off the bench in that game. Hopefully all the putbacks and second-chances won’t be necessary, if Atlanta’s backcourt executes well on the first tries. Against a Hornets squad that allows the most assisted baskets in the league (NBA-high 26.5 opponent APG), the Hawks can gain the upper hand if Young, Kevin Huerter and Cam Reddish (12 minutes vs. MEM before leaving with leg cramps, available vs. CHA) make sound passes and take advantage of open looks. Getting back in proper defensive assignments ought to be simpler against Charlotte, who doesn’t get out and run much anyway (1.04 transition PPP, 29th in NBA, ahead of only New York’s 1.03). For a team that has been presented lately as a Playoff Team of the Near Future, it would be good for Atlanta to see better all-around performances versus Non-Playoff Teams of the Present. With a homestand that includes New York and Cleveland stopping through later in the week, a rare three-game winning streak would be nice for a team that aims to win four-out-of-seven games a little over 13 months from now. In these waters, the Hawks don't have to be Jaws yet. They just have to know how to quit playing like a Baby Shark. That is to say, like Doo-Doo-do-Doo-do-Doo. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  2. I still suspect Sue Ellen had something to do with it. ~lw3
  3. Buyout, then Fly out! ~lw3
  4. “Te’ YOUNG!” ‘Tis a tough time if you’re a Torero. Back before James Borrego hooped at the University of San Diego, a pipeline was already growing. USD alum Bernie Bickerstaff got Mike Brown into the pro ranks as an unpaid video coordinator. After establishing his foothold in the league, Brown would hire Chris Grant, who later worked his way up the Atlanta Hawks’ front office ranks for a decade. At Golden State, former Hawks assistant Eric Musselman reeled up David Fizdale, who was a USD player-turned-assistant while Borrego was playing at the Jenny Craig Pavilion. By the next season, Fizdale was an assistant helping coach Mike Woodson lug the Hawks out of the NBA abyss. Borrego immediately shifted from student-athlete to assistant coach for this otherwise unremarkable West Coast Conference school when the NBA’s Spurs, with a recommendation from departing assistant coach Brown, came calling with an open video coordinator spot. The number of USD alums currently serving as NBA head coaches was sliced in half over the weekend. Fizdale’s firing by the Nyuk Nyuk Knicks leaves Borrego as the last Torero standing. He’ll need to have his up-and-down Charlotte Hornets ready to go in a Sunday matinee at Spectrum Center against their division rival Hawks (5:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, 92.9 FM in ATL). Like Atlanta coach Lloyd Pierce and, until Friday, like Coach Fiz, Borrego is in his second season clutching the clipboard for a team that’s below the NBA playoff line. The Hawks (5-17) have been undergoing a controlled burn during this time, while the Knicks (4-18) have sustained the look and smell of a dumpster fire. It is hard to assess, at this stage, which organization the Hornets (9-15) better reflects, largely because it’s difficult to sense what even the near-term plan is, for owner Michael Jordan and GM Mitch Kupchak. That has left Borrego as a prisoner of circumstance. The team is no longer obligated to cater to franchise face Kemba Walker, who left this past summer for Beantown. But Charlotte did get Celtics backup Terry Rozier (17.9 PPG, 41.9 3FG% w/ CHA) in return. Borrego and the Hornets staff are charged with appeasing the point guard, and developing him into a star contributor, in hopes things don’t get too scary in the Carolinas. Well, then along comes Raleigh-raised guard Devonte’ Graham. Emerging to become the team’s surprise leading scorer (19.1 PPG, 42.1 3FG%), the second-year second-rounder has been not only a top perimeter threat (88 3FGs, 2nd in NBA) but the team’s superior playmaking passer (7.8 APG, 3.2 TOs/game). Borrego can’t bench the guy who was supposed to be the primary play-setter, Rozier. So, might as well start them together. A shade below Fizdale’s beleaguered Knick, Dennis Smith, Jr., the league’s bottom-dweller in Player-Impact Plus-Minus (as calculated by Bball-Index) has been the Hornets’ Miles Bridges. To this point, “Sky Miles” has also logged over 100 minutes more, in some cases 450 minutes more, than any of the next 17 NBA players ranked ahead of him in PIPM. Having traded down in 2018 to acquire Bridges and a pair of future second-rounders for All-Rookie Second-Teamer Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kupchak and the Hornets don’t want it to look as though they’ve followed his predecessors’ footsteps with a draft-day mistake. So, the high-flying, low efficiency forward might as well start, alongside rookie forward PJ Washington. It’s a pairing that would seem redundant but for the latter’s sweet shooting from outside (42.1 3FG%). Mainstay center Cody Zeller (team-high 53.0 FG% and 13.0 O-Reb%) bruised his hip during a five-game losing skid, and along comes Bismack Biyombo (career-high 7.4 PPG), who suddenly played like a man trying to shed that Bust-mack label once and for all. Biyombo has since ebbed, and Zeller’s healthy again. For Borrego, who promised since the preseason he’d shake things up to improve Charlotte’s almost Hawks-bad defense (113.5 D-Rating, 27th in NBA, just ahead of ATL’s 113.9; NBA-worst 60.5 opponent 2FG% within 10 feet of rim; 56.0 opponent eFG%, 29th in NBA), but now seems stuck fielding the Graham-Rozier and Bridges-Washington duos? Might as well keep Biyombo in there, too. Two of the three Hornet lineup duos (as per bball-ref) with positive net-scoring effects each include third-year guard Malik Monk. But the undersized shooting guard’s jumper has been so atrocious lately (32.0 FG%, 17.9 3FG% in last seven games) that he has been drifting out of the rotation. Borrego has been relieved of the obligation to give big minutes to draft and free agency gaffes that preceded him, specifically Nic Batum (team-high $25.5 million salary, $27.1 million player option for 2020-21; career-low 3.5 PPG and 36.4 FG% in 22.5 MPG after returning from a finger injury), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist ($13 million salary, two appearances and 18 total minutes played this season), and Monk (drafted two picks ahead of Donovan Mitchell in 2017). But, given the alternate options of unready rookies Cody and Caleb Martin and Jalen McDaniels, or Dwayne Bacon (32.0 FG% on the season)? Borrego might as well let Monk shoot his way out of the funk. The sole free agency veteran pickup that seemed to pan out over time, Marvin Williams (27 points @ ATL last February; probable, knee) can still shoot (career-high 49.6 FG%, 40.0 3FG%) and provide defensive effort, but even his overall in-game production (7.6 PPG, career-low 20.3 minutes/game 4.9 rebounds per-36) seems spotty. Charlotte’s current record appears gaudy compared to Atlanta’s. But before thrashing the Great Value Warriors 106-91 at home last Wednesday, Charlotte had not defeated any team by more than seven points, and even that game was one day before Halloween. They’ve beaten Chicago, Sacramento, Golden State (twice), Detroit (thrice), a Pacers team absent Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner, and Fizdale’s Knicks. The win over the scrub-a-Dubs was sandwiched by home losses in the past week to Phoenix and Brooklyn. Seven of the Hornets’ 15 defeats have been by margins of 15 or more points. The quality of Charlotte’s victories wouldn’t get much better today against the Hawks, who arguably are enduring the league’s toughest schedule (NBA-high 56 percent opponent winning percentage, not counting their own contributions to their success, as per In his return home, DeAndre’ Bembry remains in the Hawks’ starting lineup, as De’Andre Hunter (finger) is doubtful to play in what would be a return to the site of his last loss as a collegian, in the 2019 ACC semifinals (Cam Reddish’s Duke squad won the tourney). Early and late, Coach Pierce will want to limit the inefficiencies of Bembry (48.6 FT%, 25.7 3FG%; 1-for-9 FGs vs. BRK on Wednesday) coming to the fore, so one should expect more re-acclimation for Kevin Huerter in his return from shoulder rehab. Having rookie Reddish (25 points, 6-for-10 2FGs, 4-for-7 3FGs, 3 steals), coming off a banner day in Atlanta’s 130-118 loss to the Nets, alongside Huerter (37.8 3FG%), and having both more involved in motion offense, ought to better alleviate Trae Young, the Hawks’ do-it-all-beside-defending-on-ball guard (4th in NBA for Usage%) who could use a wider array of options when he emerges from traps and double-teams. Enhanced wing play should also be enough to add a defense-worthy dimension to an Atlanta offense (53.4 paint points per-48, 2nd in NBA) that gets overly content with dumping the ball inside to the bigs, notably Jabari Parker, Damian Jones and Alex Len, and hoping for the best. The preoccupation with the big-man paint points, particularly via rim-rolling (9.1 roll-man PPG, 2nd-most in NBA; 1.11 PPP, 8th-lowest) and the second-chance rebounding has come at the expense of second-half fatigue that opponents use to bludgeon the Hawks on the defensive end. Defensive transition is lacking (1.14 opponent PPP on transition, tied w/ CHA for 8th-most in NBA) without the frontcourt contributors hustling back, and no team approaches the third-quarter deficiency of Atlanta’s 59.7 D-Reb%, creating deficits too steep for Young (27 of 39 points vs. BRK in second half; 8-for-10 FTs vs. BRK, only two other teammates a combined 5-for-11) to singularly climb out from. Judicious with committing fouls (5th-lowest personal fouls per 48, 2nd-lowest opp. FT%), the Hornets will make it tough on Young or any Hawk to retrieve former NC scholastic hoops star Nique's single-game NBA free-throw perfection record. Still, the Hawks will give themselves an opportunity to steal this game if they return in kind the pressure Young receives on the backcourt scorers of the Hornets, who now turn the ball over more frequently (16.0 TO%, 6th-highest in NBA) than they did in recent seasons with Kemba running the show. Former Hornets coach Steve Clifford has the Magic (four straight wins to reach 11-11) punching above their weight, making the likelihood of Charlotte snagging a 7- or 8-seed less likely with each bad loss. Kupchak and Jordan have expressed confidence in Borrego, not resorting to the Knick-stakes that put Fizdale’s future in early limbo. But without a clear plan as to exactly what they’re building, mounting losses, dotted with unimpressive wins, may cause Charlotteans to question whether the head coach is truly part of the foundation. Borrego himself may begin to question his superiors, as to whether there’s a foundation at all. You stay classy, San Diego alum. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  5. “Où sont toutes les femmes chaudes?” The future of your Atlanta Hawks rests in the capable hands of… Tony Parker? And Nicolas Batum, too? Okay, it’s not that serious. Still, the Hawks may want to be extra nice to the Frenchmen when they pay the Charlotte Hornets a visit (7:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, 92.9 FM in ATL). Travis Schlenk’s draft-and-stashee, the final selection from the 2017 NBA Draft, forward/center Alpha Kaba is currently having his paycheques signed by Parker. The longtime NBA point guard and one-time Finals MVP doubles as the team president for ASVEL Basket, the French LNB Pro A outfit in suburban Villeurbanne. Last year, Parker took Batum (club president of basketball ops) under his employ. Kaba shined for the SummerHawks back in July, putting together an impressive double-double in Atlanta’s Summer League finale. Yet he injured his elbow a month later while training with ASVEL, who have nonetheless raced to the top spot in Pro A action with a 7-1 record. “You can tell he found the weight room in France,” Schlenk told the AJC, clearly impressed by the work he had put in the prior season with Parker’s club. Albeit from afar, Schlenk and Batum are carefully monitoring Alpha’s rehab, as the 22-year-old is expected to be back in action later this month, in time to help his team wrap up Eurocup group play. While he looks awfully weird in teal after so many seasons rocking the black-and-silver, Parker landing in Charlotte as a result of this past summer’s free agency period made sense. For starters, Tony now gets his own checks signed by an accomplished NBA champ. After giving the ineffective Rich Cho the heave-ho, Hornets owner Michael Jordan sought out more folks with a winning pedigree to bring under his wing, starting with Original Redeem Team gold medalist, multiple-time NBA champion, and ex-KobeLakers GM Mitch Kupchak to run the show. To fill the coaching spot vacated by Steve Clifford, Kupchak hired a Spursguy in James Borrego, an assistant on Gregg Popovich’s bench during ten of Parker’s seasons in San Antonio. Beyond the bond with Borrego, Parker saw the opportunity to coordinate directly with Batum on foreign affairs as a positive. Then there’s his most essential role, as a steady backup and reliable stopgap behind Kemba Walker, the two-time All-Star who has all the look of an All-NBA candidate in the early going (career-highs of 28.0 PPG, 52.5 2FG%, 40.4 3FG%, 86.2 FT%; fewest MPG since his 2011-12 rookie year). Having cycled through D.J. Augustin, Mo Williams, Jeremy Lin, Ramon Sessions and Michael Carter-Williams as Kemba backups, the Hornets’ fanbase, Parker knew, wasn’t about to have outsized expectations of the 36-year-old’s current skillset. It’s early, but it appears Parker (5.0 APG, 1.4 TO/game in 18.1 MPG) is clearing a reasonably low bar as a reserve ballhandler. With either Walker or Parker paired with Batum, Borrego fields Hornet lineups that are better equipped to move the ball, even though it occasionally winds up in the hands teammates that are often accuracy-averse. Charlotte ranks 6th in the league with 18.0 assists per 100 possessions (the top three teams in this department are a combined 26-3). Last season’s edition of the Hornets ranked 27th. Maintaining the predecessor coach Clifford’s emphasis on ball control, their 1.99 assist-turnover ratio is just behind pass-happy Golden State, at 3rd in the league. Last season, Charlotte was bottom-ten in threes attempted; this season, they rank 7th. Replacing Dwight Howard in the offseason, effectively, with Bismack Biyombo and a horde of future second-rounders (recouping the picks sent to acquire Willy Hernangomez from New York) hasn’t harmed the Bugs’ defensive efficiency (it helps that they have a healthy Cody Zeller this season to help man the middle, too). As a result, the Hornets’ 7.5 Net Rating (5th in NBA) currently belies their otherwise benign 5-5 record. Aside from Kemba’s brilliance, Charlotte hasn’t opened many eyes around the league yet, not in ways fellow small-market Sacramento has done so far. That’s in part due to a feeble strength-of-victory -- wins have come against Orlando, Miami twice, Chicago, and Cleveland. Also factoring into the muted reactions to the Hornets’ play are the stale remnants of the roster left in Cho’s wake. Shots by Kupchak’s fellow Tar Heel alum, 13-year NBA yeoman Marvin Williams, have landed like dead ducks by the time they approach the rim (37.1 FG%, 20.5 3FG%, 62.5 FT%). Acquired in a draft swap with the LA Clippers for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, rookie Miles Bridges (39.1 3FG%, team-high 75.0 2FG%) has been gently nudging his way toward Williams’ spot in the starting lineup. Another former second-overall draftee, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist remains the WYSIWYG of the NBA, a defensive pest for forwards and wings, but incapable of extending his range beyond the paint. The dead-and-buried lottery bust Frank Kaminsky has become the spirit animal representing Hornet draftees’ unfulfilled promise, and the cover model for Deadspin’s latest list of “Butt” NBA youngsters. Batum, Williams, and Zeller aren’t going anywhere, not with their eight-figure salaries guaranteed through at least next season. It’s unlikely that Biyombo or MKG, slated to again make $30 million combined as opt-ins next season, will be dipping, either. The crux of the issue for the Hornets is that Walker and Jeremy Lamb very well might this summer. Returning the backcourt starters at their respective market value will only further bloat a core payroll that no one foresees as championship or even contender quality. For Charlotte to become more than they are, Kupchak’s cupboard must be emptied, somehow, of the treadmill veterans he inherited. And his coaching staff has to find a way to get 20-year-olds Bridges and Malik Monk playing consistently ahead of their development curves. For the Hawks (3-6), Taurean Prince’s ankle sprain, suffered late during Saturday’s 123-118 win over Miami, will produce even more next-man-up action out of Lloyd Pierce’s reserves. Kevin Huerter may become the third rookie inserted into the starting lineup, in place of Prince. Chapel Hill legend Vince Carter may make a return to the top line as well. But another strong option could be former Charlotte Nets AAU star DeAndre’ Bembry. Despite a recent swoon, DeAndre’ has been pure Pierre from the perimeter (42.9 3FG%), a vast improvement from injury-riddled seasons past. He and/or Huerter could help draw Batum, the Hornets’ top defensive rebounder (6.5 RPG), out of the paint. But he’ll have to be a stronger finisher on his forays inside (39.2 FG%; 2nd-most missed FTs on the team) to balance out his offensive threat. Bembry and Kent Bazemore will be switching intermittently to relieve Young of the defensive pressure of containing Walker. Trae, in turn, must be ready to help with intercepting dishes out to Batum (40.0 3FG%, 4.1 APG) and Monk (13.4 PPG, 2nd on the team in scoring). Omari Spellman (team-high 1.8 O-Rebs per game), Dewayne Dedmon, ex-Hornet Miles Plumlee and The Alexes (Len and Poythress) need to crash the glass as a platoon, keeping Zeller, MKG, and Hernangomez occupied and unable to maximize second-chances for the Hornets. Keeping Kidd-Gilchrist, Marvin, and the Charlotte bigs from helping Walker and Parker would allow Young and the Hawks to execute plays and, in combination with Prince’s absence, keep the turnover margin with the stingy Hornets close. Charlotte’s offense relies heavily on the point guards driving inside and drawing trips to the charity stripe. Keeping a wing defender in front of Parker and/or Walker and getting them to pick up their dribble before they get into the paint, without fouling, will lower the Hornets’ offensive efficiency and keep the Hawks in the contest late. No matter the outcome tonight, Atlanta had better stay on Parker and Batum’s good sides. That is, unless we want Alpha Kaba to become the next Alain Digbeu. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  6. TRADE SZN! Where is Dwight off to, now? Mozgov (also in this deal) fell out with Coach Kenny and made it public, while Dwight's ex-Magic coach (Cliff) got fired by Charlotte and is back in Orlando now, so this deal makes a little sense for both clubs. ~lw3
  7. Moar Spurz Guyz! ~lw3
  8. “Next stop… NBA championship glory!” No, Dwight Howard, you’re no Coach Killer! Not anymore, anyway. These days, think of yourself as more of a PBO/GM Manslaughterer. Howard arrived in Charlotte hoping to resurrect his formidable but fun-loving reputation, once more, under the auspices of his trusted coach from olden, more golden days of yore. Now Howard arrives for the final time this season at the Highlight Factory, with the GM who acquired him summarily dispatched, while suddenly lame-duck coach Steve Clifford is nearly on the outs, too. Perhaps coach (and former PBO) Mike Budenholzer and his Atlanta Hawks can lob Coach Cliff, Dwight, and the Hornets yet another lifeline tonight (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Carolinas). This time next week, Philips Arena will be populated to the rafters with countless fans of Final Four hopefuls, and more than a few discerning NBA scouts as well. While March Madness is thrilling for most of us, prognosticating by the seats of our pants and pulling for schools we’ve never heard of before, it must be an increasingly bittersweet feeling for the Carolina Ranger. Seven years removed from a blistering run to the NCAA Championship, Kemba Walker is finally getting All-Star accolades, but seems to be losing his way as the luster from his One Shining Moment wears thin. Hornet/Bobcat fans have learned, as well as anyone, that Tank-and-Stir isn’t a surefire way to NBA title contention. Kemba entered the league with all the well-deserved media hype and, with a college championship ring in hand, took Charlotte by storm, one Dougie dance at a time. The Bobcats didn’t wind up with the worst lottery odds, or the number-one pick, but when Walker landed in their laps, they sure felt like a 49er finally striking gold. Their new Savior was a good soldier, as fans endured the worst NBA campaign (7-59) in recorded history, plus a franchise remake on and off the court, with Kemba at center stage amid it all. There were supposed to be more than five first-round home playoff games in the Queen City by now. Kemba was supposed to be the effervescent talent that puts Charlotte routinely front-and-center on TNT Thursday nights, the lead guard with a dizzying handle and a unique five-letter name beginning with K who draws other superstars to his once-struggling NBA locale for annual shots at NBA Finals. But now, in 2018, Walker looks around him and is certainly scratching his head. That 7-59 tanktastic campaign begat Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, a 2012 second-overall pick and fellow NCAA champion, a defensive savant who can never stay healthy enough to resolve his flaws at the other end of the floor. There’s Cody Zeller, the fourth-overall pick from 2013. The golden boy arrived in the Tar Heel State with similar post-March Madness promise. Yet Zeller has settled in as a solid reserve, behind Dwight, with his own sketchy injury history (unlikely to play tonight due to a knee injury). There’s Frank Kaminsky, 2015’s Naismith and Wooden Award winner and NCAA finalist, who has had a career arc that’s roughly the inverse of MKG’s. The season before he got there, Noah Vonleh was the belle of the ball at ninth-overall. He became a near-instant washout. But flipping him to Portland allowed the Hornets to gamble with Nicolas Batum, who stuck around for his big NBA payday but has yet to consistently display the sharp-shooting 3-and-D promise he once flashed as a Blazer (34.1 3FG% w/ CHA in 3 seasons). As Kaminsky was up late this morning, watching Drake and Ninja play Fortnite on Twitch, Walker (22.7 PPG and 43.1 FG%, down slightly from 23.2 and 44.4% last season) must be up wondering why his whole team, that started from the bottom, is still here (in the lottery). He serves as an example of the perils which await lotto-bound teams that forget their work isn't done, once their long-sought Savior arrives via the draft. Kemba knows he isn’t even the first UConn talent that a Charlotte NBA club failed to properly build around. Second-overall pick Emeka Okafor arrived in 2002, and he was subsequently supplemented with top-ten lottery picks Raymond Felton, Adam Morrison, Brandan Wright, and D.J. Augustin before giving up on him. A consistent thread from the prior era, continuing into the current one collected by recently-deposed GM Rich Cho, is most of the Horcats’ choices being swayed by big moments on big college teams on the biggest stage. As all the Dougying around Uptown has given way to Dabbing and, now, just plain Doubting. And as Walker continues looking around, he sees remnants of other teams’ former lottery dreams washing ashore at Lake Norman. Orlando’s 2004 1st-overall pick, Atlanta’s 2005 2nd-overall pick, and Philly’s 11th pick from 2013 and 2014 Rookie of the Year, all collecting checks and biding their time around Kemba, as he prepares for another playoff-less springtime with Charlotte (29-39, 7.0 games behind 8-seed Miami, who swept the Hornets 0-4), his third in the past four NBA seasons. The latter of that trio of once-heralded talents, former Syracuse star Michael Carter-Williams, was supposed to be the kind of steadying backup presence Charlotte gave up on when they traded off first-rounder Shabazz Napier in 2014 for P.J. Hairston. But while Napier is enjoying a career-best season as Damian Lillard’s caddie, MCW lurched his way toward what is, somehow, his worst season ever (career-lows of 36.2 eFG%, 19.5 assist%) before getting shut down two weeks ago for shoulder surgery. Hornets fans hope Carter-Williams’ injury is finally enough of a factor to allow Clifford to begin assigning 2017’s lottery hopeful, Kentucky Wildcat Malik Monk, significant playing time either behind or alongside Walker. Monk has gone from mere spot duty to about 15-20 minutes per game in the past month. But as playoff hopes dim for Charlotte (Tragic Number: 8), losers of six of their past seven games, one should expect a lot more than that. How transformable is this outfit? The next Hornets GM is about to find out. Aside from MCW, but including Knicks refugee center Willy Hernangomez, plus swingmen Jeremy Lamb (questionable for today, back spasms) and Dwayne Bacon, 11 of Charlotte’s 14 highest-salaried players are under fully guaranteed contracts for 2018-19. That’s a luxury-tax-teasing $117.9 million in team salary, including Kemba’s $12.0 million expiring, but not even counting the rookie-scale deal for 2018’s lottery fantasy. If players can’t be moved in the offseason, the Hornets’ next beekeeper will probably be inclined to make a shift along the sideline. But that’s where Coach Bud can assist Dwight with Coach Cliff’s cause tonight. The Hornets’ record would be all the more deflating without three decisive wins over the Hawks (20-48), by a decisive average score of 117.7 to 103.7. Atlanta has been outrebounded 47.3-35.3 during this season’s series as Howard has feasted (62.5 FG%, season-high 18 made FTs on 27 attempts, 19.3 PPG, 14.0 RPG), playing as close to his desired, centripetal style of play as Clifford will allow. When last these teams met here, on January 31, Howard’s 20-and-12 plus the All-Star-bound Walker’s 38 points (6 assists, 1 TO) was more than enough to outlast a Hawks team led in scoring by the now-departed Marco Belinelli (22 points) and the now-shelved Kent Bazemore (25 points). Baze’s and Belly’s teammates combined to shoot 5-for-20 from three-point land, including Dennis Schröder, who could dish it out (9 assists, 1 TO) but couldn’t take it (0-for-5 3FGs) in a 123-110 defeat. John Collins and Dewayne Dedmon made their marks coming off the bench back then. Now in the starting lineup, Dedmon (37.8 3FG%, 2-for-4 past two games) should be able to freely let it fly, particularly with Howard entrenched in the paint to play traffic controller against Schröder, Isaiah Taylor and the Hawks’ depleted backcourt. Miles Plumlee soaking up minutes (and fouls) off the bench should alleviate Mike Muscala (41.1 3FG%, 9-for-13 past three games) from the indignity of wasting energy guarding Howard around the rim. The small guards should find paths to the hoop with Batum and MKG now obligated to take turns trying to hold down Taurean Prince, who has been finding his offensive stride (10-for-21 3FGs, 13-for-14 FTs last two games) during Atlanta’s brief three-game homestand. His Princely sum of 25 points, in Tuesday’s late-game loss to OKC, followed up his career-high of 38 against the Bulls. Including his game-saving exploits in a win earlier this month against the Suns, Atlanta’s just 2-14 this season when Prince scores 18 or more points. But when he and his floormates are engaged defensively (Atlanta’s 7-0 when he finishes with a plus-minus above +10), Taurean is learning that his collectives can compete well, on most nights, against mediocre competition like the Hornets. For Charlotte, who will want to put this game away early once again, they need more than a wavering effort from Walker, who has laid some eggs in crucial games this month. Four days after dropping 31 in Philly, Kemba returned home and managed just five points on 1-for-9 shooting in a loss to the Sixers, his playoff-contending rivals. Last weekend, Walker sunk just four of 14 shots against the woeful Suns at Spectrum Center. He was in for the entire fourth quarter as Phoenix scored 43 points in the frame, narrowing a 22-point Hornet lead to just three during the final minute of play. In past seasons, we’ve hinted here that Budenholzer, a former NBA Coach of the Year with his stature secure here in Atlanta, would lay off the gas pedal against teams whose coaches’ futures might be imperiled. As demonstrated in the fourth quarter on Tuesday night, the difference this season is that, with the Hawks now able to focus fully on player development, a collegial Coach Bud easing off the strategic throttle can be of long-term benefit to more than just the opposing team. Don’t forget to send Bud a thank you card this summer, Dwight! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  9. Gents: always wear protective gear before answering the question, "Who is MJ looking to hire?" ~lw3
  10. “NOW, ONCE UPON A TIME, A HAWK AND A HORNET LOVED EACH OTHER VERY MUCH…” We already know the dealio with those Charlotte Hornets, the host Atlanta Hawks’ opponent tonight (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast in ATL, Fox Sports Carolinas in CLT) for the second time in a week. So in lieu of scintillating pseudo-analysis, I’m going to take a rare moment (yeah, right) to hop on the soapbox and Squawk about… proper pronoun usage. “We” are Tankamaniacs, for all intents and purposes. This season, “we” are resigned to desiring the team we root for to play hard, but fall short, more often than not, much like last Friday’s nice-try defeat in Charlotte. Our Hawks hung with the Hornets for the better part of four quarters and even seized a one-point lead with under three minutes to play. Our Hawks dared those Hornets to save the day and avert another momentous collapse in front of their home fans. And Charlotte obliged, rattling off 12 unanswered points, with Dwight Howard making crucial stops without (getting caught) fouling, to happily close the proceedings at the Cable Box. Our team’s nightly foes, unfortunately, are not KITT. Opponents aren’t equipped with some Turbo Boost button whenever the occasion calls for it. Sometimes, a somewhat-sucky Dennis Schröder will get trumped by an epically suckier Jeff Teague. Other times, his wayward shooting proves no match for a totally off-kilter Donovan Mitchell. Our team can leave perimeter shooters open all night long, as was the case in the three losses prior to Monday’s win over Minnesota, but they are not obligated to place the ball in the basket for them. “We” know, deep down, that this team, on its worst day, is not the worst NBA team ever designed by man. It is not, structurally, the least-competitive collection of players in the Association, with its Not-Worst coaching and player-development staff guiding the way. We’ve known these things since October. Yet “we” feign surprise and disappointment as we stray further away from 0-82 with each occasional victory, perhaps only because rivals like Orlando seem to be Competitanking harder, keeping their lead players on ice while pushing MVP candidates to post 60-point triple-doubles just to beat them. “We” are Hawks fans, now and into the future. “We” are not the Atlanta Hawks themselves. “They,” the 15-plus-man roster, hear all this “we”, and as far as “they” are concerned, “We” is a Nintendo game console. When “we” talk about how “we” need to lose every game, every night, “we” might as well be speaking French. Oui-oui! “They” are responsible for suiting up and preparing to square up with Warriors of the Golden State variety, not placating us Warriors of the Keyboard variety. “They” are True to Atlanta for as long as they’re here. But there’s that old adage about ensuring you give yourself oxygen, first, before passing the mask on to your neighbors. Individually, to a man, “they” are employed by the NBA, and would like to maximize their value to their future teams, be it the Hawks or somebody else. “They” are being watched and scrutinized by 29 other clubs on a nightly basis, and they don’t benefit from scouting reports that say, “Hey, this fella is a pure Tank Commander. It truly takes effort to suck as bad as him. He’ll be perfect for throwing games and getting our team to 20-62!” “They” would prefer to be around to support next season’s Hawks rookie star, to demonstrate that, together, they could be instrumental in swiftly turning around this intentional recession. “They” want to play right alongside 2018-19’s rook, perhaps come off the bench to give him a breather, to help him properly acclimate to Budball and the pro lifestyle, to fill his Kia up with popcorn and send him on daily Krispy Kreme runs. What “they” don’t want is to be summarily supplanted on the team, or in this league altogether, by him, whoever he becomes, however we acquire his services. “We” need to give Coach Bud and company a break. By most statistical measures, this should be the fifth-or-sixth-worst team right now. But as things stand, the Hawks (15-35) enter today with: The most in-conference losses (24) of any NBA team, including three more than Orlando, who have now gone over a month without their leading rebounder and longest-tenured veteran. The worst road record (4-20) in The Association, two full games worse than the Magicians, who nearly made it three last night. The most losses (14) versus NBA teams currently carrying losing records. That includes Charlotte (20-29), who had no intention of being one, yet would be 13-games below-.500 if not for two rope-releases courtesy of the Hawks so far this season. Despite their we-try-hard motif, 21 losses by margins of ten points or more, only one fewer than Phoenix and Sacramento, and three more than anyone in the East (Orlando, having played just one fewer game than Atlanta, has only 18). According to Playoff Status, the third-worst remaining schedule of opponents (behind only the Wizards and Knicks, neither of whom are pretending they’re not “Tanking”), based on winning percentage. Instead of balling out in the G-League, or overseas, random, unheralded guys named Delaney and Cavanaugh are granted 15-to-20 minutes a night, cutting their teeth no matter the quality of competition. Meanwhile, the team’s best three-point threat from the wing has been DNP-CD’d 15 times already. Everyone from Dennis Schröder, Kent Bazemore and Taurean Prince, to Malcolm Delaney and Isaiah Taylor are given ample opportunities to dig their way out of their own funk on the live floor, catching the hooks only when they mentally stray too far from Bud’s gameplan. The most obvious potentially-productive frontcourt tandem, including a would-be Rookie of the Year candidate, gets minutes off the bench, because Miles. Plumlee. Is. Starting. NBA. Basketball. Games. This season has been a master-class, conducted by Atlanta’s coaching staff, in how to underwhelm without making it blatantly obvious. They are fostering potential first-or-second-units of worthy NBA talent for the future that can occasionally win games right now, especially when opponents play down to, or below, their level. When opponents get low, we don’t just fight to get lower. That’s commendable, not excoriable. To reach the objective “we” Tankamaniacs ardently demand, the Hawks could have done simply offered some vet-min contracts to “me,” “you,” and “Harry.” It’s not like home attendance would get much worse, anyway. Maybe dish out some ten-days to 2Chainz, Migos and Hot Sauce when they’re in town to liven up a homestand or two. Let Nique draw up some plays where we move the ball from side-to-side, as he’s wont to suggest. And then, just sit back, and hope for the best… or, the opposite. But the Hawks aren’t interested in disposable contributors that can only seem to master the dark art of blowing chunks harder than everybody else. Yes, the degree of difficulty in overachieving will be raised, depending on what Travis Schlenk and “Hawks, Inc.” have up their sleeves in the coming week. But while players like Bazemore improve under our auspices, figuring out how to come through consistently (not comically) in the clutch on both ends of the floor, he raises either his value to current team, or the value of the return from any NBA team that covets his services. All of “them” provide a day-round utility to the Hawks organization that’s greater than the banality of “us” tracking final scores in hopes of the once-in-a-lifetime chance of maybe getting Nerlens Noel, Markelle Fultz, or the upstart SportsCenter wow-maker of the moment. None of “them” should be ruing the days they failed to “Chokafor for Okafor,” or “Yield for Hield”. That task is left for “us”. “We” are free to say, “We needed to lose this game!”, every night. That’s fine, so long as everyone uttering that understands who “we” does, and does not, include. Bidding “adieu” to all the “we” talk until after the game. That’s enough speaking French for today. Because… it is time, once more, for Tank Karaoke! It’s that Ol’ Skool Hip-Hop Edition, baby! Yo, you know how we do out here in The A. We got our Soul Brother #2, DJ Special Ad Wes Wilcox on the Ones and Twos. We got our Dookie-roped virtuoso G-Hill tickling the ivories as only he can. And, as always, Buddie Down Productions on the mic, bringing the bars, and the heat, straight from the street. You head-bobbers all know when to chime in. One. Two. Three. Kick it! Take Ilyasova. Take Ilyasova! **BELLY, BYE-BYE!** Here’s Ilyasova. Grab Ilyasova! **HEY! HEY!** Here’s Ilyasova. Get Ilyasova! **BELLY, BYE-BYE!** Here’s Ilyasova. Take Ilyasova! ((Dip to Verse 2!)) Di-phy-si-cal-i-ty-di-di-di-dah-di-day **AIY!** All you sucka GMs, won’t you offer up some trades? **‘CAUSE?** Here go some “credit” from BUD-One **BO!** Come get your “credit” from BUD-One… To get a great draft pick, I need my team to stink So step up and get fleeced by WHO? **GM TRAVIS SCHLENK!** That’s him! He knows your barely-playoff squad is out here desperate for some **SAVIORS** Our cricket tacos come in Spicy Cajun **FLAVOR** That’s why we got no need for bland Derrick **FAVORS** Stretch out your slop and then we put them all on **WAIVERS** Twenty minutes nightly go to Isaiah **TAYLOR** Don’t need Howard back; that dude is soft as Teddy **RUXPIN** Nicolas Batum? He’s only good for steady **CHUCKIN’** Danny Ainge and Daryl Morey need to quit they **BLUFFIN’** Take Muskie in the morning, Cho; we’ll throw you in a **MUFFIN** My Team Prez woo you so hard, you’d think it was **SEDUCTION** Relieve me of Babbitt, come get Dewayne Dedmon Me second-half rotations you just con’t understond Ty Dorsey over **here**, DeAndre’ Bembry over **there** Clear out the lane, and watch my rook, Collins, get some **AIR! AIR! AIR! AIR!** **Ooooooooooooooooooo-oooh** What’s the matter with you, GM SVG? Don’t you know, you’re desperate, much? What’s the matter with you, GM Presti? Sam, swing a 3-way with Milwaukee Bucks! No, Fournier can’t help you out; don’t be a reacher You’re better off with Baze and his wack UA sneaker That Plumlee gonna get shopped, ‘n Schröder’s hookah bar flopped It’s all blowin’ smoke to meeeee Everybody’s talking ‘bout Delaney’s box score But he’s still playing fine to meeeee RIP Rasual! and Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  11. “Soulless Boy, Kill’em!” “I wanna kill them.” That’s the desire Dwight Howard professed during shootaround to the local rag about his most recent ex-team, the Atlanta Hawks, who pay him and his Charlotte Hornets (7:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast in ATL, Fox Sports Carolinas) a visit tonight. Well, that’s not very hospitable, D12! Unlike the Hawks’ last opponent, Howard (20 points and 15 rebounds in a 109-91 win vs. ATL back on Oct. 20) and the Hornets have been struggling to establish a killer instinct. There’s no better time to start figuring out how, than when you’re sitting five games below the playoff line and facing the prospect, tonight, of finishing closer in the standings to a team with the NBA’s worst record than to the 8-seed. We’re all fortunate nothing literally happened to Steve Clifford to add to his starting center’s “coach killer” persona. Clifford’s a tough guy, as noted by Woj at ESPN: he returned to coach the Bugs against the Hawks in November 2013 just a few days after getting stents inserted. But a lingering sleep deprivation problem, one that long preceded Dwight’s arrival in the Piedmont, produced aggravating headaches that eventually made it impossible for Coach Cliff to function, never mind roam the sidelines in a high-pressure vocation. But Coach Cliff has those headaches beat, or so he tells us. His team has been doing its best to re-induce that malady, both from him and the folks who populate Spectrum Center. Only the Nets and the Hawks have as many home losses among Eastern Conference clubs so far. And my land, some of these losses. Last Saturday night’s wresting of defeat from the jaws of victory, versus division rival Miami in front of the home crowd, had even Yours Truly’s milkshake-sucking vein popping out between my eyebrows. “That’s how you become a team that wins two and loses one, like we have been,” said Clifford to the Charlotte Observer and the postgame media of his Hornets (19-27), who have won six of their past ten games, but haven’t won three-straight since back before Thanksgiving. “Just a total lack of concentration, intensity, technique, and understanding who the hell you’re playing against. It’s terrible. Terrible.” The blow-by-blow of that loss, where Charlotte blew a 10-point lead in a manner of ten minutes, low-lighted by a five-point lead evaporating in the space of four seconds during the final minute, is too excruciating to recollect here. Yet the Hornets could have salvaged the game in overtime, had Dwight not made it his mission to “kill” Miami’s Kelly Olynyk with a senseless foul with just 0.2 seconds remaining. Even with Clifford chewing his team out, the Hornets went out and walked the tightrope just two nights later, sad-sack Sacramento narrowing a 20-point Charlotte lead to just three with 85 seconds left. The Kings got cute with Hack-A-Howard, and Dwight (53.4 FT%; 53.3 FT% last season w/ ATL) made them pay by sinking both freebies. Moments later, his offensive rebound off a way-too-familiar missed jumper from Nicolas Batum (40.8 FG%; 28.8 3FG%), and a defensive goaltend on his putback, saved Hornets fans from wanting to tear the arena down with their teeth. Those nervous fans caught a break Wednesday as the Hornets (minus-5.6 fourth-quarter Net Rating, 26th in NBA; NBA-low 44.7 fourth-quarter eFG%) played from behind for most of the game against the Pelicans. But chances at victory were dashed shortly thereafter, by Dwight barreling into Anthony Davis for an offensive foul, then by a pair of bad passes from Kemba Walker, who senses that his time as the face of basketball in the Queen City is fleeting, despite assurances from His Airness to the contrary. Now the Hornets (6-13 on the road) simply want to wrap-up their homestand at 3-2, before embarking on a stretch of seven away-games in their next eight, including next Wednesday at the Highlight Factory. A key reason they’re even in some of these contests to begin with? Marvin Williams is no more an ugly duckling from the perimeter. The feathery touch on the stretch-four’s jumper has been on display the whole season, the Hawks’ former corner-shot lamppost shooting a career-best 44.4 3FG% (4th in NBA, two spots in front of ex-Hawk Al Horford). Without Marvin’s consistent shot on a squad shooting just 44.2 percent from the field (28th in NBA), defenders would be easily clamping down on Kemba (41.9 FG%, lowest among top-20 NBA shooters) and Dwight (3.0 TOs/game) and getting stops. Walker generally takes care of the ball, but the Hawks (NBA-high 18.7 points per-48 off TOs) will look for Dwight to get sloppy with careless dribbles and excessive physicality away from the play. The Hawks will deploy his trade counterpart, Miles Plumlee, and charge-sponge Ersan Ilyasova to help throw Howard (6 TOs, 5 personals vs. ATL in October) off his game. Charlotte allows the third-fewest points-per-48 off turnovers, in part due to Kemba’s ballhandling, but also because they have Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Batum to get back. Carolinian Kent Bazemore and Taurean Prince (just 13 minutes in the blowout loss vs. TOR on Wednesday, no assists) can get out on the break, but they should be prepared to find Dennis Schröder (25 points, 11-for-19 2FGs @ CHA in October) and other shooters on the floor as passing options to finish offensive plays with buckets and trips to the line. Lost in Atlanta’s blowout loss to the Raptors on Wednesday was the effort of Rising Star John Collins, who grabbed 16 rebounds and rejected four shots over 26 minutes, generally ignoring the scoreboard as the Hawks cut Toronto’s lead in half to close the contest. He’ll try to show he’s grown by leaps and bounds since last October, when he fouled out of his second game in just over 15 minutes of play. Hawks fans are free to ignore Dwight’s murderous mindset coming into this evening’s affairs. The Hornets aren’t so much obsessed with slaying opponents, these days, as they are merely surviving fourth quarters without humiliating themselves. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  12. “ARRRGH! LET’S GET THIS, ATL! Oh, hold up, I meant, Houston? LA? Kemba, help… which town are we in???” Two “garbage” teams suit up to face one another today at the Spectrum Center, the Atlanta Hawks visiting the Charlotte Hornets (7 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast in ATL, Fox Sports Carolinas in CLT). “Garbage,” that is, to Hornets hear team owner Michael Jordan tell it. Lamenting, without so much as a whiff of irony, the rush for NBA players to band together and form “super teams,” Jordan explained to SI, “You’re going to have one or two teams that are going to be great, and another 28 teams that are going to be garbage.” I see you over there counting, and no, this wasn’t pulled from some UNC football player’s math-class paper. As disconcerting as this unintended shade might seem to the rank-and-file receiving paychecks signed by His Airness, such an opinion must soothe the ears of General Manager Rich Cho. Despite the Hornets (36-46 in 2016-17) failing to reach the postseason for the fourth time in his six years at the helm, at season’s end last spring, Cho received his option to stick around the Queen City for one more season. It’s his job to make sure that his “garbage” floats toward the top of the Eastern Conference playoff receptacle. And the first rule of middle management is, if you don’t quite know what you’re doing, at least try to look busy. So, you can kinda-sorta see why Dwight Howard is rocking teal-and-purple now. Howard gets to reunite with coach Steve Clifford, who recalls as well as anybody what a dominant force Dwight was back in the day, when he served as an assistant to Stan Van Gundy in Orlando. Howard feels a kinship with his new coach, although stop me if you’ve heard that one before, and feels as inclined to get back to full-time Dwightball as he has in years. Now, I’m not going to entertain the thought that Hawks players broke out in a Soul Train Line Dance upon catching wind of the news, back in June, that their Player’s Choice Award-winner for Teammate of the Year was already heading up I-85. I won’t even amuse myself with the suspicion that the votes were made with some collective dose of half-hearted sarcasm (a la, ex-Laker Metta World Peace), or that perhaps Dwight himself was designated with the choice to pick on behalf of the whole team. But it should go without saying (though it won’t) that the quest to re-engineer Howard into a component oriented for space-and-pace was turning out abysmal for Atlanta. But it’s all good up in Uptown, because here, there is precious little design for space, and precious little demand for pace. All-Star guard Kemba Walker (career-high 23.2 PPG and 39.9 3FG% in 2016-17; 24 points and 6 rebounds vs. DET on Wednesday) is only beginning to explore the outer limits of his shot range, and the team’s second-best gunner from last season, Marco Belinelli (20 points off-bench and 3 steals @ DAL on Wednesday), now rocks Georgia Granite Gray, by way of the Dwight trade. Charlotte was a below-average 19th in pace in 2016-17, and there are no signs they’ll be any less-plodding with Howard in tow. The challenge for the Hornets involves keeping Howard placated all-season long, with copious minutes and post touches, even though Clifford has already advised that he would prefer to turn to Cody Zeller in the clutch. Hawks fans who recall the Hawks’ visit to Charlotte last November, particularly the second-half, when Dwight punked himself right out of the game, probably understand Clifford’s inclination. Lamb. Bacon. Duck. That should represent a scrumptious night out at the charcuterie. What that probably should not signify is the middle trio of anybody’s opening-night NBA starting lineup. Alas, that’s what head Coach Cliff had to trot out before dozens of interested onlookers at Detroit’s new Little Caesars Arena on Wednesday night. He has little choice at the wing spots, because Michael Kidd-Gilchrist remains out for undisclosed personal reasons, and Nicolas Batum’s preseason injury to his elbow ligament has him on the shelf until at least mid-November. The pair would be helping Charlotte play solid defense, keeping Marvin Williams and Howard from having to overcompensate in the halfcourt. Williams found himself spread too thinly on Wednesday trying to defend the forward spots, as Tobias Harris and second-year pro Henry Ellenson had field days in the Pistons’ 102-90 victory. Rarely is a situation so dire that a team needs to turn to a second-round rookie to open the season. But the Hornets can thank Atlanta for including a second-round swap in the Dwight trade. Charlotte moved up to take point guard Frank Jackson, then traded back down to acquire Florida State swingman Dwayne Bacon from the Pelicans, taken one pick before Atlanta used Charlotte’s pick for Tyler Dorsey. Jeremy Lamb acquitted himself well offensively against Detroit, and can be a factor for the Hornets when he’s cutting along the baseline or catch-and-shooting when he’s open. The Hornets have elected to side with Bacon because Malik Monk was less prepared to sizzle as a starting wing. But their inability to slow the Pistons’ roll was evident, as Detroit outscored the Bugs 12-0 on fastbreak points. Dwight and Marvin can do only so much to get back in transition, and Frank Kaminsky can do even less than that. The Hornets are not all that hyphy that another hyphenated player is unavailable. Michael Carter-Williams was acquired over the summer to serve as Kemba’s backup, but his nagging knees are betraying him. Add Zeller (bone bruise) to the mix, and you have a sparse skeleton crew for the home opener. Guard Julyan Stone and center Johnny O’Bryant will have to come up from the third-string to play significant bench minutes. Clifford may switch up at small forward and start second-year pro Treveon Graham in place of Bacon. Coming off a satisfying win in Dallas, the Hawks must bring their A-game again tonight. Dwight will do all he can to get under Dewayne Dedmon’s skin, but the Hawks center must avoid getting into early foul trouble. Keeping up the carnivorous spirit against Charlotte’s depleted wings, both Taurean Prince (10 points and rebounds @ DAL) and rookie John Collins (14 bench points in his rookie debut) should smell barbeque chicken and attack the paint vigorously. Those things should alleviate Dennis Schröder, Kent Bazemore, and super-sub Belinelli from having to carry the freight. Kemba and Dwight will get plenty of touches and shot opportunities, but they are not sufficient as a duo to carry this team by themselves -- specifically, to produce enough offense to keep up on most nights. Pushing the pace and converting turnovers into points would help the Hawks (35 fourth-quarter points in the 117-111 win over the Mavs) play from in front for most of this contest. As for Jordan, he has committed himself to being credited as The Guy that finally resurrected Dwight’s Hall-of-Fame-bound career (the people who don’t think he’s headed to Springfield can cut that out, both of ya). If there’s anyone who can get centers blazing a trail to greatness, it’s Michael. Ain’t that right, Kwame Brown? Kwame? Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  13. Injuries Suck, Exhibit Z... But... maybe not that much of a Buzzkill? ~lw3
  14. (No Meme Photoshopping Required.) Spoiler Days? After pulling yet another trick up their sleeve this weekend against the Cavs, there’s not much for the Atlanta Hawks to spoil tonight, aside from lotto positioning with a loss to the visiting Charlotte Hornets (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, 92.9 FM in ATL). Although re-accommodating their division rivals this evening won’t be necessary, the Hawks have a greater opportunity to be a true spoilsport tomorrow, when they arrive in Indiana for the regular season finale. Who da real MVP, when it comes to the Hawks? It’s got to be all of you diehard fans, who have endured as topsy-turvy a season as supporters of any perennial playoff outfit should come to expect, and will be duly honored throughout 92.9 The Game’s Takeover Night. As just one instance of what you’ve put up with: Kent Bazemore steals a lousy Cavs inbound and goes coast-to-coast on Sunday afternoon, with a chance to expand the Hawks’ long-sought lead to three points in overtime… who among us did not steel our loins in anticipation of a blown open layup? And Baze almost gave us just that! Just as Paul Millsap did from close range with just minutes to go in regulation, and the Hawks down by seven. Sap did go 11-for-11 on free throws, though, he and Tim Hardaway, Jr. making just enough that Kyrie Irving’s closing heave wouldn’t matter. Whenever it gets well past time to rationally expect competency out of this bunch, the Hawks’ competitive spirit pops up, right out from the abyss. There were so many second-half and overtime moments on Sunday where Hawks fans could rightfully point and say, “that’s the game, nobody on the Cavs is incompetent enough to screw this up,” and suddenly, here comes LeBron James, asking us all to hold his beer. A bench corps that could barely score against the Nets leads the charge versus the Cavs out of a 26-point hole. Baze, Sap, even Mike Muscala making buckets, plural, in the clutch... was that real life? We’ll get to see how real this life is soon enough, as the NBA Playoffs tip off in some deity-forsaken Eastern locale this weekend. No passports will be required, as the Hawks are mathematically incapable of facing the Raptors in the opening round. But Boston, Cleveland or, most likely, Washington will find it hard to know what to expect out of a Hawks squad that hardly seems to know what to expect of itself. As per HoopsHype, who have the top two payrolls among Southeast Division teams? Pick up a Kewpie doll on your way out of the fair if you correctly guessed the Orlando Magic and these Hornets. Like the Magic, the Hornets (36-45) are officially in full whiteboard mode, and team owner Michael Jordan will continue to leave the dry-erasing duties to GM Rich Cho, whose contract option was picked up yesterday. The Hornets’ brain trust swung-and-missed on several fronts this season, managing to keep Charlotte from building on last season’s first-round exit, despite a career-best offensive effort by All-Star guard Kemba Walker. They tried to offset the departures of backcourt mates Jeremy Lin and Courtney Lee in free agency with Marco Belinelli, Brian Roberts, and Ramon Sessions. Armed with a new multi-year contract in the offseason, Marvin Williams (42.4 FG%, 35.1 3FG%) made his 2015-16 career year (45.2 FG%, 40.2 3FG%) look exactly like a career year. While fellow division foes were signing up Dwight Howard and Ian Mahinmi over the summer, the Hornets pursued the static Roy Hibbert. While their counterparts were trying to firm up their benches for playoff runs with guys like Bojan Bogdanovic and Ersan Ilyasova, Charlotte compounded their mistake by flipping Hibbert and Spencer Hawes to Milwaukee for the barely-useful Miles Plumlee. They’ll have little flexibility with their $103 million roster this summer, with eight of their top-nine salaried players returning under guaranteed contracts, plus center Cody Zeller due for a raise on his extended deal. Further, unlike Wizards fans of yore, Hornets fans haven’t been holding out hope of any hometown hoop heroes signing blockbuster deals this July. Nonetheless, His Errness is leaving it to his GM to finagle a way into contention next year. Cho will have one more season to get it done. Under head coach Steve Clifford, the Hornets’ defensive gameplan could be summarized thusly: pack the paint, don’t foul (NBA-lows for opponents’ free throws and personal fouls-drawn), force opponents into a lot of under-contested threes (NBA-high 31.9 opponent 3FGAs per 100 possessions; Atlanta foes’ 30.4 ranks 3rd), pray they miss (37.0 opponent 3FG%, highest in East), get the defensive rebound (79.7 D-Reb%, 2nd in NBA) and give the ball to Kemba. At the other end of the Spectrum Center, Charlotte’s offense can be boiled down to the ballhandler, usually Walker off the pick-and-roll (NBA-high 12.2 PPG on these plays), pulling up for jumpers, or forcing contact and drawing trips to the free throw line (NBA-high 81.5 team FT%). Further, they don’t willingly turn the ball over (11.5 TOs per game, 3rd lowest in recorded NBA history; 2.02 assist-turnover ratio, 2nd in NBA). If there’s no whistle and no easy path to the rim, they’re instructed to kick the ball out in hopes of a three-pointer from Belinelli or forwards Frank Kaminsky, Marvin, or Nicolas Batum. If they miss, get back on defense (19.7 O-Reb%, 4th-lowest in NBA) and stifle opponents’ hopes for transition scores. Roberts and Briante Weber are most likely to continue playing Kemba’s ballhandler role tonight, as Walker’s sore knee gets bubble-wrapped for the season. If Belinelli’s strained finger keeps him on ice as well, Coach Cliff will lean on Jeremy Lamb and Treveon Graham for spot duty. With Kemba and Marco playing, Charlotte won their last road game on the back end of a back-to-back (in Toronto, back on March 29, with 44 fourth-quarter points). But offensively, the sting is not the same with those guards absent from the floor. Whether they’re legitimately tanking or not, Charlotte will try to keep the pace grindingly slow, in hopes of keeping the final outcome close. Last night, without Walker, the Hornets raced to an 11-point lead in Milwaukee, and was up five points through three quarters before being “held” to 13 points in the final frame of an 89-79 loss. Atlanta (42-38) has struggled with teams that rebound well and protect the ball, and they’ve been held to double-digit scoring in all three losses to Charlotte this season, most recently 105-90 in Uptown back on March 20. With Thabo Sefolosha (groin) upgraded to questionable for tonight, a forthcoming challenge for the Hawks will be to see if their newfound bench production is sustainable and can carry forward into the postseason. In particular, Bazemore (40.5 FG% on all shots as a starter; 38.5 3FG% when he’s not) is finding a bit of an offensive groove off the bench, and can spell either Hardaway (last 3 games: 11-for-12 fourth-quarter FGs) or Dennis Schröder in a pinch. Baze has eleven steals in his past three contests, matching his tally from his prior 15 starts. Hardaway is among eight of the Hawks’ 20 most-utilized two-man units, and his only net negative in the team-scoring column is when he’s paired with rookie Taurean Prince, further tempting coach Mike Budenholzer to keep Timmy in the starting lineup going forward. The two-game Cavs series (11-for-14 FGs) has seemingly re-enlivened Muscala, and Coach Bud will need to know if he can begin relying more on the backup big man when the Hawks have to go with smaller lineups. Millsap’s return formally relocated Ilyasova, one of the few subs who struggled to score against Cleveland (last two games: 1-for-11 3FGs), to the reserves. It helps if Atlanta can establish rotations ideal for not only Ersan’s skillset, but those of backup point guard Jose Calderon. It will also be important for the Hawks to glean whatever knowledge they can from the rookies’ production over the next couple of games. Prince has only shined once in his past six starts (36.8 FG%, 1.8 APG), while DeAndre’ Bembry and Malcolm Delaney will be challenged to show what they could contribute defensively, in case they’re needed for short spells during a long playoff series. Finally, these dress rehearsals could be a final chance for Dennis Schröder and Dwight Howard to flesh out their roles and responsibilities on the floor together. The starting pillars enjoyed Atlanta’s huge comeback against Cleveland’s best players from a towel-waving position on the bench. Dwight has been Budballed (17.0 RPG in three games vs. CHA) by Zeller (15.7 PPG vs ATL, most vs. any team this season; 70.0 FG%) and the Hornets, and needs to display a different dimension to his game if he is to be useful against smaller and stretchier lineups. Atlanta is only 4-0 this season, but 3-0 in March, when Howard moves the ball and collects four assists in a game. Dennis has averaged 20.7 PPG and 6.5 APG (4.7 TOs per game) while shooting 39.5 percent on threes in his past ten games, which includes 20 points and 6 assists in Charlotte on March 20. His aversion to making poor decisions with the ball may factor into his inability to draw contact and make opponents pay at the free throw line, where he has been deadly (last 10 games: 95.7 FT%) but infrequent of late (four FTAs in past five games). His ability to dictate the pace and the action at both ends of the court may not be as essential today, however, as it could be tomorrow, against Jeff Teague in a potential elimination game for the Pacers. It’s hard to call the Hawks’ final two games a case of “fine-tuning” when very little of Atlanta’s play has been consistently “fine,” whether from minute-to-minute or game-to-game. But a hopefully healthy and spirited run could be just the momentum this team needs, no matter which opponent they might draw this weekend. The Hawks fans who repeatedly show up to cheer at Philips Arena, whether or not a major draw is in town, sure deserve a feel-good send-off tonight. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  15. “This is what it sounds like… when Ducks fly!” Two water-treading division rivals, the Atlanta Hawks and Charlotte Hornets, tip-off tonight at Spectrum Center (7:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast; 92.9 FM in ATL), and only one burning question remains. Does Purple Shirt Guy have anybody left worth heckling? You all remember the Hornets, right? It’s been a minute. Back in mid-November, the Hawks were cruising right along at 9-2 to start the year and, thanks to some Paul Millsap baskets, spread their lead to ten points on the host Hornets, on the verge of putting Charlotte in their rearview mirror in the race for the Southeast Division lead. Then Cody Zeller smartly sold a high Dwight Howard elbow, leading to a premature exit for Atlanta’s center. Kent Bazemore and then the whole Hawks team started Bazemoring on offense. And, suddenly, no Hawk defenders could plug the leak around the rim, much to the joy of Hornets star guard Kemba Walker. While their fourth-quarter lead in Charlotte wasn’t definitively the high-water-mark of the beleaguered Hawks’ season, it’s clear that whatever mojo Atlanta (37-32; 5-9 last 14 games) had at the point When Elbow Met Cody, it was never fully regained. That fact was reflected well during Saturday night’s 113-97 washout against visiting Portland. The Hawks were doing their itsy-bitsy-spider thing in the third quarter, trying to mask the stink of yet another embarrassing first-quarter start, this one 40-18 against the Blazers (props to the fine folks at Dad’s Garage for the improv lulz, btw). Unfortunately, center Jusuf Nurkic did his homework, film-studying Howard’s historical histrionics and the tried-and-true antics of referee Marc Davis (side Q: was the ref ever reprimanded for cussing at the hawks’ bench back in January?). Davis T’d up Dwight for essentially air-traffic-controlling in the vicinity of Nurkic’s schnoz during a rebound attempt. Howard can rant and fume all he likes, but his team will remain behind the 8-ball until he, Dennis Schröder (2-for-14 FGs, minus-25 plus/minus vs. POR), and coach Mike Budenholzer figure out how to avoid getting picked-apart-and-steamrolled by guards executing pick-and-roll plays. Atlanta’s opponents have a 49.6 eFG% on P&R ballhandler plays (3rd-highest in NBA; good news? Only the Cavs and Raps do worse), as per stats. Howard sags as the trailing defensive guard goes over screens, creating a nice little bubble for opposing guards to work with. The issue becomes all the more pressing with the Hawks down two starters in the foreseeable future, Bazemore (knee bone bruise) and All-Star Millsap (knee tightness), plus a third starter in Thabo Sefolosha (0-for-6 FGs in 19 minutes) who seems as lost in the sauce as anybody else. The Hawks will have plenty of practice covering P&R tonight against Walker, who leads the NBA with 12.5 possessions per game, his 11.8 PPG second only to Harden on these plays. Despite all the losing and injuries and listless play, the silver lining is that it will take a flop of Falconian proportions for the Hawks to find themselves not only behind the 8-ball, but the 8-seed as well. Aside from, arguably, the heat and the Bucks, the entire Eastern Conference has been slipping around in oil, unable to gain traction as the postseason nears. It’s not just the bottom half of the East, either. Since the All-Star Break, the Cavs have struggled defensively. The Raps have had a hard time finding their bearings without Lowry; same for the Celts without Thomas. And just when you think the Wizards finally have their stuff together, they drop three of four, including a 98-93 loss on the road to these Hornets last Saturday. Zeller (8-for-10 FGs, 4 steals vs. WAS), who has enjoyed a career season, and Marvin Williams, who has very much not, carried the day as the Hornets made things tough for John Wall (5-for-16 FGs) around the rim and held Washington to 5-for-20 3FGs through the first three quarters. Hornets coach Steve Clifford can only hope that the return of Nicolas Batum (migraines) to the starting lineup, plus an uptick from Marvin (last 10 games: 14.1 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 52.6 FG%, 86.7 FT%, 2.7 APG, 0.8 TOs per game) and the addition of hungry G-League talents Briante Weber and Johnny O’Bryant, will help stabilize his rotations for a final playoff push. Still, Clifford surely believes that the sins of the managerial staff are being visited upon the coach. Let’s not forget that Charlotte finished with 48 wins last season, just like Atlanta. If not for Purple Shirt Guy’s incessant lip, it stands to reason the Hornets would have joined the Hawks in the East’s second round. But then the summer came, and the team allowed free agents Courtney Lee, Jeremy Lin and Al Jefferson to walk. Replacing the guards with Ramon Sessions (out since early February, meniscus tear), Brian Roberts and Marco Belinelli, predictably, hasn’t panned out. Parting ways with Jefferson and then extending and promoting Zeller were logical moves. But no one should have surmised that replacing Jefferson with the even less useful Roy Hibbert, since shipped to Milwaukee with Spencer Hawes for the ghost of Miles Plumlee, was ever going to work. Charlotte enjoyed the strong All-Star-caliber start to the season by Walker (career-highs of 22.8 PPG, 40.1 3FG%, 84.9 FT%), and the emergence of Zeller (career-high 10.5 PPG, 57.3 2FG%, 6.6 RPG; season-high 23 points, 9-for-10 FGs vs. ATL on Nov. 18) as one of the East’s most efficient pivot men (+7.3 net rating, best among East starting centers). But the lack of reliable depth and the shooting struggles (49.8 eFG%, 24th in NBA) among the wings and forwards have conspired to derail Charlotte’s march toward respectability. Most emblematic of the Hornets’ problems has been second-year forward Frank Kaminsky, who has a nickname that parallels the interests of some Hornets fans plus the game to match it (39.8 FG%, 31.3 3FG%). The mirror-image of the Hawks’ season, Charlotte (30-39; 1-3 last 4 games) has outscored their competition by 37 points over the course of the season, but are mired with a losing record, 3.5 games behind the 8-seed Pistons with 15 games remaining. The buzzkill really kicked in when Zeller exited with a thigh injury in late January, causing Charlotte to collapse like an ACC team in the third round. The Hornets went through a full month with just one game (1-13) in the win column (a four-point home win over the Nets). As for the Hawks, Ersan Ilyasova (team-high 23 points vs. POR on Saturday) and Junior Hardaway (21-game Threak; 22 points, 8-for-9 FTs vs. POR) have moved up to the top line, in Bazemore and Millsap’s absence. For the Hawks to pull off any victories while Baze and Sap are out, Coach Bud has little choice but to lean on his rookie corps to produce. That includes not only Taurean Prince and Malcolm Delaney, the latter in for defensive purposes when needed ahead of Jose Calderon, but also DeAndre’ Bembry, who returns from his G-League stint in Salt Lake City. Fumigating the Hornets today involves not only finding some offensive punch off the bench, but Schröder making wise decisions at both ends versus a Hornets team, led by Walker, that doesn’t willingly turn the ball over (10.9 TO%, 2nd-lowest in NBA) and doesn’t allow unwise trips to the foul line (NBA-low 17.0 personal fouls and 18.8 opponent FTAs per game). As was the case for All-Star Wall here over the weekend, Dennis will need to have productive shooters on the floor if he hopes to find any daylight on drives toward the rim. Charlotte allows just 58.7 FG% in the restricted area, third-lowest in the East behind the heat and Hawks (57.4 opponent FG%). Kaminsky possesses at least one thing Atlanta doesn’t have. The Hawks haven’t interested NBA fans enough to send out any of those inspirational potatoes that are all the rage these days. Atlanta’s starters and bench players alike have to step up, overcome adversity and prevail soon, preferably beginning tonight, if they ever hope to go from duds to spuds. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  16. Doing African American Studies in Chapel Hill "The Right Way!" We'd have preferred a Demon Deacon back in '05, but that's neither here nor there. Congrats again, Marv! ~lw3
  17. “I GOT MY SUIT AT SPENCER’S GIFTS! HO-HO-HO!” Recent games against Milwaukee, Orlando, and Toronto serving as a representative sample, the Atlanta Hawks have struggled to string together a consistent series of quarters, starts, or games. Yet, nobody in the Eastern Conference has time to play the violin for them, least of all the visiting Charlotte Hornets (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast in CLT and ATL; 92.9 FM in ATL). The Southeast Division leader by default, Charlotte (14-13) concludes its five-game road trip at the Strobelight Factory tonight. They’re trying to salvage this wreck of a trek after dropping all of the previous four games, including last night’s 96-88 loss in Boston. If they wanted to (they won’t), Atlanta could empathize with a Hornets team that led 50-41 at halftime before running out of gas, losing 55-38 in the second half. With Kemba Walker absent for personal reasons (active for tonight), the Hornets had no answer for the Celtics’ Isaiah Thomas. Also awakening in that second half was our old amigo, Al Horford (18 points, 8 boards, 5 blocks), and his comfort in and out of the paint surely continued to peeve coach Steve Clifford. The Hornets coach might enjoy mincemeat over the holidays, but he rarely minces words. Not since Olivia Newton-John rocked neon leotards has anyone uttered “The P word” so ardently. "The game came down to Physical play. If guys aren’t willing to be more Physical, we’ll be an up-and-down team, we’ll struggle to make the playoffs," Clifford told the Charlotte Observer. This, after the Hornets dropped their third-straight game in Washington on Wednesday, casually watching Marcin Gortat transform into Ivan Putski around the boards. Coach Cliff wasn’t done. "If we want to play with the Physicality we choose to at times, we have a chance to be a good team…”, he conveyed to the Observer. Any other Observations, coach? “It’s our greatest weakness. “It’s evident (against) teams that aren’t even Physical off the ball. I’ve been telling them for three weeks now: (Other teams are saying) ‘Make it hard on them. Bump them off every cut, bump them off every screen.’ Sooner or later, we have to respond." The return of Walker (career-bests of 46.6 FG%, 41.2 3FG%, 22.6 PPG) will be the wind beneath the Hornets’ wings tonight. But to keep Clifford from seeking out the number for the phone booth closest to Ivan Johnson, Charlotte’s players need the combination of girth and guile from Cody Zeller that successfully befuddled Atlanta’s Dwight Howard in the third quarter of the Hawks’ 100-96 loss in the Queen City on November 18. Fans can literally mark the moment differentiating a Hawks team that was cruising toward a 10-2 record (5-1 on the road) and the team we have now, one that sits at 13-13 and is often left wondering if anyone caught the tag number on the truck that ran them over. Having successfully fended off a fourth-quarter rally, the Hawks were up 89-86 in Charlotte when Zeller (9-for-10 FGs vs. ATL on Nov. 18) took the proximity of Dwight Howard’s pointy elbow and responded with a sell job that would have made Charlotte’s own Ric Flair proud. Dwight got ejected, Kemba got to the rim unimpeded, the Hornets turned the tables and won, and the Hawks haven’t been quite the same since. We know better than to suggest that the Hawks’ surprising 125-121 win in Toronto was the indication that the team is finally turning a corner, on some uptick after bottoming out several times in recent weeks. But a juxtaposition of the last Hawks-Hornets matchup with last night’s Raptors game suggests there may be some comforting signs. First and foremost, Dennis Schröder isn’t second-guessing himself and playing tentatively. Hardly a factor with 11 points on 5-for-12 shooting (0-for-5 3FGs) in Charlotte, Atlanta’s point guard went toe-to-toe with Kyle Lowry last night and came away with 24 points (8-for-12 FGs, 2-for-4 3FGs) plus a team-high six assists. He is taking more initiative to ensure that offensive plays are executed all the way through, not stifled by the team’s own lack of motion. Also creating hardly any impact as a starter in Charlotte (5 points, 2-for-6 FGs in 29 minutes) one month ago, Kyle Korver seems to be growing more at-ease, as he returns to a familiar career-long role as an off-the-bench sniper. Kyle confidently nailed six triples last night, and had close calls on several more attempts, as his 19 points helped create just the cushion the Hawks needed before, and during, Toronto’s inevitable second-half rallies. Charlotte’s defensive ace Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was slightly used yesterday in Boston, so expect extended minutes by MKG to alleviate Nicolas Batum (22 points, 6-for-19 FGs @ BOS on Friday) and try cooling off Korver tonight. This time around, Howard won’t be duped by Zeller (1-for-7 FGs @ BOS) and the Hornets’ antics in their desperation to play Physical and somehow throw the Hawks’ center off his game. We were treated to a surlier, more assertive Dwight on offense last night (27 points, incl. 7-for-10 FTs; 17 rebounds, incl. 7 O-Rebs) and his activity kept the Raptors on their heels literally from the jump. He has seen a good sample of what referees will and won’t tolerate, and is adjusting his game accordingly. Charlotte has averaged a league-low 31.0 paint points per 48 minutes since their losing streak began, and it will be incumbent upon Walker, Batum, and Ramon Sessions to not only find avenues to penetrate, but also to draw Paul Millsap and Howard’s attention and feed Charlotte’s big men (including Spencer Hawes) for assisted interior shots. Marvin Williams, Frank Kaminsky, and Hawes all have inclinations to run to the perimeter, especially if they used tape of Orlando’s visit to Philips Arena for scouting purposes. But their direction under Clifford is to force more action around the rim, in hopes of getting Atlanta’s bigs in foul trouble and once again opening things up late in the game. Clifford wants to see their body talk. Promptly after beating the Hawks in Charlotte, the Hornets’ fortunes took a dip with a four-game slide. They recovered enough to move up to 3rd in the East, but now they are anxious that their losing skid will extend to a season-long five games, relinquishing the gains they made on Atlanta just one month ago. Hawks fans, though, have heard a similar sob story from incoming visitors in recent weeks. And they’d really like to see a different ending. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  18. “We don’t give a d*mn about no d*mn Gucci Night!” As the twin-engine aircrafts approach for landing, they catch Rich Cho’s knowing eye. Cho races to the bell tower, alerting his boss from the belfry that it is time. The guests are arriving! “This gentleman seeks to reverse the downward story arc of his career.” Cho whispers to his manager the deepest-held desires of his visitors, as each subject disembarks. “This enterprising fellow wishes for his dyed hairstyle to become the viral rage of his foreign land.” The manager who runs the whole place is attired in a dashing white suit and Hanes T-shirt, and equally white sneakers, a silhouette of his likeness from sprier times affixed to their tongues and heels. At the reception area, he greets his newest lei-adorned arrivals at once: “My dear guests, I am Mr. Jordan, your host. Welcome… to Kemba Island!” Teams like the visiting Atlanta Hawks are finding it harder to meet up with the host Charlotte Hornets (7:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast,92.9 FM in ATL) and come away with a W. To do so, at some point, you are compelled to deal with this isle’s namesake. You could almost name a nice salad dressing after the number of islands sitting all alone in the NBA Sea. Cousins Island, Davis Island, Harden Island, Lopez Island. But Kemba Island is among the few isolated locales where its inhabitants have been legitimately prospering. Entering the pros with a collegiate championship in hand and a winning All-American persona, in recent years, Kemba Walker was left to the Bermuda Triangle of basketball’s collective consciousness. A predictable ballhandler, limited mid-range shooter, a modest defender, situated in a small NBA market. “Dime-a-dozen,” became the read, especially in a star-guard-loaded league where one Charlotte-based NBA guard was emerging to take the world by storm. In days long before the Dab arrived, the Kemba Walker Dance was the craze that kept Uptown heads bobbing. But by the time of Walker’s fourth season, the excitement had grown stale, and NBA eyes were shifting elsewhere. And that’s a shame because Walker, now in his sixth pro season, has only just begun ascending into the All-NBA atmosphere. Walker joins Charlotte-raised Stephen Curry as the only NBA hoop stars averaging 25 points and 5 assists while exceeding shooting splits of 45/45/80, his career-best 25.8 scoring average buttressed by career-best shooting of 50.0 2FG% and 47.8 3FG%. Kemba’s assist-turnover ratio of 2.75 ranks 6th among point guard starters, assisting on 32.4% of his team field goals to rank 8th (just behind Dennis Schröder’s 32.5%). Notably, unlike many of the Carolina Ranger’s do-it-all cohorts, his Hornets (7-3) are winning ballgames, victors in five of their last seven contests, with three losses to Toronto, Cleveland, and Boston by only single digits. Despite their early success, the Hornets have just one victory in their cap against a team currently above-.500 (Utah, who has lost two straight). They’re looking for an impressive win at the rebranded Spectrum Center, and they hope Atlanta (9-2), one of the few Eastern Conference teams whose opponents have held a worse winning percentage (44%), will be just the quality opponent to come to the island bearing gifts. Charlotte mimics latter-day Atlanta in forgoing offensive rebounds (27th in O-Reb%), in hopes they’ll get back in decent position to force tough shots and make defensive stops. So far, that’s working well. The Hornets rank 5th in the league with 79.3 D-Reb%, contributing to their 99.4 D-Rating ranking 4th in the NBA, two spots behind second-place Atlanta (95.1). A healthy Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, plus Nic Batum, beloved ex-Hawk Marvin Williams, and Cody Zeller, are defensive-oriented role players on the top line, easing pressure off Walker (1.9 SPG, 10th in NBA) to adhere to his opposing guard assignment. The supporting cast of starters, and bench players, also know their roles when they get to the other end of the floor. Specifically, keep moving while Walker (30 points, 5 steals @ MIN on Tuesday) is setting things up, and when a teammate gets the ball from Kemba, find your shot or make the assist, but don’t waste time hesitating and risk losing the ball. Charlotte’s 6.7 secondary assists per game ranks third behind Golden State (9.7) and Atlanta (7.1), and their total 24.2 team APG ranks 5th. Offensive ball control is at the core of the Hornets’ gameplan (league-low 5.1 team SPG), which is bad news for a Hawks team that thrives off opponent goofs (10.0 SPG and 17.1 opponent TOs per 100 possessions, 2nd in NBA). Kemba has been credited with just 4 bad passes (via Basketball Reference) in his ten games so far, compared to over one per game last season, which wasn’t bad, either. Backup players Ramon Sessions, Marco Belinelli, Frank Kaminsky (20 bench points, 5 assists @ MIN) and Spencer Hawes have little interest in passing the ball. It’s catch-and-shoot city for the Hornets (5th with 28.5 catch-and-shoot PPG, 0.1 PPG more than 6th-place Atlanta), at least until the fourth quarter, when it comes time for Kemba (7-for-7 2FGs in clutch situations, 86.7 fourth-quarter FT%) to don the cape. In his pregame commentary, Hornets coach Steve Clifford cited “offensive energy, and we can’t turn the ball over,” as keys to victory tonight. As FanSided’s The Step Back noted yesterday about Charlotte: “They’ve built their identity on not making mistakes, which forces you to beat them straight up.” Atlanta will find takeaways even more scarce without Thabo Sefolosha (NBA-high 5.2 steals per 100 possessions) around to pester Hornets all across the floor. But playing Charlotte “straight up” will be much simpler tonight with the return of Dwight Howard (early career-highs of 62.2 FG%, 1.8 SPG and 5.9 offensive RPG), who sat out Atlanta’s 107-100 win against Milwaukee after bruising his thigh one night before. The Hornets don’t gamble for steals much, an indication that the passing lanes to Howard should be clearer for Schröder and the Hawks’ passing game. Similar to Walker, the lion’s share of Dennis’ turnovers (just 8 bad passes in 11 games, a departure from past seasons as a backup) derive from going full-bore on drives and losing the ball. When the driving lanes are clogged, Schröder should be able to find Kyle Korver (1-for-1 3FGs shooting from Dahlonega, 5 assists vs. MIL) and Kent Bazemore (3-for-5 3FGs vs, MIL) at the wings to let it fly. He’s had ample time scouting Walker while watching from the sidelines as Jeff Teague’s second-in-command. There should therefore be little trouble for Dennis to run the offense on this particular island, as he continues his transformation from Gilligan to the Skipper. But Schröder’s on-ball defense will also be needed to deny Walker his preferred spots (like the top of the key, and the left-corner 3-point zone) and keep him out of the lane, considering Clifford has expressed great interest in raising the Hornets’ paint points. Atlanta has benefitted from a weak strength-of-schedule, but now the challenge steepens as they embark on a stretch of 7-of-8 games on the road to conclude the month. Including the Hawks (3-1) and the Hornets (4-1), the league’s top six teams presently in the standings have a stellar 26-4 collective record in away games. Sustaining their position atop the Eastern Conference standings will necessitate full court production that is as sound away from home (league-best 88.5 D-Rating in away games, but 23rd-ranked O-Rating) as it has been at the Highlight Factory. While the Hornets don’t force many live-ball turnovers, they will press in transition to catch opponents off-guard and out of position (17.9 PPG off turnovers, 7th in NBA; Atlanta’s 20.5 PPG ranks 2nd). Bazemore and rookie Taurean Prince will have critical roles in slowing and thwarting the Hornets in transition. If Atlanta is successful with minimizing unforced errors, and stopping Charlotte from churning Hawk mistakes into points, their stay will feel a lot more like Fantasy Island, and a lot less like LOST. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  19. More post-draft Buzzkill for the Bugs. It probably ought to heal up well before the Hornets' season starts, though. Besides, minestrone in the summertime is underrated! ~lw3