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  1. “Welcome Back. To that same old place that you laughed about…” In my head, there’s a Venn diagram swimming about. The left circle says, “Master Tactician”. The right enclosure says, “And, Who the Heck Are You, Again?” There’s a slim space within the union, where the two circles intersect. Inside it are E.F. Hutton, and a handful of professional sports coaches. To reside there, and to have staying power, you have to have the know-how, the gravitas. And, you have to be able to convince people, most with less know-how than you, that you are worth the trouble of lending you their ears, hearts, and minds. Maybe Luke Walton knew his way around a telestrator. Perhaps he zig-zagged those arrows and got those X’s and O’s whizzing around the whiteboard like it’s nobody’s business, enough to convince a multi-millionaire or two that he can be the second coming of Phil Jackson, or Lute Olson, or at least Bill Walton with a lot less blathering. Unfortunately for Luke, as the head coach in charge, young players just looked at him sideways. “Who is this guy? Is Kobe not available?” Stop me if you’ve heard something like this before, but Walton scored his NBA career-high, in this case 25 points, during a West Coast road trip by the Atlanta Hawks, in 2006 on one of the rare nights his pal Kobe was off due to injury (future TMZ special star Lamar Odom would drop his career-best of 15 assists on that evening at STAPLES, too). From then on, Walton would be a Laker mainstay. Luke would cling to Kobe and Phil long enough to be a part of the resurgence from LOLakers back to global prominence. He’d be a starter for much the ensuing three seasons, then it was back to the bench until the 2012 Trade Deadline, when he was stapled to a first-round swap option and Jason Kapono and shipped to post-LeBron Cleveland. It wouldn’t take long before he convinced Golden State that he was Yung Phil. “We are gonna run parts of the Triangle offense,” he assured media upon joining Steve Kerr’s bench, “and I know that thing front and back.” A year after winning his first title as an assistant, he’d put that knowledge to the test. Steve Kerr’s back started acting up. Luke took the reins to start the season, the players said, “No worries, we got this,” and the Traingle-infused Dubs rattled off 24 straight wins, eventually going 39-4 until Kerr returned to accept the Coach of the Year award for a 73-win juggernaut. That was enough for Lakerland, who brought him back just in time for a post-Kobe team that was upheaving its managerial leadership amidst family ownership drama. Slow growth was the plan, until LeBron came calling. Suddenly, expectations were elevated, and excuses not accepted, despite injuries to James and others taking their toll. Most importantly, Walton struggled with an accomplished LeBron giving him the “And Who Are You, Again?” look. Luke, in LeBron’s estimation, was no Mike Brown. Three days after getting canned, Walton would land as a head coach again, this time hired by his old Laker pal Vlade Divac, who was still trying to spin straw in Sacramento with the owner-meddled Kings. He had to convince a 23-year-old star-by-default in De’Aaron Fox, and a 20-year-old Tyrese Haliburton, and a cast of similarly-aged up-and-comers, and washed-ashore veterans like ex-Warrior Harrison Barnes, that his learning curve was worth the ride. Vlade would exit stage right after a 31-41 season. With the Kangz’ youngsters tuning him out more by the day, the team failed to improve the following season, and it wouldn’t be much longer, at the outset of the 2021-22 season, before Walton caught the short hook. Don’t cry for Luke, as he had a front row seat as a Cavs assistant for The Donovan Mitchell Variety Show on Monday night. Brown assumed Walton’s seat beside Kerr at Golden State in 2016. When the latter’s chronic back issues flared up once more as the 2017 Playoffs approached, the Warriors’ players said, “No worries, we got this,” and were unstoppable for a dozen games in sweeping their way back to the NBA Finals. One season after terminating Walton, Brown is in Walton’s seat once again. The challenge for Brown, in Sacramento, is getting players not named LeBron, or Kobe, or Steph ‘n Klay in what was supposed to be their primes, to value what you bring to the table in the current day. Brown doesn’t have as tough a challenge, in 2022-23, getting his Kings to comport as the Hawks’ Nate McMillan. It was evident last night, as the shifty, speedy Fox scored 22 fourth-quarter points, including the game-winning blow-by lay-up to gut out a win in Utah in a January matchup no one imagined would be worth watching. “Mike Brown has seen the light with De’Aaron,” Kings-fan podcaster Morgan Ragan shared after the light-beaming win. “De’Aaron has seen the light with his game. He truly has taken so many steps, and has evolved as a player to make an impact, not only as an individual, but for an entire squad. The stats are bearing that out for Fox (career-highs of 55.5 eFG% and 78.9 FT%), who shares the starting unit with several decent space-makers, including Kevin Huerter (team-high 42.0 3FG%) and NBA rebounding leader Domantas Sabonis (12.4 RPG, ahead of the sidelined Hawk Clint Capela’s 11.9; 41.9 3FG%). As with his two blocks and a steal last night against the Jazz, the Kings’ lead guard is displaying a commitment under Brown to no longer rely, purely, upon his offensive prowess. Alex Len hardly has to lift a finger these days, thanks to Sabonis (70.2 FG%, 24.5 PPG, 12.3 RPG, 6.3 APG in last four games, after missing a contest due to a fractured thumb). But Monte McNair and Sacramento management recognizes they may need more than gunner Malik Monk and Davion Mitchell off the bench to secure at least a shot at the postseason via the Play-Ins. The Kings (20-16, 3.5 games out of 1st in NBA West, but just 4 games ahead of the 11th seed) could be the first since 2006 to reach the NBA Playoffs, and everyone around Sactown is starving to get there. They’re 11-3 versus sub-.500 teams like the Hawks, and their schedule gets stronger and more compact once the All-Star Break ends. It won’t take much for Brown to get his team motivated to play well, from start to finish, against the Hawks. One night after a big win in Memphis extended Sacramento’s winning streak to seven, everyone aside from Huerter and Monk was flat from the perimeter. The Kings succumbed to Trae Young’s 35 points in a 115-106 loss at Atlanta, one of the streak-busting Hawks’ last genuinely satisfying victories. Sacramento fell to 0-2 on SEGABABAs, but are 3-0 since then, the mark of a young team learning to handle adversity on the fly, with help from its coaching staff. Brown has been a regular-season winner in every full year as a coach, but one. In Cleveland in 2013-14, he had to bend the ears of a 21-year-old Kyrie, 22-year-old Tristan Thompson, and the likes of Dion Waiters and Andrew Bynum and Anthony Bennett, with no LeBron around to save any of them. But it appears Brown learned, from that one experience, that he must adjust his strategies and his rotation styles to meet the needs of the day. Whatever you accomplished in the Aughts, or in a pinch as a replacement, is fine and all. But players of all ages these days, pre- and post-career-altering surgeries, are entering arenas dropping 47, and 55, and 71. Vastly inexperienced players, with or without their own star teammates, are coming in ready to hang 150 points on reigning NBA Finalists. Your team wants to feel confident you’re prepared to help them overcome and win games despite all that. Once they grow skeptical of your capacities, they’ll tune you out. Still two wins shy of 750 as a head coach, McMillan will go down in history as one of The Association’s all-time greatest clean-up artists. At every one of his NBA stops, though, he runs into walls when the time comes to stage a boffo second act. Taking over often toxic situations, he dumbs down the schemes for his young charges to soak up, to lauded effect. But those schemes don’t wise up, not when it becomes necessary for the mission-critical performers under his wing to do the same. Granted enough time, with the aid of simplification, Nate can get you out of a 20-plus-points hole, or eight games below .500, to look the part a halfway decent competitor by the end. But then what? After climbing out from yet another deep hole, then blowing several opportunities to put away a more shorthanded Warriors team in San Francisco, McMillan’s Hawks enter Golden 1 Center tonight (10 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports California) at 17-20 (6-12 on the road). It’s the same number of losses as the 14-20 team Nate reluctantly took over from Lloyd Pierce in 2021, kickstarting the magical carpet ride that Atlanta still seems to be subsisting on nearly two seasons later. Atlanta is stuck on the same number of victories as they were last season, with the Hawks losing five in a row to drop to 17-25 right before MLK Day. Until Monday night, they had not lost four in a row since, a sign of a team that was willing to do just enough to avoid falling into the NBA abyss, if not much more. McMillan failed at different stretches of the Warriors game, a 143-141 double-overtime defeat, to play John Collins and Onyeka Okongwu together, or to play upstarts AJ Griffin and Jalen Johnson at all. That rest had better pay dividends tonight versus a Kings team returning from Salt Lake City today, after narrowly avoiding overtime play themselves. With De’Andre Hunter (two blocks, two steals, two assists, two threes, but too stilted in crunch time to matter in his return @ GSW) back in the starting unit with Okongwu and Collins, McMillan has no one off the bench to turn to when frontcourt stops are essential. If there is one young Hawk left these days that’s willing to imbibe whatever McMillan pours out, it’s Griffin. AJ’s combination of shot profile, assertiveness and size would be, in this rando’s opinion, more suitable to Atlanta’s starting lineup, while Hunter brings a dash of on-ball defense off the bench. Keeping former Kings prize Bogi Bogdanovic from having to run and snipe and guard anyone beyond 40 minutes would be a bonus, too. But Nate, for the first time in his elongated coaching career, would have to be willing to trust that a teenager will listen to what he has to say. Catchphrases can carry a modern-day NBA head coach, particularly one with unimaginative schemes, only so far. To make it through the end of this season, perhaps even this month, McMillan needs inspiration himself to figure out how to reignite the flames of the players he shepherds. For that inspiration, Nate needs only to peer at his peer just a few yards down the sideline, to see how it’s presently being done. A fellow shepherd, around the clock, Brown has his team giving a flock. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  2. “You know the rules. And so do I!” It’s that season again, and I’m not talking pumpkin spice! This go-round, we’ve got at least one NBA Front Office that ought to be offering an abundance of thanks to the good, giving people at the Atlanta Hawks Basketball Club. Tom Thibodeau might have been on the outs already, and who knows who else up in Gotham, had he not finally come around to figuring out Cameron Reddish should have a spot somewhere in the starting lineup of the Knickerbockers. Before exiting the lineup due to a groin injury sustained while chasing Steph around a few days ago, Cam was scoring regularly in double-digits (16.5 PPG, 2.3 SPG) while being the defensive rover, when motivated, that we grew accustomed to here in the ATL. Shortly after his team’s how-the-turn-tables 112-99 loss to the Hawks at MSG, Thibs plugged in Reddish, in lieu of Evan Fournier and Quentin Grimes. The Knicks knocked off Utah and Denver to help secure a winning five-game road trip, charting a path back to .500 territory. Thibs, you’re safe. Reddish, plus the apparition of Solomon Hill, essentially cost New York Kevin Knox’s expiring rookie deal and a flip-able future Hornets pick. You’re welcome, Leon Rose! The Celtics’ historically good offensive efficiency is second-to-none… at least once more, after last night… and who knows what record-shattering heights it could have reached with an upright Danilo Gallinari? Sorry, Brad Stevens, we did what we could on our end to have Gallo ripe for the picking. Boston will just have to wrangle with a new top contender for O-Rating, if not much more. The prior owner of the top-spot in that category arrived in town early this morning, after a tilt last night in Memphis. And, goodness, these Sacramento Kings (117.7 O-Rating, behind the Celts’ 118.2) are over the moon. Light The Beam! And whatnot. It has been a week since Al Horford’s Celtics offense ran relentlessly roughshod over Atlanta. Now, another familiar face returns to State Farm Arena as the Hawks and Kings square off (7:30 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM, NBC Sports Network California). Kevin Huerter is enjoying a green-light enlightenment under coach Mike Brown’s watch, and neither he nor his new playoff-starved team can escape notice. “He’s playing like Klay, Steph,” effused a fellow Kevin, Mr. Durant, on his Boardroom podcast thingy. “If you’re not a basketball fan and locked in on the league, you gotta watch how Kevin Huerter is shooting the ball right now.” Or even if you are one, I imagine KD was trying to say. Huerter is giving Sacramento (NBA-high 49.8 team FG%) around 16 PPG, which is swell. But he is getting there while shooting a velvety-smooth 50.0 percent on his threes, an ideal supplement for point guard De’Aaron Fox (career-highs 62.6 FG% and 40.8 3FG%), ex-Pacer All-Star center Domantas Sabonis, and rookie forward Keegan Murray. Thanks in part to the Hawks, Huerter is rivaled only by Cleveland’s Donovan Mitchell (4-for-8 3FGs, Cavs-high +14 vs. ATL in Monday’s 114-102 win) with his positive 6.1 plus/minus average, fourth-highest among any NBA snipers (Mitchell, Curry, Desmond Bane) taking seven or more three-point shots per game. Being compared to vintage versions of Thompson is precisely what many Hawks fans dreamed about, when envisioning the 2018 mid-first-rounder’s ceiling as a sweet-shooting, high-energy starter alongside draft mate Trae Young. Right now, Klay is probably among the last people Huerter wants to hear about. Against the woeful Warriors defense on November 7, Huerter managed to find himself open along the left wing for a game-tying shot in the closing seconds. Kloseout Klay fouled Kevin as many times as Lionel Richie loved his lady, yet the referees missed all three contacts. Brown and the Kings would, once again, have to find solace in the league’s subsequent Last Two Minute Report. The week prior, Tyler Herro made like a Flintstones-car-starter before jumping to hit a game-winner for Miami against the Kings with seconds to spare. “It’s tough being a Sacramento King,” the coach told postgame media in strong disagreement with Mel Brooks, after the Dubs game. “I feel bad, because our guys fought. And they didn’t get an opportunity in overtime.” The Kings (10-6, coming off last night’s 113-109 win in Memphis, still averaging over 120 PPG) try to impart on their players the importance of keeping dangerous opponents off the three-point line and playing fullcourt for 48 minutes, lest they be subject to playing 5-on-8 against the league’s darlings with game outcomes on the line. That should be a tough task coming off a game last night. Atlanta’s offense will have to be firing at all cylinders. Sacramento played in October at Golden State one night after losing at home to the Clippers, and while they gave up 130 points, they did hang 125 on the Warriors to make it interesting. The Kings eventually swooned to 0-4 before this 10-2 run, including a landmark seven-game winning streak. But the team’s other five losses had them held below 115 points in each game. The return of De’Andre Hunter (probable, non-COVID illness) as an extra on-ball defender will aid Atlanta in exploiting what was once intended to be a schedule loss on paper. Huerter’s addition cost Sacramento a conditional future first-rounder and Justin Holiday. That’s shaping up to be quite the Black Friday sale, although that deal, and even Sabonis (career-high 6.0 APG to go with his double-double average), may not be enough to make folks in Cali’s capital city forget to wonder what life would be like with Tyrese Haliburton still around town. Much like Huerter, Haliburton is benefitting from a better NBA fit and team-wide commitment. In the spirit of helping fans misremember last season’s Haliburton deal, Kings GM Monte McNair is thankful to the Hawks, who pried Bogdan Bogdanovic (still out, injury recovery) from their grasp back in 2020 to embark on their triumphant return to playoff status. The NBA’s general managers are freshly tantalized by the talent Atlanta’s Landry Fields and Travis Schlenk may one day part with, on the heels of Huerter and Reddish’s respective rises. The departed Hawks’ successes to-date add value to up-and-coming prospects Onyeka Okongwu, Jalen Johnson, and AJ Griffin. While the rumors about the Hawks’ ownership growing gun-shy about the luxury tax abound, Fields and Schlenk may look to attach one of the rookie-scale contracts to a John Collins, a Bogi, or a Clint Capela, in hopes of providing Dejounte Murray and Young a steadier, All-Star-quality third-wheel. We won’t know for a while whether Huerter will cool off, Reddish reverts, or if the Hawks’ front office has sound designs for building the roster to a championship level around their two current All-Stars. But for now, opposing GMs like McNair are grateful for the opportunity to talk turkey with Atlanta, no longer worried if they’re the ones being taken as turkeys at the table. Happy Thanksgiving to You and Yours. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  3. “Hey! We’re Popular!” The whole NBA scouting world is watching! The whole NBA scouting world is watching! It will be fun to look at the cast of characters on the Sacramento Kings and ponder, following tonight’s game, about who among that crew will still be working for them the next time they meet the Atlanta Hawks (7:30 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports California). With the Trade Deadline just weeks away, opposing teams’ scouts are evaluating what talent there is on the Kings’ roster, and best believe the players know this. They’re not exactly 2 Live Crew, but the pressure is on Kings GM Monte McNair, if not by owner Vivek Ranadive and the organization, then by the exasperated Kings fanbase and a few player agents, to Move Somethin’. Upwards of $81 million in guaranteed contract money is reserved next season for the quartet of guard De’Aaron Fox, sixth-man Buddy Hield, forward Harrison Barnes and center Richaun Holmes. The returns, to few people’s surprise, have been lackluster. To at least some basketball brain trusts, Holmes’ modest multi-year deal is friendly, while the declining deals of Barnes and, to a lesser extent, Hield are palatable. Inefficient shot-making from the Kings’ Max-Ex’d leading scorer, Fox (24.8 3FG%, tie-lowest among NBA players taking over three 3FGAs/game; 74.4 FT%, 2nd-lowest among NBA guards shooting more than 5 FTAs/game), has been a drag. Shams has reported the rumor that the Kings are assuring Fox’s representatives that they are not looking to deal De’Aaron, that they intend to build around him and sophomore Tyrese Haliburton. Yet it’s unclear how effectively Fox and Haliburton can play together. Or Fox and Barnes, or Fox and Hield, or Fox and Davion “Off-Ense” Mitchell or Holmes or… Sacramento started off the season reasonably well, rattling off five wins over the first nine games, before then-coach Luke Walton got the tap on his shoulder that freezing Marvin Bagley out of lineups was cratering his trade value. Holmes, Mo Harkless, and free agent returnee Alex Len conceded playing time, but the team chemistry floundered. After a 1-7 skid, the next tap on Walton’s shoulder was to advise him he’d be replaced by assistant Alvin Gentry. Getting back on the good talon with some sorely needed home wins plus a defensive masterpiece in Charlotte, Atlanta has been licking its beaks over the next five home games. But the Kings offer up a harbinger of what could come if the Hawks fail to take advantage. Heading into mid-December, Gentry seemed to have regained some balance, the Kings peaking within three games of the .500 mark. From December 15’s sound home win over the Wizards, through the arrival of the Hawks at Golden 1 Center on January 5, Sacramento would not have to leave the Golden State, its twelve-game home-friendly schedule intervened only by road trips to visit the Lakers and the Warriors. The Kings’ home run was more of a ground rule double, splitting the home games at 5-5. Less than a week after falling 108-102 to the visiting Hawks came another streak of five home games. They embarrassed the Lakers, but then split a pair of games versus Houston. They then let Fox’s former backup, Cory Joseph, carve them up with nine assists to close out the homestand last Wednesday with a loss to Detroit, blowing an 11 point lead with under six minutes remaining (don’t laugh, Washington). Now the Kings (18-31, 3-6 on back ends of back-to-backs), in a sour mood, are seeking to scratch out their first road win since December 1. Oddly, until last night’s 128-75 washout loss in Boston (Fox was withheld from the game, Gentry saving up his lead scorer’s sore ankle for today), the Kings have played more competitively in defeat under Gentry. From the start of their November funk through the end of December, Sacramento suffered through 14 double-digit defeats in 23 games. Last night’s Beantown beatdown was just their third loss by 10 or more points in this month (3-9 in January). With Fox likely suiting up, this game will turn out closer to the 133-127 loss in Giannis-less Milwaukee that initiated the Kings’ current Eastern road swing than whatever that was in Boston last night. The Hawks will want to keep Sacramento far from the 127-point tally, and the 108 points allowed versus Miami and 91 permitted in Charlotte is an encouraging sign that Atlanta players understand they cannot get out of their ruts by winning poorly-defended shootouts. The Kings are bound to have someone popping off in every game, exemplified by Barnes’ 29 points in Milwaukee, or Terence Davis’ career-high for naught versus Detroit last week. For better or worse, individual players are trying to maximize their output in hopes of being a desired commodity ahead of the NBA Trade Deadline. The key for Atlanta is to keep everyone else on Sacramento’s roster cool. For the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week, Trae Young (last 4 games: 31.3 PPG, 9.0 APG, 47.6 3FG% and 91.1 FT%; DNP'd, along with John Collins and De'Andre Hunter @ SAC on January 5) , and the Hawks’ backcourt, providing the energy displayed in Charlotte to deflect and disrupt plays ought to be enough to do the trick, particularly opposite a Kings roster that is defensively deficient away from the Kingdom (115.7 road D-Rating, 29th in NBA). The start to this homestand will work out well if the Hawks aren’t as focused on boxscore-building as the opponents who hope to play tonight like there’s no tomorrow -- not in Sacramento, anyway. These days, it's good to be the King that somebody else wants. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  4. “Shut up, Alex. You was on Book’s team when he dropped 70. And y’all ain’t win, either!” The Sacramento Kings are Ready To Go! Literally, to a man! You already know Marvin Bagley is Rarin’ To Go. He’s been getting showcased in the starting lineup since Ujima (Happy belated Kwanzaa, btw). He’s not doing anything particularly well, but the fact he’s getting played for 20-25 minutes per night by Alvin Gentry and the interim coaches, and not flat-out “getting played” by Luke Walton, suggests Starvin’ Marvin and the Family Bagley recognizes what time it is. Buddy Hield been Read’TaGo! Had Russell Westbrook not tugged on his Wizards’ owner’s lapels during the offseason, Buddy knows he would’ve already been gone. He’ll hoist about ten threes per night just to demonstrate how Ready he is. With all due respect to Lance, Harrison Barnes is born Ready! He’s been nothing but a model contributor up in NorCal, kicking back and splashing threes like never before, sneaking in for putbacks and earning fortuitous trips to the free throw line. Harrison’s eager for the dedication to his craft to pay off, soon. De’Aaron Fox doesn’t mind being the King of Kings. But he really craved getting his Max-Ex locked down in 2020, all the more. He’s enjoying year one of that extension deal. What he’s not enjoying are the last two Kings lottery picks, guards Tyrese Haliburton and Pride-of-Hinesville Davion Mitchell, crimping his style. As Swipa’s salary crosses the $30 million threshold next season, he’s alReady Ready for someone aside from Vivek Ranadive foot the bill. The four highest-salaried Kings are Ready To Go! All the way out of Sacto. But GM Monte McNair is screaming, “Whoa!” The Californian capital has long been the ditch where NBA veterans who have no grip on their professional steering wheels wind up. It doubles as the place to where frustrated fans dump underwhelming and/or frustrating players of their favorite teams, if only in their minds (congratulations, Tobias Harris, you’re the next contestant on The Price is Too High). It wasn’t always this way. Back in the “Queens” era of C-Webb, Vlade and Bibby, Sacramento had ample reason to be proud of being hot on the heels of Phil, Shaq and Kobe. But the Kings failed to properly re-tool, and in the backwards-hustling decades since, they found themselves not only second-fiddle to the Lakers, in the Pacific Division, but the Suns, and then the Clippers, then the Warriors, and now the Suns again. One is left to wonder whether annual tanKings, in hopes of striking it rich with a smartly-drafted pick or three, and then building around them with veterans desperate to turn their career trajectories around, is the only way for the Kings to one day surge ahead of their division rivals and attain at least a cursory measure of playoff prominence. These haven’t been the best days of Kings fans’ lives. Even though the tea’s gone cold, and has been for quite some time, McNair is here to remind fans that it’s not so bad. It’s not so bad! 16 years of coming up short, and often way short, of the Western Conference Playoffs might be coming to an end this year. Even with last night’s tough loss at the Crypt, a mere four games separate the Kings (16-23) from the LOLakers, and the Nuggets and Mavs, two of whom are among the West’s Top-6. Yes, the dredges of the West of a mere 2.5 games behind Sacramento, too. But Monte wants his club to Look Up, not Down. And definitely not Out. McNair recognizes that if the players apply themselves, turning inwards instead of peering outwards, and if the team galvanizes under Gentry’s watch (a modest 10-12, following a 6-11 start under Luke), that a postseason spot is achievable. Coming into this season, a seat at the playoff table is all the thirsty local fanbase could have desired. McNair earned some benefit of the doubt as the Summer League Kings won their title, and as Walton’s club swept through all of the preseason games. But the inability to gain much traction in the months since Luke’s ouster has the Do Something contingent of Kings Kingdom turning up the heat on the front office. To these fans, taking a flyer on Ben Simmons, or John Wall, sounds nice on paper. With salaries having to at least closely match, this means the lead-up to the Trade Deadline is Showtime for folks like Hield, Fox, Bagz and Barnes, who all seem to sense that it’s time to gussy up their profiles, especially while taking on stumbling teams like the Atlanta Hawks tonight (10 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Cali) at Golden 1 Center. McNair knows the Kings having to go on the road for a couple after-season games to prove their playoff mettle won’t be enough to satisfy anyone, not while hurtling toward an offseason with limited cap space, a nebulous free agent class, and few obvious on-court attractions to woo free agents into Cowtown. But a late season spurt plus a home Play-In game could be enough to lift everyone’s spirits going into 2022-23. Whether individuals on the team are playing for their current GM, or for some others, doesn't matter to McNair as long as they're playing well together. Any chance, for Atlanta (16-20) of a letdown by Sacramento on the second game of a back-to-back is fat, at best. A buzzer-beater from Chimezie Metu (out, along with starting big Richaun Holmes, H&S Protocols) sunk the Mavs here at G1C last Wednesday, one day after our old friend Damian Jones plundered the Thunder. In their last road-to-home SEGABABA, way back on November 3, another old pal, Alex Len, joined six other Kings in double figures as Sacramento dispatched the wayward Pelicans. Further, the Kings fended off the Bam Adebayo-less heat in their last game on this floor, this past Sunday. Over the past five games (3-2), the Kings have sunk 39.5 percent of their threes (4th-best in NBA), largely on the strength of makes from Hield (45.2 3FG%) and Barnes (51.9 3FG%). Haliburton has been particularly splendid with the rock in those recent games (10.2 APG, 2.0 TOs/game), making Fox’s expendability in a near-term blockbuster look all the more enticing to outsiders. On a top-ten offensive rebounding club, Jones, Bagley, Barnes, Tristan "Old Faithful" Thompson, and Len are looking to give their backcourt mates as many extra chances as possible. Whether or not Cam Reddish (questionable, sprained ankle) plays, Hawk wing and guard defenders must be in position to make catches for open looks difficult. The Kings’ offense is heavy on drives (53.0 per game, 3rd-most in NBA), and the ballhandlers rely on bailout defensive fouls (8.0 fouled% on drives, 2nd-highest in NBA) to ensure they get points on their forays inside (44.8 FG% on drives, 5th-worst in NBA). Atlanta guards must seal-off shooters, while forwards must rotate and box out when King guards, finding no outlets, are forced to shoot over length. Whether the ball comes out of the paint from thwarted Fox and Haliburton drives, or from offensive boards, the Kings will be on the hunt for those poorly-guarded shooters. In just his second game back from his COVID-related hiatus, Kevin Huerter’s imprint (0.4 SPG, down from 1.2 last season) needs to be felt on the defensive side of the court. The Kings do allow an NBA-worst 52.7 paint points per-48, so it’s imperative for Clint Capela to convert on his paint touches, and for Trae Young (questionable, sore back) to continue his scintillating offensive tear (last 16 appearances: 32.3 PPG, 47.7 FG%, 39.7 3FG%, 89.8 FT%, 9.9 APG) by raining beaucoup teardrops on defenders’ heads. Finding Danilo Gallinari and Onyeka Okongwu closer to the basket will help Atlanta’s cause, as will getting back in transition and dissuading Sacramento from loading up for quick pull-up scores. Atlanta had better bring their full-court A-Game for 48 minutes tonight. Because, rest assured, these Kings are… alright, Marvin, we got you, come on down from there. There’s no need to shout it from the rooftops. Let’s Go “Hawks”! ~lw3
  5. “Excuse me, Mister Schlenk? I believe you dropped your hat.” Y’all know what time it is. TRADE DEADLINE KARAOKE! First, the particulars. Hawks and Kings (10 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports California) Gallo (knee contusion, questionable) missed most of the fourth quarter on Monday as the Hawks (22-21, 5.0 games ahead of 11th seed in NBA East) finally ran out of gas after letting up off the pedal in the third. Dunn and Cam remain out. Bogi’s back in town, but the Kangz are alright. Bags, Metu and Ramsey out for playoff-starved Sacto (18-25, 3.5 games behind 10th seed in NBA West), who host GSW tomorrow night and might put some trade bait on bubble wrap tonight. Luke’s starting Baby Boy in a 3-guard starting lineup to stay afloat, and the Kangz have since won 3 of 4. Please, nobody trade Harrison mid-game. Now, somebody please press Play on Trader Trav’s boombox. L L Cool P Was Mid As H<BRRRNT> Throttle any GM, I don’t care who you t<BRRRNT> I exp<BRRRNT> coaches who fai<BRRRNT> Gonna<BRRNT> upsca<BRRNT> my Hawks <BRRNT> as I Swap<BRRNT> for Snells!<BRRRNT> You’ve been waitin’ and debatin’ for so many years Just starvin’ like Marvin to get the heck outta here I allayed fears that I strayed, kept Coach Pierce on too long Perish thoughts, it’s why I brought Nate McMillan along Passin’ up on K-Love, Cavs get no remorse Emphasizin’, Trae dimin’, settin’ records, of course I devour, by the hour, trades beyond the pale Nate Mac killin’, drawin’ plays up with his fat toe nail Swap for Snells! The King of Flexibility is finally back Cap space been replaced, still a problem we lack Wacky Wizards, slick as lizards, wish they had Johnny Bap I dishonor Kev O’Connor, stupid rumors I slap Rondo’s kickin’, Dunn is stricken, what more can I say Don’t misstep, so you’re not left with your Restricteds in play Nate McMillan out here chillin’, my new right-hand man We trade for Snells so very well, ‘cause that’s the GM I am Swap for Snells! Some pundits like my deals, and some just won’t But I got all the assets that their dream teams don’t Capela and Snell, Bogi, Gallo, Red Vel, Sucka GMs wish that they had dudes this swell Swap for Snells! Trae’s All-Star gold, whether you like it or not His steady hand’s Dunk Creatin’, while Rondo stirs the pot They’ll even slip it out to Solo, new Laker villain What’s my new coach name? “NATE McMILLAN!” Trade Deadline’s my show, y’know the power I wield Go and stretch out on my couch, call me Landry Fields Soon we’ll play Cam and ‘Dre, they’re like penicillin What’s my new coach name? “NATE McMILLAN!” Now you know, we gonna roll Gallo and Bogi Out there for threes and make foes fold So all you crappy-lookin’, slappy Lotto teams step back ‘Cause there’s a ten-to-one chance I ain’t tradin’ jack Swap for Snells! … The ball is circulatin’, and my team’s makin’ gains Don’t give me lip, here’s a tip: “TRADER TRAV’S THE NAME!” Nate McMillan’s “GOOD!” Ice Trae is “GOOD! GOOD!” I bring the Brandon Goodwins, you bring the goods The bigs are pickin’, Collins rippin’ straight to the hole Why did we can Cool P? “WE LIKE PICK AND ROLL!” ‘Cause these ain’t the gory days with A.S.G. I’m not a virgin so I know that I’m no A.C. Green Y’all hate coaching by Pierce, criticism so fierce Now I ditched him, for the mission. Can I have a few cheers? Swap for Snells! Now ‘preciate my grind, got GMs in a bind Got Nate Knight for somethin’ light, made your GM look blind So all Ujiri-head Raptors wantin’ Hawks that can hoop Quit your feenin’, what I mean is, don’t get duped-duped-duped All you conned Moreys, Connellys, when will you learn? Swingin’ heists like Trader Trav? That’s a rep that you earn Some Squawkers criticize me, but I’m not concerned Kris D plays playoff minutes, that is all that I yearn Trae’s winnin’ and grinnin’, rockin’ MLKs Would you rather Reggie Jackson? “WE LIKE SKY MAYS!” That’s right. No need to fight with the Kangz and the Pels Courtside Karens, they be blarin’, while our whole fanbase yells, Swap for Snells! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  6. ^ (former Kangz team trainer. Do Not Question The Vlade.) ~lw3
  7. “And, Harry’s Wild About Meeeeee…” Protect ya neck! The Sacramento Kings are always deeply fond of the folks under their employ. Until, they’re not. It’s predicting when the Sacrificial Sacramento Sword comes for these players, these coaches, that has long been the mystery. Do you love our lambs, too, Kings fans? Cool. Sure hope you like shank. Rick Adelman knew something was up when Geoff Petrie started playing coy about his and his staff’s contracts. The Kings hadn’t been anything of consequence since moving to Norcal from Kansas City, and some would go at least as far back as Cincinnati. Adelman was at the helm of the greatest eight-year run in the franchise’s lackluster history, including Sacramento’s first Conference Finals, and four consecutive seasons of 55-plus wins and trips to the West’s Final Four. But when it came time to talk turkey, Adelman found himself on the serving table. The writing was on the wall, even if middle-man GM Petrie couldn’t read it aloud. The Magoof Brothers were just waiting for him to recede. Recede they did, in the form of two first-round exits after Chris Webber’s career-crippling injury found him traded to Philly. Even though the last playoff departure came after a valiant effort against the Spurs, The Sword was unsheathed for Adelman. Butt-hurt by Shaq’s “Queens” assertions, the Magoofs long felt they could do better than second- and third-fiddle to the Lakers, and in their minds, better was the new-school Eric Musselman. Coach Muss rewarded them by pulling a Coach Bud, and not in a good way, with a DUI before the regular season could even arrive. Muss’ team slid to 33-49, a big step down from 44-38 in 2005-06, Adelman’s final campaign. The Kings would not win 40 games, or play a playoff game, since the Magoofs handed Adelman his walking papers. Reggie Theus was put in charge of the resuscitation, and he got the team to 38 wins in his first season there. But then Kevin Martin was plagued with injuries to start the next season, and the Magoofs found the 6-18 run out of the blocks unpalatable. Coach Theus lasted longer on TNBC’s “Hang Time.” Kenny Natt was left to lug the Kings the rest of the way (11-47), and he never coached a pro outfit in the States again. Paul Westphal took over the tank after two seasons, and few batted an eye when he pushed Martin out of town. But when he essentially declared, “it’s either him (Boogie Cousins) or me!”, after banishing his young star, he wasn’t going to be happy with the answer. Keith Smart goes 28-54? Not good enough. Grand opening, grand closing. Mike Malone goes 28-54 the very next season? Sashay, you stay. That is, until Malone started the next season at 11-13. The new Kings regime said they simply “expected more,” as they handed the Smart-Natt Memorial Just Holding the Fort Award to Ty Corbin. A 7-21 run later, and now it was curmudgeonly worst-selling author George Karl being handed the keys to the Kings’ tainted coaching throne. Around Sactown as the PBO since 1994, Petrie seemed like a nice-enough fellow. But years of meddlesome decisions by the Magoofs on coaching and draft-day decisions had him in a bristling mood. Petrie and the executive staff were relieved that when Vivek Ranadive arrived, offering a slimmer of hope they not only would they get to stay in town, they could stick around, keep their jobs, and allow some autonomy in doing those jobs effectively. That didn’t last long. With smarmy Mayor Kevin and a city having Vivek’s back, Petrie knew he didn’t have a leg to stand on when Vivek announced Malone as the new coach, without much input from him. The Sword was still in town, this time swinging at lame ducks. Petrie was later incensed when Ranadive, explaining away the Kings’ inability to improve on the court, tried to suggest there wasn’t so much as a light bulb on at Kings Inc. when he took ownership. No, Petrie and Smart would note, you walked in and shot all the lights out. Pete D’Alessandro used his work under Masai in Denver to snag Petrie’s job. But his penchant to leak poison pills to the media about players like Boogie and save-the-Kings-from-Seattle PR spokesman Isaiah Thomas, and coach Malone, wasn’t the wisest way to clean house. Ranadive realized in hindsight that hiring Malone before Pete D (“from Day One… they hated each other’s guts") wasn’t the wisest way to rebuild an NBA franchise. How does one go about peeving off Shareef Abdur-Rahim, of all people, exactly? You have to be an absolute master of your craft to pull off a feat like that. The assistant GM, once happy to stay in Sactown after retirement, had to sue the Kings in civil court, citing a “hostile work environment,” just to get the salary they owed him after he would no longer be caught in the middle of D’Alessandro’s and Malone’s power plays. The sense most of us outsiders often get, or are often told, is that Sacramento is some undesirable NBA outpost. But the theme that continues to shine through is the NBA talent there, however they wind up there, would be more than just fine sticking around in perpetuity, being around for the Kings’ eventual resurgence in the league, if only the crap from all the squabbling would quit flowing downhill. These aren’t wildfires that the Kings have had to put out. For the better part of 15 years, these have been wild immolations. Sneaky Pete wasn’t wild about Vivek bringing in Kings glory-days legend Vlade Divac as a power-usurping “advisor.” D’Alessandro concerns came to life as Ranadive pushed both him and Chris Mullin out to make Divac the top dog in 2015. The Sword that swung for C-Webb and Kev-Mart and I.T. and Tyreke continues to swing for players under Divac’s watch, notably Cousins, who was sent in a deal that had Reke attached to Pelicans rookie Buddy Hield. It still swings sharply for the coaches, too. The Kings went 39-43 last season, their best finish since Adelman’s ouster eons ago, and a 9-seed in the rough-and-tumble NBA West. That was good enough this past spring for Vlade to earn a contract extension. Not so much for third-year coach Dave Joerger. Vivek and Vlade thought they could do better. And better, in his eyes, was Luke Walton, Vlade’s old Laker teammate and the coach who could not be entrusted with a rebuilding program centered around LeBron James. Magic fired himself trying to fire Luke, and yet Luke is the one charged with improving upon Joerger’s record. Last season was good enough for the Kings to extend near-obligatory contract options for up-and-coming stars (hopefully, for them) Marvin Bagley and De’Aaron Fox. After a period of contention that had Hield mapping routes out of town, the young sharpshooter and the Kings locked up a four-year deal just in time for this season to start. Hield handed his travel guides to Bogdan Bogdanovic, the Serbian swingman who knows he could earn more than Sacramento could offer this summer. That is, if Walton would just give Bogdanovic functional minutes with the starters. If you went back in time, and told Kings fans in the summer of 2017 that a guy named Harry would be leading the team in minutes, they’d be thrilled. Just don’t tell them that you’re referring to Harrison Barnes. Harry Giles was left out in the cold at option time, the would-be second-year center joined by ex-Hawk Dewayne Dedmon as questionable for tonight’s game against the Kings (TAKE MARTA IF YOU VALUE YOUR SANITY; 7:30 pm Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports California) with a knee injury. Divac drafted Zach Collins at #10 in 2017, traded him that night for Portland’s #20 pick, Giles, then basked in the glow of the punditry who looked right past a whole other Collins in declaring that Sacramento got the steal of the Draft. Known for problematic knee injury issues since he was a prized recruit in high school, Giles was medically redshirted by the Kings in 2017-18. He was essentially a two-way player in the opening months of 2018-19 and was shut down in the closing games of the season, after 58 appearances, for continued rehabilitation. All the while, the Kings were eager to tout and offer glimpses of Giles’ boundless potential. Much of his highlight reel tape comes from his career high 20 points (10-for-12 FGs) in a satisfying 135-113 win over the visiting Hawks last January. Now, it appears Giles will bear the brunt of the organization’s blame, not their medical and conditioning staff, for his inability to put up Willie Cauley-Stein numbers, if not at least Zach Collins figures, by the end of this season. The Kings were out of options, contract-wise. But Giles, like Bogdanovic, knows he could have plenty of options this summer as a free agent, if he makes the most of the floor time Walton grants him. Checking into tonight’s contest at 2-6, Walton and the Kings are eager to, as 92.9 The Game’s Randy McMichael likes to say, “put them foots into” the Hawks, much as the desperate Bulls hooved the home team just two nights prior, much as Joerger’s team did to coach Lloyd Pierce’s crew twice last season. The Hawks (3-4) took several chair-shots, some more literal than others, during the 113-93 blowout loss to Chicago. As they prepare for a five-game, eight-day road excursion through the Western Conference, they’re unlikely to take another beating from State Farm Arena’s visitors sitting down. Not just because there may not be any chairs standing upright if they waste the time of fans who made it through horrendous motorcade-impacted downtown traffic. Pierce, unlike Walton, is secure in his team’s mediocrity, and can afford to keep hammering away at lotto-rookies Cam Reddish and De’Andre Hunter, and guys playing like rookies (Kevin Huerter and Alex Len, neither on the injury list any more), until they figure things out. There’s no need to wait until Trae Young (0-for-8 3FGs vs. CHI) cans a shot from Druid Hills before the young Hawks decide to start playing with a competitive spirit, especially when the ball’s in transition in either direction. What does the Giles situation say to Bagley, who returns in a few weeks after fracturing a thumb in the season opener, or even Fox (6.8 APG, 4.0 TOs/game) and Hield (40.8 3FG%, but 41.1 2FG%), while trying to right the ship under an unsteady Walton’s direction? You’re our rocks, our mainstays, Vivek and Vlade will assure each of them. That is true. Until, they’re not. Watch your step, kids! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  8. (Random 80s player, probably flopping.) With all due reverence to the Clinton-Dix family, Ha-Ha Danny Ainge! It’s almost time to nail down Thanksgiving reservations, but Ainge’s Celtics and the 76ers are already locked in for the 2019 NBA Draft next summer. Boston and Philly already have their knives and forks out at the table of the Sacramento Kings, who are tired of being everybody’s turkey. The Sixers had already swindled the pick out of Vlade Divac. The newly-hired GM’s team, in 2015, was desperate to clear cap space for veteran free agents (Marco Belinelli, Kosta Koufos, and “RONDOOOO!”) to pair with Boogie Cousins and coach George Karl, but he had a roster and a payroll congested with ne’er-do-wells. Nik Stauskas, Carl Landry and Jason Thompson were sent packing to Philly, along with annual pick swaps and a protected 1st-rounder. Sacramento’s top-10-protected pick didn’t convey (obvsly) after last season. It’s now unprotected for next summer’s draft, having Philadelphia licking their lips at the prospect of being rewarded by the Kings watching the playoffs from home for the 13th consecutive year. But Ainge got cute, and as the 2017 Draft approached, the draft pick whore decided to pull off a bit of a heist to outsmart his division rival. With his 53-win team having won the Draft Lottery (thanks, Brooklyn!), Danny Boy collared the Colangelos, “gifting” them the top draft slot so Boston could “settle” for Jayson Tatum. In return, the Celts were allowed a chance at the Lakers’ 2018 pick, if it fell between spots #2 - #5 (NARRATOR: IT DID NOT), or either of the Sixers’ and the Kings’ picks in 2019, depending in part on whether the more favorable of the picks winds up first-overall (NARRATOR: THE SIXERS’ PICK WILL NOT). Taken altogether, the Kings’ 2019 pick looked quite appetizing from afar, and either the Sixers or the Celtics will get to chow down on it, unless they manage to leverage the pick to swindle somebody else. Plot Twist! What if (gasp!) the Sixers’ pick winds up the more favorable of the two? What if (double gasp!) neither of those picks are of lottery quality after all? It’s early in the 2018-19 season, but the Kings (5-3) are doing all they can to stick it to both of those teams. They could claim their fifth-consecutive victory today at State Farm Arena against the Atlanta Hawks (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL; NBC Sports California in SAC), a team that’s not quite ready for primetime. The Kings have been treated like royalty on the road lately, sweeping back-to-back games at Miami and Orlando before leaving the Peninsula for the ATL. Like the heat that will arrive here at the Deductible Dome on Saturday, coach Dave Joerger’s Kings were provided ample time and rest to prep for today’s meeting. Clash of the Titans! Besides a 2 Fast, 2 Spurious track meet between the league’s highest-tempo teams being a probable theme, keyed by young guards De’Aaron Fox (17.5 PPG, 6.9 APG; listed probable with a back strain) and Trae Young (19.1 PPG, 6.6 APG), raise your hand if you anticipated a head-to-head between Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Len as key to the outcome of any NBA contest. It was just the Cavs again, but Len had another smooth offensive outing at The Q on Tuesday. He posted a perfect day from the field (9-for-9 FGs, incl. one 3FG), and contributed pairs of blocks and steals plus nine rebounds to go with his 22 points. Finishing shots at and near the rim remains a problem for the Hawks (10th in FGAs per game within 5 feet of the basket, 18th in FG% on those shots), but it’s hard to blame Len (72.2 FG% at-rim, 20.0 FG% elsewhere). Three of Young’s four dimes in Atlanta’s 136-114 defeat came from dishes to Len at the hoop, the final pair threatening to make the final score a single-digit affair in the final quarter. Cauley-Stein (17.4 PPG, 9.0 RPG) has grown more consistent, a regular double-double machine of late. Willie hasn’t been much of a deterrent around the rim, but now he’s got lottery stud Marvin Bagley (team-high 1.3 BPG) around to help him out. Kings leading scorer Buddy Hield (18.9 PPG, 44.7 3FG%, 6.1 RPG), Bagley and recent arrival Nemanja Bjelica (career-high 15.1 PPG and 6.5 RPG) are all helping Sacramento terminate opponent possessions as well as they have since the days when Boogie was trying to plug the dam by himself. If there has been a chink in the Kings’ armor in the early going, it has been abysmal free throw shooting, a league-worst 64.3 FT% that was only marginally better in their five away games (64.8 road FT%). They’ll get ample opportunity to improve that mark tonight at The Farm, where they have lost 11 straight games as a franchise, especially if a swingman hydra continues to play as it has. Kentean Princemore (7.3 personals per game; Taurean’s 3.9 ranking 5th in NBA after fouling out Tuesday for the second time this season) hasn’t been shy about hacking. But Hawks’ coach Lloyd Pierce will want Princemore to be more judicious and strategic about who and when it’s fouling, as it often disrupts the desired flow of Atlanta’s fastbreak and transition offense. Getting Princemore (6.3 TOs per game) to cut down on turnovers committed on drives (Atlanta’s 10.5 TO% on drives a league-worst) may not solve all of the Hawks’ offensive woes, but it can go a long way in keeping opponent leads from getting out of hand. More spot-up jumpers or, better yet, swinging the ball around the horn for hockey assists, are often better options for Atlanta’s starting two-headed wingman (4 assists, 9 TOs and 11 personal fouls @ CLE). Until Princemore figures things out, look for more net-positive contributions from reserves DeAndre’ Bembry (3-for-6 FGs, 4 assists, 1 TO @ CLE) and Kevin Huerter (3-for-4 3FGs). Having feasted lately on Dirty South Division opponents like the Hawks, Sacramento’s schedule gets much tougher after today, including a visit to unbeaten Milwaukee this weekend. On the other hand, the Kings’ most-efficient offensive player, second-year guard Bogdan Bogdanovic (out, arthroscopic knee surgery), is likely to return to action soon. Might Ainge get denied a juicy draft pick? It couldn’t happen to a nastier guy. Ainge, himself a former King back when the Celtics elected to enter the 1990s with Joe Kleine and Ed Pinckney, was seething in the summer of 2017 when a pre-draft workout in Norcal was canceled by Josh Jackson, while he and the Celtics staff were in mid-flight. “Flew across the country, are you kidding me?”, whined Beantown’s GM. “I had to get up at 4 o’clock and fly back home.” When asked what he did with his suddenly free time, Ainge sneered. “There’s nothing to do in Sacramento.” Stay classy, Boston front office. Sacramento doesn’t yet have the look of a winning NBA team, but in the cutthroat Western Conference, hovering anywhere near the .500 line could mean teasing for a playoff spot by season’s end. I doubt anyone in the East, outside of Philly or New England, would terribly mind that, especially if it means some lottery whore has to settle for a pick in the teens or twenties next summer, if at all. How’s your finger feeling these days, Danny? If you like, we have another finger we can offer you. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  9. Return of the... King? Temple... of Doom? ~lw3
  10. “Schröder HAS 20 SECONDS TO SET UP THE OFFENSE, OR ELSE I WILL RELEASE THE BAZE…” Issa Must Win! There will be plenty of days ahead to strategitank for our Atlanta Hawks, but not today! Back home at the Highlight Factory, they’ll look to raise their season win total by 50 percent tonight versus the Sacramento Kings (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, NBC Sports California). The Kings (3-10), like the Hawks, arrive with just one road win under their belt, at Dallas last month. Sactown has the league’s worst road Net Rating of -15.8. They conclude their brief East Coast swing licking their wounds after consecutive blowout road losses, at MSG and at Washington. The stars are aligned for the Hawks, if they so choose, to get off the schneid, if only for a brief moment, and collect their first win in front of a sparse but head-nodding Philips Arena crowd. Similar to the road-wearier Hawks (50.6 road 2FG%, 7th-lowest in NBA; 38.4 road 3FG%), the Kings are hitting three-pointers decently, but the interior offense has been a struggle (NBA-low 46.6 road 2FG%, but 38.6 road 3FG%). That they take as high a share of two-point field goals as anybody yet connect at the lowest percentage, hasn’t done much for offensive efficiency. They are leaving plenty of points on the table at the free throw line (70.4 road FT%, 28th in NBA), even though they haven’t been getting there terribly often. Former Grizzlies head coach Dave Joerger guides his team as they play with a Memphis-style tempo (95.7 pace, lowest in NBA). To help disrupt the opposing Kings offense and produce extra quality possessions for his own team, Atlanta’s Kent Bazemore (4.5 deflections per-36 and career-high 2.1 SPG, both 2nd in NBA) while be joined at times by Ersan Ilyasova, who will be brought along slowly after missing weeks with a bone bruise in his knee. With a shored-up frontline, the Hawks defense could use one more key contributor tonight. Real Plus/Minus data has never been terribly kind to Hawks point guard Dennis Schröder. He comes into today’s action ranked 420th among 421 NBA players in Defensive RPM, as per ESPN data. The good news for The Menace, tonight, is who checks in at #421. Rookie De’Aaron Fox has been granted ample playing time, perhaps more than was anticipated at the outset while free agent pickup George Hill (38.6 2FG%) worked through his struggles. Fox’s Lonzoian shooting splits (39.6/19.0/71.1) have been less than desirable. But both have been sound passers, neither averaging more than 2.0 TOs/game while splitting duties, keeping the Kings on solid ground in the area of transition defense (14.8 opponent points-per-48 off TOs, 4th-best in NBA). Young Dennis, why you trappin’ so hard? Atlanta (2-12) will need Schröder and the wing defenders to harass the primary ballhandlers and force the ball early in shot-clocks into the hands of teammates like former Grizzly great and leading scorer (!!!) Zach Randolph (12.7 PPG, 8-for-18 3FGs), or shooters like Buddy Hield (39.3 3FG%) or Garrett Temple (42.3 3FG%) who don’t fare as well when they must put the ball on the floor. Willie Cauley-Stein says, of guarding Kristaps Porzingis after the 118-91 loss to the Knicks, “I have the same body size, the same skill-level.” I may have the same crooked big toe as The Unicorn, but sadly that similarity doesn’t, in and of itself, translate into NBA superstar competency. “I think I gotta get more selfish,” says Cauley-Stein (2.1 APG, tops among the Kings’ non-point guards), which is probably not the best tack to take. Perhaps struggling with some early Stromile Swift Syndrome, the 2015 lottery pick has struggled to stand out in a log-jam by design. Joerger assigns ten Kings between 19 and 27 minutes each, shuffling veteran plodders like Z-Bo and Kosta Koufos with lighter fare, like second-year pro Skal Labissiere. After wrangling with the likes of Andre Drummond, DeMarcus Cousins and Marcin Gortat in recent days, Dewayne Dedmon (13 minutes in the Hawks’ 106-105 loss @ NOP, 5-for-5 FGs) and rookie John Collins (16.5 O-Reb%, 4th in NBA) should be able to find amenable matchups that keep them on the court for longer, more positively impactful tenures. Sacramento 15.2 opponent second-chance points per-48 is the highest in the league, while their 73.7 D-Reb% ranks next-to-last. There should be enough options available for Schröder to make connections all across the floor, and not be satisfied with being funneled into fruitless straight-line drives, as was too often the case in recent losses (last 2 games: 7-for-34 FGs, 5.0 APG, 4.0 TOs/game). Schröder has to show that between he and Fox, when matched up, Dennis is the superior defensive player, and not just by default. As most Californians would agree, 420 > 421, always. Some fans, dreaming of future tie-breaker possibilities, want the Hawks to drop early games to similarly downtrodden competition like the Kings. But with 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8 M’s in their respective bank accounts, this is one game where Hawks players should want to be stuntin’ and flexin’ their muscles, and reppin’ the ATL well. As the Hawks have been the most accurate three-point-shooting squad (41.4 3FG%, better than Golden State’s 41.2%) over the past ten games, how many Atlanta jump shooters will be at the ready to gun these Kings down? Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  11. On his way across the pond, finally? ~lw3
  12. "Is Matt Barnes gonna hafta..." "This was all one big misunderstanding!!!" ((Ctrl+C)) ((Ctrl+V)) Thabo's lawyer Spiro must get like no sleep these days. Kangs: "We have standards! Ain't that right, Ty? Ty???" ~lw3
  13. “When I was 25… it was a, very, good year…” Which NBA team has wins over the following opponents under their belt: the Cavaliers, the Celtics, the Raptors (twice), the Warriors, the Jazz, the Grizzlies, the Thunder? How ‘bout those Sacramento Kings? They get a visit from the Hawks tonight (10:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL; CSN Bay Area in SAC), as Atlanta concludes their pre-All-Star Break schedule with a three-game West Coast trip. Somewhere in Norcal, All-Star Paul Millsap woke up this morning discovering he just turned 29 years of age for the fourth consecutive year (one year fewer than ex-Hawk favorite Zaza Pachulia). Millsap can take solace in knowing he will always be four days younger than Kris Humphries. Hump and Sap awoke to the knowledge that their Hawks are tied with Boston for the best road record (15-11) in the Eastern Conference. At least for a day, Atlanta can have the top spot all to themselves with a win tonight against a Kings team that, as the Celts can attest, can upend decent teams whenever they put their mind to it. Sacramento (21-32) has lost 10 of their past 15 games, and are supposed to be reeling from the loss of would-be trade chip Rudy Gay (Achilles) for the season. But following are the five wins during this latest stretch. There was a road win in Detroit, an overtime road win in Cleveland, a road win in Charlotte, an overtime win back home, at the new Golden 1 Center against Golden State. And, on Wednesday, a convincing win without DeMarcus Cousins against the Celtics. The last victory denied frog-faced MVP candidate Isaiah Thomas a triumphant return against the team that signed-and-traded the 2014 restricted free agent for Alex Oriakhi and am unused trade exception (Where have you gone, Pete D’Alessandro?) Aside from his routinely abused ego, Cousins was not sidelined due to injury. The surly center was suspended, as mandated by the league, for the Boston game after collecting his 16th (non-rescinded) technical foul. Boogie shattered the fastest-to-16-techs record previously held by Dwight Howard (8 tech fouls this season), who was at least mindful enough in 2011 to wait until after the All-Star Break (March 5). Beyond Cousins and Gay, the Kings were already going into the Celtics game without recent starter Garrett Temple (out with torn hammy), and bench swingman Omri Casspi (out with calf strain). After starting point guard Ty Lawson (doubtful for tonight) hobbled off with a thigh strain midway through the second quarter on Wednesday, Sacto soldiered on without four of their top six scorers on the season. Then, a funny thing happened: under the direction of former Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger, the shorthanded Kings got a bit of modified grit-and-grind going. After cruising to a 28-19 first-quarter lead, the Celtics couldn’t exceed 22 points in any of the next three stanzas. Former Grizzly Matt Barnes chipped in with 11 defensive rebounds, four assists, and three triples. Also coming off the bench, much-maligned guard Ben McLemore surprised with 17 points in the second and third quarters. The King of the 4th Quarter turned out not to be Thomas (26 points, but 6-for-16 FGs), but backup center Willie Cauley-Stein, who dazzled the Kings crowd with a highlight-filled 10 points to help close out the contest. Perhaps the team’s most-desired trade commodity in Gay’s absence, B-Mac is likely to return to the Kings’ starting lineup tonight. The Kings are 4-18 when their opponent’s bench outscores their own, so productive outings from Malcolm Delaney, Mike Dunleavy, Mike Muscala, Kris Humphries, and either rookie Taurean Prince or DeAndre’ Bembry (5-for-7 FGs in the win vs. DEN on Wednesday) will make it easier for Atlanta’s starters to close out late. Not that it should be necessary, but if anyone could help with scouting Sacramento’s bench brigade, it would be Lamar Patterson. Recently signed to a second 10-day contract, Patterson spent his time in training camp and preseason with the Kings, after being claimed off waivers from the Hawks over the summer, then starred with the Kings’ D-League outfit in Reno. His familiarity should only help the Hawks’ backcourt exploit a group of Sacramento guards (inclusive of the injured Lawson and Temple) that rank 28th in D-Rating on the season. Barnes is assisting not only as a help-rebounder, but as an emergency backup for Darren Collison (26 points, 12-for-21 FGs vs. BOS on Wednesday), who slides back into the point guard slot with Lawson’s latest injury. Tonight’s game will be a contest of composure for the Hawks. Cousins (career-highs of 27.9 PPG, 36.6 3FG%, and 4.7 APG) will again be at his letter-best with the ball in his hands. But he and Barnes will work throughout the game to try unnerving Howard, Dennis Schroder (10-for-15 2FGs, 10 assists, 3 TOs vs. DEN on Wednesday), and Kent Bazemore into mistakes and foul trouble. Boston players managed just 18 assists and 17 turnovers on Wednesday, so successfully stifling Atlanta’s ball movement should similarly gain the Kings an upper hand. When last these teams met on Halloween night, the Hawks could not be tricked out of delivering treats to one another. Atlanta players committed just 13 turnovers and dished out 24 assists (8 from the hands of birthday-boy Millsap) in a 106-95 win. A lot of those buckets came from Kyle Korver (5-for-8 3FGs), who now plies his wares in Cleveland, all of his made shots in the contest assisted by Atlanta bigs. Perimeter shots from the offensively-improving Bazemore (3-for-4 3FGs vs. DEN; 46.3 3FG% in last 10 games) and Tim Hardaway, Jr. ought to fill in the gap left by Korver tonight. Led in scoring by Gay’s 22 points on Halloween, the Kings used a 37-point third-quarter to go up by two, after falling behind by 13 earlier. A fourth-quarter surge by Millsap and Bazemore helped turn the tables, while defense from Howard and Thabo Sefolosha (out with groin strain) put that game out of reach. Cousins was effectively neutralized (6-for-16 FGs, incl. 1-for-5 3FGs; 1-for-3 FTs, 4 TOs and 5 personal fouls) on the offensive end in that game, and suppressing the Kings’ offense tonight includes keeping DMC (career-high 7.6 FTs per game) and Collison (86.3 FT%) off the free throw line. Schroder (3 steals vs. DEN) will be tasked with pressuring the ball, thwarting dribble penetration, and compelling Collison to rely on others to handle the ball in the Kings’ halfcourt offense. With Howard switching off of Kosta Koufos to attend to Cousins, Millsap will be burdened primarily with having to keep Koufos from gathering offensive boards, along with defending Anthony Tolliver (1-for-7 3FGs but 3 steals vs. BOS on Wednesday) around the 3-point line when the former Hawk comes in off the bench. While the Hawks can firm up the momentary title of Best Road Team in the East, the Kings are vying to avoid seizing petty Devin Booker’s Suns (8-17) for the claim of Worst Home Team in the West (10-15). It will take more than simply blowing out one of Millsap’s 32 candles for Atlanta to get their wishes granted tonight. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  14. “I like you. You like me. Let’s get out of S-A-C…” For the Sacramento Kings, who kick off their 5-game East Coast road swing this evening in Atlanta against the Hawks (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports South, 92.9 FM in ATL), it’s a golden age. They’ve got a new “Golden 1 Center” arena downtown. They’re coming in tonight with a sterling (for them) 2-1 record, the sole defeat coming at the hands of the Spurs on the tail end of a back-to-back. And, perhaps the best thing going thus far, the working relationship between Olympic gold medalist DeMarcus Cousins and his newest head coach, Dave Joerger, remains untarnished. Less than a week since tip-off, local media is already prodding Cousins for signs of discontentment off the court (it’s never difficult to find such signs on it). When asked to name a couple things that were positive about Joerger, the sixth head coach since “BOO!”gie arrived as a rookie six seasons ago, Cousins offered exactly that: a couple things. “I like him, and he likes me.” Well, considering all the grass-cutting, snake-showing, and back-stabbing that has gone on in recent years up in Norcal, those are probably the only factors that matter. Last season was largely deemed a disaster for the Kings, even as Cousins fumed, pouted and sulked his way through the best finish for the franchise (33-49; 29-36 with him, 4-13 without) since coach Reggie Theus was running the show back in 2008. Egged on by meddling owner Vivek Ranadive, then-coach George Karl pushed a league-high pace (highest by any team since Nellie’s Warriors in 2009-10) that was tough for DMC and his teammates (16.2 TOs per game, 28th in NBA) to maintain with any sense of cohesion. Speaking of pushing, Karl also pushed management to ship the moody Cousins (suspended thrice, fouled out 7 times) out of town behind the scenes, a failed endeavor that permanently soured whatever rapport they had. Slur-spitting, ref-bumping point guard Rajon Rondo helped Cousins (career-best 26.9 PPG, 1.1 3FGs per game in 2015-16; 3.3 APG, 3rd among qualifying centers) keep the Kings (17.7 assists per 100 possessions, 6th in NBA) from falling into the trap of DIY halfcourt basketball. Karl was officially given his walking papers after the season ended, and Rondo bailed for Chicago in free agency, leaving the Kings to settle on police-blotter subjects Darren Collison (currently suspended for domestic battery) and Ty Lawson (7.0 APG, 1.7 TO/game this season) to pick up where Rondo left off. Fresh from Grindhouse Memphis, Joerger is slowing things back down (27th in pace through 3 games) to a manageable level for the Kings. In return, though, he demands a modicum of defensive intensity from his players, something he has grown to expect even though his Grizzlies faded in 2016 under the weight of too many injuries. As the coach demonstrated in the first half of Saturday’s game versus visiting Minnesota, he’s willing to bench starters, including Cousins, that aren’t putting in the effort. That threat helped the Kings flip the script on the T-Wolves, going on a 24-1 third-quarter spurt after giving up 65 first-half points. Joerger’s can manage just fine if you miss a flight or two, but don’t miss his memo. Joerger brought along with him from Memphis free agent Matt Barnes, who has taken it upon himself to assume point-forward duties (9 assists, 3-for-6 3FGs vs. MIN) off the bench. Things are going as well as anyone could expect, which leads to the question that pops up anytime there’s an uptick in Skeptimento: How long can the good vibes possibly last? As Mayor KJ can attest, no matter how well festivities in Sacramento are meticulously planned, now matter how pleasant the proceedings, sooner or later, somebody’s gonna wind up with some pie on their face (probably coconut cream, if you must know the flavor). The Damocles’ sword hovers above Joerger, who remains committed to turning around Sacramento’s fortunes, but is paid by an owner who is at turns meddlesome and maniacal about how he wants his teams to play. Joerger wanted to push the pace in Memphis, but relented because of pushback from the vets on his roster when things weren’t going so hot at the outset. Here, he recognizes that he needs the tools to run with, before elevating the team tempo. But relying on players of the caliber of Arron Afflalo and former Hawk Anthony Tolliver suggests he’s not going to accomplish that for a season or two, barring some fortuitous trades. Does Ranadive, notorious for acting prematurely on former coach and Cousins confidant Mike Malone, have the patience to let Joerger see things through? Before the season could even begin, Rudy Gay (28 points on 11-for-20 shooting vs. MIN; $14.2 million player option for 2017-18) had his people advise the Kings’ brass that maybe it’s best for all parties that they stop seeing each other. Back when Karl took over the reins in early 2015, Gay met him with this Vincent Price-sounding introduction: “Welcome to Basketball Hell.” As often is the case with Karl himself, the urge to be brutally honest supersedes any sophistication that comes with biting one’s tongue. Ben McLemore (-15 plus/minus, but 2-for-4 3FGs vs. MIN), predictably, was not offered an extension deal, putting both he and Gay in Go-For-Yours mode offensively until they depart or get traded. Meanwhile, Barnes’ bench play so far has made perhaps the one person who truly wants to stick around, Omri Casspi, expendable. As for their All-Star, Cousins remained instead of Karl essentially for one reason: who’s face are you going to plaster outside your fancy new arena to sell tickets and hot dogs? Kosta Koufos? Willie Cauley-Stein? Yeah, sure. No matter what jersey he’s wearing, Cousins provides a unique challenge for Atlanta’s Dwight Howard, tonight and any night going forward. A big who can run the floor, pound away inside and now stretch the defense from the outside, Cousins (37 points, 16 rebounds, 3-for-5 3FGs vs. SAS last Thursday) roughly combines the youth and desire of Philly’s Joel Embiid with the skill and will of Washington’s Marcin Gortat. Boogie lives at the free throw line (NBA-high 49 attempts through 3 games, 80.4 FT%). So Dwight, who found himself in foul trouble early in Philadelphia, needs to work on playing him honest while depending on Paul Millsap and the Hawks’ forwards to keep Kings teammates from penetrating and receiving passes in the paint. Cousins will hack (league-high 3.6 personals per game), with about the same proficiency as he does drawing foul shots. As displayed late in the contest with Minnesota, he can be counted upon to lose both his cool and his mouthpiece at crucial junctures when things aren’t going his way. Last November, his prior visit to Atlanta was going quite splendidly (11 first-quarter points), when a wildly thrown elbow awoke the somnambulant Al Horford, sparking a Hawks run (without two Atlanta starters) from which Sacramento could not fully recover. Howard will continue working both sides of the rim on the low block, occupying Cousins and/or Cauley-Stein’s attention while opening up avenues for jumpers by Millsap (22.5 PPG, 5.0 APG through 2 games; 3-for-8 3FGs, NBA-high +21.0 per-game plus/minus) and drives for assists by Dennis Schröder (52.6 FG%; 11 assists and 2 TOs vs. PHI). Kent Bazemore (27.8 FG%, team-high 3.5 TOs per game) has been going through the motions out on the floor. To help him shake free of his early struggles, his teammates need to look for him out on the break when the inevitable live-ball turnovers are committed by Sacramento. It’s a similar deal in the case of Kris Humphries (1-for-7 FGs), who has been rebounding but not doing much more on the floor. These forwards will be needed even more to step up, given the news that Mike Scott will be missing several weeks of action for a non-surgical knee procedure. Mike Muscala and Thabo Sefolosha have each played superbly, but more consistent production from Bazemore and Humphries will make the Hawks all the more formidable over four quarters. Regardless of the outcome of tonight’s contest, Kings fans will wisely hold off until at least the All-Star break, to see where their team is in the standings, and who, from the GM on down to the assistants, remains in good standing. Winning may feel like a treat for Sacramento right now. But the trick always seems to be waiting right around the corner. Happy Halloween! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  15. “((COUGH)) Sorry! Just wolfed down too much Hot Chicken!” You’ll forgive the dinnertime product placement but, until very recently, you ever heard of Nashville Hot Chicken? Certainly, not this new-wave carpetbagger. Yours truly had achieved a fairly comfy existence for a decade or four, including a trip or two to honky-tonk tourist-trap Lower Broad, without ever hearing of this culinary contraption. Suddenly, Fast Food, Inc. is foisting this entrée onto consumers at every commercial-break opportunity. It’s a wonder that Dirty Grandpa isn’t gnawing on some NHC. But, is it real? Is it finger lickin’ good? And will it last long enough for me to care? One other smoky-hot thing you may not have been introduced to heretofore? The Sacramento (Hot) Kings, coming off a Staples Sweep of the Clippers and Lakers. The Kings are poised to win on back-to-back nights for the first time since this season, if they can defeat the Atlanta Hawks (10:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast), who just outlasted Portland last night. In so doing, Sacramento (18-25) will have won four in a row for the first time all season and, more significantly, would gain a foothold on the eighth-seed in the Western Conference playoff picture. But are these Hot Kings real? Are they genuinely good now? Will the good vibes last long enough for anyone outside of Sactown to care? East Point’s Finest, former Olympian and Hawk All-Star Shareef Abdur-Rahim’s decent but brief NBA career was winding down when he finally got to taste the playoffs in 2006 (ending an NBA record drought) with Rick Adelman’s Kings. Led on the floor by Mike Bibby and an exiled Ron Artest, the Kings fell in the opening round to Nazr Mohammed’s and Mike Budenholzer’s San Antonio Spurs in six games. The Kings enjoyed brief stays in the postseason just twice in their first 13 seasons in the California capital, before Adelman’s arrival. But by 2006, an eighth-straight playoff appearance was ho-hum, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately. In came former Lon Kruger and Mike Fratello assistant Eric Musselman, who could tell Coach Bud a thing or two about starting one’s head coaching career off on the wrong pedal foot. Out went Adelman, and with him went the last vestige of Sacramento’s playoff history. At least Reef hung around town for a little while longer. In the decade since, Musselman, Reggie Theus, Kenny Natt, Paul Westphal, Keith Smart, Mike Malone, and Ty Corbin have all been run through Sactown’s coaching grist mill. The franchise itself was oh-so-close to getting snatched out of town until two madmen (Mayor Kevin Johnson and team purchaser Vivek Ranadivé) collaborated to save the franchise from the clutches of the Pacific Northwest and also build a new palace that the team moves into next season. How nice would it be, though, to exit the dusty Sleep Train Arena with a couple playoff games? Don’t worry if you’re thinking that heads are getting too big here. Similar to the Pelicans of yesteryear, dreams of future championship contention can wait. Ranadivé has his fingers and toes crossed that by the time tax day comes around, his meddling maneuvers (including the reintroduction of George Karl to the sideline) and his team’s undying faith in the surly set of point guard Rajon Rondo and DeMarcus Cousins, will bear fruit in the form of a first-round playoff series. And not just any series, mind you: one that brings Norcal’s spiciest hoop star, Steph Curry, and his Golden State Warriors back into town. By design, Sacramento’s offense has been Nashville hot (100+ points in 10 of their last 11 games) and the defense, like the aforementioned chicken, seems deeply coated in lard (100+ opponent points in 10 of their last 11 games). The one exception among the Kings’ opponents occurred last night, as Sacramento “held” the Lakers to 97 points. Coach Karl’s high-paced squad will graciously give up three-point shots (NBA-high 29.2 opponent 3FGAs per game). But if you’re hopelessly incapable of making them (LAL 4-for-25 3FGs yesterday), that’s not their fault. Despite having the touted “best big man in the game” in Cousins (4th in NBA in scoring and RPG, 1st in Usage%, 36-and-16 last night at Staples), the Kings are still spread a bit thin upfront. Lotto rookie Cousins’ and Rondo’s Wildcat cousin Willie Cauley-Stein starts by default, since he can dunk and swipe at everything resembling a basketball. Meanwhile, it might take a week before anyone realizes Kosta Koufos (10th in NBA in O-Reb%) swapped unis with Tiago Splitter. Quincy Acy and Rudy Gay have timeshared at the starting 4-spot (shifting Cousins back to center) and, well, just no. Karl, Vivek and the Kings’ competitive philosophy seems to be, “Hurry Up and Shoot, So We Can Hurry Up and Score.” A league-high 16.3% of Kings buckets (incl. 11.8% of their 2FGs) come with 18-22 seconds still left on the shot clock. It’s Reno Bighorns Basketball, writ large. Unfortunately for the Kings, the “Shoot” and “Score” roles get interchanged on many nights. Even yesterday, the Kings could not muster more than 6-for-20 from outside, even as guys like Kobe and Lou Williams presented as little resistance as possible. Defensively, the bigs will cluster around the paint, working like a co-op, striving to keep lanes clogged for 2.9 seconds at a time, and leaving it to Rondo (1.8 SPG) to provide a modicum of pressure to the opposing ball handler. While opponents are encouraged to swing the ball around and snipe away from the perimeter, Sacramento is susceptible to waving the white flag when said ball handler (0.86 opponent points per possession, just below Brooklyn and Portland; 48.0 eFG%, 3rd-highest in NBA) gets past Rondo (or Darren Collison) off a pick. The frenetic but limited frontcourt situation results in Sacramento allowing the fewest shots around the rim (34.5 opponent restricted-area FGAs) but a league-high 63.7% of those shots going in. Cousins (1.3 SPG, 2nd among NBA centers; 1.3 BPG) plugs just enough leaks to keep the Kings from giving up more than their league-high 107.9 opponent PPG. Perhaps, in a season like this, that’s all they’ll need. With last night’s win over the “Lackers,” DMC is back above-.500 (17-16) with the Kings in games played on the season. DMC was 9-6 last season, too, before he got injured at Vivek got crazy with Malone, but that’s neither nor there at this point. To stay winning, of course, Cousins has to maintain his on-court composure, such that it is, and not cost his team and himself by throwing ‘bows at sleeping almost-giants like Al Horford. Doing that back on November 18 marred his own 24-point (13 in the 1st quarter), 12-rebound performance at Philips Arena, and enlivened both Horford (mostly in the first half) and Paul Millsap (23 points, 16 boards) enough to halt, similar to tonight, the Kings’ incoming 3-game winning streak. The wet-nap that Dennis Schröder’s play reliably brought to clean up Atlanta’s messy starts lately finally dried up in Portland last night. His defense on Blazer guards was superior to Jeff Teague’s in the first half, but by the second half he proved a menace merely to courtside photographers, as he struggled to find the cup (3-for-13 FGs, 5 assists, 5 TOs). Teague Time (6 second-half dimes) arrived just in time to help Atlanta pull away, but Schröder’s limited floor time (under 20 minutes in the past four games) will be useful on the second night of a back-to-back against Rondo (11 points, 17 assists @ LAL yesterday; 12 points, 12 boards, 10 assists, 7 TOs @ ATL on Nov. 18) and Collison. In place of an injured Teague, Schröder contributed 22 points and 6 assists (1 TO) in Atlanta’s 103-97 win back in November. Millsap referred to his team’s reserves (9-for-26 FGs, incl. Schröder; 1-for-7 3FGs) as “elite” in the postgame commentary, and we’ll need to see more production from them tonight to know Sap wasn’t merely speaking with tongue-in-cheek. The defensive rebounding (14.3 bench D-Rebs per game, 5th in NBA) and steals (NBA-high 4.3 bench SPG) this month suggest notions of the reserves’ potential impact is more than a non-starter. The Hawks prevailed in that November meeting without not only Teague, but Kent Bazemore (3-for-6 3FGs @ POR, matching Millsap’s 23 points), as both starters rested ankle sprains. Baze and Thabo Sefolosha will be instrumental in thwarting the Kings’ fast breaks, disrupting outlet passes from Cousins and the guards to finishers like Gay and Ben McLemore, and to sharpshooters like Omri Casspi (7th in NBA for 2FG%, 4th for 3FG%) and Marco Belinelli. Forcing Sacramento to resort to Plans B and C later in the shot clock will slow the tempo and work to Atlanta’s advantage. The Kings need to take better advantage of opponents boarding the Sleep Train on the back end of back-to-backs. They’re 1-5 in those scenarios thus far, including losses to their last two opponents (New Orleans and Golden State) before embarking on their successful three-game road trip. Meanwhile, the Hawks (26-17) have won here in their last seven trips going back to 2009, have won 15 straight in this head-to-head series, and are 7-3 (incl. their last 3 tries) on the back half of back-to-back sets this season. Extend those streaks with sound play at both ends tonight, inch a little further up in the East standings, and who knows? Maybe we even can market the thing. “Atlanta Hot Wings”… sounds tasty to me! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  16. #NeverGetsOld A mopey and flustered team, yearning to find answers amid injuries and poor execution, saunters their way into tonight’s game at Philips Arena. Not only that… the Sacramento Kings will be there, too! After a smoldering 1-7 start, DeMarcus Cousins and the Kings are the ones doing the crowning lately, winning three straight home games versus Eastern foes. They’re in the proper mood to kick off their Southeast Division road swing by toppling the Atlanta Hawks (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast) for the first time in a long while. The now 2-9 Nyets shook off their Hawks Hex last night, enduring a muffed final minute of play from the Hawks to notch their first regular-season victory over the Hawks in seven tries. That should definitely inspire the Kings (4-7), who have grown a bit tired of getting dabbed on (or, is that bapped on?) by the ATL. They haven’t defeated a Hawks team since Mike Bibby’s not-so-triumphant return to ARCO Arena in Feburary 2008. How long ago was that? Sacramento needed a huge night from Ron Artest (three and a half years away from the epiphany before his name change) and a little help from Shelden Williams, to pull away from a playoff-starved Hawks team led in scoring by Josh Childress. The Kings' last victory at Philips came in March 2006. So, yeah, it’s been a minute. It has also been quite some time since the Hawks (8-5) lost four straight games in an NBA regular season, as could be the case following tonight’s action. Midway through the fourth game of the Hawks’ six-game slide in March 2014 (and absent a streak-stripped Kyle Korver), coach Mike Budenholzer benched an ineffective Jeff Teague in favor of Dennis Schröder and Shelvin Mack, who promptly committed seven of Atlanta’s 26 turnovers as Minnesota cruised at home. Two-and-a-half years later, Teague and Kent Bazemore watched the Brooklyn game from home (don’t kick the furniture!) while nursing their sprained ankles. And while Schröder (10 assists, 3 TOs) and Mack could not be directly blamed for costly turnovers, the lack of disorganization on the floor last night without Teague around was evident, well beyond the season-high 20 turnovers. Veteran All-Stars like Paul Millsap (5 TOs) and Korver (2-for-6 3FGs, 3 TOs) looked lost on offense. And the speediness of Schröder could only be displayed in the halfcourt, as designed plays broke down and Schröder (2-for-7 2FGs, 1-for-4 3FGs) was often left to settle for drives into the teeth of the Nets’ defense for points. The inertial development of plays during possessions (91.6 pace, 3rd lowest of season; 88.8 pace vs. Utah) played right into Joe Johnson’s hands. And that was just the problems with the offense, as the Hawks put up a season-low 88 points and 96.1 points per 100 possessions. “The execution was terrible, the defense was terrible,” Millsap admitted after the loss last night. He should know. Bench man Thabo Sefolosha’s total of seven defensive rebounds equaled the cumulative total of frontcourt starters Al Horford, Millsap (plus-minus of -16), and Tiago Splitter. That’s never a good sign when Cousins (28.0 PPG, 3rd in NBA; 11.0 RPG), the reigning Western Conference Player of the Week, and Kosta Koufos (12.1 O-Reb%, 11th in NBA) are in town after two days’ rest. While Cousins’ rebounding volume is down after shifting mostly to the 4-spot, he still ranks 7th in D-Reb% while taking time to shoot 44.8% on threes (take notes, Al-Star). The Nets were turning the ball over nearly as much as the Hawks in the first half, featuring some egregiously unforced errors. But unlike Atlanta, Brooklyn found the spigot (3 second-half player TOs). Eight of the Nets’ 10 participants got at least one steal, including Thad Young, whose five steals outnumbered that of the Hawks’ starters (three). The Hawks are forcing 18.7 TOs per game out of opponents within the friendly confines of Philips Arena (11.0 team SPG), but just 13.8 per game away from home (8.3 team SPG). Hopefully, the defensive energy will pick up a notch tonight. Meanwhile… turmoil? What turmoil? DMC knew what happened the last time he was forced to sit with an injury: by the time he returned last season, the coach he bonded with was canned and the carefully-crafted team mojo was gone. Forced to sit with an Achilles strain after two close losses to the Clippers and a 1-2 start to 2015-16, Cousins foresaw a McHaleian series of events unfolding again, when the Kings dropped four straight, the first two of the skid by double digits. The grass-cutting, snake-showing tension that simmered all summer boiled over upon Cousins’ return, after an 18-point home loss to San Antonio. This time last season, Cousins could tear into Michael Malone with his building frustrations, and he could count on Michael Malone throwing verbal heat right back at him. But instead of going in on Cousins for chewing out both he and GM Vlade Divac, Kings coach George Karl thought it better to clam up, head upstairs, and tattle. Karl pined openly for another shot as a head coach anywhere, and certainly knew what he was stepping into when he took the Kings gig almost a year ago. Yet essentially, Karl was all set to punish DeMeanUs Cussins for being DeMeanUs Cussins, marching up to Hotline Blinging team owner Vivek Ranadive to request his All-Star center be fined, if not outright traded. Still dreaming of a future with his pal John Calipari coming to Cowtown, Ranadive made it quite clear, to the NBA’s sixth-winningest head coach of all time, where his allegiances lie: if it’s down to He Goes or I Go, you may not like my response. Shut up, and coach. Ranadive runs his franchise like a NBA 2K competitor, but his Players Over Everything stance seems to have steeled the resolve in the Kings’ locker room, at least until the next dovetail. Cousins has since redirected his frustrations toward the Pistons, Nets, and Raptors. In the last three games, the Mobile Marauder has averaged 36.3 PPG and 10.7 RPG and shot 60% on three-pointers while building a kinship with the similarly-seething point guard Rajon Rondo. Remember when last season’s rumor mill had the Kings inquiring about acquiring Schröder and developing him into the “next” Rondo? Well, they’ve found their next Rondo and -- whaddya know -- it’s Rondo himself! Just when you thought Rondo’s menacing play was dead, a hand rises from the grave. Rondo ranks second in the NBA in assists (9.5 APG) and 7th in steals (2.1 SPG). Any schemes designed to get Rondo into foul trouble are good ones, as the alternate point guard options are of the shoot-first variety. Steals aside, Rondo and the returning Darren Collison (out last five games, hamstring) have to do a lot of gambling and scrambling to make up for a defensively-challenged roster. As a team, the Kings are 28th in blocks (3.5 BPG) and 24th in defensive efficiency (104.4 opponent points per 100 possessions). No other team, not even (formerly) McHale’s Rockets, have opponents converting over 70 percent of shot attempts in the restricted area (73.9 opponent FG%). That’s all with rookie Willie Cauley-Stein starting at center, and his status is up in the air after sustaining a head injury versus Toronto. Cousins almost has to stay at power forward for defensive purposes, as the alternatives (Rudy Gay? Caron Butler? Quincy Acy? Eric Moreland?) aren’t too hot. Koufos will likely get the nod if Cauley-Stein (70.6 FG%, because dunks) cannot go. Atlanta will need much more interior production out of Horford and a rested Tiago Splitter (12 minutes @ BRK) to counter Sacramento’s frontline play. For Gay, the best defense remains a good offense (post-rookie career-low 18.2 PPG, 46.7 FG%; career-low 0.2 BPG and -1.0 defensive box plus-minus). Thabo Sefolosha and Kyle Korver have to make Gay pay whenever he’s lackadaisical on the defensive end. At the other end, Atlanta defenders have to close out properly on Sacramento’s 3-and-not-much-D players along the perimeter, including starters Gay and Ben McLemore, and ex-Spurs Marco Belinelli (36.5 3FG%, team-high 4.7 attempts per game) and James Anderson. The challenge will continue to be heightened as Bazemore remains out for tonight’s action. Cousins’ newfound range is likely to draw Millsap and Horford even further away from the rim than they are already, and it’s intriguing to see how Rondo and the Kings intend to take advantage of that. Whether it’s Teague (questionable to play), Schröder, or Mack handling the rock, their teammates have to create openings for their passes out of the paint. In particular, the bigs must roll to the basket with greater fervor if the Hawks are to successfully exploit the Kings’ defensive flaws tonight. After several games of futile execution, it’s time to acknowledge that Point Guard Drives Matter. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  17. Not exactly a GM opening, in case anybody around town is out there wondering. ~lw3
  18. ~lw3