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  1. a Monumental day in the nation's Capitol? ~lw3
  2. When did A&M get their own airport? ~lw3
  3. “So what are you waiting for, Tasha? Nate McMillan and Melvin Hunt to help you plan dessert?” Finally! The pride of Chino Hills, now a Lottery pick and a prized NBA rookie, has come back to Los Angeles! That’s right. Onyeka Okongwu brings his Atlanta Hawks to STAPLES Center for a pair of games versus NBA title contenders over the coming days. That includes today’s matinee with the defending NBA champ Los Angeles Lakers (3:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL; Spectrum SportsNet in LAX). Only one other current NBA player – momentary Magic Man Aaron Gordon -- has ever been Mr. California Basketball twice. Now, the high school and USC sensation that put Chino Hills on the map makes his grand NBA debut in the Golden State. I’m sorry, Sir LaVar, were you saying something? Y’all, did I not just hop onto Ivan Johnson’s Internet barely over two months ago, in a Hawks-Hornets gamethread, to toss laurels in the Big Bald-head Brand Man’s direction? Big Poppa Pout keeping his piehole shut allowed LaMelo Ball to surge up the Rookie Ladder comfortably unfettered. Now, he’s got to look over his shoulder, not just at the Ant Man, but a horde of voracious media seeking out Sonny (and Big Baller Bro Zo) for clarification about Daddy’s salacious statements. He also had to deal with becoming the secondary Ball story in his first game at STAPLES on Thursday night. LaMelo shot the ball just fine, but a season-high 6 turnovers suggested the Bugs’ best ballhandler was a bit harried, and not just because of the tag team of former Hawk Dennis Schröder and Alex Caruso. Does Mike or Karen Okongwu have so much as a word critiquing their son’s collegiate or professional development floating out there? The family seemed to be grounded and pragmatic, the patriarch in particular, even before the tragic and accidental loss of their talented eldest son Nnamdi seven years ago. It is quite pleasant to be able to develop the 6-foot-8 younger Okongwu at the team’s modest pace, understandably limited due to the pandemic and the schedule, and not rush things just to sate the elevated expectations of parents and pundits. Mostly from the sidelines, Okongwu gets to watch and learn as John Collins maxes his value beyond the reach of thirst-trapped general managers around the league. He gets to look to playoff-seasoned vets like Danilo Gallinari and Clint Capela for guidance along the way. In this low-pressure environment, Onyeka gets to chart his development as a frontcourt reserve alongside, if all continues going well, two-way sensation Nathan Knight. Yek’s not the primary piece that Trae Young and, to a lesser extent, Collins were as rooks, nor the essential starter pieces we hope De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish will soon become. But he is a cog that has time to cultivate in alignment with the Hawks’ long-term needs. While Charlotte, Minnesota, Golden State, Cleveland, Chicago all need their Top-5 drafted rookies to produce at an elite level in 2021 to keep pace in matchups with the Lakers, anything positive that sixth-pick Okongwu (0.118 WS/48, a shade below LaMelo’s 0.119, which leads all other Top-10 picks by a mile, and all other Lotto picks by a yard) can provide his Hawks (21-20; 0.5 games behind 3-seed Miami, 4.0 games ahead of 11-seed Toronto) in limited minutes is a veritable luxury. A little West Coast comfort won’t hurt as the Hawks spend the next couple weeks waking up in alternative time zones. Beyond Gwu Tang, another recent West Coast guy, former Sacramento resident Bogdan Bogdanovic, showed hints of coming alive right on time as Atlanta extended its win streak to seven on Thursday. Just as Schröder is doing this season, Rajon Rondo made himself quite at home in Los Angeles last year, enjoying LeBron James’ carpet ride toward a championship. Also making themselves literally at home are L.A. natives, Solomon Hill and Kawhi Leonard’s former high school teammate, Tony Snell. California Love! The Hawks are also led by a coach that was Carolina born-and-raised but made himself the face of pro ball, as both a player and a coach, in the Pacific Northwest. It should take just a couple more victories over the next eleven days to lock up Eastern Conference Coach of the Month honors for Nate McMillan. Trae Young has rarely found the teams from Tinseltown to be inhospitable. 11.2 career APG (highest average vs. any NBA team) and 25.6 PPG against the Lakers (28-13 2.0 games behind the West-leading Jazz) in five games; 27.3 PPG and 9.0 APG against Monday’s host, the LA Clippers. The respite McMillan granted in the fourth quarter of Thursday’s resounding 116-93 win over OKC was welcome for Trae ahead of what are hoped to be productive outings in Los Angeles. Par for the course was Young’s production of 25 points and 16 rebounds assists (thanks, Jay!) to pace the Hawks in January’s 107-99 loss to the Lakers, a game where Atlanta led by a point after three quarters and nearly scrambled back late after letting the lead slip away (11 of the Hawks’ final 13 points assisted by Young). Right along his averages against the Lake Show (6.2 TOs/game vs. LAL) were 7 turnovers, mostly steals at the hands of James and that day’s top scorer for Los Angeles, Anthony Davis (out for another week due to a strained Achilles calf). If Trae can cut down on the errors, whether unforced or not, he’ll ensure more of the Hawks’ halfcourt plays end with high-quality looks, free throws, and second-chance opportunities. Coach Frank Vogel’s club, settling back into a groove with four straight wins after dropping 7 of 10 prior to the All-Star Break, is 22-3 on the season when they snare seven or more steals (17-1 in games with 8+ thefts), 6-10 otherwise. With Marc Gasol and two-way forward Kostas Antetokoumpo (Health ‘n Safety) joining AD and Jared Dudley (MCL tear) on the inactive list, the gameplan for LeBron’s Lakers is to hit ‘em where he ain’t. Swing the ball around and inside for paint points when Collins, Capela and Gallinari have height advantages. Penetrate and kick the ball out to shooters, including Snell (like Young, rested in the 4th quarter vs. OKC), Bogi and Kevin Huerter when James is helping secure defensive boards and protecting the rim. And, as always, get back on defense and make LeBron move laterally in transition. There’s no reason to wait to pick up wins later on in this road trip. Including the Lakers, who travel later today to play the Suns tomorrow, six of Atlanta’s next eight opponents are playing on either the front end (Lakers, Kings, Suns) or the back end (Warriors, Spurs, Pelicans) of a back-to-back. Only one pair of upcoming games on the docket (Spurs-Pels) are on consecutive nights for the Hawks. Teams will be limiting players’ minutes and DNP’ing players at the last minute, notably over the next few games as the NBA Trade Deadline nears. With the added potential of a couple key returnees during this road trip to add to Nate Mac’s rotation, the Hawks are congealing just as some opponents could be getting momentarily thinner. With no Davis, an odd 12:30 PM Pacific tip time, and a big division game versus Phoenix looming, and perhaps a chance to lock down weekly player (JC/Trae) and coach awards, there are plenty of reasons to trip up the Lakers today and keep our team’s win streak rolling. So, what are we waiting for? Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  4. Sure hope they’ve Patched things up! It’s our Atlanta Hawks versus the Los Angeles Lakers tonight, here at State Farm Arena (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL; Spectrum SportsNet in LAX). MVP candidates LeBron James and Anthony Davis are in town for this high-profile matchup, the first of what is shaping up to quite a Hell Week for our up-and-coming Atlanta club. But this isn’t the adversarial relationship with Georgia residents that I still have my eye on. It’s February 2021 and, somehow, “The State of Georgia versus Dennis Schröder” is still open. This was a case that opened in September 2017 within the young confines of the City of Brookhaven. The newly incorporated suburban city took over jurisdiction of long stretches of old strip shopping centers along the ATL’s infamous Buford Highway, in 2012, from DeKalb County. Their police arrived in the wee, small hours of a weekend morning to find one man down on the asphalt outside a hookah bar, and other men ambling around the lot fishing for their car fobs. Schröder himself owned a hookah lounge in Atlanta’s Buckhead, but somehow found himself in the middle of the fray at closing time of a separate spot along Buford Highway, not far from his place of residence. Police reviewed a video that – there’s that word… “allegedly” -- showed Dennis and three of his menacing allies serving up ten fingers and ten toes apiece to the aggrieved victim. The Brookhaven coppers arrested the accused attackers, charging them with misdemeanor battery. They were released pending arraignment, but there would be no such hearing for over two years. A few months after the incident, the victim fashioned up medical records indicating a torn ACL and a torn meniscus, enough leg damage to qualify as a Hawks free agent target. DeKalb’s Assistant Solicitor General recommended upgrading the cases to a felony charge of aggravated battery, in light of the severity of the injuries, surgeries and rehab presented. The entire time that the wheels of justice were moving like the Grizzlies’ Kyle Anderson, Schröder was the marquee name for the Atlanta Hawks Basketball Club. His incident would occur right around the tipoff of NBA training camp, raising the specter of untimely Hawks’ transgressions past. Albeit almost by default, Dennis would go on to average a career-best 19.4 PPG, plus a shade over six assists and a steal per contest for Mike Budenholzer. Yet Atlanta’s award-winning coach surmised that sticking around for a roster rebuild under first-year GM Travis Schlenk, with a felonious punk leading the charge, was not likely to end well. Schlenk also suspected the point guard he inherited, once hoped to be a bridge between the height of success under Coach/GM Bud and a new regime, might not even be around the NBA for much longer, for a reason that had nothing to do with basketball. It’s why Trader Trav was bound to replace not only his lead ballhandler, but his franchise face. However, he knew he had to hurry. It’s nice to have a fixer. But Schlenk couldn’t just don a white coat and connive behind the scenes to make this case disappear. He couldn’t control when DeKalb County might turn the case over to a grand jury, dragging it back onto front-page local news and A-block sports opinion shows. He works in a sports town where anything that can go wrong usually does, in short order. Yet it’s remarkable that the video evidence reviewed by Brookhaven police in 2017 never resurfaced in the hands of TMZ, CourtTV, or any other Enquiring Minds eager to scrutinize the blow-by-blow. Perhaps it’s because the victim, due to some combination of common-gender and having just one uninjured leg instead of three, didn’t generate media interest, keeping the potential for scandal just beyond the public scope. In an inner-ring county where making some big “Tough on Crime” stink, about a local athlete facing justice for some late-night dude-spat, doesn’t exactly stir the pot, DeKalb DA Sherry Boston hasn’t had any urge to comment on the snail-paced proceedings. There’s the likelihood that the other alleged assailants, including one aging Gambian soccer star, are somewhere overseas, complicating matters for those in charge of the case. But it has also helped, resolutely, that Dennis wasn’t playing for some hyped-up pro sports team. Not one like the Los Angeles Lakers (15-6, 1.0 games behind the Clippers in the NBA West), where Kyle Kuzma changing his hair color becomes a story fit to print. The AJC hasn’t followed up, nor has the LA Times or even the OC Register. It took the full 2017-18 season, and all the way beyond the fateful 2018 NBA Draft, yet Schlenk was able to move what seemed to be a ticking, albeit lightly-smoking, PR time bomb out of his hands. Schröder’s trade to the Thunder allowed Dennis to reset his career arc in swaggerless Oklahoma City. Perhaps, one thought, it would further encourage the criminal case against him to waft into the ether. He did return to what’s now State Farm Arena once, with OKC in January 2019. The only bench mate of Russell Westbrook providing his club anything of substance, he offered 21-and-6 in 27 minutes, only to see his old teammate, John Collins, and his new rookie replacement, Trae Young, prevail in a 142-126 shootout. But with his own hookah hangout shuttering and his lounging days subsiding, by most accounts, Dennis hadn’t returned to Atlanta to face the music. He is back in town today, but things have since changed for him, on the court and on the docket. An indictment hearing and grand jury warrants proceeded in September 2019, and an arraignment hearing was scheduled for March 2020. Incidentally, the scheduled date was just days after the NBA shut down due to a surging bi-national pandemic, and just before Schröder, receiving the highest praise of his professional career under the tutelage of Chris Paul, could return with the Thunder for another game in town. The last note in DeKalb’s Judicial Information System regarding Schröder was an “Application for Leave of Absence”, posted in June 2020. By that point, Schröder and the Thunder were preparing for a momentous trip to the NBA Bubble in Orlando, one that would cement Dennis’ value in the league as a top-line sixth man and a borderline star. Statistically, Dennis’ maturation was best demonstrated by his field goal shooting, career-bests of 51.3 2FG% and 38.5 3FG% in his second go-round with the Thunder. Consecutive games scoring 29 and 30 points, helping OKC even their first-round series with James Harden’s Rockets, and a season-high 31 points at STAPLES Center nine months before, would not go unnoticed by the Lakers’ real GM. In this past offseason, LeBron ordered an upgrade of wayward-shooting Danny Green, and Rob Pelinka got the deal done, sending Green and Jaden McDaniels to the Sooner State and outfitting Schröder in regal purple-and-gold. Dennis is a full-time starter for the first time since departing the Hawks, as the NBA champions wage for a repeat. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski noted in December that the Lakers were eager to lock Schröder, currently an unrestricted free agent, down with a contract extension. But his agent saw no need to rush, and not because the Lakers hold his Bird Rights in the coming offseason. Fifteen days from now, Dennis’ eligibility for an in-season extension can be raised from two years and a five-percent salary raise to four years and up to as much as $83 million. From February 16 on, he might be inclined to take what the Lakers offer him. In part, it’s because his play has regressed. Entering today’s game, Dennis’ 28.9 3FG%, 50.6 TS% are at levels not seen since his washout rookie season with the Hawks in 2013-14. As LeBron (7.8 APG, down from an NBA-high 10.2 APG last season; career-best 41.3 3FG%) capably manages primary play-setting and play-finishing responsibilities, Schröder’s 19.7 assist percentage is a career-low. And there are but scant hints of the elevated defensive aptitude gained from playing under and alongside CP3 last season. Balding eagle Alex Caruso (52.8 3FG%, 2.1 APG, 0.9 TOs/game) has been the more efficient option as a true Laker point guard so far. But to keep Schröder in a mood to negotiate a reasonable deal, and to keep him focused on improving ahead of the NBA Playoffs, the Lakers don’t want coach Frank Vogel stirring the pot just yet. Another reason Schröder might soon be nailing down some long-term, guaranteed money is that a day could come – hopefully, not today – where he gets the long-awaited tap on his shoulder that his presence has been summoned in a Georgia courtroom. Maybe the victim will eventually let bygones be bygones, take a little parting cash under the table, and petition the courts to drop the case. But one would imagine that such transactions toward a closure, if possible, would have transpired by now. Hawks fans can be grateful that, in shipping the squirrely Schröder and a Moose in 2018’s multi-team deal for what could be a low first-rounder in 2022, Schlenk didn’t wait to find out whether our Rocky and Bullwinkle would become our Boris and Natasha. Having Trae Young (41 points @ WAS in Friday’s 116-100 win) in Schröder’s stead was a bonanza for what used to be a box office, and he remains a far more stable option to build a franchise around. The week ahead for Atlanta may not be quite as hellish a homestand as once feared. The four visiting opponents have certainly had their super stars and sterling reputations in recent seasons. But one must note that, if the season ended today, the Hawks (10-9) would be a definitive playoff team (i.e., no play-ins required), while forthcoming foes from Dallas and Toronto, each sitting at 8-12, would not. Tonight’s result is incapable of changing that. The Mavs, in particular, may very well lose their sixth straight game tonight, at home versus CP3 and Phoenix, despite being fully healthy. Like the finally cooled-off Jazz, who’ll arrive one day later on Thursday, Dallas will depart Atlanta to play the back end of a back-to-back series. The Lakers themselves haven’t been exactly at their best, and that’s not simply because of Schröder’s uneven performances. The Lakers have really struggled to clamp down on opponents over the past two weeks. Steph, Draymond and the Warriors caught Los Angeles sleeping at STAPLES back on January 18, eking out a 115-113 win. The Lake Show went on the road to win three straight, but only perhaps the victory in Davis’ Chicago hometown came in impressive fashion. They needed an ungodly 46-point performance by LeBron to salvage a win in his home metro of Cleveland, one week ago. That was before slip-ups in Philadelphia and, while resting Davis, Detroit on back-to-back nights. Tonight’s game, the final of a seven-game East Coast odyssey for the Lakers, comes after a Saturday slog in Boston, a 96-95 victory over the Celtics marked by 1990’s tempo and lousy perimeter and free throw shooting from both teams. Marc Gasol has been serviceable as a starting center, mostly for sopping up 20 minutes per night that don’t require Davis (questionable, quad) or LeBron (questionable, ankle) to slide over to the 5-spot for defensive purposes. Montrezl Harrell (8-for-10 FGs, 3 blocks, 2 steals) has been able to maintain his presence as a sixth-man spark. But rarely, in recent weeks, have the Lakers been able to contain the quality starting frontcourt players in the league, be they Andre Drummond or Joel Embiid. Even Blake Griffin pulled off some vintage play on the Pistons’ behalf last week. That bodes well offensively for the Hawks’ Clint Capela (seven double-doubles and 1 triple-double in past 9 games) and Collins (19.8 PPG, 52.6 3FG% in last 4 games), if they continue to out-run their assignments on the floor and turn touches into quick shots. It would certainly help Atlanta’s cause if they had a healthy De’Andre Hunter this week. Second to Trae (probable, sore knee) in minutes-logged last season, and second in per-game minutes in this one, the Hawks’ most improved player was diagnosed with articular wear-and-tear after injuring his knee in Washington on Friday. Hunter underwent a non-surgical procedure to deal with his discomfort over the weekend and hopes to return soon. Months of compensating for the absences of Collins, last season, and Danilo Galllinari at the 4-spot have perhaps, taken their toll on Hunter. But a healthy Gallo can make up for lost time by putting a foot in the backside of the Lakers’ frontcourt defenders, especially if a road-weary James and Davis are occupied with helping Schröder and Caruso with Young. Los Angeles’ NBA-best 104.8 D-Rating is predicated upon keeping opposing stars like Trae (16-for-17 FTs @ WAS) off the free throw line. The Lakers neutralize offenses by allowing an NBA-low 17.6 attempts per-48. Young and ex-Laker champ Rajon Rondo must be masterful in reading and executing on the pick-and-roll (LAL opponents score on 38.4 percent of P&R ballhandler plays, 4th-lowest in NBA), being sure not to force actions but feed their wingmen, Kevin Huerter and Cam Reddish, when the defense adequately contracts in the paint. In Hunter’s absence, sprinkles of solid two-way play from Tony Snell, Solomon Hill and rookie Onyeka Okongwu (probable, sore Achilles) will be needed for Atlanta to sustain competitive efforts against the league’s top teams, particularly if those teams are playing at their top levels. It remains curious that the sports and local media has not pried further into Schröder’s irresolute and longstanding legal circumstance, even as he returns intriguingly close to the scene of the crime. Perhaps, in the best interest of both Dennis and the title-bearing titans of Tinseltown, it’s for the best that everyone reserves their right to remain silent. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  5. Dwight's a UFA, but there's still a shot at a "Double-D" reunion! ~lw3
  6. Don't blame it on the sunshine... Don't blame it on the moonlight... Don't blame it on the good times... ~lw3
  7. King James was seven when he first heard, “BRRRRRR DOT! Dot. Dot. DOT!” Not trying to be like MJax in “Remember the Time” (Best Twitter thread of the decade! There is no second place!) and disrespect a pharaoh. But sorry, King LeBron, we Atlanta Hawks fans are not looking at you and the Los Angeles Lakers (6 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Spectrum SportsNet) this evening, we’re looking past you. This coming Tuesday, it’s the drunken Grandaddy of them all. Live, from New York, it’s Stupor Bowl II! After That Other Mike Miller got his team to two straight road wins, the Nyuk Nyuk Knicks are now Bowl Eligible! Atlanta and New York now have six wins each (Q: does beating the Dubs count, since they’re FCS?), and somebody’s going to get to seven soon. Entering MSG in a couple days, our Hawks will be a different Basketball Club than the one that waltzed into the Garden during an October preseason game with boundless exuberance and upbeat energy. Trae Young and John Collins were splashy and bouncy. Hitting threes in Kevin Huerter’s absence, Vince Carter looked the part of a reliable sixth-man scorer for his final season. So did Jabari Parker. Rookies Cam Reddish and De’Andre Hunter were efficient, the latter looking as productive as the Duke teammate taken ahead of him. Alex Len was still sorting through his new role as an opening-day starter. DeAndre’ Bembry was shutting people down. It was only a sloppy four-point win for the visitors, their only preseason victory. But there were enough promising instances in the nationally televised game to bolster optimism for the Hawks season that was soon to begin. On that evening in Manhattan, the future looked bright for the Hawks. It still is. That future is just a lot further down the Lincoln Tunnel than many of us had hoped. The future is now for King LeBron. He had his palace guard, Magic Johnson, dismissed from The LAnd, and left Rob Pelinka in full charge of the Purple and Gold army. Coach Luke Walton gets thumbed down, Frank Vogel gets the thumbs-up. Into the Kingdom comes a full-floor general in Anthony Davis (reigning Western Conference POW; probable, shoulder), and a rings-bearing lieutenant in Danny Green. The court jesters that keep the palace entertained, Kyle Kuzma (questionable, ankle), Alex Caruso, JaVale McGee, Rajon Rondo (questionable, hammy), Avery Bradley (probable, leg), Dwight Howard, Jared Dudley, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, all get to stick around at the King’s behest. Those that made the King’s arms stretch outward in frustration have been summarily dispatched. As was the case back on November 17 at Staples Center (69-41 first-half deficit), and on Friday night versus Indiana (63-48 deficit) here at State Farm Arena, certain things become clear when it comes to the Hawks (6-20). In their current condition, Atlanta must be at their letter-best for four quarters, not just one or two, to beat pretty much anyone. They are rarely playing, or coached up to play, at their optimal best. And the Lakers (NBA-best 23-3, 13-1 on the road) aren’t just anyone. The league’s second-best shot-makers (2nd in NBA for second-chance points per-48, 3rd for Fastbreak and paint points per-48), thanks to the play-making and magnetism of LeBron and AD, the Lakers can rely on their biggest stars to hold up defensively as well (16.2 opp. TO%, 50.1 opp. eFG%, each 5th-best in NBA). Davis’ 2.6 BPG exceeds the fouls he’s called for (2.3 personals/game), while the top-ten-scoring pair combines for 2.8 SPG. Vogel’s ability to plug-and-play a variety of bigs at the 5-spot, while keeping a pair of skilled wings on the court at all times, allows Davis to stay comfortable as a help-defending power forward and James (NBA-high 51.7 assist% and 10.8 APG) to remain in an exploitative point guard role. Questions of postseason sustainability remain to be resolved, but not this early in the season for James and Davis (34.6 MPG each). The one chink in the Lakers’ armor, for now, is free throw shooting. After AD (86.3 FT% on 8.2 attempts/game), Los Angeles’ next six most frequent free throw shooters have shot a collective 65.2 FT%. Davis was quite merciful on offense (14 points, no O-Rebs, 4-for-5 FTs, 0-for-2 3FGs, 4 TOs, but 5 blocks) when the Hawks ventured back into Staples last month. The King? Not so much (33 points, 6-for-10 3FGs, 12 assists). Still, just a single free throw make for the latter allowed the tragedy of playing the Clips and Lakers on back-to-back road nights from becoming a travesty for Atlanta (60-53 in the second half @ LAL). Young (9-for-14 2FGs, 7-for-8 FTs, 7 assists, 8 TOs @ LAL) was the one challenging interloper who stood out for the Hawks. But any designs on a successful palace charge on that night was doomed by his own dancing troupe (1 assist, 1 steal, no blocks among 8 Hawk reserves). Better bench production will be essential to narrow Atlanta’s early deficits, today and in the games to come. Flying here overnight after watching Prince Bronny defeat his old high school team live in Ohio, King James (68.8 FT%; probable despite a People’s Elbow on Jimmy Butler in the win over Miami) probably will elect not to give the minions in Atlanta’s stands the satisfaction of free Fowl Shot chicken (can’t order any today, anyway) during the final quarter. “Let them eat tofu!” Lloyd Pierce’s easily shell-shocked soldiers will want to be careful with who, and more importantly when, they’re commit fouls against. There should be no desperation hacking by the Hawks after getting beaten or outmatched defensively, just getting out in transition after the bucket or the rebound and try to exploit numerical advantages down the floor. The mindless piling up of fouls while the Lakers are in the act of shooting/scoring only risks prolonging the pain. Such "strategery" is purely practice for the game this week, for the Hawks, that actually matters. Even pulling a possum play on the Lakers this evening will be for naught if they’re allowing themselves to get And-1’d to death by the likes of Marcus Morris, Julius Randle, R.J. Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, Kevin Knox, Bobby Portis and Dennis Smith (NYK w/ NBA-low 67.6 team FT%) at The World’s Most Embarrassed Arena on Tuesday. Trae may indeed one day be that “entertainment” that flusters the King with his tricky spins and dancing around guards throughout the pyramid, averts execution, and woos away the Crown, Queen Lizzo and all the King’s merry subjects. But he, and we, have all got a long way to go before we get there. In closing… “Do you remember Spain?” What? SPAIN? Do you know how far Spain is from Egypt? Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  8. ***ATTENTION, TJ MAXX SHOPPERS...*** Okay… NOW, the schedule gets tough! The first dozen games in the Atlanta Hawks’ regular season slate provided opportunities to catch teams napping, or trip them up while they were still calibrating with reformulated lineups. That fun ends tonight, as the Hawks kick off an arduous four-game road swing versus LeBron James’ Los Angeles Lakers (9:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL). Maybe the outcomes won’t be as dire as they project on paper, though. Tonight’s contest begins the first stretch in a while that Atlanta (3-9) won’t be in the middle of a 3-games-in-4-nights run. For coach Lloyd Pierce’s club, it’s the last of a string of 4-games-in-6-nights that began back on October 27 (1-8 in that span). Given the run of even-numbered-days rest over the next couple weeks, the outlook for victories would be so much sunnier if there weren’t so many NBA studs to reckon with. After LeBron and Company, there’s KD and the Dubs on Tuesday, the Joker on Thursday, Dipo on Saturday. That’s before returning for a four-game homestand that includes Kawhi, Kemba and the Celtics. No one’s going to shed a tear for Trae Young (18.4 PPG, 7.8 APG, 4.0 TOs/game) and the Hawks. But maybe chances will arise to use relatively routine rest to their advantage, against favored opponents like L.A. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes is a heartfelt song by The Platters, but it’s not one LeBron and his newest team, the Lakers (6-6) wish to croon. They tipped off at 7 PM last night in Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center, the arena layered with smoke from the deadly Camp Fire ravaging northern California. They pulled off the 101-86 victory, the fourth win in their past five games, against the Kings. But the ambient conditions wafting into the stadium proved problematic for many attendees, including the players spending a half-hour going back-and-forth for 94 feet. “Everyone gets affected by pollution,” James (25 points in 31 minutes yesterday) told ESPN’s Dave McMenamin and postgame media before the game. Afterwards, the Lakers’ latest franchise savior noted he was dealing with a slight pregame headache, “and I can’t pinpoint any other reason why it was going on besides the smoke.” Starting center JaVale McGee, who suffers from asthma, cited stomach pains that he estimated, “was from the smoke, for sure.” Back home ahead of a game less than 24 hours later versus Atlanta, the Lakers have friends and neighbors who are dealing with the uncontained Woolsey Fire and Hill Fire northwest of L.A. Arriving in Sacramento on Friday from SoCal, some Lakers watched fires burning from the plane. If they were awake during the flight home last night, chances were good they observed even more destruction from above. Smoke like this is always undesirable, but what has been unnecessary has been the figurative smoke emanating from the president of basketball operations' office. Third-year Lakers coach Luke Walton doesn’t want any smoke from his legendary, smoldering boss. I’m always grateful that Magic Johnson remains among us, but Lakers fans would appreciate it if he added a chill pill to his daily prescriptions. I understand Magic trying to live up to his promise of a grand turnaround and a return to glory by the end of the 2019-20 season. But a 2-5 record, all versus fellow Western Conference opponents, was apparently too slow a start for the Magic Man. Johnson reportedly gave Walton a grand, vocal chewing out last week, following Los Angeles’ return home from losses at San Antonio and Minnesota. He defended his actions by insisting he was more concerned about the style of play – somebody, promise me he’s not demanding Walton to install the Triangle. Magic insists that, despite his vitriol, Coach Luke’s job status isn’t in peril “this year.” The Lakers have gotten everything they could want in the post-Kobe campaign. Five years of tanking produced lottery picks in Lonzo Ball (4.4 APG) and Brandon Ingram (15.6 PPG). They took some late-first-round picks from 2017 and hit it out of the park with Kyle Kuzma (18.5 PPG) and Josh Hart. As he planned, Earvin put on his Magic charms this past summer and wooed LeBron to Hollywood. As James would want, Magic’s staff stocked the roster with go-along-to-get-along vets, in Rajon Rondo (7.0 APG), JaVale McGee (3.0 BPG), Lance Stephenson, Michael Beasley and, this past week, Tyson Chandler. But why is Magic insistent on Walton building Rome in a day? Aside from LeBron, this is not an All-Star roster, and it won’t be until the youngsters round out their games and the next big free agent catch arrives next summer. When it comes to support from the top, right now, this team needs more Magic and less Earvin. The Lakers exec is the only one capable of making rash decisions that could disrupt the West Coast Process, detrimentally, and render James not much more than a glorified award-show presenter. LeBron is accustomed to bulldozing his way to the hoop with the rock and having colleagues ready to play their roles around him. He is not used to standing aside as forwards like Ingram and Kuzma call their own numbers. His 31.4 assist percentage is his lowest since 2006-07. Sharing the ball with an effective passer like Rondo (32.8 assist%) is a factor. But no one should expect Walton, with the pieces he has around LeBron, to drum up an effective motion offensive scheme in October. That’s almost as bad as expecting Pierce to have the Hawks’ offense (102.1 O-Rating, 29th in NBA), in any respect, humming by now. Atlanta players won the turnover battle versus their opponents four times in 12 games, and they are 3-1 in those situations. They have also shot at least 39.5 percent on threes in those victories, but they haven’t crossed the 30 percent mark in any of their past three games. Those were all losses, including Friday night’s game, where they came out against Detroit (20-40 in the opening quarter, versus the NBA’s second-worst 1st-quarter team) like they were driving a car filled to the brim with buttered popcorn. James can be counted on to get his stats, and Kuzma is sure to enliven Staples Center with a highlight play or two. But Walton is likely to go deep into his rotation to give his key contributors some rest, entrusting players like Hart, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Ivica Zubac to help carry the day. The Hawks can be more competitive tonight if they execute plays better on the run, and if the wings and guards get back in transition and defend the Lakers’ passers without fouling. Atlanta ranks second-worst on opponent fastbreak points (17.7) per-48, the Lakers diametrically ranked second in fastbreak scoring (22.7 per-48, 0.1 point behind yesterday’s foe, Sacramento). But the Lakers and the Warriors (3rd in fastbreak per-48 points), who may be without Steph Curry (groin strain) when they host the Hawks on a back-to-back Tuesday, may be a bit lead-legged and distracted due to the events going on all across California. For any Hawks players who are interested in stealing a road win, they ought to consider the next pair of contests a Golden State opportunity. Happy Veterans' Day! Hearts out to the wildfire victims and emergency service providers out in Cali. And, Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  9. The newest LeBronnaire is on his way? ~lw3
  10. “Bean burritos again, huh?” While Tanxiety is sweeping across the fanbase of the Atlanta Hawks, they’ll sit shoulder-to-shoulder at Philips Arena, tonight, with fans of the Los Angeles Lakers (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Spectrum SportsNet in La-La-Land), one of several organizations whose fans are suffering from a bout with Tank Fatigue. Hawks fans will come to understand this in a year or five, but it does wear fans out to hear, one year after the next, that everything is riding, once again, on the ability to draft the likes of Julius Randle, D’Angelo Russell, and Brandon Ingram in forthcoming drafts, that the next heralded collegiate wiretap subject is all that it will take to bounce back into legitimate playoff contention. Never mind what was decreed in the seasons prior. Once said draftee arrives in town, Savior Watch goes into effect, where all the hopes that the old rookie doesn’t veer off into Mediocreville or Busttown, gets shifted and foisted onto the new guy. Everything from a rookie’s shot mechanics to his Snapchats get monitored and scrutinized intensely, playoff-starved fans desperately seeking signs of a clear corner-turning toward super-stardom. The present Flavor of the Year, of course, is Lonzo Ball, who plays his first game at Philips Arena tonight. Ball missed 15 games leading up to the All-Star Break to heal an MCL sprain, and he was rested on Saturday (second night of a back-to-back for the Lakers) as part of his injury management plan. Coach Luke Walton’s club doesn’t have to sweat over lottery positioning this season, a product of the organization’s all-in gamble in 2012 to try pairing Kobe with whatever remained of Steve Nash. So rather than pressure to lose with youth on the floor, there is pressure to win, but not to do it with detritus like Luol Deng, Corey Brewer, or Channing Frye on the floor. Up until now, the Lakers have gotten about as much production, from one year to the next, out of their non-lottery selections (new Cavs Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance, Ivica Zubac, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart) as they have from their more touted rookie prizes. But this isn’t acceptable any longer. Los Angeles (25-34, 7.5 games behind 8-seed Denver, 10-5 in last 15 games) is under the gun to somehow make a mad dash toward the playoffs, and Walton must find a way to do it with his newest prize pupil, Ball, leading the way. Everything has been Lonzo-centric all season long, but especially now. How does Walton work Ball back into a steady rotation, with Ingram (18.3 PPG, 5.6 APG this month) playing arguably the best basketball of his short career in a point guard role? With All-NBA second-teamer-turned-panic-button victim Isaiah Thomas (17 points @SAC off the bench on Saturday) insisting he deserves to be a starter, no matter the circumstance? With the 6-foot-5 Hart (8.0 RPG, 48.7 3FG% this month) rebounding out of his mind, even more effectively than Ball (3rd among all rookies in RPG)? With Georgia native Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (season-high 34 points, career-best 8 3FGs @ SAC) emerging as a go-to guy? On top of all that, can Walton pull it off without drawing unwelcome Big Baller Beef, yet again, from Lonzo’s pops? Los Angeles is coming off consecutive wins over a pair of lottery-bound teams (vs. Dallas, at Sacramento) to start their post-Break schedule, and they intend to make it a trifecta tonight. Lonzo was instrumental to the Lakers ending a nine-game slide back on January 7, his team-high 10 rebounds, three made triples, and six assists helping Los Angeles cruise past the visiting Hawks, 132-113. But if the returning Ball isn’t the player making a splash, soon, and/or if his team regresses, the Lakers’ staff and brass run the risk of having to stamp out another PR fire. Turnovers (15.3 turnover%, 5th-worst in NBA, just behind the sloppy Hawks’ 15.4%) and sketchy defense (119.6 opponent PPG in last 5 games) have long been problems for the oft-erratic Lakers (1st in pace). Ball and the Lakers’ young stars must mature and stabilize themselves quickly, particularly tonight, if they intend to end Dennis Schröder (27 points, 10-for-19 2FGs @ LAL on Jan. 7) and the Hawks’ home game streak versus Western Conference clubs at eight. While KCP helps patrol the perimeter, Los Angeles’ interior defense must be strong enough to keep Schröder and John Collins (15 points in 21 bench minutes @ LAL) from piling up points in the paint (LAL opponents 48.4 paint PPG, 2nd-most in NBA) at their expense. The Lakers’ fans have tired of being Processed meat, and they’re eager to see if they indeed have the Next Magic / Next Kobe on their hands, or at least if they have enough quality talent to entice a free agent superstar to wander onto the team this summer. The time for the Lake Show is now. Their tank has reached the end of the road, and the purple-and-gold-clad fans at The Highlight Factory need to know: Are We There, Yet? Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  11. How does that Randy Newman song go? No, not I Love L.A., that OTHER one... ~lw3
  12. “Do You Believe That We Can Win That Fight Tomorrow Night?” Can Atlanta make it 3-for-3 for the week in SoCal? The Hawks will aim for the Peach State Trifecta when they kick off their Staples Center sleepover in a tilt with the Los Angeles Lakers (9:30 PM Eastern). The notion of rebuilding from the ground floor is usually fun, at the outset. As fans, though, you just have to be careful when it comes to understanding what risks you’re signing up for. Having moved on from Kobemania in the search for the next great Laker Legend, Lakerfans have swayed from Randlemania to D’Angelomania to Ingramania to Lonzomania. Each year, fans have sold on their own self-made hype, that the next lotto pick is The Next Great One, certainly enough to carry their hallowed franchise to playoff glory for the first time since 2013. But now, the Lakers sit at 11-27, on the verge of losing their tenth in a row and 13th in 14 games. And if they don’t play their cards right, their next lottery hopeful may be suiting up in Celtics Green instead. Despite raw shooting skills (35.2 FG%, 30.3 3FG%, 48.0 FT%), Lonzo Ball (6.8 RPG, 7.0 APG, 1.4 SPG) is nowhere near bust material. In fact, the rookie’s rebounding, passing wizardry, and defensive skills from his point guard position are almost ideally what the Lakers need. But when it comes to the long haul of rebuilding teams, and the instability that can transpire from the floor to the front office along the way, draft scouts may now have to weigh the merits of a prospect’s progenitors. As one might say, you can’t choose your draft pick’s parents. “You can see they’re not playing for Luke [Walton, the Lakers’ head coach] no more,” says proud papa LaVar Ball, chilling at a Lithuanian spa, trying to keep Lonzo’s younger siblings from starting another global incident. LaVar treats the second-year full-time NBA coach the way he treated his kids’ coaches from high school and AAU through UCLA, with disdain. “Luke doesn’t have control of the team no more. They don’t want to play for him,” LaVar adds, each critique moving Tito Horford further up the ballot for the Pro Baller Discreet Dads’ Hall of Fame. “I can see it. No high-fives when they come out of the game. People don’t know why they’re in the game. He’s too young… He ain’t connecting with them no more. You can look at every player. He’s not connecting with not one player.” LaVar won’t be happy until he is controlling his kids’ teams, from the sideline, and if they’re still not winning, he won’t be satisfied until he has run his kids’ teammates out of town on a rail, something that may literally happen soon with the younger clan over in Prienai-Birštonas. In cahoots with media that can’t seem to tear the microphones away from him, LaVar’s mouth forces everyone, from Laker management to Lonzo himself, to drop everything and, on a Sunday night between the worst two clubs in the NBA, formally address the dissension that the Big Bawler of the Ball family tries to stir. If he’s not overly distracted, Lonzo (who, naturally, disagrees with his father regarding Walton) has the tools to make his head-to-head tonight with the Hawks’ Dennis Schröder (last 2 games: 38.7 FG%, 4.5 APG, 4.5 TO/game) an arduous one for the latter, especially if former UGA star Kentavious Caldwell-Pope can switch onto Atlanta's top scorer. For all the Lakers’ offensive faults (NBA-low 32.4 3FG%, 68.9 FT%), thanks largely to Lonzo, they push the pace (NBA-high 103.8 possessions per-48) and they’re the best NBA team aside from Golden State (16.1 per-36) in producing fastbreak points (11.7 per-36). The Hawks can counter by pounding the only team with interior defense (NBA-high 10.7 opponent second-chance points per 48) as sketchy as their own (10.6 opp. second-chance points per-48). Los Angeles allows a league-high 37.2 paint points per-48, and that was with Andrew Bogut, who was waived this weekend. Brook Lopez, aside from his 1.5 BPG, and super-rookie Kyle Kuzma (team-high 17.2 PPG) provide next-to-no defensive resistance. If Horford-in-Training rookie John Collins (58.8 2FG%, 9th in NBA; 15.0 O-Reb%, 4th in NBA) is unable to drown the Lake Show with a dominant interior offensive performance, might his family harbor grave reservations about the strategic wisdom of Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer? Maybe. Maybe not. But either way, we’ll never know. Go Dawgs! Rise Up! And Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  13. Luol and the Lakers are working on something out back. http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/21319059/luol-deng-los-angeles-lakers-hopeful-play-elsewhere ~lw3
  14. It's Peter Vecsey, so caveat emptor. But this story might actually have legs. ~lw3
  15. Everything in that town deserves a Hollywood ending. ~lw3
  16. “Just Keep Truckin’ On!” Coach Mike Budenholzer found himself thoroughly outcoached on Friday night, at the hands of his former lead assistant. Quin Snyder’s visiting opponents played right into the strengths of his Utah Jazz team along the way to a 95-68 rout, an Atlanta output that was offensive in only one sense of the word. Coach Bud and his Atlanta Hawks will seek to bounce back today, but they’ll have to do it against the reigning Coach of the Year’s former lead assistant: Luke Walton, formerly of Steve Kerr’s Golden State Warriors, now head honcho for the Los Angeles Lakers (9:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL), who already has one W against Atlanta under his belt. Oh, and Kerr’s Warriors await these Hawks for a game tomorrow night as well. Keep those replacement whiteboards handy! Both teams come in having dropped four of their last five, but the circumstances are a bit different in the case of Los Angeles (8-9). This remains a season of nurture for Walton’s Lakers, whose sole victory in the past week was a two-point win at Staples Center versus OKC. They embark on another high-mileage four-game road trip after tonight’s game. “I want the basketball to be fun for our players and for our fans, something that’s fun and exciting to watch,” Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak told USA Today recently. “And I want the team to get better as the year progresses. I don’t know what that means in terms of wins and losses, but if we’re a better team a month from now, or three months from now, or five months from now, than we are today, and we’re fun to watch, I think our fans, our partners, will be on board, and I think we’d have something to build on.” L.A.’s recent losses were at home to the Spurs and Bulls, then during a home-and-home series against the Warriors, the Western Conference champs winning games by margins of 149-106 and 109-85. Amid that 5-game stretch, D’Angelo Russell (team-high 4.8 APG) was shelved for a few weeks, having received a PRP injection for his sore left knee. Julius Randle (team-high 8.1 RPG; 3.9 APG, second on team) missed the series with the Dubs due to a hip pointer. Larry Nance, Jr. remains questionable after spraining a thumb against Golden State. This season remains about bringing along these younger Lakers (including rookies Brandon Ingram and Ivica Zubac, the latter on D-League assignment, plus guard Jordan Clarkson), allowing them to cut their teeth and build up their confidence while slowly mastering Walton’s gameplans. With the injuries piling up, plus Nick Young (sprained toe, returning tonight) sitting out the last game, Walton has turned to Jose Calderon to man the point, and shifted Luol Deng to power forward while granting Ingram the first starts of his career against Golden State. Ingram scored 16 points in Oakland during the bigger blowout loss, and was harassed into 3-for-18 shooting but contributed 9 rebounds in the rematch at Staples. Another schedule inversion is in the works for the Hawks, shifting from a plodding Utah team (last in pace) that prides itself on defense (second to Atlanta in D-Rating) to a high-tempo Laker team (4th in pace) that isn’t totally sure how that defensive side of the floor works (next-to-last in D-Rating). Since scratching out an impressive 6-4 start to the year, the Lakers have allowed at least 109 points in each of the past seven games (2-5). They’ve needed to score at least that many points in all but one of their eight victories, including the 123-116 win at Philips Arena on November 2, when they outscored the Hawks 72-56 in the second half to overtake the lead. It’s been tougher to keep up the pace (and get stops) with Russell on the mend and Calderon (six assists in each game vs. GSW) pushing the ball. While player development remains the theme, at the ends of games Walton will incorporate his veterans to help the Lakers close out close contests. Their leading scorer is sixth-man extraordinaire Lou Williams (16.4 PPG, 41.0 3FG%, team-high 4.2 FTAs per game), who made himself right at home by spraying the Hawks with 16 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter of L.A.’s win at the Highlight Factory. Much like the Lakers with Russell, Atlanta’s coaching staff and veteran teammates are responsible for ensuring their young starting point guard doesn’t suffer from a crisis of confidence. Dennis Schröder’s 43.8 2FG%, 76.5 FT%, 29.5 assist percentage, 1.1 steal percentage, and 5.9 rebound percentage are the lowest marks since his short-leashed rookie year. Dennis has led the team in assists just three times during the Hawks’ last nine games. His hot start versus Utah (12 first-quarter points) was not rewarded in kind by his teammates stepping up their play (31.3 team FG%, lowest since January 2013 @ CHI, third-lowest by NBA team this season), and his production wilted (6-for-19 FGs, two assists, two TOs in 29 minutes) trying in vain to carry the team. Unlike past seasons with Al Horford (16.7 assists percentage last season, highest among non-point guard Hawks) at center, Schröder’s passes into Dwight Howard (6.3 assist percentage, lowest since 2007-08) are usually one-way propositions. Howard registered zero assists against the Lakers in Atlanta, the loss spoiling his 31-point, 11-rebound effort versus his old club. The Hawks (10-6) are 1-4 when Howard comes away with no assists, a record inclusive of each of the Hawks’ last three defeats. Do-it-all Paul Millsap (career-best 18.2 assist%) and fellow starters Kyle Korver and Kent Bazemore have elevated their assist rates from last season to help out. But Atlanta’s slip-sliding offense (21st in O-Rating) will get a boost if Howard and Schröder go beyond mere lob-hunting to improve their 2-man game. Allowing league-highs of 26.1 assists per game and 50.0 paint PPG, the Lakers serve as an ideal palate for Atlanta’s starting center and point guard to hone their mutual skillsets. Howard can “assist” by doing more than just passing the ball out of the post when the double-team comes. The Hawks’ 9.1 screen assists rank just 18th in the league, and their 0.84 points per possession on off-screen plays rank 26th. Versus Utah, Atlanta’s wing players failed to beat their assignments down the floor in transition, allowing the Jazz to set the tone with their brand of basketball. The Lakers don’t provide the same scale of effort, and it’s on the Hawks to produce on the fastbreak. This includes not only Bazemore, Thabo Sefolosha, and Taurean Prince, but also Kyle Korver hustling down to the corner-3 spots. L.A. allows 16.8 fastbreak points per game, third-most in the league. The Lakers are one of just five teams that have opponents hitting 40.0 3FG% or better from each corner; Utah is among that quintet, but Atlanta (2-for-5 corner 3s on Friday) failed to exploit that. The Hawks’ are shooting just 31.8 3FG% above-the-break (26th in NBA), so until their mechanics improve, the closer corner shots are where it’s at. The Hawks have the talent, experience and skills to beat the Lake Show at their own high-tempo game. The trick is doing it early and sustaining it long enough (well beyond the opening half) that the Lakers’ top stat-padders can’t impact the outcome as the contest draws to a close. Breaking the Lakers’ will with the fervor that Kris Humphries uses to break backboards would take away the bad taste of Utah and turn momentum upward as the scene quickly shifts to Oakland tomorrow night. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record