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  1. How am I still here? They have gone from 42-40, to 33-40, to 21-51, and now 13-46 in the space of three-and-a-half seasons. They continue to have a roster full of zombie prospects, with no telling when The Walking Hurt might reanimate to haunt opponents on the court. They dwell around the cellar of the NBA in attendance, and the standings. Here's an idea. Let’s hand the President of Basketball Ops, and the GM, contract extensions! Orlando Magic ownership remains more than happy to live off the Seasons of Title Contention Past. We all deserve jobs that give us the space to try, fail, gamble, fail, and try again for years on end. The sight of Jeff Weltman and John Hammond getting extended through 2026 is admirable, when one chooses to look at it that way. Hustling backwards, Magic, Inc. is willing to live with the still-indefinite injury statuses of Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz. Throw in R.J. Hampton (out, sprained MCL and bruised knee) and momentary acquisition Bol Bol (foot surgery) for good measure. They’re willing to live with the continued struggles of rookie Jalen Suggs (first double-double last Saturday @ PHX, but 36.0 FG%, 11.2 PPG, 5.5 APG over last 10 starts), plus the wayward shooting of lead scorer Cole Anthony and fellow sophomore Chuma Okeke, with rookie Franz Wagner, Mo Bamba and Wendell Carter flailing about for a bottom-five rebounding team, all under the watchful eye of first-year head coach Jamahl Mosley. Living isn’t thriving, though. True-blue Magic fans who bother to show up to this divisional contest with the Atlanta Hawks (7 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, BS Florida) would feel like they were thriving, amid this perpetual rebuild, if they could see a path forward with more clarity than just who are the folks still pulling the strings behind the scenes. We couldn’t know it was the beginning of a landmark run for our franchise. But the Hawks entered 2021’s All-Star Break after sneaking past Orlando at Amway Center, escaping a 19-point halftime deficit to check out at four games below the .500 mark. The good news is that it would take a deflating loss tonight to go into the Break the same way. A key difference with 2021 is that there were twelve more post-Break games, 36 in total, for the Hawks to catch up with the rest of the East and artfully Euro-step the Play-In games. This year’s edition, clinging to a 10-seed, has just 24 games to spare following tonight, in a game whose outcome relates to how much deeper the crater will be from which Atlanta (27-30) wishes to ascend. Another important variation is that Nate McMillan has a few more games under his belt coaching up this collective, although he may have to navigate through the outset of this closing run without John Collins, Atlanta’s second-leading scorer. The third-leading scorer, Bogdan Bogdanovic (questionable, sore ankle) may also sit today’s game out in hopes of a healthy post-Break run. McMillan is going to lean more on his fourth-leading scorer, tonight and going forward, to pull the Hawks through. Atlanta is 8-0 on the season when De’Andre Hunter completes a game with a plus/minus of +5 or better, the Hawks prevailing by an average of 16.1 points in those contests. Atlanta was susceptible to leaving shooters wide open at the outset of yesterday’s game against visiting Cleveland (8-for-12 first-quarter 3FGs). But once Hunter and fill-in starter Danilo Gallinari got a better feel for their defensive roles on the floor, the Cavs (8-for-29 3FGs in last three quarters) found themselves struggling to keep up. When opposing defenders forget about Dre at the top of the arc, as was the case at a critical juncture late in yesterday’s 124-116 win, Hunter (38.6 FG%, 22.7 3FG% in last five games; 35.0 above-break 3FG% since returning in mid-January, about the same as Gallo and Kevin Huerter) can make them pay. Diversifying Hunter’s offensive role, instilling further confidence in his ability to read and react, and pushing him to quarterback Atlanta’s NBA-worst transition defense can make him the essential factor in Atlanta’s long-anticipated re-emergence. Mosley’s Magic will trip opponents up when allowed to do so. They have dropped five of their last six games, and all by double digits. But they closed out their West Coast trip on V-Day in Denver by narrowing 20-point deficits to single digits in the final minute. Orlando also pocketed wins over the Hornets, Bulls and Mavericks last month. Suggs and Wagner are scrappy with ballhandlers while Okeke (4 steals @ UTA and @ DEN) is skilled in getting strips without fouling. Very few of the current Hawks were on the State Farm Arena floor when the Magic won 104-98 back on December 22, but Atlanta’s 11 first-half turnovers off nine steals (five by Okeke) helped Orlando build a lead, from the fourth minute on, that they would not relinquish. Crisper passing, limited overdribbling and hesitation will need to be the order of the day if the Hawks aim to go wire-to-wire for the win today. The Hawks concluded last season as a hard-charging club, led by a supreme offensive creator, that no one wants to wrangle with at postseason time with elimination on the line. Atlanta can be that team once more in 2022. But they have plenty to work on during the Break to self-actualize as a playoff threat, or to become something more. Any more regression by the Hawks, leading to the humble act of watching Cam Reddish and Rui Hachimura in the Play-Ins from home, could result in dire consequences for the players and leaders in charge. Down in Orlando, such punitive consequences could include up to four more years under contract. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  2. “What I NEED, Stuff, is for YOU to quit letting Harry leak out along the baseline!” Welcome back, Robert Johnson, Jr.! Get back to where you once belonged! You Atlanta Hawks fans know him better as B.J. Johnson, who suited up on this State Farm Arena floor armed with a ten-day contract in March 2019. He’d remember his first official game well, too. Atlanta’s G-League call-up from the Lakeland Magic had the best seat in the house as Trae Young and Zach LaVine went Nique-and-Bird on everybody in a 4-OT, 168-161 Competitank Classic where no attendees were left wanting. Two nights later in a Windy City rematch, Johnson thought he was Joe out there, a perfect 4-for-4 night with three triples in his formal playing debut as his Hawks prevailed. That trio of threes, and his 11 points from that game, remain his career-high at this level, and it was enough to earn him another 10-day deal with Atlanta. When that expired, B.J. latched onto the Sacramento Kings, who for whatever reason assigned him to help out his Lakeland Magic for one day, then recalled him just to ride out what would be the last halfway-normal NBA season. I do hope he has some prime real estate down there in Polk County. Johnson made his way back to Orlando, was a final preseason roster cut in 2019, and went on to earn G-League All-Second-Team honors with Lakeland’s Triple-A outfit. B.J. sprinkled in time with the NBA squad in downtown Orlando and, after the temporary shutdown, the Disney Bubble. Lakeland’s Magic wouldn’t miss him much during this past season’s surprise run to the G-League championship, as he was toiling in Long Island. But he’s back in Lakeland blue-and-black once more this season, currently averaging almost 25 points and 7 rebounds per game. The other pride of suburban Philadelphia’s Lower Merion High School, B.J. (Instagram handle “bean.iii”, as the third NBA pro from that school and the first to follow Kobe) celebrated his 26th birthday just yesterday. Due to circumstances beyond seemingly everyone on this planet’s control, he is likely to play during his latest 10-day call-up with the big boys on the Orlando Magic. The 20th game of his career would be tonight (7:30 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, BS Florida) versus his first NBA team. Look-a-here, Squawkpeeps. I’m just shootin’ the breeze in this space. If you are looking for a deep-dive analysis of what Delon Wright and Gorgui Dieng are gonna do in expanded floor time versus the likes of hardship signee Tim Frazier and Robin Lopez, you have come to the wrong place. And woe be to any place where that is. Y’all saw the cute marriage proposal setup (usually cringeworthy, but this one was well thought-out), where the Utah Jazz dancer and soon-to-be fiancée had no earthly idea what moves her co-workers had choreographed around her on the floor? That’s what fill-in contractor Theo Pinson looked like last night versus the Timberwolves, as his fellow and momentary Mavericks were zipping plays around him. “They were calling stuff,” an understandably bewildered Pinson recalled of coach Jason Kidd’s designed schemes to ESPN’s Tim McMahon. “I had no idea what it was. I was just reading off my teammates.” That is what the Lance Stephensons and Malcolm Hills will be doing when called upon for spot duty. Just out there wingin’ it, hoopin’ off vibes. Going forward, it’s the approach I’m taking with these here gamethreads, too. Just out here spitballin’. Because every NBA contest in the foreseeable future is a Might Could Game. Bogdan Bogdanovic (probable, returning from a sprained ankle) might could play on monitored minutes. That might could grant Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (questionable, non-You Know What illness) a plop-plop fizz-fizz of relief. Assuming he’s not among the staff sidelined along with Trae Young, [EDIT: Lou "I just stepped out for some Drip Honey Dip Wings, Geez!" Williams,] Clint Capela and Danilo Gallinari due to You Know What, Hawks coach Nate McMillan might could unshackle G-League gangsta Jalen Johnson and fellow rookie Sharife Cooper to log meaningful floor burn, particularly versus Magic players that can’t tell whether they’re coming or going. Cole Anthony (questionable, sprained ankle) and Wendell Carter (questionable, strained lower-leg muscle) might could suit up and play for Orlando. Their inclusion might could enhance the chances for Jamahl Mosley’s collective (6-25) to win two games in a row for the first time all season, coming off Saturday’s 100-93 victory over some severely cut-down Nets in Brooklyn. While the upright members currently on the Magic roster enjoyed three off-days to rest and recuperate, Mosley isn’t likely to push matters, not with what counts as his current core contributors. Orlando, like Atlanta, precedes the big holiday with a back-to-back, the Magic headed home to greet the Pelicans tomorrow while the Hawks hoof it up to Philly. Even two-way Magician Mychal Mulder is the latest to get X-Filed, as of this morning, due to You Know What. An awkward-sounding cough here, a pulled tendon there from overexertion and, suddenly, Orlando’s brass might could be scouring Lake Eola in hopes Delonte West is hanging around. The Hawks don’t need to be checking to see whether Jarvaris Crittenton might could get off early for good behavior, either. Will Wes Iwundu clear protocols for the Hawks, in time to face B.J. Johnson in the race to torment their respective former teams this evening? It might could happen. Stay tuned! Trae, Gallo, [Lou] and Clint and TLC all played in Atlanta’s 111-99 win down in O-Town last Wednesday. But so did Cole and Wendell, on behalf of the Magic, along with R.J. Hampton, Terrence Ross, Moe Wagner and Ignas Brazdeikis, a quartet of players who all came down with You Know What. Moe’s brother Franz, the by-default rookie sensation, is the sole Magician currently available from that game who logged double-figures in scoring, and that was just ten points on a subpar outing. Mosley has turned more frequently to Franz (season-high-matching 6 assists, plus season-high 11 D-Rebs @ BRK) to keep the ball in his hands to make plays. Just as well, Mosley might could throw caution to the wind tonight and let Frazier do all the cooking. Frazier’s career-high 15 assists came during 53 minutes of action, in yet another bananas overtime March 2019 game hosted by the Hawks, as a member of the Giannis-less, Bledsoe-less and Khris-less Bucks. Frazier is accustomed to stepping in, in emergency fashion, alongside the likes of Bonzie Colson, Sterling Brown, and D.J. Wilson, and giving the Hawks fits. Atlanta was saved from embarrassment on that day by Justin Anderson, who we might could see with the Cavs amid his ten-day tenure(s) on New Year’s Eve. Frazier and big-man Freddie Gillespie inked a ten-day just over a day ago, joining Admiral Schofield and people named Hassani “Bottled Water” Gravett, Aleem “The Dealership” Ford, and Johnson as Orlando’s hardship replacements. Westlake High’s Finest, Chuma Okeke, might could show up and show out tonight in his hometown, coming off 33 points over two games (7-for-14 3FGs) versus the half-heat and near-Nets. Registering a negative-20 plus-minus in 15 minutes of the Hawks’ 133-115 flop versus Denver, Cam Reddish might could read a scouting report and outshine Okeke, leaving Wagner to wrangle with John Collins inside. I dunno how all this is supposed to shake out. The Sportsball games, that is, what with all these protocols and illnesses and injuries and players being flighted straight out of G-League Showcases and Lifetime Fitness gyms to hoop for our collective amusement. As far as I know, the Hawks might could be playing tomorrow (so I’ll need to start drumming up a gamethread draft, like, now) and on Christmas Day at noon, or two o’clock, or five, or eight. All I know for certain, is none of us at Christmastime need to hear Mike Breen, or Beth Mowins or whoever gets stuck with Lance versus Damyean Dotson under the bright lights of MSG, talking about our poor Hawks (14-15 and coming off a four-day layoff) being mired in a six-game slump back home. ESPN is going to be scratching their noggins to find things worth talking about to kill the otherwise festive time, and this is, definitively, the last shot Atlanta has to snatch that ugly item off the table. There is no “might could” about that. To B.J., Lance, and all of you replacement-level players on the come-up: I’d like to say Thank You, on behalf of the group and ourselves. And I hope y’all pass the audition. Let’s Friggin’ GO Hawks! ~lw3
  3. “Y’know, if I wanted to be stuck playing 1-on-5, I could have just stayed with you guys.” The Diamondbacks? Again? No, for real, though, with all due sincerity, what the heck are we doing here? Getting tuned up for days at our hallowed grounds of NotAnotherMergerBank Park by the plunky Marlins, to kickstart the season, was embarrassment enough. Dropping three-straight to those mediocre Blue Jays on a sand lot in Dunedin was not ideal, either. But now we’re well into May, and our Boys of Summer get blanked by Arizona, for a second straight day at the Sterile Mall of Georgia, only this time 7-0 instead of 5-0? I thought Torey Lovullo sang, “Sorry, Not Sorry”. How is something named Torey Lovullo out here thoroughly out-foxing our dear, esteemed manager Brian Snitker? Not the Fish Sticks, again! Sigh. It was bad already to lose ground in the NL East race after getting walked-off in back-to-back games in Philly. Now, we come down to Miami and make the Marlins look like a contender, too. Are we not the reigning division champions? Do we want to act like it, anytime soon? The Pirates? Oh come on, not real-life swashbuckler Richard Rodriguez and his merry Pirates of No Pen-nants! We’re heading into the All-Star Break, with a chance to punch past the above-.500 wall after blowing four prior chances, and we can’t rub two runs together in one game against these fools? An unserious franchise, this Atlanta lot. Face palm. Welp! Maybe next year. The Bravos weren’t the only local pro team to come out of a pennant-raising season looking sad, suspect, and subpar in 2021. The NBA’s reigning Southeast Division champions are still smelling themselves after a surprising playoff uprising, and they haven’t yet figured out that Winter is Coming. Yes, we all Know What You Did Last Summer, Atlanta Hawks, bra-freaking-vo. You got your flowers, and your little contract extensions. Now, can you pretty please, with sugar on top, quit letting the D.J. Augustins, the Nic Claxtons, the Eric Gordons, the Kelly Oubres, the Tyrese Maxeys and the David Nwabas beat the brakes off of you? The Terrence Rosses and R.J. Hamptons of the Orlando Magic are licking their lips as the Hawks arrive at Amway Center (7 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, BS Florida). Shoot, who is to stop Chuma Okeke, or Wendell Carter, from a breakout night on behalf of the folks watching back home? Yes, the Magic (5-23) are lacking a lotto rookie named Jalen to help them notch just their second home victory over the past 30 days, having just concluded an 0-5 West Coast trip. But hey, Houston had just one road win all season, and the Rockets were missing their lotto-rook Jalen, too. None of that kept them from sandblasting the host Hawks 44-25 in the last quarter to prevail this past Monday. Jamahl Mosley put his dogged team’s dogs away when last these two teams met, leaving Franz Wagner (2nd in total points among NBA rooks) and Cole Anthony (tied, with Maxey, for 3rd in NBA sophomore points, incl. 29 @ ATL on November 15) out to dry as Cam Reddish’s 8 fourth-quarter points helped the Hawks pull away with the 129-111 victory. In what is likely to be a much closer affair tonight, there’s no telling who Mosley might unleash. On that November evening, Bogi Bogdanovic (4-for-8 3FGs, 4 assists and 1 TO) was helping Trae Young keep the Magicians honest from outside. Clint Capela made his bunnies, and Danilo Gallinari helped Capela and John Collins secure defensive boards. Lou Williams and Delon Wright entered the games in the second half, made shots, created shots, and got stops. With functional bench play bolstering Atlanta’s four 20-plus-point-scoring starters, this was a balanced effort to which the visitors could only tip their caps. Since then, Bogi’s been out of commission. Reddish has struggled to gain traction (0-for-6 FGs in past two second halves; minus-18 in the back half vs. HOU) since his return from a wrist injury. Gallinari, who fouled out versus Houston, has resorted to hacking as a substitute for defense. Neither Williams nor Wright can put a consistent pair of performances together. And every late-game opponent runout seems to stem from either a botched layup (not just from Capela) or an off-balance, out-of-rhythm shot (not just from Young). Against the Hawks, opposing coaches go into their grab-bags and dig out role players willing to fill whatever voids they have. Head coach Nate McMillan keeps reaching into his pockets, for crunch-time players or strategies, and coming up with lint. Orlando bears the worst shooting percentage among NBA reserves (38.7 bench FG%, also an NBA-worst bench plus/minus of negative-6.1, as per NBA.com stats). When one accounts for depth on a rotation that still lacks Jonathan Isaac, Markelle Fultz, and Jalen Suggs among others, that’s fairly understandable. But the Hawks’ backups aren’t far behind (39.5 bench FG%, 26th in NBA), and only by shooting a league-best 42.9 3FG% this month have Atlanta’s hit-threes-or-bust bench avoided the bottom spot. Atlanta has managed quite the final-frame feat. They, at once, can boast of the NBA’s second-most efficient 48-plus-minute offense this season (113.1 O-Rating, behind only the Jazz, who are way ahead of everybody), and simultaneously crank out the league’s most putrid all-around offense in fourth quarters of games (100.8 4th-quarter O-Rating). That’s not the Hawks’ team defense, which has been steadily poor throughout games but rebounds decently (2nd in 4th-quarter D-Reb%) when there’s not a ball to retrieve from the net. No, we’re speaking ill of the fourth-quarter offense (league-low 50.9 TS% in fourths). McMillan’s club comes across halfcourt lines in these closing moments, in either direction, without clear plans of attack, be it Plan A or whatever follows when on-the-fly adjustments are of the essence. Yes, the McMillan Imprint of limiting turnovers and defensive fouls is a nice touch. But the stilted offensive movement, leading to well-defended shots, have been equivalent to the Hawks ricocheting the ball off their own feet. Mix in unclear transition assignments, and Atlanta is effectively shooting themselves in the foot. By the way, would you care to know the NBA’s second most-efficient fourth-quarter offense? If you don’t, scroll down now, and you won’t discover that Mosley’s team, despite their record, doesn’t always throw up their hands in resignation after three quarters. The Hawks are a top-ten outfit when it comes to Net Rating and, for whatever it’s worth, cumulative Player Impact Estimate by NBA.com’s nerdy standards. Yet they find themselves a half-game ahead of Toronto for what would be, come April, if we can all somehow get to April, the NBA East’s final Play-In slot. It’ll be great to have a Bogdanovic, a De’Andre Hunter, an Onyeka Okongwu, a <<Redacted Rookie>> in the mix eventually. But their absences are not the primary reasons why the Hawks (13-14) have been coming up consistently lame at closing time, particularly in front of deflated home crowds. It's a bit of a shame for Young (41 points and 9 assists, but 7 TOs vs. HOU), who if nothing else is about to receive a plethora of All-Star votes on the strength of a globe full of content fantasy-team managers. Fan voting tips off hours before the Knicks seek out nationally-televised revenge for their current plight, on Christmas Day. Presently tops in scoring among NBA guards, behind only James Harden in assists doled out among Eastern guards, Young ought to be a shoo-in for a starter position. While most every team in the East could say the same, transpose Atlanta’s five or six late losses into wins, and the Hawks are within earshot of Brooklyn, Young gets touted as an MVP finalist, and he’d have one of John Collins or Capela following him as a coach-and-media vote into the All-Star Game, if we can all somehow make it to the All-Star Break. Instead, the recent pile of defeats in both high- and low-profile games are certain to have NBA casuals looking away, filling in circles on Christmas Day for the likes of LaMelo Ball. Or Lonzo. Or both. The teammates that are supposed to be supplementing, and complementing, Young off the bench are rendering themselves ex-Trae-neous, shining too much of a spotlight on what Atlanta’s star talent can’t, or should be, doing to singularly spring his team out of unnecessary holes. Before boatracing Atlanta, Houston’s prior NBA win came days before against Brooklyn, the team that went on to smother and cover the Hawks before a national audience. Orlando’s last victory? That came two weeks ago, their only one at home since November 7, versus Denver, the combo of Anthony, Carter, and the Wagner Bros further spoiling Nikola Jokic’s chances of becoming a repeat MVP. Coincidentally, Denver swings by The Farm on Friday night, hoping to extend Atlanta’s home losing skid to six. At least the Hawks have a chance before them to extend their road winning streak to five tonight. Still, do you hear that jingling sound? Those aren’t sleigh bells. No, those are the coins falling through the burnt holes in Arthur Blank’s pockets. November 29, 2020 was the last time an Atlanta Falcons fan exited Mercedes-Benz Stadium with the satisfying thrill of a victory. The fans that weren’t rooting by then for a flat-out tank job, that is to say. That season’s team dropped the first four games on the home gridiron, too, including one to the lowly Lions to fall to 1-6. By the time they ran the Raiders out of the Benz, few Falcons fans were around to care. Five consecutive Ls in The 404 to start this season (thank you, London, but no, and the Jets don’t count anyway), to teams good, bad and indifferent, have even less fans filling the seats now. While the team still espouses the no-really-ha-ha-we’re-still-in-the-playoff-hunt company line, the next opportunity to grace their fans with a victory in downtown Atlanta will be the day after Christmas. Lions, please be gentle with us this time. And that’s just football, not futbol. Blank’s Atlanta United flubbed as many as eight home games this year, by either loss or draw, in front of packed and ravenous Benz crowds. With a strong chance at securing a home playoff spot in October, the Five Stripes failed to score more than a goal and then let bottom-feeding Toronto sneak one in with minutes to spare. That 1-1 draw left United having to survive a possible letdown at last-place Cincinnati just to clinch an MLS Cup playoff spot. The spot they drew had them running basepads at Yankee Stadium, losing a 4-vs.-5-seed opening round at NYCFC, the sportswashed club that went on an upset road run to claim their first-ever MLS crown last weekend. What could have been, one wonders, had Atlanta approached their home-pitch advantages with a Drewian sense of urgency? The major league baseball team one metro county to the north is instructive in that, while how you look at the starts of seasons impacts how you finish, they need not dictate how you finish. In August, the Bravos came home from a sweep of the snooty Cardinals in St. Louis, then crossed the .500 plateau for good as they went on to win almost every home series the rest of the way. They also took care of business on the road when the sorry Nats, Marlins, Orioles and D’backs came calling. It wasn’t all put on Freddie Freeman, or Austin Riley. Every Bravo with a bat or a glove found a way to step up in a big way, in differing ways every game going forward. Particularly, players we didn’t know existed when the team was spinning in mud, overdependent daily upon Ronald Acuna to make contact and reach base in order to save their proverbial bacon. The feel-good story of the Bravos doesn’t happen without some shrewd mid-season management moves, and perhaps the crew over at Marietta Street will be interested in giving up long-term prospects in hopes of nearer-term gains, what with the NBA trade market opening up between today and February 10. But with confetti still floating about on Cobb Parkway, it’s easy to forget things weren’t feeling so chipper out on the diamond for the first 107 games. The historic turnaround wasn’t bound to happen until players already on the roster and their managers began taking home games, and lesser opponents anywhere, seriously. Just as importantly, it’s essential for our local sports teams to stop relying purely on the Acunas, Josefs and Traes of the world to carry them through to victory. These guys are otherworldly enough to sell PSLs to the home faithfuls. They are not enough to keep fans from wishing they could sell their seats off. Let’s not wait until they become Matty Ice to get something done. At the risk of looking ahead, who is going to step up and win the next home game in The ATL? The Dirty Birds? The Hawks? Or, the Five Stripes? Don’t you dare say the Bravos! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  4. “It’s a Flat World, After All!” “See you there!!” Confirming a report with a tweet, Jonathan Isaac planned to lead his team toward what he hopes, one day, will be the ultimate victory. The path, on that particular day, wasn’t terribly long. It was a Sunday evening, two weekends ago, and Isaac’s Christian ministry convened at the popular bandshell on the shore of downtown Orlando’s signature Lake Eola. They intend to do “peaceful prayer walks” annually during the first weekends in November, carrying string lights at dusk while heading to a larger gathering space outside the town’s new performing arts center about a mile to the south. This one, in 2021, would be the second annual “Hold Up the Lights” event. “There’s racial tension, there’s the presidency, there are so many things that are negative in society right now,” Isaac said at the same event last year, as reported by OrlandoMagic.com. “This march was providing an answer -- a Christian answer -- for the problems.” This was a noble and inspirational effort led by the young star forward for the NBA’s Magic, then as now battling to overcome an ACL injury that began on New Year’s Day 2020 and resumed with another unfortunate tear during the NBA’s summertime Bubble. With or without the aid of crutches, Isaac likes to stand out amongst the crowd, easy enough at his 6-foot-11 stature, and have people look up at him as he advises people to look up to “Him.” Teammates and adversaries in solidarity in the Bubble had to do essentially that, while all bowed a knee beneath small-h him during anthem proceedings in protest. That stand-alone action earned the then-healed Isaac a tsunami wave of Oakley Twitter followers on the World Narrow Web, and an extended prayer-walk gathering, in November 2020, to include new “fans” that previously didn’t care to know Jonathan, the athlete or the person, from a can of paint. More garish poster-makers and flag-wavers eagerly joined in 2021’s prayer walk two Sundays ago, most interested in matters of open and abiding faith, some interested in pontificating on more modern, worldly matters revolving around horse paste, bleach and suction-cup “detoxes.” “He is a welcome voice in this new movement,” said the chair of the Edmund Burke Foundation, who was pleased Isaac accepted their invitation to speak at a national conservatism conference convened in O-Town, the week before the prayer walk. Standing athwart his league’s and union’s collective policies regarding employee vaccinations during a pandemic, embracing a “You Do You” philosophy, Jonathan Isaac has emerged as a star who works in the NBA, when healthy, not as much an NBA star. Wittingly, he is the headliner face of a whole new “team,” even though the “franchise” has been around for quite a while. That was made stark, on this particular Sunday evening. As the prayer walk featuring Isaac turned into a rally on the lawn outside the arts center, about three traffic lights to the west, his Orlando Magic teammates were in pregame shootaround, sitting at 2-8 on the season, preparing to take on the Utah Jazz. Earlier, as he prepared his remarks for the “NatCon” address in Orlando, his basketball teammates were returning home from Minnesota, preparing for the Celtics. Now at 3-10 on the young season, the Magic enter State Farm Arena tonight, to face the Atlanta Hawks (7:30 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, BS Florida). They’re fifteen months into rehab of the re-tear in Isaac’s knee. And updates from Magic Inc. regarding the recovery progress of Isaac, as well as Markelle Fultz (ACL tear in January 2021), Michael Carter-Williams (ankle surgery in August 2021), and E’Twaun Moore (sprained knee, yet to appear this season) have been as vague as the fine print on an Amway product. There’s no, “estimated 8 weeks out for Atlanta’s De’Andre Hunter to repair his wrist,” form of Magic-speak, nor “as early as mid-January” targets for players like the Hawks’ Onyeka Okongwu. “No timetable to return,” is about all the abracadabra juice you’re going to squeeze out of Jeff Weltman’s front office. The spirit of Speedy Claxton and Tiago Splitter lives on in Central Florida. Isaac’s cloudy status as a rehabbing player, and his clearer status as a happily unvaxxed one, would naturally be squabbled about on a higher plane, were he in a larger sports market. But he also has the benefit of being paid by a franchise situated in a laissez-faire American state, as it pertains to top-down employer vaccination policy. Further, Jonathan has the back of the DeVos family that owns the club, proud donors to his ministry’s affairs. Unless you happen to be, say, a season-ticket holder, what’s the rush? From a PR standpoint, haste to get the player with immense defensive tools back up to basketball speed only amplifies the kinds of shouts, supportive or otherwise, currently directed at a certain All-NBA talent in blue-state Brooklyn. Keep the Gasdsen flags flying down the street, thank you, not in and around the arena. That approach makes corporate sense. But it sure puts Jamahl Mosley in a daily pickle. “They’re still working their way back in,” the first-year Magic head coach succinctly responded to The Athletic’s Josh Robbins, of Isaac’s and Fultz’s statuses, to the extent there are any. “They’re on their rehab protocol.” Previously an assistant during the Kyrie era in Cleveland and a defensive coordinator under Rick Carlisle in Dallas, Mosley is deftly handling a full-court press, doing the best he can to avoid delving into the growing star-spangled elephant in the media room. That’s easier to do, provided company policy is to be as murky as possible on injury-recovery timelines and processes for seemingly everybody, and that protocol was going on long before Mosley arrived in town. It also helps when your team is living up to the old saw, “If you’re not out here winning, at least be entertaining.” There will be games where the Magic catch decent opponents like the Knicks, and those Jazz, slipping. Second-year pro Cole Anthony (team-highs of 19.5 PPG and 5.2 APG, also 6.0 RPG) lives for the spotlight. Behind Anthony in scoring (13.0 PPG) and the team leader with 1.5 SPG, German rookie Franz Wagner is the front-runner for the Sneaky Athletic award. The 6-foot-9 forward curls into the paint off-dribble from the peak of the three-point line before dunking on unsuspecting fools like a vintage Grant Hill. “Pass auf deinen Kopf auf!”, right, Renee? At long last becoming more than a lyric, Mo Bamba has been a shot-blocking, three-point splashing revelation (37.5 percent on 4.3 3FGAs/game, despite going 2-for-9 on Saturday vs. WAS; 2.2 BPG, 3rd in NBA). Cam Reddish’s high school co-star, Bamba (9.5 RPG) is forming quite the bump-and-thump tandem in the paint with Wendell Carter (9.9 RPG; 22 points, 14 D-Rebs, 6 dimes in the win over UTA). Carter’s fellow Atlanta native, a now-healthy Chuma Okeke springs off the bench to approximate Isaac’s on-ball defensive prowess. With all that going on, no one needs to pay attention to the scoreboard. No one bothers to wonder whether Gary Harris will bring any more utility to the team than his $20 million expiring deal. Nobody has to ask if Robin Lopez (DNP’d in 8 of last 9 games), a veteran free agent signing, is only around for comic relief. No one has time to fret that several Magicians, from Wagner’s fellow lotto-rookie Jalen Suggs (questionable, sprained ankle) to Franz’s brother Mo, Harris, Okeke and veteran Terrence Ross (combined 35.1 FG%), embody the wrong end of the saying, “When you’re hot, you’re hot…” The bigger picture for the Magic: with so much fun-run on the floor, no one is being pressed to confirm whether the team is proceeding to treat its December 2020 commitments to two of its most significant acquisitions over the years, Isaac ($17.4 million guaranteed annually through 2024-25) and Fultz ($16.5 million per year, guaranteed through at least 2022-23), as sunk costs. That’s all well and good for Weltman and GM John Hammond, the exec who gained his current job basically for prying last night’s star guest at State Farm Arena away from the Hawks as a pending draftee. Orlando’s trade-deadline fire sale, last March, was their acknowledgement that the hocus-pocus of obscuring key-player injury timelines behind guys named Vucevic, Gordon and Fournier had been wearing thin. Presto! Change-o! Play around all you want with the Magic (minus-9.4 Net Rating, ahead only of DET’s minus-9.5), who stay in games only when their foes are shooting the rock as drastically poor as they (33.7 team FG% vs. WAS in a 104-92 on Saturday) tend to do. But if you fool with Anthony and Mosley’s charges in the final frame (plus-9.9 4th-quarter Net, 5th in NBA), that’s when you’re susceptible to getting got. All three of the teams Orlando has vanquished thus far -- the Knicks at MSG, the T’Wolves at Target, the Jazz at Amway – shot below 40 percent from the field versus the Magic. The fourth-quarter scoring splits, in favor of the underdogs, were 36-24 (@ NYK, with Ross and his 22 in-quarter points taking center stage), 43-19 (@ MIN, with Cole and Franz bringing the slaw to the slaughter), and 32-15 (vs. UTA, with reserve R.J. Hampton going inn on the Jazz). Each opponent had a modest third-quarter lead. Each was left seeking out the number of the truck that hit them. “It doesn’t look like Jalen Suggs turned his ankle too bad,” tweeted Nabil Diab of TheLando.com on Saturday night, “but I expect him to be out for at least a year.” Every long-suffering Magic fan sensed the tongue firmly implanted in Diab’s cheek. It’s been Struggs for Jalen (35.4 eFG%, lowest among NBA’ers w/ 20+ MPG and 10+ games played; 17.0 TO ratio, 3rd-highest), and not just because of the Gonzaga standout’s clanky shooting while being shoved into a front-and-center starting role. Any extended absence for 2021’s fifth-overall pick will make the under-explained absence of Fultz (and also MCW, and Moore) look curiouser and curiouser. The rangy Hampton (42.4 3FG%) is likely to start if Suggs is a no-go this evening. For defensive purposes, perhaps Okeke gets his first starting nod of the season, or Harris at worst, certainly if Mosley has any hopes of impeding Atlanta’s Trae Young (last 4 games: 31.8 PPG in 32.9 minutes/game, 54.1% on threes, 88.2% on FTs), who has been nearly on a point-per-minute scoring clip. In a departure from losses over the past several weeks, Young (42 points, 10 assists, 8 rebounds vs. MIL) and John Collins had considerable help in trouncing the Bucks 120-100 last night. Although, it must be noted, the Traemates still ought to shoot better from outside (combined 7-for-22 on threes, to Young’s 8-for-13), if they intend to send Orlando’s young club home hungry. Stout team rebounding by the Hawks (season-best 63.0 Total Rebounding% vs. MIL, 4-1 when rebounding above 55.5%) will again be at a premium tonight, especially when the iron proves unkind to both teams. Patient passing, rim-finishing, production from a somnambulant Reddish, and seal-tight defense in transition ought to be enough for Atlanta (5-9) to persevere and preserve, as per Hawks GameNotes and Elias Sports, its twelfth consecutive victory over Eastern Conference opponents at home. Stretching over from last season, it's the longest such active streak in the NBA, the second-longest string for the Hawks since Atlanta "moved" into the Eastern Conference in the year 1970, or as they say in Orlando, 1 B.D. (Before Disneyworld). Stretching it beyond a Baker's Dozen over the next few days sounds sweet, but it won't matter if the Hawks aren't principled and focused enough to take care of business over the course of 48 minutes. It's great to live and thrive in a nation where religious freedoms, and freedoms from religions, reign supreme. Yet as Shareef Abdur-Rahim ably demonstrated for the Hawks on an annual basis during his Ramadan fasts, it’s not unfathomable for NBA players to practice one’s faith, even in a public sphere, and simultaneously do what it takes to be available for practice with one’s team. Or, to go out and rail against the perceived ills of collectivist cultures at the same time, collecting 20-and-10 at opponent’s expenses when it’s game time. It’s not some impossible balance. Yet the longer things drag on, the more it appears as if Isaac is just dandy leading a wholly different “team,” collecting a paycheck from the Magic while giving his all to the superseding “Patriots.” The longer things drag out, the more it appears the Magic are just fine semi-explaining away a baffling ACL injury, in lieu of fielding questions about piles of “NWT” (Not With Team) designations. When is he coming back to help save everyone from utter despair? The Big J will be back soon, they’ll say. But only on his terms, not yours or theirs. Jonathan, that is. The small-h him, naturally. Can I get an Amen in here? Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  5. “Yo, R.J., chill! We only beat the Pistons!” “I WANT TO RIDE MY BICYCLE! I WANT TO RIDE MY BIKE!” Six years ago this month, Brandon Goodwin was preparing for a trip to Orlando’s Orange County Courthouse. It wasn’t a long trip, since he lived a few miles east at the University of Central Florida. The rising junior was facing a felony charge of Grand Theft… Bicycle? Go back to the prior summer of 2014, a time when electric rental scooters were not every doggone where. Goodwin sauntered over to a rack near the campus basketball arena to discover his bike had gone ghost. Upset about his alleged theft, and probably running late for goodness-knows-what, Brandon did what any self-respecting rising college sophomore would do, and that’s snatching away somebody else’s bike. Don’t b-bad, B-Good! The hoops scholarship at UCF was supposed to be the culmination of a lifelong turnaround, one that at its disciplinary nadir had Goodwin expelled from suburban Atlanta’s Norcross High and relegated to “alternative school” as a freshman. His turnaround upon his return to Norcross made him Georgia’s state scholastic boys’ player of the year. This latest poor lapse in judgment was not the type of quick-trigger decision that someone in, oh, let’s say, an NBA scouting department would expect a desirous professional point guard prospect to make. What probably saved Goodwin’s evaporating NBA chances was the decision he made next. Later explaining he “felt bad” about his geared-up reaction, Goodwin did not return the bike in its original location, but he parked it at a nearby campus building. The bad news was that while video surveillance never caught the perp who stole Goodwin’s bike, it did catch him torch-red-handed. The bike he chose to steal was not some random cutter’s, but one left there by campus police as part of their “Bait Bike” program. Collegiate athletes committing criminal acts around Florida campuses come a dime per dozen, but if you’re not built like a Cam Newton or an Aaron Hernandez, a felony arrest is probably not going to fare well for your pro-ball dreams. With no playoff basketball, no summertime pro teams and no more Dwightmare, there was ample space in the Sentinel sports pages to follow the fate of what was to be UCF’s next breakout basketball star. But Brandon lawyered up, and by the time of his May 2015 arraignment, he was ready to plead down, to a misdemeanor petit theft charge. He was not about to endure a season’s worth of hecklers in Colnago cycling caps at American Athletic Conference games, so the next big move he made was to take his talents to Dunk City. The next time Goodwin returned to Orlando, he was the 2017 Atlantic Sun Conference newcomer of the year and tournament MVP, he and his 14-seed Florida Gulf Coast team scaring the mess out of Jonathan Isaac and 3-seed Florida State during March Madness at Amway Center. Who knows what might have been for Goodwin at UCF, which settled for a postseason run that year in the NIT. Pedaling forward ever since, Goodwin is in a big closing stretch of games for the Atlanta Hawks, and for the extension of his professional career in the NBA. Tonight, with the injured Isaac’s Orlando Magic in town (7:30 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, BS Florida), then on Sunday with the visiting Houston Rockets, if all goes well, Goodwin will have prominent, and hopefully productive, roles in helping Trae Young and the Hawks close out the regular season. Young (sore hip) is listed as probable to start against upstart rookie Cole Anthony, after outlasting Russell Westbrook and the Wizards twice over the past three days. Tony Snell (sore Achilles) will sit this one out, while Clint Capela (heel pain), Bogdan Bogdanovic (sore hammy) and Danilo Gallinari (sore back) are each listed as questionable. The sweep of the Wizards clinched a Top-6 seed for Atlanta, but the Hawks (39-31) still have a Southeast Division title and potential homecourt advantage with a 4-seed to pursue. Even with a few unavailable players, not inclusive of the returning De’Andre Hunter, the Hawks’ starters should be capable of at least holding serve versus whatever Magic head coach Steve Clifford drums up. The Magic (21-48, 4th-place betw. OKC and CLE in the upside-down standings) are also proceeding toward season’s end without the services of Michael Carter-Williams, James Ennis, rookie Chuma Okeke, Otto Porter, and Terrence Ross. Despite having dropped four straight games, the Magic have more wins over their past ten games (3-7) than any of the NBA’s bottom five. Mo Bamba has played with greater confidence of late, particularly with his rebounding and rim protection, but he’s questionable to play due to a non-COVID illness. With Isaac and Markelle Fultz already out for the season, it becomes tough for Magic opponents to know who precisely should be subject to their game-planning. Heck, Coach Cliff hardly knows himself. Some nights, it’s Hampton, or Anthony, or Bamba with the breakout day. Others, it’s a newcomer, like former Knick back-bench forward Ignas Brazdeikis. The continual inventory of injured Magic players may grant Clifford and team president Jeff Weltman yet another offseason to coalesce a dynamic core, although next year’s will be much younger once as many as two new lottery picks join forces with Anthony, Isaac, Fultz, Bamba, Carter and Okeke. The retrieval of lightly-protected future first-rounders from Chicago and Denver at 2021’s Trade Deadline may have been enough to save Weltman’s bacon. Tuesday’s spirited but futile 114-102 defeat in Milwaukee made it seven losses in Orlando’s past ten road games, including a 112-96 loss in Atlanta on April 20. The three victories were in Cleveland, Chicago and Detroit. Anthony, Pace Academy star Wendell Carter (17 points, 9 rebounds, 3 steals @ ATL last month) and sixth-man R.J. Hampton will dress to impress. But Hawks coach Nate McMillan will seek to use this and the next game to urge the resumption of suppressive defensive tactics, forcing the ball to keep moving so no Magician discovers a hot hand. The onus will be on John Collins, Hunter and rookie Onyeka Okongwu to limit Orlando from feasting on second chances as well as trips to the free throw line. Goodwin split bench duties with Lou Williams (22 points vs. ORL last month) the last time the Magic visited The Farm, and he is likely to gain a larger share of floor time tonight if he can be disruptive at the point of attack. Goodwin shined in spot starts at Charlotte and Toronto last month, and he was encouraging during a vital win over Miami two nights after Trae exited a game against the Knicks due to injury. But the intervening games were less than impressive, and the four appearance after the heat game (21.4 FG%, 4.0 APG, 2.0 TOs/game in 21.8 minutes) led Coach Nate to limit the reserve guard to just 3.5 cleanup minutes in one game over the past six Hawks contests. Goodwin is subject to a qualifying offer decision by the Hawks’ front office this summer, but the greater likelihood is he will put the finishing touches on the resume this week for his next employer, be it in the NBA, the G-League, both, or elsewhere. If Atlanta defenders disrupt and create a lot of broken Magic plays, and if the Hawks can get decent offensive production out of a couple bench players to alleviate Young and the starting unit, then sweeping the season series with the Magic (first since playing Jacque Vaughn’s misfits from 2012-13) will be as easy as stealing candy from a… no, let me not give Brandon any bad ideas. It will be as easy as riding a bike! One’s own, that is to say. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  6. Whatever you do, Devin, DON’T toss them across boats in the lake! Alright, Florida, seriously, you’ve had enough fun. Cut it out. How about ANOTHER championship team from the Sunshine State that nobody asked for? The Lakeland Magic are your hometown champs down in the Glubble, winners of the 2021 NBA G-League Finals last month after beating the 76ers’ Delaware Blue Coats. I’ve already done a rundown of all the good fortune teams down in South and Central Florida have enjoyed over the past year, and all of the playoff and championship games hosted down there. That’s to say nothing of who gets first dibs in the upcoming NFL Draft. So, seriously, Devin Cannady, congrats to you and your Finals MVP trophy ball and your new two-way contract with the big-leaguer Orlando Magic. That’s enough confetti for the Floridians, thank you. Our Atlanta Hawks can do their part this week to improve the likelihood that the NBA Playoffs won’t even make its way south of Valdosta this season. They’ve already submerged the Flo Raptors into a fight with the Wizards and the Bulls for what could be the final #10 Play-In seed. Currently at seed #7, the reigning conference champ heat could find themselves lip synching for their playoff lives, too, and Atlanta could ensure a crucial tiebreaker, if necessary, with a home win over Jimmy, Bam and Friends this Friday. And we’ve got a touch of elimination practice, tonight, with what remains of the Magic in town (7:30 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, BS Florida). The Magic-Tragic Number, if you will, for Orlando to catch the Hawks is a mathematical ‘2’. So a victory for Atlanta tonight will serve as the stiff-arm they’d need just in case Steve Clifford’s newfangled roster gets any crazy ideas. Don’t be fooled by their last game on Sunday, a 114-110 home loss that gave the usually misfiring Houston Rockets their first win in six tries. Coach Cliff’s club, with a little abracadabra, will reach out and grab ya, if you’re caught fooling around too much. The Magic peaked, if you will, at 13-18 before stumbling into the All-Star Break with five straight losses, capped by Atlanta’s scintillating comeback on March 3 from 61-42, 88-70, and 106-90 down to escape O-Town with the 115-112 win. Since then, they’ve sold off most of their longtime veterans for parts and picks, save for Terence Ross, who didn’t make the trip up here tonight (The Human Torch’s back is flaring up). Orlando (18-39) has only gone 5-16 since the Break, with two of those wins coming before the Trade Deadline. But it must be noted that four of those five wins were versus Brooklyn and Phoenix, pre-Deadline, then at STAPLES against the Clippers and at New Orleans (SVG’s Angry Birds pay one of his old stomping grounds a visit on Thursday). The pièce de résistance came in a 115-106 win versus visiting Vucevic and the Bulls last week. Nikola and his new tag team partner, Zach LaVine, couldn’t do enough to outshine new Magic center Wendell Carter, who outworked his old team on the boards as Chicago’s fourth-quarter comeback proved to be too little, too late. In addition to Ross, James Ennis (out, calf) and ex-Bull Otto Porter (out, foot) will stay home, while Michael Carter-Williams purportedly has a foot sprain. So try on, for size, hungry yung’uns in Cole Anthony, Chuma Okeke, and Mo Bamba, a couple of them having returned from injury and illness-related hiatuses of their own. Add to the ensemble ex-Nuggets Gary Harris and (newly 20-year-old) R.J. Hampton, each trying to earn their keep. Tack on a side of Dwayne Bacon, the only Magician to have played in every game so far. Then, for depth behind Anthony and Harris, there’s a pair of two-way contracts, including Cannady, the undrafted guard out of Princeton, and Chasson Randle. Bolstering the frontcourt are two folks on ten-day deals, Robert Franks and Donta Hall, the latter aiding the Magic with 9 rebounds in under 17 minutes for the win versus Chicago. You can be assured that none of the players touching the floor could give a hoot about tanking, where a likely pair of lottery picks plus injured returnees Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac will push many players off the Magic depth chart. They’re all out to impress their next NBA boss, whether that’s Jeff Weltman or not. When Orlando has played at their competitive best, they’re playing mistake-free, hack-free Cliffyball (10.8 TOs/game in post-All-Star-wins, best in NBA; 6.8 personal fouls per-48 in those wins, 5th-fewest). It’s up to Atlanta to ensure they’re not just sitting back and waiting for Orlando’s neophytes to make the mistakes. Trae Young (2 steals vs. IND, first game w/ multiple steals since March 30) must avoid a tit-for-tat, you-shoot-I-shoot with Anthony, instead pestering ballhandling guards at the point of attack, roving into passing and driving lanes seeking out thefts, deflections, offensive foul draws and 50/50 balls. The starting backcourt and wings like Kevin Huerter (1.2 SPG, highest among active Hawks) doing its job to constrain the number of Magic possessions ending in a shot attempt will allow Nate McMillan to relieve them with Brandon Goodwin on the back ends of halves. If the Hawks find themselves in a clash midway through the fourth quarter, it would be telling that they caught themselves looking ahead for the flight to New York to play the Knicks tomorrow, in the first back-to-back for Atlanta (31-26) in two weeks. We can’t control what goes on in the NHL’s Central Division, or the American League East, but at least in the MLS, Atlanta United already did its job in dampening Orlando City SC’s spirits over the weekend, while I still trust Rafi Acuna will be back and chomping on Fish Sticks in due time. The next time I hope to hear about outsized title hopes from a Florida team, it will be time for don’t-call-them-cocktails in Jacksonville. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  7. “Trust me, Lloyd, this head coaching biz can make you grow gray hairs fast. In places.” Supersonic motivating rhymes are creating. And everybody knows that Ohhh heyyy! It’s Ya Boi. Thanks to some divine intervention from our #1 Atlanta Hawks fan, The “Don’t Call Me Olivia” Pope (“What am I,” he groused, “some kind of miracle worker?”), it looks like I’m back in my happily unpaid internship gig, on the grind to deliver more long-winded pregame commentary. Through this NBA All-Star Break, at least. At this season’s long-awaited tip-off, if you told me about The First Eastern Conference Coach Who Got The Axe Despite a Crap-Ton of Untimely Setbacks, I’d have had no doubts you were referencing Steve Clifford. Don’t bring that noise up here, Orlando Magic fans would tell our Atlanta Hawks ahead of tonight’s first regular season meeting between the Southeast Division rivals at Amway Center (8 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Florida), about how you’ve missed Bogdan Bogdanovic sooooo much. “I’ve got a man down!” They’re not tryna hear that, see. Longtime followers of the program know how long I have marveled at how, in a state where seemingly everybody’s less than 100 feet above sea level, Coach Cliff has managed to keep his head above water. The Magic (13-22, 9-22 since starting out 4-0) are hoping to stave off a losing streak, heading into the Break, that would stretch to five games, one that began by splitting a series at home with whatever Detroit throws out there. But for the fact that it’s the Hawks led by interim coach Nate McMillan coming to town, Clifford would have good reason to feel like he could spell relief, P-I-E-R-C-E. I mean, look at this hot mess. The athletic defensive maestro Orlando waited through most of last season to return from a knee injury makes it into the Bubble just in time for yet another debilitating knee injury that has him on the shelf for all of this season. The one significant addition that team prez Jeff Weltman made last season (that kinda sorta worked, at Bubble time) has been in-and-out of the lineup dealing with a calf issue. The oft-injured, prized point guard project Weltman pried from Philly made it almost eight games into this season before going down with a torn ACL. Fine. Get out there, emergency backup first-rounder project, and a break a leg! No, they said a leg, not a rib! Now they have to settle for the aging point guard project Philly prized before the last one, who himself just returned from injury after missing over a month. Also missing over a month, this season, was 2019’s lottery prize, the Atlanta native who spent all of last season recovering from a March Madness injury sustained while playing for Auburn. 2018’s lottery prize, and Cam Reddish’s lauded shot-blocking high school teammate, caught a bad case of COVID. He’s finally back, but he can hardly go for 15 minutes a night without looking like a SpongeBob meme trying to catch his breath. Also out of commission: the guy most known for hurdling mascots-on-hoverboards at Slam Dunk Contests (so glad John Collins didn’t get dragged back into this with his prop planes on Sunday… anybody seen Harry around?). He’s been out for over a month with a sprained ankle. Their un-Googleable hanger-on three-point shooting swingman, in town since 2012, who just can’t seem to find the exit, has been stuck in the revolving door with injuries, too. When Hollywood execs get around to adding a dash of Florida Man to the nightly array of medical trauma p0rn on TV, producers won’t find a more perfect setting than the Magic’s medical team offices. Floridians have grown increasingly accustomed to weathering storms, and they can find inspiration during the non-hurricane seasons by looking to Clifford and his All-Star-caliber center, Nikola Vucevic (29 points, 5-for-8 on threes, 15 boards, 8 dimes in Monday’s home loss to the visiting Lukatics). Our dearly departed head coach here in Atlanta didn’t have the luxury to point at the incessant inertia that is Weltman’s front office as an excuse. At least our GM tried, this past offseason, when pushed to do something. While we were going Bongo for Bogi, the Magic went after just one guy in free agency, and that was a side of Dwayne Bacon, a Struggle Bus straphanger from Coach Cliff’s earlier years in Charlotte. Clifford is threatening to fall about 5.0 games below the .500 mark, which is about where he was in his final two seasons before the Horcats cut him loose in 2018. Yet even as Orlando gets relegated, however momentarily, to the third-most respected NBA outlet in The Sunshine State, Clifford isn’t getting pushed out because, it appears, nobody in a suit-and-tie is pushing anyone around Central Florida. “It sucks,” Clifford remarked on Tuesday, parroting other coaches around the league as news of Lloyd Pierce’s sacking made the rounds. “He’s done a really good job. He’s a tremendous person. Yeah, this is a hard one.” You won’t need Key & Peele’s Obama Translator to know Cliff is simply saying what he’s supposed to say, and to avert any undue attention that might come his way if people peek at the direction the Magic seem headed, under his and Weltman’s watches. We all still think of Nate Mac as a Pacific Northwest guy, what with his longtime affiliations with the Sonics and, later, as coach of the Trail Blazers. But for the first decades of his life, McMillan was Mister Raleigh, from an age where people at that end of the Carolinas thought John Wall was some sort of brand-name particle board. He’s a Southern dude, through and through, one who grew up at a time when the Hawks and Bullets were the only pro hoops teams around. No one was even thinking about swampy Florida becoming a hotbed for pro basketball, or any athletic endeavor not known as baseball or jai alai. If all goes reasonably well in The ATL, McMillan will get a good chance to pad his stats. Now at 662-588 in the regular season for his career with last night’s 90’s Throwback victory in Miami, this year, he ought to pass the Hawks’ Czar of the Telestrator, Mike Fratello (667-548; thanks, Nique!), and Nets assistant Mike D’Antoni (672-527), moving into the Top 20 on the all-time NBA regular-season wins list. Nate’s playoff record is less than stellar, his only playoff series win out of nine tries coming way back in 2005 with Rick Sund’s Sonics (have a Coke and a smile, Rick). But that sounds pretty good right now to Tony Ressler, the Hawks’ owner in full Oleta Adams Mode, thirsting to get his franchise back in the NBA’s postseason party however he can. There’s added motivation for McMillan to excel, as well. If the Hawks (15-20) figure things out tonight and secure their first pair of wins on back-to-back nights this season (last Hawks B2B road sweep: Jan. 4-5, 2017 @ ORL and NOP), and if all the other home teams do them a solid tonight and tomorrow (go Cavs! Go Pels!), McMillan can go into the All-Star Break looking down at his former employer, the plummeting Pacers, in the standings. And the Bulls, too. Enjoy your time in our hotel rooms this weekend, Zach and Domantas. With just this one win, Atlanta could move up as high as 9th in the Leastern Conference, a half-game behind LaMeloville and one game behind the default division-leading heat. Nate knows, in this conference, a two-game hot streak is like a couple dashes of hot sauce on, well, anything (I got This Old finding out Texas Pete is actually made in Winston-Salem). For all things to go reasonably well, at least tonight, the Hawks cannot rely on the Magic settling for 80 points, like the stifled heat did yesterday. Greasing the skids for Pierce’s ouster was Atlanta making the league’s most dysfunctional offenses – Cleveland, OKC – look like the second coming of the 2016 Warriors, and the Magic (26th in O-Rating, dead-last in eFG% and TS%) poses a similar threat. Orlando thrives off of rebounding (NBA-best 76.1 D-Reb%) and winning second-chance-point margins. They’d really have something if they had the guards and shooters capable of pushing the rock off the defensive boards (NBA-low 1.03 transition points per possession). Fortunately for Atlanta, McMillan rested John Collins as his Hawks boat-raced Miami 31-14 in the final quarter. He can give Al-Farouq Aminu, Khem Birch and Gary Clark fits if both he and Clint Capela (questionable, foot pain) can stay out of foul trouble. Neither Atlanta (14.1 points per-48, 2nd-lowest in NBA) nor Orlando (14.2, 3rd-lowest), gets much juice out of scoring off turnovers, so a repeat of the Hawks’ 23 player TOs last night (one off their season-worst), while not ideal, won’t be a killer against this particular team. But there was much more experimentation in Atlanta’s halfcourt possessions yesterday, specifically passing out of the post and working Trae Young (16 games w/ point+assist double-doubles, tied-2nd in NBA behind only James Harden’s 21) off-ball, than we’ve seen in recent games. While Trae coughed up the ball on eight occasions, so did the combination of Capela and Solomon Hill. If the Hawks can cut down on the second-guessing and pump-faking, going up quickly on the catch-and-shoots, they’ll produce enough points that Vooch and the combo of Evan Fournier (26 points, 5-for-8 3FGs vs. DAL on Monday) and Terrence Ross won’t be able to keep up even if they’re all hot. There is a parallel universe somewhere, as @thecampster and other Squawkers rightly infer, that has upstart Atlanta nicely situated at 20-15 instead of 15-20, with Trae happily preparing to host the ASG as a reserve, and LP getting praise as a viable COTY candidate. Alas, all the Hawks can do going forward is look themselves in the mirror and, with McMillan’s help, begin cleaning up the problems we can all see, while resting up this weekend. Atlanta got no breaks from Da Schedule Godz in the back half of the season, what was already a tall order with several games versus Detroit and Minnesota already in the rear-view. Only three home games this month, oughta-wins versus the Kings and Cavs (on a back-to-back, no less) and the Thunder, precede a torturous road trip out West that will carry our team into next month. The Hawks putting intrinsic talent advantages, versus downtrodden squads like the Magic, to their own advantage, will aid them in bouncing back faster than a Spalding off Grant Williams’ heinie. Wins in-pocket now can only help when sidelined players like De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish return to action. The one fortune our Hawks have had, relative to many teams, are the precious few impacts, to the roster and the schedule, from the still-simmering pandemic. I’m hoping that wellness continues, not only for the players and staff, but for the fans and the readers of this here forum. In my twenties and thirties, I recall scratching my head, first during the Olympics, then during Freakniks, then during the Superb Owl, of all the tales of Atlantans hightailing it as far out of town as gas prices could take them. Then came 2003’s ASG, with the streets gridlocked with low-riders, the sidewalks loaded with ladies in the telltale Mariah-Carey-meets-Betty-Rubble get-ups, when I started to get The Hint. As crazy as that weekend was, there weren’t national health and associated socio-economic emergencies hovering over our heads. This weekend, our pothole-stricken roads will be filled with people, mostly out-of-towners, pretending not to notice and Doin’ Too Much on the off-chance their favorite NBA Baller might sneak out for some late-nite lemon pepper wings. Or, on the slightly less off-chance some Insta-model greased up in clear heels, unable to find said Ballers, will willingly settle for bump-and-grinding these aforementioned Jordans-rocking Busters at The Compound. We had shootings at The Blue Flame and INSIDE the Gold Room (the notorious old “Gold Club”, with a fresh coat of paint), and that was just LAST weekend because the evening temperatures were unseasonably swell. It helps that Da Weather Godz are putting a deep freeze on this weekend's evening lows, but still, Tallulah Gorge is suddenly sounding kind of nice. In all likelihood, though, this fuddy-duddy 404’er is gonna stock up and hole up in his Lethaldome until at least Monday, and I avidly encourage folks in and around The Perimeter to follow suit. Don’t be a Buster out here in these streets. Not this weekend, anyway. I don’t want to hear about any Squawkers this weekend being victimized by the wraths of either COVID-19 or COLT-45. Stay safe, preferably at home, and we’ll see you all next week! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  8. We're hurt, every one of us! ~lw3
  9. (Before anyone asks, no, I did not do that.) ~lw3
  10. This sucks. C'mon, Abe, The Man said quit trying to sacrifice this kid! ~lw3
  11. “See? I tried to tell ya... Should’ve jumped over the Sears Tower!” It’s Wednesday night, and two underwhelming NBA teams with losing records and no championship probabilities on the horizon face off in downtown Atlanta. The hosts, our Hawks, return to State Farm Arena after stumbling in Philadelphia a couple days ago. The visitors, the Orlando Magic, have no Shaq, no Penny, no Dwight, no dunk contest champs (gulp), no adversarial superstars that furrow the eyebrows of the random local sports fan. Will the house be packed anyway? The above factors were enough, over the prior quarter century or so, to produce the chirping sounds of crickets in Atlanta’s home nest. That we may see upwards of 15,000 in attendance for an unremarkable mid-week game like this (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Florida in MCO) speaks to the compelling power of The Trae Young Experience. You can’t spell PARTY without T.Y., and Young (at home: 31.9 PPG, 39.1 3FG%, 9.5 APG) has brought that kind of atmosphere to a factory that could use his highlight offensive plays. Atlanta needs Trae producing (37.0 PPG, 47.3 3FG%, 10.6 APG in Hawks wins), early and often, to have a chance to win games, and he brings that when egged on with the encouragement of Ryan Cameron and fans screeching in support from every tier of these comfier confines. But coach Lloyd Pierce’s small-y young club can struggle mightily to find the proper chemistry, with or without Trae on the floor, at home or away, to string together consistent runs of competitive play. The Hawks will remain underdogs when stacked against most of the NBA, even at home (6-1 in their last 7 home games), and even against mediocre squads like Orlando, until Pierce and the coaching staff sort the ideal rotations out. Monday’s half-baked effort against the 76ers dropped Atlanta to 6-25 versus teams with a .500 or better record. Among the few teams doing worse in that department is the Magic (25-32), whose spiffy 21-7 mark against sub-.500 teams like the Hawks belies their 4-25 record against the cream of the NBA crop. That includes Cream City, and while it may not matter much come April, the Magic likely wishes to dodge the top-seeded Bucks, who swept all four regular-season contests by an average of 16.5 points, as an opening-round foe. They’re 0-9 versus Milwaukee, Toronto and Boston, but they won’t play the latter teams until April. Despite two losses already this season to the Hawks, Orlando relies on teams as poor as Atlanta (17-42) for subsistence. They’ve won three games out of their past four, beginning with the 135-126 victory in Orlando on February 10. They followed up by squeaking past whatever’s left of Detroit, at home before the All-Star Break. Bouncing back from last Friday’s home loss to Dallas, the Magic prevailed in the Somebody’s Gotta Make the Playoffs Bowl, coming back from 19 down midway through the third period to cut down the Nets, 115-113 in Brooklyn, on Monday night. While the 7-seed Nets may have trouble in the coming months, the schedule ahead for coach Steve Clifford’s 8-seeded crew (4.5 games ahead of Chicago) may allow them to stiff-arm the lottery competition and lock down a playoff spot sooner, rather than much later. Remaining teams have a 45.8 percent winning record, the 4th-easiest schedule in the league and just a few shavings tougher than Atlanta’s “easiest” 44.2 percent. All the Magic need to do is defeat the bad teams on the docket, as they’ve done for most of this season. Minnesota comes to O-Town, and then the Magic visits the Rodeo-weary Spurs to close out this month. The games at Amway Center to follow include the Lillard-less Blazers, Bulls, Hornets, Cavs and Kings, before a return to Brooklyn in mid-March. Bad-loss slip-ups, like the 101-93 home loss to the Hawks back in December, could leave the Magic susceptible to a needless scramble for the final postseason spots. Taking care of business early, alternatively, will allow Clifford to load-manage his key veterans during the final weeks. Clifford’s gameplan for Young is to allow the Hawks’ point god room to roam on the inside of the Magic defense, disallowing all but the most miraculous, contested three-point shots. On his young career, Trae’s 50.5 FG% versus Orlando is his best against any Eastern Conference club, 2nd-best against any NBA opponent. But within that is a subpar 29.7 3FG%, 3rd-lowest among NBA East foes. Young (47.2 3FG% in wins, 32.0% in losses) lofted 11 three-point attempts in Orlando on February 6 and sunk just a trio of them (1-for-7 through the first three quarters). He was 4-for-8 inside the arcs, also swishing 12 of 13 free throws while dishing nine assists. But his hero-distance shots were insufficient during a familiar fourth-quarter defensive collapse, the Magic’s 42-30 advantage in that frame wiping out a 96-93 Hawks lead. It was a similar scene Monday, after Trae’s last-second splash closed the third quarter in Philly with a 92-91 lead, his Hawks crawling out of a 20-point first-half hole. Young was just 1-for-11 on his other 3-point shots, and Atlanta found it was too easy to get pushed back in the hole (38-20 Sixer edge in the 4th). Against Orlando, neutralized teammates like John Collins (22 points and 8 rebounds, but minus-32 for the game) were unable to earn trips to the free throw line (1 fourth-quarter FTA for the whole team; 4 non-Trae FTAs the whole game), a hallmark of Cliffordian defense. Cam Reddish’s pair of shots in the final quarter of Monday’s game doubled that paltry total, and his entire team’s inability to hit from outside (0-for-11 4th-quarter 3FGs) made Collins and company easy pickings for Joel Embiid (22-and-8 in the closing quarter alone). Teams hitting jumpshots with unconventional proficiency is nothing new for opponents of the Hawks, and Orlando (47.4 3FG% on Feb. 6; 33.5 3FG% on the season, 28th in NBA, through yesterday) was no exception when they last faced Atlanta. Again overwhelming a Hawks’ frontline, one that included the recently re-arriving Dewayne Dedmon (14-and-9 plus 2 blocks off the bench @ ORL; probable, elbow pain), the Magic were aided further by a 14-4 edge on offensive rebounds (45-31 overall), second chances created by Aaron Gordon (season-high 6 O-Rebs), Nikola Vucevic and newcomer James Ennis, the latter of whom now starts in place of Wes Iwundu. The Magic thrived for many seasons behind Dwight, but is it possible that it’s Atlanta’s turn to benefit from a D12 of its own? De’Andre Hunter’s activity in his hometown debut (4-for-5 FGs, 7-for-7 FTs in the third quarter @ PHI) sparked Monday’s third-quarter turnaround. Hitting 15 of 33 threes for the month, his well-panned offensive efficiency is coming around, and his 6.1 RPG and NBA rookie-high 1.6 SPG averages through seven games puts him squarely in also-ran status for Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month with two February home games remaining. Going forward, better interior scoring and passing from De’Andre (upgraded to available, ankle sprain) could have him among the first drafted players to nab the Eastern Rookie of the Month hardware, a development few could have seen coming given his season-opening struggles (Chicago’s Coby White is the clubhouse leader for February, although his Bulls are just 1-7 when he has played). For Hunter and Reddish, if they also continue making strides with perimeter defense and help rebounding, the next two months could feature a productive potato-sack race for the final ROM trophies. As for Orlando and PBO Jeff Weltman, there’s no need to hope for (more) lottery luck, as future growth needs to come from within. Aside from the need to deflect the occasional shot in the lane, Mo Bamba (1.5 BPG) has yet to truly get off the ground. Jonathan Isaac returns from season-ending injury next year, as will 2019 first-round selection Chuma Okeke. And clearly, the best is yet to come for Markelle Fultz (career-high 50.9 2FG% and 74.6 FT%; 12.0 PPG and 5.2 APG as a starter), who will revel in fostering a fierce intra-division rivalry with Young. A rebuild that more sincerely features those young Magicians will commence next season. In the interim, Weltman has his focus on this offseason, challenged with massaging $96 million in already-guaranteed salaries for a clear non-contender. Beyond another pair of home playoff dates to appease a once-starved Magic fanbase, Weltman is relying on Clifford to maximize the value of the veterans, particularly the contract-extended Vucevic (24-9-and-9, 4-for-6 3FGs vs. ATL on Feb. 6) and Gordon, Terrence Ross (5-for-10 3FGs vs. ATL), and Evan Fournier if the latter kicks the can down one year by opting in this summer. A strong close for each improves the quality of the trade offers Weltman can create and receive. To get anything close to the free agency impact that in-state, income-tax-free rival Miami enjoyed in 2018 with Jimmy Butler’s arrival, Orlando will need salary cap space. But they sure could use a captivating draw like Young, for prospective free agents, corporate sponsors and ticket buyers alike. Competitively, as a growing team taking their lumps, the Hawks are still struggling to find their heart. But Trae has established himself in Atlanta as The Show, and a happy, growing crowd of onlookers at The Farm are making it clear – finding the heart would be great, but for now, home is where The Show is. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  12. “When you wish upon a Star… Makes a difference who you are…” I can’t speak for you, but I am kind of glad, no longer having to care at all about the fate of the Netspick. In a secondary way, Atlanta Hawks fans no longer have to be concerned about tonight’s opponent, the slip-sliding Orlando Magic (7:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Florida), or any other lotto-quality Eastern Conference foe holding down one of the final two available playoff spots. For a minute there, mere weeks ago, it was looking like the 7-seed was no longer in play. Despite losing defensive glue Jonathan Isaac (severe knee sprain suffered on New Year’s Day) for the balance of January, the Magic responded by going 5-2, highlighted by a win at STAPLES Center, without Evan Fournier, over a Laker team that thought it was safe to rest Anthony Davis. Unfortunately for coach Steve Clifford’s crew, Orlando’s depth began absorbing too many hits. Knee surgery last month for the already-injured Al-Farouq Aminu, arguably the team’s biggest free agent addition over the summer, effectively concluded his season before it could really get going. Orlando was granted a Disabled Player Exception for Aminu, but not for Isaac, the latter application an indication that he won’t be rushed back by the team any time soon. In and out for much of the season already, Michael Carter-Williams was missing time due to injury, and by the time he returned to action in mid-January, he tagged out D.J. Augustin, whose patella irritation (still out tonight) has had the lead bench guard unavailable ever since. Orlando had already weathered the storm of losing recent All-Star pivot Nikola Vucevic for a month. But for a squad that relied on defensive fortitude from Isaac, a discrete set of offensive options around wayward-shooting ballhandler Markelle Fultz, and snail’s-pace ball-control keyed by Augustin and Carter-Williams off the bench as pillars to victory, Clifford’s Magic seem to be just about out of tricks. One night after upsetting LeBron’s Lakers to get within a game of .500 basketball, Orlando had to endure the dreaded STAPLES back-to-back and got clapped by the Clippers. They’ve been in an O-Town Funk ever since. Two wins, both on the road at charcoaled Charlotte, are all the team can claim from their past twelve contests. Their last victory here at Amway Center, over a month ago, came at the expense of a Wizards team that didn’t even have All-Star wannabe Bradley Beal. The Magic (22-31) began a three-game homestand getting toyed with by Giannis and top-seeded Milwaukee, a preview of what might be a sad but swift playoff opening round, should no other Eastern lottery teams step it up in the coming months. With just two home games left before the All-Star Break (Detroit arrives on Wednesday), the Magic hopes they can face a squad that tired itself out last night in Atlanta. The Hawks (15-39) needed four quarters and a pair of overtimes to outlast a Knicks team that itself was playing a back-to-back. Remember that the Magic had already been awaiting several young players to get healthy and emerge as stars for the future. They spent a mid-first-rounder on Atlanta native Chuma Okeke, who tore his ACL while starring for Auburn during last year’s March Madness campaign, with the intention of rehabbing and bringing him along slowly as Aminu and Amile Jefferson played behind Gordon this season. They’ve been pleased that Fultz and center Mo Bamba have been healthy, steady members of the rotation. But they have been forced to rely more on the lotto-pick pair at critical junctures of this season than they likely anticipated. The same goes for third-year bench players Wes Iwundu and Khem Birch. Having already tripled his volume of starts in Philly before the Sixers discarded him, Markelle passes and shoots inside the arc reasonably well (4.8 APG; 50.1 2FG%). He’d be all the more dangerous with dribble penetration if he had reliable perimeter shooters at the ready. Atlanta ranks 30th in three-point accuracy (32.6 3FG%, 34.3% since Jan. 1), but the Magic (33.4 3FG%, 33.5 since Jan. 1) are coming on strong for that dead-last spot. 2019 Sixth Man of the Year candidate Terrence Ross’ jumper has plummeted back to Earth this year (32.2 3FG%, 3-for-19 FGs vs. ATL this season). Vucevic and Gordon combined to shoot 0-for-13, and Ross 1-for-4, from deep against the Bucks in Saturday’s 111-95 loss, making Fultz (3-for-7 3FG vs. MIL, a season-high in makes; 26.9 3FG% on the season) look quite the marksman. At least the Hawks have a point guard in Trae Young (39 points, incl. 13 in 4th quarter; 5-for-10 3FGs, incl. the game-clincher, vs. ORL on Oct. 26) who can call his own number on occasion. Perhaps, two, at least until Jeff Teague (37.1 2FG%, probable for tonight despite sore shoulder) gets out of his shooting rut. Without Young, Brandon Goodwin saved the day for the Hawks in Orlando back on December 30, sinking big shots inside and out (team-high 21 points, 3-for-4 3FGs), generally catching the Magic off-guard in a 101-93 win. The former UCF and Florida Gulf Coast star guard isn’t as effective in spot duty. But when Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce has turned to the two-way player and Midseason All-G-Leaguer for major minutes, Goodwin (just 4 minutes last night vs. NYK) has shown he’s up to the task (42.9 FG%, 100 FT%, 24 assists and 12 TOs in games w/ 20+ minutes). The sole major move by Magic exec Jeff Weltman to bolster team depth was the acquisition of James Ennis, the reserve forward who generally struggled with Philadelphia this season (37.0 FG% since Dec. 31) before waiving his no-trade clause to come to Orlando. Ennis is expected to premiere tonight for the Magic, who waived Jefferson at the Trade Deadline to accommodate Ennis and make 10-day contractor Gary Clark a full-time member. It is hoped that Ennis’ addition will give Gordon (41.9 FG%, 15.4 points and 3.4 assists per-36, down from 44.9%, 17.0 and 4.0 last season) more latitude to play full-time at the power forward spot, where he is perceived to be more effective. Orlando is 9-4 when AG snares 8 or more defensive rebounds, 3-13 when he grabs fewer than five. The Magic frontline has struggled to this point when plugging in either Iwundu or Ross in place of the sidelined Isaac, so they hope Ennis will be a difference maker defensively. Along the way to a 42-40 record in 2018-19, their first winning season since 2011-12, Clifford’s Magic were among three opponents to sweep the 29-53 Hawks in four games, and the only one to win them all by double-digit margins. With a chance to improve to 3-0 versus Orlando this season, it is reasonable to wonder whether Pierce and the Hawks finally have the Magic’s number. Clifford’s 36-46 Hornets similarly swept the 2017-18 Hawks by double-digits in four games. Matt Hill, a longtime Magic video analyst who was the sole assistant initially retained by Clifford when he took over for Frank Vogel in 2018, left shortly thereafter to join Pierce’s staff, and his intimate knowledge may be proving valuable in Atlanta’s competitive turnaround against mainstays Vucevic, Fournier and Gordon (DNP vs. ATL on Dec. 30). The trio was a combined 5-for-28 on threes and has been generally ineffective in second halves versus Atlanta through the first two matchups. Orlando may catch an extra break keeping up offensively if Atlanta’s De’Andre Hunter (38.3 corner 3FG% on team-high 1.6 attempts per game; team-high 35 minutes, 3-for-6 3FGs @ ORL in December; 48 minutes, 3-for-7 3FGs vs. NYK; questionable, ankle sprain) gets some rest today. Without several wing defenders available for the Hawks, Fournier and Ross must each be on-target today. Catching up with Orlando and attaining a playoff spot is a bit too much of an ask at this stage for a Hawks team that struggled to put the Knicks to bed last night, and they won’t have a core with a chance to gel until Clint Capela (out, heel bone) and Cam Reddish (questionable, concussion) make their likely returns after the All-Star Break. But it is possible for the Hawks to surge soon past at least one division rival. A win tonight would raise Atlanta to 5-4 within the Southeast Division (0-3 versus banner leader Miami), an above-.500 mark that neither Charlotte (1-6; 2.0 games ahead of ATL) nor Washington (4-8; 4.5 games ahead of ATL) is likely to claim. By comparison, yesterday’s win over New York vaulted Atlanta to just 4-22 versus the rest of the conference. Building competitive edges against the rest of the Southeast can bode well for Atlanta, both going into the Break and looking forward to next season. Will they have the legs and the wherewithal to keep building against the struggling Magic tonight? Orlando certainly hopes the answer is no. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  13. “Evan, you really might want to clean up your Google search results.” Your undefeated, first-place Atlanta Hawks, on a roll! Up to 2-0 after dispatching the Orlando Magic in their home debut. 39 and 9 for the totally healthy Trae Young! And, my, what a stout defense! Holding the Magic to just 35.4 percent from the field, 5-for-31 on threes? This is already shaping up to be one heck of a season. … Welp! As fans, it’s tough surmising how things will shake out when the calendar turns by a day, a month, a year, a decade. Many times, we think we know. In fact, more often we’re certain we know, using past or even most recent history as a guide. Most often, we have no earthly idea. Some funny things happened for Atlanta, along the way to 82-0. The Hawks visit the Magic Kingdom tonight to close out the Teens (7 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Florida), and while Atlanta’s sports-mecca future in the Twenties remains bright, it’s hard to discern in the case of the Hawks (4-27 since beating ORL on Oct. 26) if that brightness is the end of a tunnel ahead, or an approaching train. Both NBA clubs have reason to be pleased with their point guard leadership, for at least the front end of the next decade. Trae Young (ankle sprain) may have kicked something during this past weekend’s Peach Bowl, and so we will see him return to action later rather than Sooner. He’s at MVP-Adjacent level already in his second season, and has improved across the board, at least offensively, while helping the Hawks climb uphill on a nightly basis. Orlando (11-14, 3-7 in last ten, but 2-1 in last three games) has continued to bump its ahead against the .500 wall, and the team’s late December skid as it re-adjusted to Nikola Vucevic’s return, was less then desirable. But they’re pleased as punch that Markelle Fultz (5.2 APG, 40.0 3FG% in last nine games) is steadying himself as a starting PG. Has 2017’s #1 pick arrived? Not quite. Was he worth trading to Philadelphia Jonathon Simmons, a 2019 second-rounder, and OKC’s Top-20-protected first rounder this coming season? You betcha. Both clubs have young jumping-jack forwards that are proving to be even better than advertised. Jonathan Isaac (3rd in Defensive Box Plus/Minus; 2.5 BPG, 2nd in NBA; team-high 1.5 SPG) is already rounding out as one of the top-notch defenders in the league, near single-handedly keeping the Magic in games they have no business being in otherwise. The latter comment can’t be said, yet, of Atlanta’s John Collins (18.9 PPG, 11.3 RPG, 2.7 BPG in last 3 games), not while the Hawks are getting blown out by teams as good as Milwaukee at home, and as bad as Chicago on the road. But at least he’s producing at both ends of the floor for a Hawks team that’s absent what was, before his return, its two most potent offensive threats in Young and Jabari Parker (shoulder). If he gets some help on either end by some permutation of Kevin Huerter, Cam Reddish, DeAndre' Hunter and sixth-man vet Allen Crabbe (combined 7-for-34 FGs, 10 D-Rebs, 3 steals @ CHI on Dec. 28, in a 116-81 loss), we might actually have ourselves a contested game worth watching today. As R.E.M. might sing, in the modern NBA, Everybody Hurts. And the truth is, the best teams anticipate overcoming the adversity of unforeseen absences, and these Hawks have yet to be built with the depth, experience, and skillset the best teams possess. Or, even the mediocre ones, as the squad across the halfcourt line demonstrates on a nightly basis. Orlando’s All-Star center, Vucevic has been in and out of the lineup. Mo Bamba, the 2018 draftee selected one Lottery pick after Young, returns from an ankle injury, but has not been in a condition to be relied upon by coach Steve Clifford significantly. Perhaps trying to overcompensate with heavy frontcourt minutes, Aaron Gordon will now sit to rehab an Achilles that has nagged him for some time. At Amway Center this evening, the Magic will also be thin in their second and third lines, as Michael Carter-Williams (shoulder) and Al-Farouq Aminu (meniscus tear) are both out of commission. But as long as they have dogged defenders, like Isaac, and low-turnover ballhandlers, like Fultz and D.J. Augustin (no Magicians with more than 1.9 TOs/game), and shooters comfortably working their way out of slumps, like Evan Fournier (42.0 3FG%) and sixth-man Terrence Ross, the Magic can lose games by ten that the Hawks lose by thirty. They can win games that the Hawks lose by twenty. Staying in games you have no business being in, for the balance of four quarters, is the definition of an 8-seed in the East, where Orlando (1.5 games ahead of 9-seed Chicago) currently resides. Roll back the calendar a bit. About ten years, to be precise. Finally, could a 50-win season be in the cards for coach Mike Woodson and his 21-10 Hawks? Years of nurturing resulted in what was, as of December 31, 2009, the sixth-best record in the NBA, led by All-Star Joe Johnson and a rare Lottery hit in Al Horford. The main problem? Standing in their way, in the NBA East, were KG’s Celtics, LeBron’s Cavaliers, and Dwight’s Magic. Coming off an embarrassing end to the 2008 postseason at young LeBron’s hands, did Atlanta have enough experience and gumption to become tougher competitors, like Dwight and the Magic, at playoff time? We’d just have to wait and see. As for the defending Eastern Conference champion Magic, having sent LeBron packing in the playoffs along the way, the future was shining as the sun went down on The Aughts for the final time. Sitting at 23-8, a second-straight 59-win season was on the way. Dwight Howard was certain to be a franchise flagship until his retirement, respected and feared throughout the league, while joined at the hip with coach Stan Van Gundy to push the team into many Finals to come. Heck, LeBron’s probably heading past his prime, anyway. Bring on The Teens! Tell some Laker fans in December 2009 that the Lakers would soon poach Dwight, as they have done with many a Hall of Fame big man over the decades, out of Central Florida to pair with Kobe for another championship run. That they would re-sign him, too, although not in a way they might expect. And, while their team’s trophy count would soon go up from 15 to 16, the NBA’s Franchise of the 2010s would hail from California, but not Los Angeles. Humor yourself while letting them guess which division rival, and how. No, Andrew Bynum didn’t leave them for Sacramento. Those Laker fans might put you on trial for witchcraft. “Awww, c’mon. You’re pulling our leg. The Warriors? Jerry West’s Warriors? Pass on some of that stuff you’re smoking!” (Don’t tell them some of that stuff will be street-legal by 2016). 9-22 was the record of Travis Schlenk’s Golden State Warriors as the calendar turned to 2010, tied for the fourth-worst mark in The Association. The Dubs were giving up a league-worst 112.4 points per game, nearly five points more than the second-worst. Dead-last in fouling, dead-last in rebounding. Andris Biedrins, Anthony Tolliver and Corey Maggette were the last frail lines of defense. Don Nelson’s devil-may-care defensive strategies were offset, however slightly, by the Warriors’ high-scoring offense that now had rookie Stephen Curry in the mix. But from most long-suffering fans’ perspectives, it was tough to envision a championship future for the ensuing decade, one that didn’t somehow have Moped Monta Ellis guiding the way. It’s Kobe’s World, after all, Dubs fans figured. Oh, well. Let’s just putter our way into the 2010s and hope for the best. We’ll always have 1975. As an eventful 2019 comes to a close, Young pilots a stronger core of prospects and young talents than Curry had at his disposal one decade ago, and The Basketball Club is wedded to allowing the young pro coach grow alongside Trae and the rookies and sophomores, as they all take their lumps together. The Atlanta Hawks’ future foundation, for seasons yet to unfold, remains solid. It’s just understandable that, at this particular moment, without knowledge of any major maneuvers in the coming month or two by Schlenk, our “2020 vision” seems a little too blurry. Happy New Year! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  14. Orlando's about to see even mo' Bamba. ~lw3
  15. We finna find out a lot about Mo Bamba 'cause ....
  16. “I Know I’ve Been Changed.” He poured his heart and soul into this theatrical production. His life savings, too, such as it was. The conceptual vision of this 22-year-old aspiring playwright, a recent arrival to Atlanta who escaped an abusive home life in New Orleans, was a story of spirit overcoming unspeakable adversities and outlasting one’s own depravities. That story was finally coming to fruition, live, on a stage, at a community theater not far from his meager downtown studio apartment off Peachtree Street. The play opened to an audience of 30 people, the premiere being the maximum draw, and to lackluster local reviews. Out of all 12,000 dollars he arrived with from Louisiana, the aspiring playwright was soon penniless and kicked out into the streets of Atlanta. Again. And not for the last time. He could have stopped there, in the mid-1990s, as a construction worker and used car salesperson who once tried his hand at producing inspirational stage entertainment. It would have made for a nice story to share at a watering hole someday. But Tyler Perry was not through. Instead, he spent the next six years re-writing and re-engineering his opus. The breakthrough came with what Perry perceived as his final big gamble, presenting the play at the House of Blues, a church-repurposed venue at the seedy edge of downtown that was itself trying to establish a foothold. Through better word-of-mouth marketing and more compelling weaves of dramatic and comedic scenes, Perry and the House of Blues had a huge local hit, drawing lines around the corner to buy tickets. He could have stopped there, that guy who had a boffo play downtown that one time. He was not through. As the show moved onto the Chitlin’ Circuit across the country, Perry kept right on writing, armed with a formula as welcomed by his loyal consumers as anything Coca Cola ever concocted. Audiences soon knew, if the production’s title began with “Tyler Perry’s…”, they were in for a rip-roaring, tissue-tearing, get-up-on-your-feet treat. No matter the critical reviews, audiences came in droves. Newer plays, bigger venues. New stars created by him, A-List stars who craved to associate with him. People from all walks of life -- the churches, the comedy clubs, comeback actors and award winners, single moms and great grandmoms -- wanted to grab a hold of this Tyler Perry fella. He wasn’t done. He slapped on a grandmotherly wig and muumuu getup that was provocatively popular in his plays, and he soon ventured into filmmaking. And later, onto television, helping Oprah’s fledgling cable network rise up off the viewership mat with one salacious TV series after another. Most of this box-office-busting, ratings-bonanza hit-making, carried on while Hollywood and Broadway stood on the outside, stunned by the singular boldness of Perry’s independent spirit. In short order, the stuffed shirts at the big production studios had made it clear -- they didn’t much want Tyler Perry around. Conversely, Tyler Perry made it clear -- he didn’t much need Hollywood around him. He was a self-made success, at multiple forms of entertainment, pretty much despite them. This past month, he earned his Walk of Fame star anyway. “For anyone whose dreams may be on life support,” Perry addressed the crowd, I want you to walk past this star, in particular, and know that I’ve been there.” As he clutched his Ultimate Icon trophy at this year’s BET Awards ceremony, Perry offered up words of wisdom for persons of color striving for better representation in American media. “While you’re fighting for a seat at the table,” Perry told them, “I’ll be down in Atlanta building my own.” Where, precisely? At a huge swath of what was previously Fort MacPherson, a closed US Army base that, at the time of the Civil War, sited Confederate soldiers, “plotting and planning,” he said, “on how to keep 3.9 million Negroes enslaved.” “Now,” the once broke and homeless Atlanta resident noted, to thunderous applause, “that land is owned… by one Negro.” At 330 acres, Tyler Perry Studios is bigger, in land area, than Hollywood’s Warner Bros., Walt Disney Studios, and Paramount Pictures. Combined. Will his film studio one day become bigger in other respects, too? Don’t count him out. The new state highway sign, directing drivers to Tyler Perry Studios, is adjacent to the longstanding sign for Sylvan Road, an Atlanta street that was the site of one of the apartments that evicted him just over two decades ago. Headed down the wrong road, Tyler’s life could have gone one way. Instead, he figured out how to make his own lane. Today, he’s making a way for many others. Another local who once made a brief living selling cars? How about RuPaul Andre Charles? Kicked out of high school in San Diego, ostensibly, for being truant, Charles moved east with his sister and brother-in-law, working for six years in the family auto sales business. He didn’t graduate here in Atlanta, either, but it was at the local high school’s performing arts program where he found his calling. “You can call me, ‘he’. You can call me, ‘she’. You can call me Regis and Kathie Lee,” one of RuPaul’s now-famous lines go, “I don’t care! Just as long as you call ME.” Ru’s willful embrace of gender-bending for purposes of entertainment was not entirely a transcendent thing in NYC, or LA. But he found a way to make himself stand out even amongst those in the burgeoning drag scene of Midtown Atlanta. It is this city’s glitzy gumbo pot of condo and office towers now. But it was the drag performers of the 1980s, and RuPaul notably, that helped rambunctious Midtown claim its counter-cultural ascendancy. “RuPaul is RED HOT” was the sign repeatedly plastered on dumpsters behind the neighborhood’s withered apartment dwellings. Ru would know, because she’s the one who put them there, after moving into a sublet apartment blocks away from the wild all-night dance clubs and stages that lined this once-abandoned stretch of Peachtree Street. She also promoted herself through a weekly video show on public-access TV, and through his own filmmaking, “these trashy little movies on VHS,” Ru explained. “Atlanta gave me the freedom to produce that kind of stuff.” While most envision Ru these days with glamourous wigs and glittery attire, in the 1980s, he was this town’s androgynous punk-drag performer. The frontperson for a local punk-rock band called Wee Wee Pole, Ru stood in tall contrast to the expected “norms”, if you will, of Southern-style drag presentation as The Genteel Women of Tara. He could have stopped there, that guy who once headlined standing-room-only, late-night shows in a now gentrified part of town, back in the 1980s. She could have stopped after moving to New York City and emerging quickly as the Queen of Manhattan. He could have stopped at being that partying guy in the crowd with the Afro-wig who carried the day for Athens band The B-52’s iconic “Love Shack” music video. Or, as the Supermodel who had just one thing to say – “You better WORK!” – in the chart-busting dance hit of her own in the early 1990s. As the first male to hold a modeling contract for a major cosmetics line. As TV’s first openly gay national talk show host. But, no. RuPaul wasn’t through. America’s Biggest Drag Superstar made it her mission to find America’s Next Drag Superstar. Putting the campy drama of hard-working drag queens front-and-center on the small screen while merging America’s Next Top Model with Project Runway, RuPaul’s Drag Race was born in 2009. A decade later, the Emmy-winning reality competition show continues to soar annually in ratings and Twitter reactions as it anchors its Viacom cable channels. Its internationally inspirational host has vaulted, meanwhile, from a counter-cultural icon to a cross-cultural one. Around the corner from her modest old apartment, RuPaul returns to Midtown, the neighborhood she put on the global map, in a few weeks, this time bringing her Drag Race World Tour to Atlanta Symphony Hall. “I never set out to be a role model,” Ru admitted to Vogue UK. “I may have set out to be a Super model, but not a role model. But I accept the responsibility and it’s an honor.” Who quits Georgia Tech in their senior year to go to work? You might, if your dad had some pull as a local executive at computing giant IBM in the 1980s. But who, a few years later, quits IBM in the 1980s… IBM!... to pursue a career in… comedy tours??? You might be Jeff Foxworthy, a kid who grew up in the little ol’ town of Hapeville in the shadow of Atlanta’s big ol’ airport. Jeff’s co-workers prodded the jovial mainframe repair technician to enter the Great Southeastern Laugh-Off competition, at a comedy club behind a diner north of Buckhead. He entered, and he “won”… second place. He was inspired enough, by this victorious-ish reception, to leave those green blinking cursors and heavy plastic boxes behind, for good. But, here’s the rub. The “professional” comedy world, such as it was, didn’t look fondly upon those who endeavored below the Mason-Dixon line. Intellectualism and wit were not seen as likely strong suits for Southerners who ventured into standup. Even if you were a clever young man who did just fine at Georgia Tech and IBM, to the rest of the world, there was always that drawl that had people seeing you as a country bumpkin and selling you short. “I think it was 1987,” Jeff recalled to MLive a couple years ago. “They were kidding me because I had this Southern accent.” Foxworthy’s ventures had him joining other comedians at standup venues outside Detroit, this time behind a bowling emporium. “I was wearing blue jeans and cowboy boots and drove a pickup truck. They were kidding me about being a redneck.” Little did these jokester upstarts know what they were about to unearth. “I said, ‘Come, look out the window. If you don’t think you have rednecks in Michigan, look. People are valet parking… in the bowling alley!’” He made his point, with his uniquely humorous style. But from that moment on, he was done with pulling his punchlines. “I went back to the hotel that night and said, ‘I know what I am but, apparently, a lot of people don’t.’ And I wrote, ’10 Ways to Tell How You Might Be a Redneck,’ never thinking it was going to be a book.” “From that first night, not only did people laugh, they were pointing at each other.” The best comedians offer up plenty of self-effacing humor, but offer audiences opportunities to laugh about themselves, and discover the silly commonalities they share with strangers. His “You Might Be a Redneck, If…” one-liners were not merely comedy gold. His first two “Redneck” comedy albums went certified Platinum. That success spawned an eponymous TV sitcom, “The Jeff Foxworthy Show,” that was promptly cancelled by network execs who felt his routines were “too Southern,” he was told, for a national audience. (“Has ANYONE heard me TALK?”, he later quipped to his standup audiences). He could have stopped there, that guy who made people cackle with an unending litany of redneck jokes. But Jeff Foxworthy was not done. More Grammy-nominated comedy albums were in the offing. Country music awards host, nationally syndicated radio show host. A voiceover for animated movies. Writing an autobiography, writing a cookbook, writing Redneck Dictionaries. 28 books authored… and counting. Having long demonstrated he was, indeed, Smarter Than A 5th Grader, Jeff became a primetime game-show host, daring contestants and grade-schoolers to flex their brains, too. Need a Bible-quiz game show host? Jeff’s got you covered. “Southern-fried” and “common-man” comedy was now firmly in demand, and through the wildly popular “Blue Collar Comedy Tour,” Foxworthy convened several of his comedian friends who would become icons by their own right. Larry the Cable Guy? Ron White? Bill Engvall? Did you doubt they would all become household names and sought-out celebrities by the mid-2000s? Here’s your sign. The guy whose professional future was once questioned and belittled has become the top-selling comedy recording artist in history. All the while, over the past decade, Foxworthy has toiled as an advocate for the homeless. Working with Atlanta Mission, he arrives with Chick-fil-A biscuits in the mornings, holds Bible study sessions for hundreds of homeless men, and promises support with housing and family assistance for those making progress in recovering from drug and/or alcohol addictions. “I’ve always had a heart for the underdog,” Jeff explained to First Coast News, “because I’m an underdog, where I came from. I just don’t think you can judge somebody, based on the quality of their shirt or their shoes, because you don’t know what beats in their heart underneath.” How about one more underdog? “I would be over sleeping on the floor,” said Montero Lamar Hill, a former resident of the Bankhead Courts projects, and a recent graduate of Lithia Springs High, of his sister’s house in Atlanta. “I didn’t want to come back home, because I knew my parents would be mad at me.” Montero’s story of having struggled to make ends meet, working low-wage gigs at Zaxby’s and Six Flags after dropping out of college (unlike rising Tech senior Foxworthy, Hill left West Georgia U. as a freshman) to become a rapper, isn’t ground-breaking stuff, not in this day and age. Yet this newly 20-year-old’s particular tale was being published by Time magazine, for their cover story, and with good reason. 2019, A.D., IS The Year of Lil Nas X. Like it or not. Without a doubt, many are in the “not” column when it pertains to the out-of-nowhere, self-made artist with a “country-trap” blockbuster hit. But the “nots” have found themselves increasingly too small to matter, their shrills and shrieks drowned out by popular demand. Hill, like legions of teens before and soon-to-follow, craved to become an Internet sensation. Also, like 99.99999% of them, he just couldn’t quite figure out how. Facebook, Vine, Twitter, Soundcloud, making memes, making songs, fashioning himself a foremost Nicki Minaj stan. “At first, I was just bored, like, ‘Hey, Twitter, I made a song,” he told Teen Vogue. “But I’m like, ‘Wait, this is really hard.’” “A lot of it was me trying to be something that people would like, instead of making music I would like.” That revelation was the first crack in the dam. But time was running out with his sis, who was also hosting two other siblings (including a brother fresh out from prison) while raising kids of her own. Her warning to Montero that he would soon be kicked out… Where is he gonna go? What is he gonna do?... spurred, if you will, him to sit on her back porch and listen to a generic country-trap beat that prompted the now famous lyrics to “Old Town Road”. He’ll tell you exactly what he’s gonna do, and you’ll find yourself singing the lyrics, recorded in a modest Atlanta studio in less than one hour for $20, right in tune with him. Many wannabe influencers and artists struggle to navigate the changing tides of the Internet streaming age, but Hill seems to have figured out how to surf the waves without having to rent a board. Listing his song as a country tune on SoundCloud and iTunes, he was able to stand out in ways he would not under the crowded Hip Hop format. When “Old Town Road” caught a high tide of eager young ears on the video-making app TikTok (Yes, we all know where TikTok is from, don’t blame LeBron), the old-school radio industry couldn’t avoid it. Some country stations copped the infectious song off the Internet for casual airplay, before Hill could even find himself a record label to rep him. Listeners slammed radio stations’ phone lines and inboxes, desperate to find the song and the mystery artist. But how Lil Nas X wound up getting Billboard’s attention was no fault of his own. Trying to stay ahead of the game, the music-ranking company recently began tracking much more than radio airplay, applying weights to better account for Internet-streamed songs and albums in its weekly “Hot 100” lists. Thanks largely to those strategic changes, Billboard execs woke one March morning to find an ATL-area kid’s online jam debuting on the Hot 100 (#83), the Hot R&B/Hip Hop chart (#36), and the Hot Country Songs (#19) chart. All at the same time. Someone in Nashville was not thrilled with this particular crossover song, not at all. In their infinite wisdom, Billboard surreptitiously omitted it from the latter list the following week. They thought they had done so neatly and quietly enough. But the unexplained absence was too conspicuous to avoid the firestorm of controversy and “country-splaining” that ensued. It’s not “country” enough, they said. Doesn’t have enough of the right “elements” for the genre, they said, or maybe too much of those “other” elements. Mama, please, don’t let your babies grow up to be music execs. If you ever want something remotely interesting to become insatiably popular, get it labeled, “That Thing That THEY Don’t Want You to See/Hear/Taste!” Hill could have stopped there, as that kid that created a brief spell of buzz with his little ditty on the Interwebs. But Lil Nas X was far from done. He formed an alliance with Billy Ray Cyrus, the famous country singer who knows a thing about one-hit-wonders and offered support, and the resulting “OTR” remix became a bigger banger than the original. Because of Billboard’s rule, lumping remixes in with original songs, “Old Town Road” went stratospheric. More remixes and collabs with a diverse range of artists would soon follow, adding fuel to an unquenchable fire. DJ Diplo. Atlanta rapper Young Thug. The Yodeling Kid, Mason Ramsey. A K-pop rapper from BTS (“Seoul Town Road”). In the space of months, Montero Hill went from a random, struggling young adult stringing out his time in his sister’s backyard to the singular producer of the world’s longest-running song on the Hot 100 (19 weeks at the #1 spot) since Billboard began the chart in 1958. He has been hauling in golden accolades – this year’s MTV Video Music Award for Song of the Year, the Teen Choice Award for best R&B/Hip Hop Song, the BET Hip Hop Award for Single of the Year and Best Collab (with Cyrus). Next month, he’ll be the first out gay man to be a nominee at country music’s CMA awards. All this, from making music he likes, not following some bigwig’s time-tested formulae. “Well, to me, Lil Nas X is my mic drop moment.” So says Ken Burns – yes, That Guy – fresh off of producing his latest major PBS documentary epic, Country Music. “We spend eight episodes and sixteen and a half hours talking about the fact that country music has never been one thing… and here we are, in a new modern age that we’re not touching, with all these classic, binary arguments about Billboard not listing [“Old Town Road”] on the Country chart, and it turns out to be not just the #1 Country hit, but the #1 single, period. And it’s a black, gay rapper!” “It just is proving,” Burns suggests, “that all of those cycles that we have been reporting on across the decades – all of the tensions in country music of race, class, poverty, gender, creativity versus commerce, geography – are still going on.” Only in America, many rightfully exclaim. But an important corollary seems increasingly hard to disavow: Only from Atlanta. It’s here where, as Burns alludes, people of many backgrounds flex their creativity to conquer commerce, transcending societal norms, the “it’s not your turn”-isms, the “you’re not people’s type”-isms, the “there’s only one way to go about it”-isms. Everyday people defying convention, succeeding spectacularly, and steering their own paths, despite the whims of self-styled kingmakers and queenmakers. The mythological Horatio Alger tales that inspired people in the Gilded Age, centuries ago, are happening, in real life, in real time. These “rags to riches” stories come about in a myriad of ways Alger himself could never have dreamed up, happening to individuals those of Alger’s ilk could never have envisioned. Notably, they’re happening in a place – Atlanta – whose own rise, as a modern metropolis that stands quite well on its own merits, could not be grasped by those who attribute, “making it in America,” to the bright lights of old megalopolises like New York, Chicago or L.A. Julia Roberts. Spike Lee. d*ck Van Dyke. Ryan Seacrest. Clyde Frazier. Clark Howard. Chris Tucker. Most recently, Coco Gauff. These are names people across the country, if not around the globe, know quite well, and most don’t know them by their leaner years in the Atlanta area. Some were born in metropolitan Atlanta. Some were transplants. Some had more means than others. But even people who have long lived here don’t recognize how significant the Atlanta region was, as the definitive Proving Ground for the world-renowned celebrities these people would become. Of The ATL, today’s Sinatra would croon, “Before you even try to make it anywhere, figure out how to make it, here.” “We full!” Many folks already in the Atlanta area, including transplants from generations ago, still stand aghast at how many young people flock here to stay, thousands of newbies striking out on their own, others with kids or whole nuclear families in tow. Some are destitute and desperate; some are striving to gain a foothold in America for the first time; some are kids eager to get out from under their well-made families’ thumbs. Folks from the outside looking in generally don’t get it, either. If suns-out, guns-and-buns-out is your scene, there are many more tropical and coastal climes, with hotties in tanks and sundresses, to choose from. There are more established financial centers, bigger entertainment and media hubs, infinitely more affordable places to live. Not only are there no palm trees, or money growing on trees, you can’t even pick peaches off the street trees here. So, what’s the big deal about Coming To ATL? Can't you just go to Disney World if you want to make your dreams come true? The skeptics are unable to see the mysticism that these young hopefuls do, what brings the storylines of some of America’s most successful self-made people to fruition. Not everyone, or even most citizens, achieve their dreams here. But there are those who have the best combination of unique talent, drive, and fortitude. For that subset, it is the ATL, and the synergy amongst its residents, that bears better fruit than anywhere else they could conceivably go. Move Fast and Break Things is not just a well-worn mantra in Silicon Valley. It’s part of the common thread for how ATLiens ascend out of seemingly nowhere. They take huge personal risks. They often fail, learn from their failures, re-assess, and persist in pecking away until the breakthrough happens. Crucially, these ATLiens do not stop at just the first hint of success. They’re quick to show gratitude to those who offered them support, no matter how small, along the way. They connect with, and assist, people who struggle in similar ways as they once did. And they work around, over, and past, those who are too quick to pigeon-hole and castigate them based on who they are, how they appear, or where they came from. Taking big chances often involves making the most out of what limited means one has at his or her disposal. “At the time, I was young and I didn't have no job,” said Mississippian-turned-Atlantan Justin Scott to Pitchfork magazine, back in 2010, in a now-familiar refrain around here. “It wasn't like I could really afford to pay for beats. At the same time, there was this program that came out for PlayStation, MTV Music Generator, where you could make your own beats. So I started making my own beats right around that time because I just couldn't afford to pay for the other ones.” Fast forward nine years, and Scott has released his fourth studio album. As the critically acclaimed rapper Big K.R.I.T., he provides the pump-up gameday Intro this season for the Atlanta Hawks at State Farm Arena. When he exclaims to the local crowd, “I. NEED. YOUR. ENERGY.”, Big K.R.I.T. isn’t goofing around. He, like the Hawks (1-0), thrive on that unique, True To Atlanta spirit that can transform Underdogs into Top Dawgs in a heartbeat. The kind of unbridled energy that morphs a 15-year-old drug arrestee into a 35-year-old Grammy nominee named 2Chainz, and… not stopping there… a 42-year-old minority owner of an NBA G-league team in his birthplace. ATLiens may fall down, even hard, on occasion. But when they figure out how to get up, man alive, do they get UP. After the 2019 All-Star Break, coach Lloyd Pierce’s team pulled off six victories in their final nine games here at State Farm Arena. Often, his Hawks managed to enthrall audiences even in some tank-friendly outcomes where his Hawks fell just short by the final horn. Even with NBA Finals contenders like Milwaukee and Philadelphia passing through, Trae Young, John Collins, Kevin Huerter and the Hawks discovered an increasing number of attendees at The Farm were not simply here to cheer on the opposition. A winning home record is a necessity for a team, even one in the Eastern Conference, seeking a reservation for the NBA Playoffs (23-18 minimum over the past four seasons). Coming off a satisfying season-opening win in Motown, Atlanta’s first meeting with Steve Clifford’s bedeviling Orlando Magic (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Florida) kicks off a run of six home games over 14 days, interrupted only by a brief trip to Miami next Tuesday. Feasting on the fan energy and picking up a few tough Ws in this early stretch could go a very long way in achieving goals by this season’s end. Especially against teams like the reigning Southeast Division champion Magic (4-0 versus ATL last season; finished 3 games ahead of 9-seed Charlotte in the division). Orlando is stocked with veterans that have already built up a solid rapport, especially on the defensive end (1st in D-Rating after a 94-85 home win over Cleveland), while phasing in a few young hopefuls, like former top-pick Markelle Fultz, and former Cam Reddish high-school teammate Mo Bamba. For a team that’s committed to learn on the fly faster than anyone in this league, this fever-paced Hawks team is Moving Fast and Breaking Things, lathering up the kind of local support that could soon propel them past teams like Orlando and right on over the perpetual Lottery hump. You’d best believe, these Hawks don’t intend to stop there. With fan support behind them, they’re gonna ride, until they can’t no more. Whenever this core of upstarts emerges from the NBA crucible as championship contenders, they’ll know… thanks to Atlanta, They’ve Been Changed. All around town, we’ll sense it, too. Along with Atlanta United, this group of Hawks could help change the trajectory of Atlanta sports history, forever. And it won’t be terribly long thereafter before the rest of the world wonders, “Whoa… where did all these great guys come from?” Let’s Go Atlanta! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  17. Black Thursday? (can we find another color? I'm going with Gray Thursday.) ~lw3
  18. Sorry, Orlando. Y’all had y’all’s turns already. TANK WARS! It’s the final head-to-head Tank Battle for our Atlanta Hawks. They won’t have another chance to tack onto another Tankompetitor’s win tally after today’s game against the Orlando Magic (6:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Florida). I’m on travel today, but you all know the relevant particulars, ahead of this game. We already know the Prime Objective. Hopefully, our Competitanking Hawks do, too! This one's not for all the marbles, but it is for a LOT of ping pong balls! Happy Easter! And Let’s Go Magic! April Fools! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  19. “I’m sorry to have to break the news to you, Baze. But, we’ve traded away your fashion sense for future cash considerations.” “Hail! Hail! The Gang’s All* Here!” Wait, is that “Hail!”, or “Hell!”? No matter, because around 95 percent of your Atlanta Hawks remain Atlanta Hawks, now that the smoke has cleared following a wild-and-woolly NBA Trade Deadline day. As they prepare to swoop in on the Orlando Magic for Tank War Z (7:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Florida), Many Hawks Fans have a pressing question for the Basketball Club: “What the Heck Do We Care, Now?” In past seasons, the Hawks would raise fans’ hopes for a deadline deal that might somehow raise our postseason profile in the LeBronference, only to deflate those aspirations by settling for stuff like a pre-waivers lunch date with a retiring Antawn Jamison. 2018’s deadline was shaping up to be a different beast altogether. Atlanta was armed with an array of veterans, both young and old-but-healthy. They could conceivably be flipped for future prospects, as-yet-undrafted or otherwise, in what would send a clear “win-later” signal, one that Many across Hawksland have waited to hear. Alas, like GMs of the past, Travis Schlenk don’t gotta dance. He makes money moves! Atlanta’s sole roster casualty turned out to be the lightly-used Luke Babbitt, the sole reason for the asterisk above. His return to Wade County, plus another smoke-and-mirror deal with Washington, amounted to meager salary savings which have no bearing upon the Hawks’ nightly competitive capacities on the floor. Now the scene shifts to buyout negotiations for Schlenk and Company. But during that period, and beyond, a critical light also shines upon Mike Budenholzer, as fans wait to see just how much more conniving the Hawks’ head coach is willing to get. The Budenhustle of old involved convincing opponents that ceding offensive rebounds and loose balls meant that they had an upper hand during games. The current challenge for the Budenhustler involves literally giving those teams that upper hand, and maybe a forearm. That’s not going to be easy. Have you not seen what horror shows Memphis, Sacramento, and Phoenix have been throwing out there to play allegedly professional hoops, lately? That’s to say nothing of Orlando (17-36), who did, to their credit, step up to finish off the pipe dreams of the defensively destitute Cavaliers on Tuesday here at Amway Center, but still have that, “Aww, shucks” mentality about them. “Aww, shucks, we’d be making a playoff run right now, but there’s no reason to hurry back Nikola Vucevic, our leading rebounder who’s been out since Christmas with a hand injury. Same goes for you, lottery-pick Johnathan Isaac (sprained ankle).” “Gee willikers, take your time, Terrence Ross (MCL, tibia), on the shelf since December 1.” “What’s the rush, Aaron Gordon? Save your energies and heal that hip. Maybe you can dunk over some mascots next year!” “Gosh, Jonathon Simmons, if I had dropped 29 points in a single half on LeBron and ex-Friends, I’d probably be nursing a bum ankle too!” “Hmmm… whaddya say, we take hairdo-of-the-franchise Elfrid Payton, gift him to Phoenix for some second-round picks, and then see what happens! Jiminy Crickets, he might help the Suns win a game or two!” You don’t need to see the Whiteboard to figure out what shenanigans these post-Hennigan Magic are up to. Yes, technically, Orlando is looking to win it’s third straight game, like the Hawks (17-37), and its fourth in five outings. But in reality, Frank Vogel's charges are going to try to “soldier on” the way Red Panda might do with a busted hand-me-down unicycle. The Hawks, to this point, have tried the nobler approach. But going forward, it is going to take more sleight-of-hand from Coach Bud than merely stowing away Dewayne Dedmon and John Collins behind Miles Plumlee on the depth chart, or benching Dennis Schröder at the close of games. There is one thing that might slow the Hawks’ roll “up” the standings in the near-term, and that is the upcoming schedule. Tonight’s game initiates the second and final time that Atlanta plays five games over the course of seven calendar days. The last such series was in December, when Atlanta beat these Magic at Philips Arena (a 117-110 win, despite Vooch’s 31-and-10 effort and Simmons’ 29 points) before dropping four-straight, including a road loss at Memphis. On the back end of this particular quintet, Blake Griffin’s Pistons will bookend a game in Milwaukee with the Greek Freak next week. While that sounds encouraging to Some Fans, there is the sobering reality that the Hawks are coming home to Whoop. Some. Cavalier. Hiney, in tomorrow night’s game. With that in mind, this game is as important of a “Nice Try” opportunity as the Hawks will have before them all season. Magician guards Shelvin Mack and D.J. Augustin will have to look like world-beaters, or at least not like themselves-beaters. Former lottery prize Mario Hezonja (last 5 games: 15.2 PPG, 57.1 3FG%) must continue to look like the future star Orlando thought they drafted in 2015. For significant stretches, Bismack Biyombo ($17 million per year, probably through 2019-20) must look like anyone other than Bismack Biyombo. Arron Afflalo can’t be out here finding out what happens When Keeping It Real Goes Wrong. And Evan Fournier ($17 million per year, probably through 2020-21) must look the part of a man who is thrilled to be stuck in O-Town for the foreseeable future. If most of those things don’t transpire, then the Hawks can play their B-game, as they did at home with the Grizzlies on Tuesday, and still find themselves moonwalking their way to victory this evening. Which, if any, of these events unfold hinges on the player combos Coach Bud fields on the court tonight. The Gang’s All* Here! Great… now what? Go Morehouse! Go CAU! and Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record