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  1. “Excuse me, Mr. Ref? I don’t think this is basketball!” Rasslin’ fans: what is your most memorable heel turn? Seth Rollins breaking up The Shield? Nobody can forget Bash at the Beach ’96. My favorite WCW shocker in the 90s was big-bro Scott on the Steiner Brothers, sneak-attacking his baby-faced sibling Rick to join that badass new World order. In more modern times, Tommie Ciampa busting up bosom-buddy Johnny Gargano happened while nobody in NXT was expecting it. They bonded again, but only to find themselves prey to Crossfit Jesus Finn Balor’s stunning heel turn on them. Shawn Michaels smashing up poor Marty Jannetty, once and for all, in Brutus the Barber’s shop was downright iconic. Go back even further, and Larry Zybysko bloodying his ageless mentor, Bruno Sammartino, with a wooden chair created a lot of buzz. As a gimmick, the heel turns are all part of a necessary evil. Everybody can’t be friends until the end, or the goodie-two-shoes hero who does everything by the book and bores every fan to tears. To grease up the adversarial relationships, competitors eventually must jump ships and turn on their mates. Pupils defying masters, masters waylaying pupils. When they’re executed best, the works catch everyone off-guard, tear up old alliances to create new ones, and keep everyone at the edge of their seats. The new heels, from Hollywood Hogan to Big Poppa Pump to the Savior of SmackDown, engender whole new cults of personality. The victims draw sympathy for their plight, making their babyface runs reach unforeseen heights as well. That’s what made Steve Nash’s heel turn on his disciple, Trae Young, last month more fun than a Barrel of Monkeys. “Steve Nash is my favorite player of all-time,” the fresh-faced true frosh from Oklahoma revealed in the run-up to the 2018 NBA Draft. “With his size and my size, we’re very similar. He’s very cerebral, he can score from all three levels, he knows how to get his teammates involved and he’s a winner.” Wait a minute, Trae, what’s this about “three” levels? I thought there were just two-pointers and three-pointers for you little guys! Soon, Trae would up the ante on the fawning by going beyond mere discussions of “favorites”. Kobe’s kid Gigi had her favorite must-see NBA baller, too, but as far as GOATs go, in Trae’s mind, there can be only one. “If anyone asks me who the best player of all-time is,” Young, starting his second season as a pro, proudly told Sam Amick in November 2019, “I tell them, ‘Steve Nash’. That’s my favorite player, and it’s always been my favorite player. I definitely try to model my game as much as I can to Steve.” Aww. I’m not sure who Trae would say is his favorite coach of all-time. Lon Kruger? Aww. One thing, though, is for certain as his Atlanta Hawks get a visit from the stupefyingly star-studded Brooklyn Nets tonight (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, YES Network in The BK). It sure as heck won’t be “Coach Nash.” Steve understands the task at hand. He’s a first-year coach, handed MVP-caliber talent and ordered to earn some rings, and fast. The whole world is watching him, and learning the ropes on the fly is not an option. He understands that, in order to get his Nets (11-8, 5th in the NBA East) to climb the ladder and grasp the title belt, he’s got to knock upstarts like Young and his Hawks (9-8) out the box, leaving them to fend with the lumberjacks below. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant came to their coach’s rescue as Young’s Hawks waged war with the Nets on December 30, their fourth-quarter heroics seizing the final pinfall of a high-flying, fun-filled 145-141 cage match. Trae wasn’t making it easy. After making his defender scramble around a Clint Capela screen, Young delivered a mini-Rikishi as he went up for the jumper. The ensuing whistle caused Kevin Durant to grab his head in faux disbelief, and a flustered Coach Nash to utter to the referee what had to have felt like a chairshot aimed at his longtime protégé: “That’s Not Basketball!” Oh, really? Et tu, Brute? “I bet if I was playing for Steve, he’d be happy,” a miffed Young told The Athletic’s superb Chris Kirschner in response to his hero’s outburst. “I think [Nash] wanting to get in the refs’ ears a little bit was just trying to help him. I learned a lot about drawing fouls from him.” “If he says it’s not basketball, he must’ve been saying it about himself, because he’s done it a couple of times throughout his career and was so successful.” Mic. Drop. Exit Music. But the cerebral mind games of Stevie “The Brain” Nash got into the heads of the refs and Young, at least for quite a while. After dropping 30-and-11 (14-for-16 FTs) on the Nets, Trae would score just 21 points (7-for-21 FGs) two days later in their teams’ rematch at Barclays Center. Atlanta would win that New Year’s Day game resoundingly, 114-96, in part due to a well-balanced offensive attack and Irving (3-for-11 FGs) cooling off. But Young could only get 4 opportunities to score from the charity stripe, his first game of this season not getting double-digit free throw chances. That drought would linger for five of the next six competitions, the Hawks dove-tailing from 4-1 to 5-6 as the refs’ swallowed whistles neutralized the offense built around Young. 33.0 PPG on 14.8 FTs/game, and 50.7/34.8/90.3 shooting percentages to close out the 2020 calendar year; 16.5 PPG on 5.8 FTs/game, and 33.3/21.4/82.9 shot splits in the half-dozen games after the Nets series. Nice work, “Classy” Stevie Nashty. But it appears that over the past five Hawks games, Trae has been drawing his bumps and getting up off the mat (33.0 PPG, 10.8 FTs/game, 46.1/40.7/87.1). The rediscovered effectiveness of his perimeter jumpshot is opening defenses back up for him to exploit them. Trae’s bounceback sets the stage for an intriguing payback match this evening, one with a new, special-guest competitor. But, first, a quick look back. In the entirety of his illustrious NBA playing career, MVSteve never once averaged 20 PPG in a regular season. The last time in his life the first-ballot Basketball Hall of Famer did so, he was a 20-year-old, still in college. Go ask Lloyd Pierce and Marlon Garnett, they were standing right there! The Hawks lead and assistant coaches will recall, back in the 90s, Nashty Nash upping the craftiness of his foul-draws, and thus, his shots at the free throw line from 3.2 to 6.4 per game. In so doing, that took a gangly and otherwise unremarkable Canadian junior from the lowly WCC conference (and not from John Stockton’s Gonzaga, either) and placed him formally on NBA scouting radars. Fast forward ten years, and the guard reached MVP strata, trying to prove his mettle as the Rated R Superstar in the NBA Playoffs. No more was he simply serving up the ball to watch Dirk Nowitzki drain the life out of the shot clock. In Phoenix, Nash and his coach Mike D’Antoni understood, there’s hardly a need to peek at the clock, as play decisions must be made, and fast. Deservedly facing double- and triple-teams while bringing up the ball and at the point of attack, Nash began drawing contact again. A 12.9 percent free throw attempt rate (as per bball-ref) for the point guard, in his final season as a first-round exit with Dallas, became 23.0 percent, 31.3 percent, and 28.8 percent rates as his Suns made their peak charges toward the Western Conference Finals. Thanks largely to free throws, and his legendary accuracy, Nash would average 20+ as a scorer in his first two playoff runs with the Suns. The signature foul draw of his career was getting Rob Blaked by Robert Horry into the sideline boards during a pivotal Game 4 in 2007 and, boy oh boy, Nash sure sold the heck out of that one, eh? Sold it so good, he tricked two tag team partners, Amar’e Stoudemire and Boris Diaw into getting themselves tossed and suspended, sapping any momentum Nash thought his Suns would gain by having the refs kick Mr. Playoff Clutch out of the ring. “Four years later,” Raja Bell admitted in 2014 in one of those newfangled things called a podcast, “I’m hanging out with Steve at a bar in Santa Monica somewhere, or somewhere in L.A., and he says that he gave that hip check (from Horry) a little bit of flair.” Whooooo! Just be glad The Canadian Crippler didn’t smash a bottle of LaBatt Blue Light on your head for leaking out the tricks of his trade, Raja! “He admitted to putting a little sauce on that hip check,” Bell confidently shared of Nash’s famously flubbed flop. Mamma Mia, that’s a not a basketball! It was actually Raja running up on The Horry-ble One and nearly getting chokeslammed, not so much Nash’s zesty sauce, that drew the DQs of Stoudemire and Diaw, but that’s neither here nor there. Horry got two games, the other Suns got one apiece. Advantage: Tim Duncan. The Spurs, not the Suns, would go on to sweep young LeBron in the most royal of rumbles. Despite Nash’s best sell, there would be no new World order in the rough-and-tumble Western Conference. And maybe that’s what gets Nash’s gander up when he watches Trae (57.0 free throw attempt rate) waltz to the line with impunity. Like last night, when an exasperated Tyronn Lue, coaching his clipped-down Clippers in a handicap match, could only look on in horror as Young (11-for-11 FTs, 7-for-7 in the second half, along the way to 26 points in the Hawks’ 108-99 win) curried favor with the greyshirts. Basketball is not former Nets head-honcho-turned-heel Jason Kidd demanding Tyshawn Taylor run into his gin-and-Coke so Brooklyn could gin up a timeout it didn’t have. It’s not even the player Kidd racing, toward a clueless Mike Woodson standing outside the coach’s box, so he could run into Atlanta’s coach and draw a momentum-swinging technical. Trae has simply watched what the legends of the league have done, and he works tirelessly on improving upon that. It’s not that petite guards with crafty handles drawing fouls isn’t basketball. It’s that there’s a petite guard in the league drawing fouls better, and earlier in his career, than Nash ever could. We can’t forget, either, that Nash is no longer just some casual, objective mark, but a manager who’s been handed championship-belt expectations from the jump. He’s standing just outside the ring, begging the refs to give his poor jobbers like Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot a break when they forget the game plan and find themselves, once again, hoisted up on Trae’s back. No, not another F5! If what Trae has been doing wasn’t basketball, the self-appointed arbiter of what is or isn’t basketball should have marched himself right up the glass tower to Sean Marks’ front office and told his GM that under no circumstances should Brooklyn be going after The Dirtiest Player in The Game. Alas, here is James Harden, in nWo black. That’s right, the guy “Not basketball”-ing his way to leading the NBA in free throw attempts in 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020, is joining forces with Irving and Durant in a quest for greatness. What’re you gunna do, brudder? Nash stood by and watched as the Nets tossed Caris LeVert, Taurean Prince, Jarrett Allen, Rodions Kurucs, and I think B. Brian Blair and Rocky King over the top rope to make room for The Bearded One. All that, plus a trove of future picks and pick swaps that Nash could have used if he and Marks were around to rebuild this roster, if necessary, should the grand plan fail. If the inference wasn’t clear that it’s Win or Bust for Nash before acquiring Harden, it is now. Down the bench, D’Antoni can tell Nash of how he inherited a contender that spent years under Harden and Dwight Howard getting dispatched in the postseasons by the likes of diminutive Damian Lillard and Stephen Curry, only to find his squad getting bounced by Curry and, this past season, LeBron (don’t blame Clint Capela), despite Harden pairing up with another former league MVP. Harden and D’Antoni escaped H-Town after Daryl Morey’s maneuvers left the Rockets with a sizable hole at the 5-spot that only P.J. Tucker could spackle. In the 2021 Playoffs, at crunch time, who is Brooklyn’s last line of defense around the rim? Will it be Durant (7.2 D-Rebs/game, 1.4 BPG), who is already giving it his all at the other end of the floor (NBA-best 139.4 4th-quarter D-Rating)? If not KD, DeAndre Jordan? Reggie Perry? Norvel Pelle? Nic Claxton? Jeff Green? Guys like Bam Adebayo, who amassed 41 points and 9 dimes on Saturday propping up a Miami team that’s been missing Jimmy Butler for a minute, would have field days on the interior if Durant is occupied guarding talented forwards. While the Nets defense (115.2 D-Rating since dumping LeVert, Allen, et al. for Harden, 25th in NBA) contracts to help, the backcourt cannot afford to find themselves getting tuned up like Bickerstaff’s Collin Sexton did while wearing Kyrie’s old number last week. And don’t let a key frontcourt guy like Durant or Jordan get banged up and miss critical time. Three thirty-point threats, and a guy who can bury triples in Joe Harris (48.4 3FG%), used to be enough when teams struggled to average 110 points and play with pace, but no more. On a shallowed roster with few rotational options, can Nash commit Harden and Irving (1.2 SPG apiece) to a sustainable defensive strategy that’s greater than, “I score, you score”? Just to be sure, Nash is going to want to see his stars put a squash job on Trae and the Hawks, who avoided a deflating loss last night with a solid second half. But Young has his share of enforcers. John “C-na” Collins racked up 50 points (61.8 FG%) and 19 rebounds in the last two Atlanta-Brooklyn bouts. There’s also Kevin “Fourth Querter” Huerter, whose Hawks high of 13 points (3-for-3 3FGs) in the final frame helped Young and De’Andre “The Giant” Hunter (team-high 23 points @ BRK on Jan. 1) snip the Clips last night. Danilo Gallinari (probable, ankle) missed all but 3 minutes of the two-game series in Brooklyn. He was held under 15 minutes yesterday and is rounding back into form. Rookie Onyeka Okongwu was DNP’d against LA and can provide valuable floor time plugging the paint after Capela (questionable, hand; 18 rebounds vs. LAC) and Collins (11 boards, 5 blocks vs. LAC). Any defensive help Cam Reddish (questionable, Achilles) can offer tonight is gravy. Nash did offer a touch of kayfabe after the December 30 game, flowering his 22-year-old professional prodigy with praise. “[Trae] took a big jump from last year to this year at drawing contact and recognizing situations where he can draw contact to deceive the opponent,” Nash said postgame, as transcribed by Bleacher Report. “It’s impressive, and he’s done really well. He’s getting to the line at a league-leading rate. I’m impressed and I think it’s a real skill he’s developed.” With Harden sharing usage with Irving and Durant, the race to crown a new #1 contender for the free throw title is on, Young (10.9 FTAs/36) neck-and-neck with giants like Embiid (12.2) and Giannis (10.9) for that coveted spot. As The Beard (7.1) tries to catch up, pulling copious foul-call flops out of his bag of tricks tonight, it would be fun to catch Nash’s other former tutee, Pierce, calling it out: “Hey! Ref! That ain’t basketball!” Nash might think he’s Jim Cornette standing up for his Horsemen and their henchmen, but his old friend LP can bring a tennis racket to the squared circle, too. RIP Sekou! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  2. Holadipo, Batman! ~lw3
  3. “and it was at that moment that I thought to myself, ‘hmm… Coaching, eh? Sounds good!’” Tidbits time! Game-time particulars for the Atlanta Hawks – Brooklyn Nets rematch at Barclays, up top (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, YES Network in NYC). The hottest offense in all of basketball (122.3 O-Rating; Luka’s Mavs topped last season at 115.9), the Hawks (3-1) are getting it done on that end even while Danilo Gallinari (out, now with a sprained ankle; #1 in O-Rating among NBA players w/ 40+ games and 20+ MPG last season) has missed most of the past two games. Brooklyn had the hottest defense in all of basketball before they found themselves in a shootout with the Hawks. They dropped from 1st to 8th after one game, and they could slide further down today in Trae Young (sore calf, probably Grayson’s fault, but probable to play; #1 in NBA Player Efficiency Rating, 2nd in Player Impact Estimate) continues bending the game to his will, and if Bogdan Bogdanovic (6-for-11 3FGs on Wednesday) and Kevin Huerter continue finding their stride off the bench. Keeping Trae cool from outside (0-for-4 on 3FGs Wednesday) continues to be Job One for Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and company. Nash, to the New York Post, on DeAndre Jordan’s “struggles” Wednesday, and whether the Nets’ coach will consider an early shift to Jarrett Allen in the starting lineup: “That’s a good debate. It’s a small sample, one, and I’m not sure if plus-minus is the best barometer. But that was a tough matchup for DJ. Those guys are good, dynamic rollers, (Clint) Capela, but even more so (John) Collins' speed is exceptional getting out of the screen and it poses a unique problem.” A few of the players that were hoped to be in the mix at the outset were supposed to help Atlanta provide better defensive punch. Rookie Onyeka Okongwu (inflamed foot) and guard Kris Dunn (ankle surgery) are still unavailable, while the recovery-managed starting pivot Capela has yet to crack 20 minutes. Rajon Rondo, Solomon Hill and Tony Snell (out, inflamed foot) are at least supposed to be Notturner, Notparsons and Notbembry as backups. Throw into the fray De’Andre Hunter, who helped plug in the KD-and-Kyrie dam as best he could in Wednesday’s 145-141 loss but is questionable for today with a sore knee. Keeping a well-rested Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant from getting their respective and obligatory 30-and-10s is a tough ask. But the Hawks’ ability to properly rotate, pressure Brooklyn’s shooters (notably Joe Harris, who hit 6 of 8 threes on Wednesday) and continue tightening the turnover gap could help them sneak out of Barclays undefeated in the calendar 2021. KD and Kyrie are gonna give you 60. But who is scoring the other 60, 70, 80 points? Happy New Year! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  4. Good Vibrations! Nashty Nash and the Funky Bunch (1994) During his final seasons as a Net, toiling against middling opponents like the Atlanta Hawks, winding down from the heady days of chasing titles with Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson, superstar Vince Carter had glimpses of his post-basketball future. After a rip-roaring dunk gets some of the few fans left at the Izod Center up on their feet, he’d peer over the media desk to see a guy who once performed such flights of fancy, Dominique Wilkins, rocking a headset while doing double-duty with the Hawks’ front office. The 8-time All-Star would catch Nique and The Stinger working the microphones on one evening, Grant Long on another. NBATV studios in Secaucus, on the way from East Rutherford to Manhattan, was but a swift 15-minute drive. A couple hours to the East was ESPN’s home in Bristol, Connecticut. So convenient! Not as springy a spring chicken as he once was, the tricenarian Carter could envision himself commentating on the types of half-amazing highlights that were, at the time, being served up to feature him. Retire as Mr. Net, slide over to the booth, become the other NYC metro team’s answer to Clyde Frazier, and live on Easy Street. The future Hall of Famer likely couldn’t fathom making it all the way into his 40s before hanging up the jersey, or the team he played for following Jay-Z’s lead out of Jersey, rendering the idea of his jersey in the arena rafters a bit problematic. It’s probable he didn’t imagine his professional career winding its way to Atlanta, yet somehow making his ESPN appearances more frequent and NBATV commutes even shorter. Yet, here he is. The Man with the Golden Pipes, Bob Rathbun, and The Human Highlight Film will scooch over at least six feet to make room in the Fox Sports booth for Half-Man, Half-Amazing. The now-Brooklyn Nets will spend tonight and, if necessary, New Year’s Day at Barclays Center, trying to cut the NBA’s number of still-unbeaten teams in half. Due to pandemic restrictions, Rathbun, Wilkins and Carter will call tonight’s game (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, YES Network in The BK) from a vacuous State Farm Arena. That venue is just a short drive south of Vince’s new, hopefully more-secure mansion in Buckhead’s tony Tuxedo Park, where he gets to Jump in with Rachel, RJ and the gang on weekday afternoons. These NBA Legends know they’ve got at least two other NBA Legends, still playing, to discuss tonight. Kevin Durant, a 10-time All-Star, has put down his crutches and his burner accounts and is back to his not-so-old self (26.7 PPG, 9-for-13 on 3FGs). When Kyrie Irving’s not busy pondering why his full name has a Third “I”, the 6-time All-Star gets to carve up opposing defenses (momentary career-high 29.3 PPG; 6.0 APG, 2.0 TOs/game) and simplify Brooklyn’s championship sprint with KD. Might there be more NBA Legends gracing the floor today? Certainly, if Trae Young continues to have a say in the matter. Already a master at the heave-ho three, the drive-and-float two, and the between-the-legs pass, Young (34.0 PPG on absurd 60.0 2FG/42.1 3FG/91.3 FT shooting splits) isn’t restless when it comes to craftily piling up the one-pointers, either. While it is likely impossible to keep up, Trae’s 15.3 free throw attempts per game triples the rate from an otherwise sterling rookie season, an age when referees are more inclined to ingest their whistles. There’s another NBA Legend starting out his new career, as a head coach, this season. Might there be a future one on the other side of the floor? In the early 1990s, California’s Central Coast Section Player of the Year got the star basketball player from the D-1 college down the street to not only recruit him on campus, but also hang out with him during Yurba Buena’s high school homecoming. Lloyd Pierce probably could foresee his surprisingly swaggy future backcourt mate and mentor, Steve Nash, as a head coach down the line, maybe even in the NBA. But Pierce probably had no idea he’d get to tell Nash what it was like to be one first. Just as Nash would drop copious basketball knowledge -- and the occasional lob dime -- to LP during their brief time together at Santa Clara, the retired Hall of Famer would graciously impart wisdom, decades later, to new coach Pierce’s wunderkind ballhandler from Oklahoma. “I’m a big Steve Nash fan,” said then Sooner star Young in 2017 to CBS Sports, regarding his personal favorite NBA Legend, “because he was a smaller point guard – wasn’t the most athletic, could really shoot, very cerebral. A lot of his intangibles really fit my game, like his touch.” “I feel I resemble a few players… Steve Nash, the way he has touch with a floater game. Kyrie Irving, the way he can get by a defender.” Ahead of the 2020 NBA Rising Stars game with Ja Morant, Trae got the chance to praise Nash directly. “I watch a lot a film, especially of a guy like you. You knew how to see things before it happened.” The summer before, the past and the future met at a Champions League soccer match in Madrid, then worked out together in California, Nash working with Young on lowering one’s hips and shifting direction, identifying angles, breaking down matchups. “We’re as similar as players from different eras can be,” Nash told ESPN’s The Undefeated. “We’re similar in our skillset. We’re creative around the rim because we’re not as explosive as some of our contemporaries.” Nash now gets the honor of drawing up plays to counter Pierce, thwart Young, and defeat the upstart Hawks (3-0). It certainly helps to have Irving, who was rested on a back-to-back along with Durant in Monday’s overtime home loss to Morant’s fellow Grizzlies, to make things arduous for Young. While Trae was unavailable due to a hamstring strain last January, Irving returned from a 26-game injury absence and feasted (10-for-11 FGs) against an outmatched Brandon Goodwin in a 108-86 romp for then-coach Kenny Atkinson on this floor. But it’s reasonable to suspect that the high-scoring, tricky-dribbling, silky-passing point guard most willing to lend an ear to Nash’s suggestions and guidance is wearing a Hawks uniform tonight. By going on Durant’s new podcast last month and declaring a new era in player-coaching, Kyrie fashioned himself and KD in the model of what Rajon Rondo now does in the shadow of Pierce, except while pouring in 30 or so buckets per game between each other. “I don’t really see us having a head coach. You know what I mean?”, asked Irving, the crossover stylist who will likely retire one day to become the next host of John Edward’s “Crossing Over”. “KD could be a head coach. I could be a head coach.” I’m a Pepper, You’re a Pepper. But who is going to drink from Nash’s soda fountain of knowledge and apply it on the modern NBA stage? My money is on Trae and his bubbly persona, learning the tricks of the trade as both Nash’s understudy and Pierce’s receptive listener. Durant and Irving’s resounding season debuts, in wins versus Golden State and then on Christmas Day at Kyrie’s old stomping grounds in Boston, reassured Brooklynites that championship contention is just around the corner. But then, a not-so-funny thing happened on the way to The Finals: the team’s third wheel came off. Spencer Dinwiddie got caught up with Bismack Biyombo on a drive to the hoop on Sunday in Charlotte. Now the most durable returning Nets scorer (20.6 PPG and 31.2 minutes per game in 2019-20), and the most likely beneficiary of KD and KI’s double-team outlet passes, has a partially torn ACL and won’t be available for the long haul of this season. Several guys will have to step up in Dinwiddie’s absence. Joe Harris, the shot-maker extraordinaire on a new contract, is already in the starting lineup, and his fellow 16-million-dollar man, swingman Caris “Baby Durant” LeVert (28 points, 11 assists, 5 steals vs. MEM in his first start on Wednesday), is a lock to make more waves as well. But after that, the depth gets murky. Taurean Prince (3-for-19 FGs, 0 assists through 58 minutes) must avoid the wrath that befell former Hawk and Net DeMarre Carroll once his jumpshot stopped falling. TP and newcomers Landry Shamet (4-for-21 FGs, 2 assists in 76 minutes) and Bruce Brown will find their minutes dwindling if they aren’t able to make meaningful plays in the two-game series this week with Atlanta. Nash is already turning to Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (21 points vs. MEM) and two-way guard Chris Chiozza to gobble up Prince and Carroll’s floor time. Upfront, DeAndre Jordan has done a splendid job for Brooklyn (NBA-best 98.3 team D-Rating and 45.5 opponent 3FG%, just ahead of Atlanta’s 47.8%) with rim-protecting, rebounding and generally staying out of the driving lanes for his Net co-stars. They’ll need the veteran to remain durable for the full season, and Jarrett Allen to find means that obscure the basket aside from his hair, so Durant won’t have to overextend himself as a stretch-five. Allen must be more consistent as a defensive rebounder to lower Brooklyn’s league-high 19.8 second-chance PPG allowed, especially now that someone must assume for Dinwiddie’s third-place ranking in D-Reb% among the team’s regulars. Former UGA star Nic Claxton (out, knee tendinopathy) continues his struggle to make it on the floor, while Nash is hesitant to rely too much in the early going on third-year forward Rodions Kurucs or rookie and ex-Thomasville High star Reggie Perry. Who is charged with getting the Nets’ youngsters up to speed and conditioned in hopes of a deep playoff run? I present to you, our old friend, Tiago Splitter! The Nets’ former scout has been retained and promoted as a player development coach. Let’s all hope Nic, for his sake, isn’t closely related to Craig. It’s shaping up as Another Day, Another Opportunity for Atlanta’s second-unit to take advantage of mismatches on the floor and make the contest easier for Young to prevail in the clutch. As ably demonstrated by Rondo (8 assists, 5-for-8 FGs in 15 minutes vs. DET) and friends on Monday, the Hawks’ bench mob has dropped a league-high 8.7 threes per game on unsuspecting heads (46.4 3FG%), at rates far more efficient than Brooklyn’s could muster (32.3 bench 3FG%, incl. LeVert who now starts). It doesn’t help the Nets’ case that they’ve contested a league-low 15.8 3FGAs per game as a team, so a dizzying array of Atlanta shooters, from Bogdan Bogdanovic (5-for-7 3FGs vs. DET) to New Yorker Kevin Huerter could find themselves open with plenty of green lights. The Hawks will use their lengthy sophomore starters, Cam Reddish (team-high 20 points, 4-for-8 3FGs, 5 steals @ BRK back in January) and De’Andre Hunter, to help fluster Irving and Durant, while also aiming to keep Atlanta’s opposition cool from outside (28.6 opponent 3FG%, 3rd-best in NBA), particularly Harris. But Atlanta has yet to sink its talons into the basketball while on defense (NBA-lows of 5.0 team SPG, despite Cam’s 2.0 SPG, and 10.7 deflections/game; 11.2 opponent TO%, 3rd-lowest in NBA). Young and the Hawks’ help-defenders must do a better job of anticipating and disrupting the passing lanes. John Collins must again avoid the early foul trouble that keeps his stints on the floor short. He had no more than five minutes on the floor at any one time during Atlanta’s 128-120 win on Monday versus Detroit, and coming in cold for a rested Clint Capela, once the Pistons got up off the mat in the closing minutes, didn’t help the Hawks maintain a sense of cohesion. Detroit coach Dwane Casey masterfully used a mix of slower pace, ball control, and size advantages around Collins and Hunter to win the rebounding edge for his shorthanded club, diminishing a 24-point fourth-quarter Hawks lead down to five with less than two minutes to spare. Collins’ frontcourt cohorts, in particular Bruno Fernando, Danilo Gallinari (questionable, foot contusion), and Solomon Hill, must also make smarter decisions when the ball makes it way into their hands. Atlanta’s reserves have been superb scorers, but their moves with the rock (8.2 bench TOs/game) have been rocky. Among the only teams that have been worse, to this point, is Brooklyn (NBA-high 9.0 TOs/game), a factor that the Hawks must exploit and turn into transition buckets when the opportunities arise. 2021 is shaping up to be a bigger and brighter year for the Hawks, and while you may not see much of them on the small screen nationally in the early going, it will be hard to find a sports channel Vince isn’t on. Tonight, while Irving and Young chase each other from one end line to the next, and while Nash matches wits with his old Bronco buddy, Carter and his legendary broadcast partner will race each other, to find out who can shout, “Heat Check!” the fastest. Have a Safe and Happy New Year! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  5. No worries, Harry’s bringing rebounding reinforcements! The marathon continues! Well, not just the figurative one. Here’s a travel advisory for our local fans tomorrow. If you’re seeing way too many people kicking around in shorty-shorts over the next couple days, no, The Bazemore Family Reunion is not in town. This is America’s Marathon Weekend, and already there are mini-Mebs scampering all throughout the Georgia World Congress Center and Centennial Olympic Park areas. Roughly 12 hours after the Atlanta Hawks and Brooklyn Nets do their thing at State Farm Arena (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, YES Network in The BK) tonight, Team USA will hold the Olympic Trials (broadcast live on NBC) to select the players going for the Gold in the men’s and women’s 26.2-mile races, assuming there will actually be some this summer (cough, wheeze) at the Tokyo Games. Around 750 of America’s best qualifying competitors, and thousands of cheering fans will run these streets, in downtown, Midtown, down by the Olympic Cauldron (which will finally be lit) near GSU Stadium, and the Eastside. All of that is to suggest, with most major intown streets closing, travel on and off the highways is going to be the true test of endurance, from about 11 AM Saturday through mid-afternoon. Hopefully, the roads will clear up before the back end of the Hawks’ back-to-back home-game test, the Portland Trail Blazers, tips off tomorrow evening. The biggest issue Atlanta the Basketball Club (17-43) will face with lane congestion in the coming days involves John Collins (team-high 38.3 3FG%; 25.1 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 62.7 FG% this month) defending and scoring amidst the trees. Without Trae Young available due to a hammy strain, the Hawks managed just 86 points up in Brooklyn on January 12. Young wasn’t likely to do much, anyway, to narrow Atlanta’s awful 62-33 rebounding deficit. They entered the game with John Collins (2-for-6 2FGs, 0-for-5 3FGs, 8 points and 5 rebounds in a dud performance), De’Andre Hunter, Damian Jones and Alex Len to staff the frontline, and Len (5-for-5 2FGs, 4 rebounds in 16 minutes off the bench) came away as Atlanta’s best option largely by default. Frontline help was and is coming in the forms of Dewayne Dedmon (acquired for Len, in part), Skal Labissiere and Clint Capela, but not anytime over the next week or so. Dedmon is on the shelf after a non-surgical procedure to alleviate elbow pain, while Labissiere (knee) lacks a timetable and Capela is wisely taking a slower approach to heal his heel issues. Holding up along the interior is a routinely foreboding challenge that’s proving hard for Lloyd Pierce and the Hawks staff to sprint away from. “I’ve got to play some other guys a little bit more,” Pierce shared with reporters following Wednesday’s 130-120 defensive collapse against the Magic, wasting what was shaping up to be a nice Flu Game from Trae (37 points, incl. 26 in the first-half, 11 assists, and one crazy block of Mo Bamba) before he found himself running on empty (1-for-9 FGs in the final quarter). “The energy was low tonight.” Who those “other guys” are remain to be seen, but one is safe to assume we will see more of our favorite Half-Man/Half-Power-Forward in the interim. 43-year-old Vince Carter hasn’t been logging minutes in the double digits lately, but the Hawks have been more effective when he has used his short stints to help out on the glass. Carter’s two highest D-Reb% values in games came during close wins for Atlanta this month, versus the heat and Knicks, although that was just a trio of boards in the space of just under seven minutes of play. Vince did collect a season-high of seven D-Rebs (and 9 total) in 24 minutes three weeks ago, as the Hawks stayed close to the Celtics’ vest for a full half in Boston. The week before that, Half-Man’s half-dozen D-Rebs were all Atlanta needed to help Collins fend off Joel Embiid and the visiting Sixers. It’s not ideal, but this is a back-to-back weekend with De’Andre Jordan (season-highs of 20 points and 6 assists vs. ATL on Dec. 21), Jarrett Allen (25 rebounds in last two games vs. ATL) and Hassan Whiteside (NBA-high 3.1 BPG and career-high 14.2 RPG w/ POR) storming through the State Farm Arena turnstiles, and there will be only so much in the way of running gels for Collins, Bruno Fernando (back-to-back double-figure scoring with 10 points and 9 rebounds as a replacement starter vs. ORL) and Jones around to consume. (JC, check with somebody before you consume anything, okay?) Fernando’s playing time has ramped back up in recent games and could stand a further uptick, for the final February contests, on behalf of a Hawks team whose 70.6 D-Reb% is virtually tied for dead-last in the NBA with the Hornets. “2021 Eastern Conference Playoffs! Party of Two!” Whether that’s a reservation assured for Collins and Young remain to be seen, but in Brooklyn’s case, next year’s postseason has long been anticipated as a certainty, assuming Kyrie Irving (shoulder) and Kevin Durant (Achilles) return to 100-ish percent health next fall. Attendance in this year’s postseason party is somehow even less certain, which is why the Nets (26-31. 0.5 games ahead of Orlando, 6.5 ahead of 9-seed Chicago), like the Magic and various and sundry foes before them, will try to use the Hawks to once again break their slide while firming up their prospects. January’s home win in Brooklyn was a brief respite during the Nets’ 2-12 downturn. After absorbing the loss of Irving due to arthroscopic surgery, the Nets redoubled their efforts to win six of eight games prior to the All-Star Break. But since then, they’ve lost three of their past four, coming up short at home to Orlando and in Washington this week. As noted by Yahoo! Sports’ Mike Mazzeo, Kenny Atkinson is already the Big Apple’s longest-tenured major pro sports coach. He previously spent four seasons as a trusty assistant on Atlanta’s bench, and the Nets coach isn’t planning on doing that again anytime soon. To ensure he is indeed around to guide The Kyrie and KD Show in 2020-21, his Nets need to sweep floundering teams like the Hawks. Atkinson and his assistant, ex-Hawk Jacque Vaughn, are challenged with getting Brooklyn to play better perimeter defense. Brooklyn is 8-19 when they allow more than 12 made threes, and they’ll be hoping Kevin Huerter’s recent sophomore slump (31.1 3FG% in last 8 games) extends long enough that he cannot help Young get the Hawks over the hump tonight. Philly went just 4-for-22 from deep against the Nets back on February 20, but Brooklyn (3-10 when allowing 28 or more FTAs) watched the Sixers go 32-for-35 from the charity stripe (18-for-19 by Embiid) along the way to an overtime loss. Collins can create his greatest havoc by attacking the rim early and drawing Taurean Prince and the Nets’ bigs into early foul trouble. Softening up and contracting Brooklyn’s interior with shots around the rim, post passes and and-ones during the first half could grant him ample looks from outside in the second, when Young can make more forays inside and keep his torrid run going from the free throw line. Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, Prince and sixth-man Garrett Temple (combined 5-for-23 3FGs @ WAS on Wednesday) will try to atone for rough outings against the defensively anemic Wizards, failing to be of much assistance for Caris LeVert (team-highs of 30 points and 5 assists @ WAS). But the Hawks need to be more mindful of keeping toes in the paint, limiting second chances for Brooklyn (34.2 team 3FG%, 25th in NBA) and cutting off driving angles for Dinwiddie, who can pile up offensive fouls when forcing the action amid clogged lanes. For Pierce’s Hawks, finding the proper balance among the players sharing the floor with Young and Collins, placing extra emphasis on securing defensive boards as a team while giving the bigs ample help, can produce a more satisfying result than they’ve had all season long against Brooklyn, or any team that clogs the paint hoping Atlanta will miss lots of shots and come defensively unglued. Nobody said this journey for our young Hawks would be smoothly paved, or that the path to competency would be swift. Yet, as Chris Webber loves to say about life, you gotta just Run Through the Tape, baby! Say, does anyone know if C-Webb is, like, retired retired? We need rebounders of any age! 46 is the new 43! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  6. "And with the 9th pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, the Brooklyn Nets select..." ~c0mm1sh
  7. “Do ranchers even eat Jolly Ranchers? Why would ranchers be so jolly in the first place? Perhaps, I made a career mistake?” I’m starting on the MLK Day thread draft today, so I’m gonna slide on the Brooklyn Nets (6 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, YES Network in The BK). Tidbits time! #Netspick, yadda yadda yadda. It’s not like a tiebreaker is a concern anymore, so it’s purely about stuffing enough Ws in the Nets’ column as possible to lock that 8-seed in. We get to Notcompetitank these Nets one more time, the day before Leap Day. More important in my mind, we must avoid being called the Bastards that got Coach Kenny fired. I am grateful that T.J. Warren claimed enough rent-free real estate in Jimmy Butler’s head that let Taurean Prince lay in a game-clincher over it on Friday night. Otherwise, Brooklyn (17-20, 4 games ahead of 9-seed-by-default Charlotte), whose prior win was against the Hawks, would be hoping to avoid an 8-game losing streak this evening, against an Atlanta team (VIII-XXXI) for whom every future win, if I may be so presumptuous, will be every NBA team’s worst loss of the season. Next up on the docket for Atkinson and the Nets. At Philly, Bucks, Philly, Lakers. A loss today in front of the barkers at Barclays Center might have led to a 13-game slide, and, maybe worse, Jacque Vaughn taking over for Kenny. Thanks again for beating the heat, Taurean. We all needed that. The only postgame sipping word Lloyd Pierce needs: “Compete”. We’ll also accept “Competitiveness.” If he gets caught saying, "Competitank," you have to chug. The only thing that should be tired are excuses about John Collins getting tired. Atlanta got a season-high 47 defensive rebounds (15 by The Baptist) on Friday in Washington, yet various and sundry Wizards grabbed their season-high of 19 offensive boards, too, not to mention being fouled a season-high 26 times. If we’re going to play Victim of Circumstance at every postgame presser, LP, at least let John cook at his natural position, and have Damian Jones (DNP vs. WAS) soak up some of those boards, screens and fouls (and, if we’re lucky, an occasional stop) instead. We’re shorthanded up front, sure (Condolences to Bruno; Alex Len is probable with a strained knee; De’Andre Hunter is questionable with foot pain). But keeping Compost impounded compounds our issues, needlessly. Collins wrangling for 40-60 balls with Dwayne from “What’s Happening!” and DeAndre Jordan (20 points, 6 assists in 25 bench minutes vs. ATL on Dec. 21) for over half the game will produce the same “tired” results, wearing him ragged for nothing. Besides, wearing oneself out with no good results has been Trae Young’s job (47-8-and-6 @ BRK in the 122-112 loss). At least Young (questionable himself now, hammy strain) has Brandon Goodwin around now to give him a worthy breather, as opposed to Point Bembry (minus-15, 3-for-10 FGs and no assists in 21 minutes @ BRK on Dec 21). Speaking of playing people hopelessly out of position, while Taurean deserves a princely sum for starting at power forward for so long (7 double-doubles w/ BRK, 3 in career w/ ATL, none last season), Coach Kenny got wise. Brooklyn now has Rodi Kurucs in the starting lineup to allow Prince to toil at the 3-spot. When Kyrie Irving finally returns, maybe later this week, Spencer Dinwiddie (26 points, 14 assists vs. MIA; 39-6-and-6 vs. ATL on Dec. 21) and Garrett Temple can wreck shop together as sixth men, where they belong. Caris LeVert recently returned to boost the bench, too. He gives Atkinson more flexibility at the wing with both Prince and the overworked and struggling Joe Harris (37.9 FG%, 33.3 FG% in 8 games since they last beat the Hawks). Unlikely to be our Jordan McRae this evening: Wilson Chandler (hamstring), who is listed as questionable. And David Nwaba (Achilles tear, out for season) got cut as a roster casualty. For “player the Hawks forgot to gameplan of the night”, my money’s on our old friend Justin Anderson. Simba’s first ten-day deal expires on Wednesday. My guess is, he'd like another. Keep the 60-win Hawks’ name out yo’ mouf, Carpet Rider Chan. That is all. Let’s “Go” Hawks! ~lw3
  8. At least for now, another ex-Hawk is back on the scene, this time to help the Nets (and Hawks) with their playoff push. Go get 'em, Simba! ~lw3
  9. “Tall and tatted, and long and gangly, The Guy With Ipamorelin’s working…” Greetings and salutations, Brother Taurean! I do hope this gamethread finds you well. You’ve been a model citizen up here in Brooklyn, and you’ve already helped both your new team, the Nets, and your old pals, the Atlanta Hawks, with a fine performance earlier this month (23 points, 5-for-7 3FGs, 4 assists in a 130-118 win). But we’re all going to need you to summon up the energy to pull a Captain and Tennille this evening (6 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, YES Network in Bed-Stuy), and do that to us one more time. It’s been a rough go for our dear friend, Hawks fans, pretty much since that December 4 outing. Scoring inside has been a tall order almost all season long (career-low 39.6 2FG%, down from 49.8% last season w/ ATL) for Brother T, despite playing a lion’s share of minutes at power forward (several Hawks can sympathize with that). His passing (2.2 APG, 2.1 TOs/game) and ability to get to the free throw line (1.0 FTs/game, 75.0 FT%) leave much to be desired. But Prince at least had a nice shooting stroke going behind the 3-point arc this season (40.5 3FG% through that last game @ ATL). Even that seems to be failing him (last 6 games: 26.1 FG%, 21.9 3FG%, 8.2 PPG) on a Nets squad that wants to reach the playoffs, but whose flip-a-coin 50.2 team eFG% makes our Hawks’ 51.8 look like we’ve got Giannis on the team. Spencer Dinwiddie (22.1 PPG, 6.2 APG; 41 points @ SAS on Thursday) has been a godsend for Nets coach Kenny Atkinson’s offense, especially given the ongoing mystery absence of Kyrie Irving (shoulder, not yet cleared for contact). Yet if Taurean and Joe Harris (combined 40.5 3FG% on the season, rest of BKN 30.0%, incl. Dinwiddie’s 30.7%) aren’t sinking shots, and if Jarrett Allen (19-and-13 plus team-high 6 assists @ SAS; 3rd in NBA for O-Reb%) and DeAndre Jordan aren’t creating second- and third-chances during possessions, scoring for Brooklyn can be an uphill climb. Coach Kenny would love to give his former Hawks player less time on the frontline, and longer spells in general. But as things stand, he doesn’t have much choice. The would-be minutes leader after Kyrie, Caris LeVert has been out for a month recovering from thumb surgery. Having sat out the first 25 games of the season after getting popped for an HGH violation, Brooklyn’s would-be starter at forward in place of Kevin Durant this year, Wilson Chandler is only this week getting back into the thick of things. Dzanan Musa, rookie Nic Claxton, Rodi Kurucs, and two-way player Henry Ellenson are still unworthy, in Atkinson’s eyes, of more than spot minutes. The one guy whose production has ramped up lately, swingman David Nwaba now takes an off-ramp after a season-ending Achilles tear during Thursday’s 118-103 loss in San Antonio (no wins for the Nets in that town since 2003, poor guys). Nwaba’s painful fourth-quarter exit took out whatever steam the Nets (15-13), who were up by as many as 12 points late in the third quarter, had left against the Spurs. With so many out-of-action and limited-action players out of Coach Kenny’s rotation, it’s all hands on deck for the rest of the Nets. For better or worse, Brother Taurean’s are among the best hands Brooklyn can throw out onto the herringbone floor. There are no hard-chargers in the Eastern Conference currently threatening Brooklyn’s status as a playoff team (Orlando’s 12-17 mark is good enough to be an 8-seed). But the Nets have dropped three of their past five, the last two wins featuring a home blowout over the Embiid-less 76ers, and a victory over the Zion-less Pelicans that required fourth-quarter and overtime drama. With a hungry Knicks team and another West Coast swing on the horizon after Xmas Day, Nets players know they don’t need some sudden skid, before the Trade Deadline, to have 2020 Draft Lottery implications start seeping into GM Sean Marks’ head (although Brooklyn does get Philly’s mid-to-late 1st rounder, courtesy of a 2019 Draft night trade, as consolation). Here in Atlanta, we wholeheartedly concur. Maybe it’s too early to celebrate Competitanking, but how about some Competitinkering instead? Our nucleus of newbies in coach Lloyd Pierce’s reformulated starting lineup (4th-youngest in NBA since at least 1970-71) drew a lot of attention on Thursday. Perhaps the best part was, with Jabari Parker back in a reserve role, the Hawks’ overall bench play was Not A Disaster. Better motion and less flat-out goofiness on both ends of the floor during game flow made the 111-106 outcome, while still a loss, much more palatable than Atlanta’s previous bite at the Big Apple. The body blows of excessive fouls, especially afflicting De’Andre Hunter (stuck at PF for one more start, knock on wood) early on, had their effects in the second half of the Jazz game as worn-down Hawks defenders struggled to keep Rudy Gobert, then Donovan Mitchell, in check. An even more competitive outcome for Atlanta tonight will involve avoiding non-essential foul draws while ensuring top-scorer Dinwiddie (team-high 3.3 personals/game) gives up more free throw opportunities than he gets (team-high 6.5 FTAs/game, 83.1 FT%). While the Nets’ Allen and Jordan tend to leave plenty of free throw points on the table, new Hawks starter Bruno Fernando (4 fouls in 17 minutes vs. UTA) and Alex Len (fouled out in under 17 minutes) must avoid foul trouble, while showing on pick-and-rolls and boxing out, for Atlanta (6-something-or-other) to fortify the interior defense. With a stronger rebounding presence in the middle, Atlanta’s wing defenders can focus on limiting Dinwiddie’s scoring angles on drives while keeping Harris and Prince (41.4 corner 3FG%) cool from the perimeter. Our dear struggling Brother Taurean, allow us to us help you, to help us. With some fans’ eyes on the #netspick prize, the Hawks can afford to help Prince look like King of New York for a day. But Atlanta should be able to help Brother T shake free of his funk without, unlike the Knicks game, having fans screaming, “Oh, Brother!” at TV screens before halftime. Happy Hanukkah! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  10. “As Seen On TV, it’s Coach Lloyd’s SUB-A-SCRUB-O-METER TM! Now available in Volt Green. In Stores Now!” ((HEEL TURN ADVISORY!)) Would you all, please, lift our dear Brother Taurean up, in your thoughts and heartfelt wishes? Some are called. Few are chosen. And Taurean Prince is among The Few. The Proud. The Players the Hawks Deal Away in Hopes of a Tasty Draft Pick. Brother Taurean didn’t ask for this. He was perfectly fine with running it back once more with a rebuilding Atlanta club, enjoying copious feeds from Trae Young along the way. Instead, he returns to State Farm Arena tonight in a Brooklyn Nets uniform (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, YES Network in The BK). Here, he’s got not one, but two, NBA fanbases pulling for him. Prince himself was the Lottery prize the Hawks received, if not coveted, via Utah in 2016’s NBA Draft, when it was time to recoup some value for the contract-expiring Jeff Teague (I’ll always believe the Magic snatched Domantas Sabonis one pick earlier to keep him away from us, but that’s neither here nor there). Ignoring a brief Tankbuster Taurean phase at the end of 2017-18, he never emerged as a star-worthy talent in Atlanta. But he did enough to establish himself as a versatile mid-tier starter in this league, sufficient for the Hawks to engage in The Netspick Game with Brooklyn for the first time since 2012’s stunning Joe Johnson deal. The Hawks also got a mid-level 2019 first-rounder, used by Travis Schlenk to finagle his way further up the draft boards for De’Andre Hunter, and the remains of Allen Crabbe. But the juiciness of a Lottery-protected first-round pick hangs in the balance, carrying over up through the next two seasons if it doesn’t convey to Atlanta in 2020. Oh, but about those upcoming seasons. Kevin Durant’s Achilles ought to be back to about 90-ish percent by the time the curtain opens on 2020-21, his planned pairing with fellow grumpy All-Star Kyrie Irving making the likelihood of a worse record than the Nets (10-10; 7th in NBA East) will have at this season’s end to be low. It’s the main reason why, from the Hawks’ perspective, charting the progress of Brooklyn’s Prince is all about F.U.N.! (That is, the Fierce Urgency of Now!) Back in July, things were setting up nicely for Taurean to assume the departing DeMarre Carroll’s solid support role with former Hawks assistant Kenny Atkinson’s club. Kyrie this year, KD next year. Rotation players Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris remained in the fold. Veterans Wilson Chandler, Garrett Temple and DeAndre Jordan were on the way. But it seems as if Prince’s signing of Brooklyn’s two-year, $29 million contract extension offer (one of just six 2016 Lottery picks and, along with LeVert, nine Draft classmates to earn an extension) came with a catch or two. Chandler was supposed to get beaucoup minutes at power forward, as a KD stopgap, but he was slapped with a 25-game suspension for violating the league’s Anti-Drug policy (the nerve of that guy!). None of Rodi Kurucs, Henry Ellenson, or rookie Nic Claxton, in Atkinson’s estimation, are prepared to log major floor time. All that has left Coach Kenny to turn to Prince (career-high 6.0 RPG, 3rd on his team behind center Jarrett Allen and his backup, Jordan), early and often, to be the team’s starting power forward, as he resorts to essentially a three-guard top line featuring Dinwiddie, Temple and Harris. When Sean Marks had an opportunity to add a player in the aftermath of LeVert’s mid-November thumb injury, the Nets exec chose to add yet another swingman in Iman Shumpert, underlining that to Brooklyn, Prince is their huckleberry at the 4-slot. Oh, and a busy stretch-four, Br’er Taurean, if you don’t mind. On a team that has last season’s three-point percentage leader in Harris (44.2 3FG%) and a guard in Dinwiddie (career-high 20.7 PPG; 32.5 3FG%) that’s eager to supplant Irving’s offense since he can’t supplement it, the Nets have Prince hoisting more three-point attempts (7.1 3FGAs per game, 15th among active NBA players) than either of them. On the somewhat good side, he is making threes (39.6 3FG%, down from a career-best 44.1 3FG% last season with ATL) nearly as well as he’s hitting his other field goals (career-low 40.4 2FG%). The erratic nature of his shooting (including a career-worst 70.4 FT%, on barely over one FTA per game) used to be an item left for discussion on random online game threads. But now in NYC’s media powerhouse, Brother Taurean’s up-and-down shooting grabs headliner attention. “Taurean Prince’s inconsistent 3-point shooting problematic for the Nets,” wrote Brooklyn’s USA Today watchdog outfit NetsWire a couple weeks ago, off a five-game spell where he shot just 32.3 3FG%. Then, late last week from NetsWire, “Hot or cold, Nets encouraging Taurean Prince to let shots fly at all times.” That came after a 5-1 stretch for Brooklyn where Taurean shot 42.6 3FG%, before Sunday’s 109-106 home loss to Miami where he went 2-for-9 from… deep (does Brooklyn have its own “Downtown,” one not named Manhattan? I’m just asking). “Everybody knows their role,” said Harris (only other Net beside B.T. to start in every game so far) when asked by NetsWire about Prince’s shot selection, or lack thereof on occasion. “And everybody’s on him consistently just to let it go, regardless of make or miss. He could miss his first ten, we all have confidence in him that he’ll make the next ten.” In Atlanta, we had the LTMFF brigade, too (usually led by Brother Kent), but Brooklyn (42 percent of FGAs are for threes, 2nd-most in NBA East) is quite serious. Irving (shoulder rehab) remains a question mark for the balance of the season himself. Kyrie (28.5 PPG, 7.2 APG) will miss Brooklyn’s next two games and has appeared in just 11 of 20 contests to date. On the plus side, Atkinson has guided the Nets to a 6-3 record without Uncle Drew around to save them. Says here that, tonight ((HEEL TURN ALERT!)), I would not mind if the positive trend continues. I’m just happy that they’re not putting “secondary play-setter” on Brother Taurean’s already full plate (1.9 APG, 2.2 TOs/game). The Nets would be wise to send more lobs and post touches in the direction of Allen (NBA-high 66.7 FG%), as the Texas Fro-nado can draw lots of fouls despite his struggles converting them into points (58.0 FT%). But without Irving and LeVert around, the ball tends to get stuck in the halfcourt offense, particularly outside the paint. Brooklyn’s leading active dime-dropper after Dinwiddie (5.9 APG) is Theo Pinson (2.6 APG) and, well, yeah. The Hawks (5-16) won’t hold Brooklyn to 79 points, as they did in Monday’s win over Tarnished State. But if they can produce turnovers like they did on Monday (23 opp. TOs, most since Oct. 29), convert the goofs of the live-ball variety into buckets, and keep Brooklyn off the free throw line (season-low 12 personals and 12 opp. FTAs vs. GSW), Atlanta would have a decent chance of maybe starting a little win streak. Which is fine, although I’d much rather kickstart that during the 3-game road swing next week. For Atlanta’s revolving door of active players, DeAndre’ Hunter (out, finger discloation) will tag out with his good hand, as Kevin Huerter (activated, shoulder) uses his good arm to sub in. While Hunter’s on-ball defensive skill will be momentarily missed, it’s hopeful that Huerter can give a boost to Atlanta’s league-worst perimeter shooting proficiency (38.6 3FG%). The team ran circles around G-State despite making just 27.6 percent of their triple shots (ATL below 33.3 3FG% in past five games), so if Huerter can help clear a very low bar, Atlanta’s odds for victory will rise. Playoffs-wise, the East is really a Big Six, as Indiana will soon have Victor Oladipo back to join Miami and the obvious suspects further up the standings. Brooklyn sits at #7 for now. But they are closer to 9-seed Detroit (2.5 games ahead) than they are to the 6-seed Pacers (3.0 games behind). Their pick being more like Minnesota’s (bless you, Adreian Payne) than the unprotected pick swap-option we got from dealing Joe to Brooklyn, having a productive Prince to keep Brooklyn over the hump helps everybody out in the long run. Irving may or may not be dampening the team chemistry from within, as the usual rumors persist. But whenever he returns, I’d rather the Nets have as many Ws as they can get already in the stead, not trying to stop a potential three-or-more-game losing skid (the Nets visit Charlotte on Friday, a couple days before a rested Hawks team swoops in). The early 2020 Draft boards are very top-heavy with backcourt talents. If you’re of the mindset that Huerter is not a long-term sixth-man, then where the market is best saturated with bigs, ones that could have more immediate impacts than whatever the Hawks (last in D-Reb%) are throwing out there right now, would come in the back end of the Draft. It sure would be mighty nice to have first dibs on that particular crop. The Hawks will visit Brooklyn twice over the next 40 days, so there may be more Must Lose opportunities ahead. But I’d much rather see our ex-Hawk lead the way to victory for the Nets, now, to facilitate a mid-tier draft spot come April, so we won’t have to depend as heavily upon Irving and whatever mood he’s in later. Twisting an old 80s shampoo commercial to drive home the point: If Brother Taurean looks good, we all look good. Lift our dear Brother up on high, Hawks fans, so he can lift us up (at Draft time) in turn! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  11. TRADE SZN! Where is Dwight off to, now? Mozgov (also in this deal) fell out with Coach Kenny and made it public, while Dwight's ex-Magic coach (Cliff) got fired by Charlotte and is back in Orlando now, so this deal makes a little sense for both clubs. ~lw3
  12. Almost negligible NBA blotter news. Kenneth's third-string spot likely isn't in jeopardy. http://www.27east.com/news/article.cfm/Bridgehampton/567336/NBA-Player-Kenneth-Faried-Lewis-Charged-With-Marijuana-Possession-In-Bridgehampton-Arrest ~lw3