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  1. “Snatching that Hairy Lollipop joke out of my monologue at the last minute this weekend was a WISE decision. Phew! Ol’ Day Day sure dodged a five-piece and a biscuit this time!” First order of business: There’s some feel-good news about our Atlanta Hawks to share. You all remember that late summer Sunday in September 2014, when life got flip turned upside down for our favorite NBA team? Owners were outwardly infighting, the solid-ground GM was suddenly on thin ice, and an ugly internal “But His E-mails!” showdown was uncovered. Fans and locals and activists and Twitterfolk were incensed, from inside and outside the Perimeter and as far away as Africa. We found out the hard way that Real GM had a service that real GMs actually used. Poor chap Luol Deng couldn’t grasp how he managed to catch a stray. The positive spin from the post-surprise-playoff offseason had evaporated, the value and status of Atlanta’s unsellable NBA franchise, much like the dearly departed NHL one, seemed to be in dire jeopardy. And Steve Koonin, the then-new minority owner and CEO who grew up adoring these Hawks and took the leap from helping run Time Warner’s Turner Networks, was left to hold the smelly, burning bag. The public face to withstand the corporate PR blowback, Koonin found himself in quite the entanglement, pulled into one Red Table Talk after another to profess genuine remorse for a hot-suburb mess he pretty much moonwalked into. Eight years removed, it is safe to say, Steve pulled a Stanley Steemer on the entire organization. Having transcended the morass to see through the transition to new, steadier, more diverse and less problematic ownership regime, the Hawks’ CEO stuck around and strategically transformed a third-rail toxic product, and the home venue, into local and regional assets for which we, fans and citizenry, can all embrace proudly. Regardless of the nightly results on the hardwood floor, no matter what the Hawks are selling us in the front, no one needs to feel skeptical anymore about shadiness going on in the back of this team’s shop. Accordingly, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Southeast chapter will be honoring Koonin and the Atlanta Hawks with their annual Torch of Liberty Award, this Thursday over at Ponce City Market’s City Winery Atlanta (any event where Michelle Malone and Gurufish are set to perform is destined to be a good one). Bestowed upon individuals and companies since 1988, the Torch of Liberty honors those "making outstanding contributions to the welfare of our community." Congrats to Steve! More info on the award recipient and the event are linked here: https://www.adl.org/atltorch Second order! Speaking of defamation and the potential consequences thereof, you will squeeze no more liquid from my stream of consciousness regarding the event that unfolded last night in Tinseltown. Persons of my stripe, especially, got precious little shuteye, in anticipation of having to blacksplain the blow-by-blow to co-working colleagues this morning. Once one gentleman decided, “I’m Gonna Git You, Sucka!”, and another found himself knocked back into the hole-in-the-wall rib joint of his heyday, I knew that I would have neither the bandwidth nor the cholesterol for reactionary thinkpieces any more rambling than the ones you endure from me routinely around here. As one might imagine, the resulting thread opener ahead of tonight’s game between the Hawks and the hosting Indiana Pacers (7 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, BS Indiana) is sure to be brief, and all over the place. No, Pacers fill-in coach Lloyd Pierce wasn’t trying to respond to a mid-game question from Chris Kirschner. But whatever bars got spit during the second quarter on Saturday up in Toronto was flames! Scotiabank Arena got cleared of fans, due to the need to extinguish fire shooting out from an overhead speaker, and LP’s team had to hold out for an extra hour or so before the Raptors could finish cleaning their clock. Pierce hands the head coaching keys back to Rick Carlisle, who missed Thursday’s 133-103 mauling in Memphis and Saturday’s 131-91 trampling in Toronto due to personal leave. Back at the Fieldhouse, Carlisle’s Pacers should expect to fare much better, having nearly added to the Hawks’ pile of miserable outcomes just a couple weeks ago in Atlanta. The lightly regarded Duane Washington and new additions Tyrese Haliburton and Buddy Hield helped Indy whittle down a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit in the closing minutes of the Hawks’ 131-128 escape on March 13. Atlanta needed every bit of Trae Young’s 47 points (33 in the first half), and six other Hawk double-figure scorers, including Bogdan Bogdanovic and Danilo Gallinari, to build up the victorious cushion. No longer still kicking in the hunt for a Play-In slot, the Pacers (25-50) justifiably remain cautious about fielding their would-be marquee contributors, be it Malcolm “My Main Man” Brogdon (out, rest? Up all night, too, eh?) or Myles Turner (out, stress-reacted foot). The players that do grace the floor on Indiana’s behalf will be permitted to throw caution to the wind. Chris Duarte (out, sore piggy that went to market) and Isaiah Jackson (out, headache; team-high 15 rebounds @ ATL on Mar. 13) are no-goes, and even Washington (22 bench points @ ATL; questionable, bruised hip) and Goga Bitadze (questionable, sore foot) may not suit up. The Pacers might have one ex-Hawk at his disposal tonight, although they’d have to upgrade his contract from a ten-day to an end-of-season variety. “He’s been the best player on the [Fort Wayne Mad Ants], and probably the best player in the entire [G-League],” said Carlisle to Fieldhouse Files in heaping praise upon Justin Anderson, whose second ten-day call-up expired yesterday (His first one came simultaneous with ex-Hawk Lance Stephenson’s re-signing back on New Year’s Day). Starting in place of Take Your Pick, Anderson sunk four of seven 3FGAs on the way to an 18-point outing in Toronto, not far behind Oshae Brissett’s 21. Including Stephenson and somehow Anderson, by my count, those are eight definitely active players for Carlisle to run with, relying upon the loosest possible definition of “active.” Hawks fans understand this means the Pacers have Atlanta, who may be without Bogdanovic (questionable, sore knee) and Gallinari (questionable, bruised elbow) tonight, right where they want them. If Nate McMillan could have any one game back from last season’s momentous turnabout, it would have been the 133-126 loss here in his old stomping grounds back on May 6. In the only smudge on their final month’s regular-season schedule, Atlanta let the team led by Domantas Sabonis, Caris LeVert and T.J. McConnell make over 62 percent of their shots from the field while piling up 35 assists. This revived Indiana’s Play-In prospects, despite the Pacers having been blitzed by Sacramento’s Delon Wright and Hield on this Fieldhouse floor one night before. In a McMillanian theme that would carry forth into this season, that late-season loss soured a convincing win over a surging Suns team back in Atlanta the prior evening. It would also be a reason the fateful Hawks-Knicks series would kick off in Manhattan instead of Atlanta. The silver lining is that Brissett and Bitadze are the only present-day active Pacers who were around to participate in that contest. Nonetheless, the Hawks are not a team capable of resting on their laurels, however flimsy they may be at any moment. The Pacers, while new to this whole tanking biz, are in no mood to hand Atlanta any pillows. Everyone from Trae to De'Andre Hunter may be a bit groggy at pregame shootaround. But the same could be said for the Pacers and most NBA players, who were up late last night turning Twitter and The 'Gram into a virtual barbershop of memes and hot takes. Once they get all the grit out of their eyes, the Hawks have to lead with their defense to secure victory today, shielding would-be spot-up shooters, limiting Haliburton’s paint penetration, winning the turnover and transition-bucket battles, and disallowing Indy to dictate the pace of play to their own liking. I can’t say for certain how important it is to Atlanta (37-37) to want to finish this topsy-turvy season with a winning record, wherein a 5-3 close would suffice. But with this game, followed by a return to Trae Young’s home state in a couple days before flying back to The A to face reeling Play-In candidate Cleveland, when it comes to blazing a path to Above-.500 Land, and maybe even a Play-In home game? As the great Kenny Loggins would put it, This Is It! Just make no mistake where you are, play like you know your back's to the corner, and don't be a fool anymore, certainly not this week. Are you gonna wait for your sign, Hawks? Your miracle? Stand up and fight! No, no, wait, no! Not like… Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  2. “Then the Dodgers said, ‘Oh, and then we’ll go after Freddie, too!’” Elimination Szn is here already! It’s not the kind of setup the Atlanta Hawks dreamed up when looking ahead to this promising season. But Nate McMillan getting the chance to send Lloyd Pierce’s Indiana Pacers to bed in our house (7 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, BS Indiana) will have to do. “Big Deal!”, said the big Kings-Pacers deal, with a dash of snark. As Sam Butler of HoopsHabit alluded to in his post-trade analysis yesterday, Sacramento is a mere 4-9 since Domantas Sabonis was reactivated with the Kings, dropping them to the third-worst record in the Western Conference. Third-worst in the NBA East, the Pacers have gone 4-8, including last night’s game denying Coach Pop’s similarly shorthanded Spurs from padding his new all-time record in San Antonio. The Kings, as one might imagine, are desperate to earn a playoff seed ASAP. Or they were. Sadly, after a fourth straight defeat last night, it looks like the drought will continue unabated. Indiana (23-46; Play-In elimination Tragic Number: 6, 3 with a loss today) is in no such rush. Indiana would happily sneak into the playoffs, despite a tough closing schedule, if there was a mad dash left in Pacer coach Rick Carlisle’s reconfigured rotation. But with Myles Turner still out, Malcolm Brogdon momentarily shelved, and the first top-ten draft pick since Paul George went 10th in 2010 on the way, what’s the big hurry? Indy team prez Kevin Pritchard saw how division rival Chicago’s tinkering at 2021’s Trade Deadline set up a momentous offseason and a surge in the standings in 2022. Pritch wants that for the Pacers, who don’t have a timetable for the returns of Turner or T.J. McConnell and have over $30 million in salaries (incl. Ricky Rubio and the ghost of T.J. Warren) coming off the books, well in advance of a future extension offer for new franchise guard Tyrese Haliburton (team-high 19 points, 10 assists, 3 steals in yesterday’s 119-108 win @ SAS). While they wait, Carlisle is doing some tinkering of his own, with the playing styles of some of his new arrivals. The next shot Buddy Hield didn’t like will be the first one. Indeed, Hield came into Pacer games guns blazing, heaving nearly 12 three-point tries per game in his three appearances, all Indiana losses. Carlisle is encouraging him to shot-fake and kick the ball out more, ideally producing a three-man playmaker unit with Haliburton and, when healthy, Brogdon (out since Tuesday due to concussion protocols). After maxing out with a season-high of six dimes with Haliburton and De’Aaron Fox in Sactown, Hield is averaging 5.7 APG with the Pacers, still getting his Buddy Buckets (team-high 19.3 PPG, double-digit scoring every game w/ IND, with almost no daily trips to the FT line) and shooting threes at a lesser volume (last night’s 3-for-12 display excepted) around his season-long, career-low 36 percent clip. Well, buckle my shoe and knock at the door, because somebody is going to pick up Stix this summer! The 10th pick in 2020’s Draft with his third-year option declined, former Suns backup forward Jalen Smith has been given free range to shoot from long range, sinking 42 percent on almost four 3FGAs per game. When Smith’s doing that and helping current starter Isaiah Jackson, Goga Bitadze (playing through foot pain) and Oshae Brissett protect the rim in Turner’s absence (active team-high 8.0 RPG, 11 rebounds and 4 blocks off-bench yesterday @ SAS), the Pacers find themselves in position to snatch some Ws. Shot-struggling Boston discovered this a couple weeks ago. Cleveland was befuddled in Indy for three quarters until Darius Garland same alive to help the Cavs escape last Tuesday. Brogdon is again unavailable to play in Atlanta, but Chris Duarte is back in the backcourt after missing time with a jammed toe injury. Duarte lost some rhythm in the ROY race after getting yo-yo’d in and out of Carlisle’s starting lineups. Since leading the way with 25 points in the watered-down, post-trade Pacers’ 133-112 loss here at The Farm on February 8, Duarte has had to play umpteenth-fiddle behind Haliburton, Hield and Brogdon. While Duarte started last night in Brogdon’s place, Carlisle has been turning to undrafted Keifer Sykes and red-hot two-way guard Duane Washington, Jr. (matching Haliburton’s 19 points off the bench @ SAS; 15.3 PPG w/ 62.9 FG% in last four games) in hopes of even more ball-movement production. Saturday’s win in San An raised the Pacers’ record to 12-12 versus Western opponents. Injuries aside, what has done in Carlisle’s crew is its 11-33 in-conference record, including a conference-worst 2-13 amid a Central Division that includes (close your ears, Hawks fans) the Pistons. Only Detroit holds a worst road record than Indy (8-26) among Eastern clubs. The Pacers have had just one road SEGABABA since the “Big Deal!”. Coming off that 21-point win at home over the Celts, Indiana suffered the wrath of Wendell Carter and Mo Bamba one afternoon later, in a 16-point drubbing down in O-Town. Indy leans on its backcourt to provide enough offensive explosion to knock teams on their heels (118.8 PPG and 38.3 3FG% post-Break, 5th in NBA). But the team will get sloppy (14.9 team TO% post-Break, 3rd-worst in NBA; 21 player TOs @ ORL on Feb. 28) and the frontline is both visibly and strategically thin following the departures of Sabonis and, for now, Turner. Atlanta doesn’t do much of anything comfortably, particularly of late. Friday’s 112-106 eclipsing of the Clips was the sixth consecutive game for the Hawks (32-34) that concluded with a single-digit margin in either direction. After victories #20 through #29 were all by eight points or more, the three wins over the Hawks’ past five games were by no more than six. Another late-game nail-biter would make it the longest such stretch since LP’s Hawks rattled off nine games late in the 2018-19 season. Niftier perimeter shot-making from Trae Young and Bogdan Bogdanovic, following off-nights on Friday, will be welcomed by the home crowd. But McMillan will need better perimeter closeouts, as displayed in the fourth stanza versus LA, and more multifaceted two-way play from Clint Capela (7-for-9 FGs vs. LAC), John Collins (questionable, finger sprain and foot strain), DeAndre Hunter, Onyeka Okongwu and Danilo Gallinari to overwhelm his old team today, and his older team tomorrow. We can only hope they treat the upcoming games as if they're kind of a "Big Deal." The Pacers arrive to this SEGABABA road game, from the Central Time Zone on a redeye, with yet another sixty fewer minutes of shuteye thanks to Daylight Savings. They’re a team just daring to be tucked in and put to bed, for the season. Are the Hawks primed to spring forward, or will they once again fall back? Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  3. “Whoever just Gorilla Glued my chair is headed to OKC for a trade exception!” It’s that time of year again. When i’s become 1’s, o’s become 0’s, and n’s become m’s among the Internet’s fake-news breakers. Beware, Squawk Nation, beware! Of course, we’re deep into Yabettawin territory. But there’s no telling which players might get that tap on their shoulders over the next 48 hours, and also who might be mysteriously DNP-Rested ahead of today’s game between the Atlanta Hawks and the remnants of the Indiana Pacers (7:30 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, BS Indiana). As for the latest breaks the Hawks (25-28) won’t know how to exploit: Indy’s second-leading scorer, Caris LeVert, was dealt yesterday to Cleveland for draft picks, a trade exception and some Spanish rice. Its top assist man, Malcolm Brogdon has been out for weeks and remains questionable to appear due to his sore Achilles. Indy’s top shot blocker, Myles Turner has been out for weeks, too, and that won’t change with the stress reaction in his foot. Domantas Sabonis had been shelved on You Know What protocols, and he was rushed back into action for Sunday’s 98-85 loss at Cleveland because You Know Why. Rookie big Isaiah Jackson’s out. Crash dummy T.J. McConnell’s out. And T.J. Maxx might see the floor before T.J. Warren. If anyone would bother to have an updated scouting report on Lance Stephenson, it’s Atlanta. Born Ready made six cameo appearances as a Hawk before the Pacers discovered their former star’s scoring occasionally still tastes like candy. Elder-rookie Chris Duarte was not brought into coach Rick Carlisle’s and Lloyd Pierce’s fold to be an offensive spark, but by making six of his last ten threes he’s about as good as it gets in the backcourt for now (We will jinx the Hawks’ perimeter defense by noting the Pacers, like the Mavs on Sunday, enter the game shooting 33.3% as a team on 3FGs). Duarte and Sabonis are the sole starters returning from when Trae Young’s 33 points helped the Hawks edged the Pacers at the Fieldhouse back on December 1. As we’ve mentioned previously, Indiana (19-36, 7.0 games behind ATL) has long been one of the NBA’s committed Never-Tank teams. Today, and on a pair of occasions next month, it’s on Atlanta to encourage the Pacers to break their own mold. The soundness with which the Hawks get and stay ahead of the Pacers tonight will be a reflection of the preparedness of the players by the coaching staff. Carlisle having to rely so much on ringers like Kiefer Sykes, Torrey Craig, Duane Washington, Jr., rookie Goga Bitadze and ten-day contractor Reggie Perry is almost too much of a good thing against Nate McMillan’s current team. The Indy 500 is still months away. Yet I do feel The Need. The Need for… Trade Deadline Karaoke! Hit it, Trader Trav! Revvin’ up Trade Machines, Listen to the Squawkers roar. Front office feels the tension, To show TLC the door. I went to The Trading Zone, Right into The Trading Zone. Headin’ for the Deadline, Danglin’ all our wing delights. Sixers only dumping dreck Morey’s friggin’ lost his mind. I went to The Trading Zone, I’ll take you Right into The Trading Zone. They never said “Hello” to me, Until my team went out and put on a playoff show. I’ll never know what we can do If all my best trade chips continue to blow. Out along the edge Is always where we give up threes. The further down we slide, The less we need Gallinari. I went to The Trading Zone I’m gonna take ‘em Right into The Trading Zone Riley, too. The Trading Zone. Right into The Trading Zone. I went to The Trading Zone I’m gonna take ‘em Right into The Trading Zone Presti, too. The Trading Zone. Right into The Trading Zone. I went to The Trading Zone I’m gonna take ‘em Right into The Trading Zone Myers, too. The Trading Zone. Right into The Trading Zone. I went to The Trading Zone Right into The Trading Zone. Who wants Lou? The Trading Zone. Right into The Trading Zone… Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  4. T.J. isn't interested in taking part in the coming fire sale. ~lw3
  5. “OWW! Friggin’ COVID Toe!” I was this old, minus a couple months, when I discovered, for the first time, that coaches don’t get Olympic medals. It never dawned on me that in all the years I watched Dream Teams and their predecessors stand on the podiums, that the Bobby Knights and Coach Ks of the world weren’t right there among them collecting shiny laurels. In a world where participation trophies are frowned upon, coaches of top-3-finishing teams and athletes don’t even get those from The Notorious IOC. I suppose, “Assistant Coach, Gold Medal-winning USA Basketball Team, 2020- “, ought to look nice on a LinkedIn page somewhere. But at what cost for Lloyd Pierce? An Atlanta Hawks team that checks out of 2020-21, pointing to injuries and discombobulated lineups and such, hovering around 40 percent victory rate at 30-42 (still a considerable improvement over the prior season’s 20-47 mark), would have fans disappointed but looking forward to a season where internal growth translates into a genuine playoff push. But Pierce, stuck between a Pop and a hard place over second-year pro Trae Young’s Olympic worthiness, elected to prioritize golden medals for NBA vets over standing in alignment with the goose that lobs golden eggs. He could have done both and, coming off the Tokyo momentum, made 2021-22 his make-or-break season as the Hawks' head coach. Alas, for Pierce, nothing gold can stay. What LP does get, as a consolation prize, is being the man next to The Man, in the Fieldhouse of his former assistant’s employer. His Indiana Pacers, coached by Rick Carlisle in the lead chair, will meet a similarly shorthanded but rested Atlanta Hawks club (7 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Bally Sports Indiana) at the Gainbridge Fieldhouse. If Pierce is to catch up with his Atlanta replacement tonight, he’ll have to do so via Zoom calls. A victory shy of 700 NBA regular-season wins for his career, McMillan has some work to do if he is to one day catch Carlisle (845), one spot ahead of him in 3rd place among active coaches. But he’ll need to turn to Chris Jent tonight in order to keep the Hawks (11-10) above .500 on this season. Nate’s son, Hawks assistant Jamelle, came down with You Know What, and out of an abundance of caution, Atlanta’s head coach will isolate until he is cleared with sufficient negative test results. The bug is going around, even among vaxxed players and staff, and the Hawks are fortunate to this point that injuries have been the sole setbacks for deploying a steady rotation. Justin Holiday has That Thing, and the former Hawk will miss time for the Pacers (9-14) just as he was beginning to get back his starter’s minutes. Holiday joins shot-blocker extraordinaire T.J. Warren (out since December 2020 with a foot injury, may return later this month) on the shelf, albeit at a minimum six-foot distance. The Pacers will be thrilled to have shot-blocker extraordinaire Myles Turner (re-activated after non-COVID illness) back in the stead. Carlisle went with essentially a four-guard lineup around All-Star Domantas Sabonis on Monday, versus Karl-Anthony Towns and company in Minnesota, plugging T.J. McConnell in Turner’s slot. The late night returns were kind of like Felicia Moore’s. Towns and the T’Wolves ran off with a 20-point turnaround from the third quarter on, letting off the gas late to make their 100-98 win over Indy look respectable. At least from inside the paint, Sabonis (25 rebounds, 10 assists, 16 points on 5-for-8 2FGs vs. MIN) did all he could to hold the fort. But, in a theme familiar to Young after his Hawks got Bing Bong’d by New York on Saturday, Sabonis got little support on the offensive end. Aside from Holiday and dry-behind-the-ears rookie Chris Duarte, who will likely start in place of Holiday, the other Pacers combined to hit just 3-for-24 from beyond the three-point line. Resistance was futile against Minnesota, too, as Karl-Anthony went to town with 16 third-quarter points to outpace Anthony Edwards’ 11, and almost Indiana’s 19 as a team. Jent will similarly seek to put a dent in the Hawks’ third-period woes, as displayed on Saturday when the visiting Knicks turned the momentum in their favor with a 34-24 edge. The first-half losses of Bogdan Bogdanovic (out for at least a couple weeks, sprained ankle) and Cam Reddish (out, aggravated sprained wrist) seemed to throw Atlanta off-kilter. The sustained brilliance of Young (5-for-10 3FGs vs. NYK, ATL teammates 4-for-27), the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week, was insufficient by his lonesome to keep the Hawks in contention for victory on that night. Former Pacer Solomon Hill will take a stab at filling Bogi’s minutes, as will Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot. But for Kevin Huerter, and reserves Danilo Gallinari and Lou Williams (combined 7-for-30 FGs vs. NYK), Atlanta can ill afford “open shots not falling”, particularly if the Hawks hope to stretch their road winning streak to three games tonight. The lack of cohesion in third quarters comes mostly in losses for Atlanta (NBA-worst 132.9 3rd-quarter D-Rating in Ls, “ahead,” admiringly, of 3-loss Phoenix’s 130.8), particularly as the team fails to get stops in halfcourt and/or get back in transition off missed shots. But second-half meltdowns, regardless of outcomes, have become de rigueur for Indy (NBA-worst 98.8 2nd-half O-Rating, incl. NBA-low 1.16 assist/TO ratio). The Pacers often find themselves scrambling late behind Sabonis and Malcolm Brogdon after coughing up early leads. The team that comes out of the Fieldhouse tunnel for what will hopefully be the final 24 minutes of action with a gameplan and a sense of urgency will have the upper hand by evening’s end. Is there a coach capable of making adjustments in the house? I do hope LP was able to stop by the IOC gift shop on his way out of Japan, picking up the commemorative clothing that says, “I HELPED A WATERED-DOWN TEAM USA NOT FUMBLE AWAY GOLD, SALVAGED COACH POP’S OLYMPIC LEGACY, AND ALL I GOT WAS THIS LOUSY T-SHIRT”. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  6. This tweet was King of the World last night. ~lw3
  7. “It’s all Greek to us, Jimmy V!” The Chowan Junior College transfer couldn’t believe it was happening. His dream school wants to offer him a scholarship. And he’ll need to sign fast, before the basketball team heads off to Greece. A Raleigh native, Nate McMillan adored the NC State basketball program, at a time before anyone around the state had heard of city slicker Jim Valvano. Norm Sloan was the essence of Wolfpack Basketball, and the coach scoured the state capital and places all across the state seeking out the best talent. Guys like Tony “Doc” Warren (pictured, with McMillan and others at The Parthenon, above), who the school newspaper’s sports editor suggested, in 1978, “can do everything with a basketball except squeeze the air out.” Young Nate tracked the path of Doc, a 6-foot-7 high school local legend, through the junior college ranks and into State, under Sloan’s watch. McMillan shined as a local prep player, too. But with his small, slight stature, unlike Doc, Nate couldn’t attract D-1 offers, especially from no one you know along Tobacco Road. Here’s one example of the type of in-state product the major Carolina schools, in lieu of little Nate, were fawning over. “I’ll certainly never get over losing him,” Sloan would say to Sports Illustrated, about Pam-Pack phenom Dominque Wilkins spurning him for UGA. Unable to recruit the second-coming of David Thompson while squabbling with his AD over salary, Sloan left his legendary program in 1980 for Florida, where he got to watch a lot more of Wilkins’ flights of fancy in the SEC. Like Doc Warren, Nate went through the junior college circuit. It was at Chowan where his height sprouted upwards by four inches, became a Junior College All-American, and got the attention of Sloan’s successor. Scouring the JuCo ranks, Valvano hit the jackpot finding a lightning-quick guard in Anthony “Spud” Webb down in Texas. A bit closer to home, Jimmy V hoped to have success again, with the now 6-foot-5 McMillan. After years of carefully following Doc’s footsteps, in 1984, Nate was on his way to the Pack, joining an instant legend, in NCAA champion Valvano, and the club in time for fun, frolic and exhibition games versus the Greek National Team in That Other Athens. ACC regular season champs in his first year on campus, back-to-back Elite Eight appearances in both seasons, the latter concluding with an early second-round selection in the 1986 NBA Draft. Fast forward 36 years from his recruitment to NC State, and Nate had become an accomplished NBA retiree and head coach for the Indiana Pacers. A rising newcomer to McMillan’s roster already has his jersey hanging on the rafters in NC State’s arena after just two years of playing there. It’s a gentleman who knows not only of Nate’s NC State roots, but his deep Raleigh-Durham ones, having been sired by Doc Warren himself. It’s the summer of 2020 and a sixth-year forward, castoff for cash by the Phoenix Suns, T.J. Warren, Doc’s son, is going bonkers for McMillan and the Pacers. Imagine: a monstrous 41 points and 21 rebounds by a three-time All-Star, Joel Embiid, starring for a Finals favorite, in a performance that no one will remember. That’s because he got eclipsed by a stunning 53-point performance courtesy of Warren, the third-most points ever scored in a game by a Pacer in their NBA era, as Warren’s Pacers passed the 76ers in the conference standings like a ship in the night. T.J. vowed to publicly demonstrate that Phoenix had “messed up” by believing “cash considerations” were the height of his value. Yes, Warren had dropped 40 before, in his days with young Devin Booker and the Suns back in 2017. But the entire sporting world was watching the Bubble in 2020, and Warren was giving ample reason to sit up and take notice. Where did this come from? Who saw this coming? Who’s coaching this guy up? With Warren (42-25 as a Pacer starter) asserting himself, ahead of names like Oladipo, Turner and Brogdon, as perhaps Indiana’s new #2 star, and shining under McMillan’s direction, the Pacers finished the regular-season with a solid 6-2 finish, earning Warren (31 PPG) the unique All-Bubble 1st-Team honors. When the seeding games concluded, Indiana, not Philly, would be the 4-seed, drawing the Miami heat. 25 days after Warren’s epic game, he lost his Triangle-area, Pack alum coach. Disregarding injuries to Domantas Sabonis and others at critical junctures of the season, the Pacers fired Nate McMillan, shortly after a 4-0 sweep to Miami during a series based entirely in Florida. McMillan would not get to return to Bankers Life Fieldhouse as an employed head coach, until tonight, as his Atlanta Hawks are in town (8 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, BS Indiana) for a contest featuring two clubs that played brow-raising games just last night. Pacers owner Herb Simon was dismayed that, through four years transitioning out of the Paul George era, the team had failed to get OUT of the first round of the NBA Playoffs. Today, with their replacement Nate, Mr. Bjorkgren, in charge, the Pacers (30-35) find themselves at a crossroads with their new coach already. Together, they face the prospect that they will fail to get IN to the first round of the NBA Playoffs. Don’t nobody blame Warren. A navicular stress fracture in his foot, shelving him after just four games in December, made it impossible for him to settle into the new NBA season after a quick turnaround. That’s 61 games and counting. Now dealing with a tear in his toe, league-leading BPG man Myles Turner has missed 18 games and counting. Concerned about lagging impacts from his January 2019 leg injury carrying into the next stage of his career, Victor Oladipo was shipped just 12 games into this season, only to find his replacement star, Caris LeVert, needing to miss 24 games to treat a mass discovered on his kidney during post-trade physicals. Oddly, LeVert (4-for-12 FGs @ ATL on Apr. 18, 5-for-18 vs. SAC last night; 25.9 PPG, 48.9 FG%, 4.7 APG, 1.7 TOs/game in 8 games between) is about the healthiest specimen the Pacers have going right now. Their All-Star big man, Sabonis played in that 129-117 loss to the Hawks in Atlanta, then missed six games with a sore back as the opportunity for his Pacers to escape the Play-In prospects grew bleak. The 2021 All-Star Skills Challenge winner missed three straight games before that, too, earlier in the month. Jeremy Lamb had an ACL tear in February 2020 that caused him to sit for 11 months. He missed the first 14 games of this season, and toe and knee ailments have caused him to miss 15 more. Re-signed in the offseason for frontcourt depth, JaKarr Sampson has been in-and-out of the lineup, and he was just beginning to enjoy steady minutes until one of Blake Griffin’s pointy elbows placed him in concussion protocol last week. Also missing in action just last night was former Hawks season-ender Edmond Sumner, now questionable for tonight due to a bruised knee. Inactive for the past three games, including the anomaly 152-95 win over OKC, Malcolm Brogdon remains questionable with a sore hammy. Rookie center Goga Bitadze is questionable with an ankle sprain, and probably wishes he sat himself the Dellavedova down instead of trying to play through it last night. All told, that’s well over 200 games missed due to injury for Bjorkgren’s Pacers, and it’s tough for any coach, much less a first-year one, to gain traction with so many moving parts. But Indy can’t help but notice how similarly McMillan has uplifted Atlanta (37-30), this season, while he and former coach Lloyd Pierce juggled lineups to account for closer to 300 missed games. Further, few shed tears for McMillan overachieving over the course of four seasons, since his club’s valiant efforts to win against the odds could not be duplicated at playoff time. He came close in nearly toppling LeBron’s Cavs during 2018’s first-round, as Oladipo stood tall in Paul George’s former superstar gap. But close only counts in those things on Colts helmets. At this moment, McMillan is getting paid by the Simons not to be here in the Hoosier State anymore, but only because management – probably watching the Warren scoring bonanza -- rushed an extension (re-worked for this season, team option for 2021-22) in front of him before his fateful and brief postseason voyage could begin. Nate had only been working in this town because his Blazer buddies – PBO Kevin Pritchard, GM Chad Buchanan – that found their way here invited him onto Frank Vogel’s bench following his ouster from Portland. “Simon says,” in 2007, that Rick Carlisle lacked the tools to elevate a team into championship contention. Then-PBO Larry Bird had Carlisle share his agreement that the team needed a “new voice.” Four years later, well. How’d Jim O’Brien work out for y’all? Two years removed from a second consecutive Conference Finals trip, Simon had enough of Frank Vogel, having Bird tell the media in 2016 the team needed a “new voice” if they were ever break through and reach the Finals. Four years later, well. Maybe the voice the players needed to hear was LeBron’s, the whole time? Indiana showed off a fighting spirit yesterday evening at the Fieldhouse, and not in any way directed at the visitors, as Luke Walton’s Sacramento Kings won handily, 104-93. I don’t know how you feel about Atlanta PBO Travis Schlenk’s maneuvers since the 2020 Trade Deadline – Dedmon for Snell, Bogi for nothing, Capela for some Sun Chips – but I think my favorite was a call that went something like this: “Hey, K-Pritch, we’re thinking about adding Coach Nate to our staff, so LP’s bench is getting a bit crowded. How would your Swedish Chef guy like to bring in Greg Foster? He’s got a fiery disposition I think your guys will just love!” Coach Greg, as you might imagine, will not be available for today’s proceedings. On the good side, Goga’s lighter wallet should help his ankle heal quicker. Schlenk does a good job in sensing the quality of interpersonal connections when building players and staff for his club. Alternatively, after ditching McMillan, the coach whose breakout player’s dad served as a young neighborhood idol, they pursued Bjorkgren, who also spent a couple seasons coaching up Warren and the Suns in Phoenix. As Bleacher Report’s insider article by Jake Fischer alludes today, had Warren appreciated Bjorkgren’s coaching style enough to rehab quickly and help the Pacers win games, he’d have done so by now. Larry Legend still hovers around the club as an advisor to Pritchard, and it sure looks like they’re already hearing the call for “new voices” again, as it pertains to Bjorkgren and the entire Pacers coaching staff. Simon may do with the front office what he does with his deadmalls and clean house for good, rather than just settle with paying another head coach not to be around. He’s paying over $113 million next year to players in guaranteed cash. As it stands, it’s unclear which ones want to be around, and which will be healthy enough to do so. Finally able to have a predictable lineup of active players at his disposal, McMillan will want to deploy his Hawks in a similar manner to last night’s resounding 135-103 home win over the Phoenix Suns. Have the starters hang tough as Indy gives the first quarter it’s best shot, rely on the advantage of depth and hustle among the second unit to carry over into the next quarter. Sabonis and the Pacers will do all they can to craft a game narrative that has nothing to do with the sidelines. By the end of the third quarter, the rest advantage gained by the Hawks’ first unit late last night should allow them to seize control of the contest, giving way for some entertainment in the final frame as the backups continue to hone their budding chemistry at both ends. It will be fun to track where the Pacers are, in 2024, and what McMillan has accomplished in that time, be it with the Hawks, or as a head coach or assistant somewhere else by then. It is noteworthy to look back upon his playing tenure and coaching career and see, while not championship-successful, just how resilient he has been. From his hardscrabble days in northeast Raleigh, to his time at NC State, the Pacific Northwest, Indiana, and now Atlanta. Through it all, Nate embodies the adage that applies to the many ups-and-especially-downs that life throws at people. Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  8. “I’m tellin’ you, our duo nickname is gonna be catchy! You just gotta go by ‘Hooch’!” I’m putting as much effort into the thread for this game, between the Atlanta Hawks and the visiting Indiana Pacers (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Indiana), as the Hawks (aside from Skylar Mays) put in while preparing for last night's game versus Gregg Popovich, DeMar DeRozan and the San Antonio Spurs. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  9. Was gonna go with LeHurt but I have no idea if what he's got is painful or not. Tough break for the Pacers, but tougher for him. Hope that thing gets cleared up quickfastinahurry! ~lw3
  10. Holadipo, Batman! ~lw3
  11. Two Weeks ago he signed a 1 year extention. Now he's out.
  12. https://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/29532248/pacers-domantas-sabonis-exits-nba-bubble-foot-injury ~lw3
  13. “Happy Holidays!” After beating a Magic squad that lacked Aaron Gordon, then putting the scare into a Celtics team that was missing Kemba Walker, are the Atlanta Hawks catching a break, again? The Indiana Pacers are in town (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Indiana) after losing at home versus Denver on Thursday. But it appears that they’ll have to play once more without Malcolm Brogdon (back soreness). Brogdon’s 19 points and 12 assists paced Indiana to a 110-100 win here at State Farm Arena on December 13, extending what would become a five-game winning streak. That was one game after going 29-and-8 to help defeat Boston. But the ensuing four games after beating the Hawks featured Malcolm in the Riddle (12.0 PPG, 32.8 3FG% in those contests). A diagnosed hamstring strain caused him to sit through three games. Brogdon was expected back with “no limitations” against the 76ers on New Year’s Eve, but then the back setback had him sitting barely eight minutes into the first quarter. The off-season acquisition of 2017’s surprise Rookie of the Year award winner, signed-and-traded by division-rival Milwaukee, was critical to the continued rise of Indiana in the East, as they await the return of star guard and occasionally masked lounge singer Victor Oladipo, who is rehabbing this month with G-League Fort Wayne. The Atlanta native has certainly delivered. Even with his late December swoon, Brogdon’s 14.4 Player Impact Estimate ranks behind only Atlanta’s Trae Young (15.8 PIE) among active starting guards in the NBA East, a value that accounts for his 7.4 APG (10th in NBA). Given his extended absence, Indiana coach Nate McMillan is elevating floor time for the Holiday brothers, including ex-Hawk Justin (39.1 FG%, but mostly threes on 36.7% shooting) and Aaron (42.2 3FG%; 3.4 APG, 1.4 TOs/game). Led by Doug McDermott’s 1.9 3FGs/game, Indiana has seven players sinking between 1.3 and 2.0 threes per contest. They don’t take many three-pointers but they hit them (36.9 team 3FG%, 4th in NBA). They don’t earn many free throw attempts, but they sink them (79.8 team FT%, 6th in NBA). Brogdon’s fellow Georgia native, Jeremy Lamb shoots a solid 85.9 FT% while passing at a 2:1 assist/TO clip. Nate Mac also can count on another strategic offseason pickup, T.J. McConnell, whose 40.3 assist percentage ranks 4th in the NBA, a shade ahead of Young’s 40.0. McConnell’s 3.6 assist/TO ratio ranks 6th among NBA players with 15+ MPG under their belts. Precise offensive execution helps Indiana lead the league overall with its 1.97 assist/TO ratio. It’s wild that many wondered how Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner (+7.6 points per 100 possessions as 2-man lineup) could work together as a full-time frontcourt duo, particularly with Turner shifting to a power forward role, as he noted yesterday on NBATV, for the first time since his AAU years. Turner’s overall production has slid as his shift includes stretching out to the three-point line regularly (45.6 three-point attempt rate, up from 25.1 in 2018-19). But he has connected enough (36.7 3FG%) for defenders to have to take him seriously, freeing up Sabonis (career-highs of 17.5 PPG; 13.1 RPG, 5th in NBA; 4.1 APG) to ply his wares in the paint at a peripheral All-Star level. To continue Indiana’s upward crawl up the Eastern standings (22-13, 5th in NBA East, 1.0 GB Toronto) until Oladipo returns, it might help if Turner (5.7 RPG; one double-digit rebounding performance in last 22 games) and leading scorer T.J. Warren (17.9 PPG, 20.2 in last 5 games; 3.7 RPG) cease their abdication of the paint. Even with Sabonis’ prowess, the Pacers are a subpar rebounding club. They appear to be built to respond defensively to the modern spread-out and dribble-drive offenses in the league (33.6 opponent 3FG%, 6th-best in NBA; 42.7 opponent eFG% on P&R ball-handler plays, 3rd-best in NBA). Turner (2.0 BPG, 6th in NBA) remains a useful help blocker. But the high volume of well-earned opponent misses leaves them susceptible to giving up second chances. The Pacers really haven’t beaten anyone on the road, aside from the Hawks and Mike Miller’s re-tooling Knicks, in nearly a month. In the past three weeks, they’ve been waylaid in Giannis’ Milwaukee (117-89), and in Brandon Ingram’s New Orleans (120-98). Last week, their collective failures to box out Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo in the closing minutes of a nip-and-tuck affair in Miami set them up for Goran Dragic’s game-winning jumper with six seconds to go. That was despite abandoning the offensive glass altogether (2 team O-Rebs @ MIA) in hopes of getting set defensively. The only Pacer victories over the past six games were at the Fieldhouse, one overtime win over pared-down Toronto, and a blowout win over a 76ers team that played without Joel Embiid. They held the visiting Nuggets to just 29.6 3FG% on Thursday, but Will Barton, Paul Millsap and The Joker (10 combined O-Rebs) bedeviled them inside. Denver swung a 14-point first-quarter deficit into a 124-116 win, aided by a breakout performance from Michael Porter (25 bench points). Frustrated when my Hawks (7-who cares?) predictably allowed a 18-point lead to erode by the end of the second quarter in Boston, I turned my channel to NBATV at halftime to find a “special guest” Myles Turner on my screen, chilling with the broadcasters, making sure to praise “Coach Lloyd” for his assistance with Team USA this past summer during the FIBA World Cup crusade. I’ve done no research into my theory, but I’ve always bristled when I see Hawks opponents in suits at the studios over on Techwood Drive, while the soon-to-be home team is contemporaneously playing a game, sometimes down the street, other times in lands far away. Last night was the first time, though, that I suspected the NBA is being complicit in baking this, deliberately, right into the Hawks’ regular-season schedules. No other NBA team really has to deal with this. Occasionally, you get a “special guest” player dropping in on Rachel Nichols’ studio at The Jump mid-day in the Big Apple. But ESPN usually just suffices with Hall of Famers and retired goons riffing on highlight videos and replays for an hour per day. The NBA, alternatively, needs viewers to stay locked into its own cable channel, and they know they can’t just trot out an array of deposed coaches, defrocked GMs, and underpaid beat writers all night long. So, just fly teams into Hartsfield-Jackson, grant them an off-day or two, and let NBATV handpick some star players to drop in and ham it up for a GAMETIME segment or two. Somebody can do the number crunching to confirm or refute my notion, but the allure that led many a visitor to the dreaded “ATL Flu” no longer holds enough weight to matter, especially when the NBATV guest’s whole team enters State Farm Arena with a clear rest advantage. Turner might again be thankful for Coach Lloyd today, if he gets to keep up with De’Andre Hunter at the power forward spot instead of John Collins. Back on December 13, Brogdon and the Pacers had to fend off a second-half charge led by Trae Young, Jabari Parker and Alex Len to win 110-100. Hunter had 21 points, thanks to 7-for-9 FTs, but was 0-for-4 from three-point range and was a team-worst minus-16 on the day. Collins had since returned, but with a near-full collective to work with in Boston, Lloyd Pierce chose to start Collins at center, leaving Hunter exposed once again at power forward while starter Bruno Fernando (+13 plus/minus @ ORL) was scheduled for rest. Collins was often the last lonely line of defense versus a Celtics team that crashed the glass (54-42 rebounding advantage, 8th Hawks opponent in past 9 games w/ 10+ O-Rebs and/or 50 total rebounds) and attacked Atlanta’s interior with impunity. Collins’ block attempt on a Jayson Tatum dunk try caused a fall that bruised his back, his departure making it simpler for Boston to turn the tables and shift their own center onto Young at critical junctures of the game. Without Collins available for this evening’s contest, or even Parker (doubtful, throat infection) a rested Fernando (3 minutes vs. BOS) must be an active participant in gaining Atlanta a rebounding advantage against Indy, despite Sabonis. More effective usage out of Fernando and reserve Alex Len (team-high 8 rebounds and 2 blocks but 5 points vs. BOS) at center would be a boon for the rookie Hunter (5 fouls, 1 rebound in 27 minutes @ BOS), Atlanta’s second-leading minutes recipient who has looked cerebrally slow with his actions and reactions at both ends of the court in recent weeks. Damian Jones (DNP @ BOS) is rested, too. So, there’s that. The Hawks’ ballhandlers, inclusive of Young, Kevin Huerter, rookie Cam Reddish and backup Brandon Goodwin, must avoid hoisting contested threes and instead feed the big men around the rim, potentially forcing Sabonis or Turner into foul trouble and contracting Indiana’s defense enough to grant Young (5-for-14 3FGs @ BOS, 9-for-30 FGs vs. IND on Dec. 13), Huerter and Allen Crabbe some slivers of perimeter daylight. Reddish and DeAndre’ Bembry can take turns badgering the Pacers’ perimeter players into rushed shots. But Cam’s draft partner, Hunter (no games with over six rebounds since November 20; 4.6 RPG in wins, 3.6 in losses), must relinquish some help-defensive duties to box out and secure defensive rebounds off of wayward shots. Things could be worse. We could have Vince Carter pretending to be a stretch-four again. Let’s enjoy the home crowd applause he’s earned for becoming the NBA’s first four-decade man today. Then, let’s hope Carter will enjoy not having to wrangle with bigs posting up around the rim. Now that we’re finally home for six days, hey, maybe NBATV can have Vince swing by to be their “special guest”! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  14. “Dropping 30-5-5 on the Hawks soon!” Home, Sour Home! After one disastrous minute, one horrific overtime, and one lousy extra game in the space of 24 hours, our Atlanta Hawks were chomping at the bit to get this show off the road. “We just have to get back to Atlanta,” said Cam Reddish to Fox Sports Southeast after Wednesday’s listless loss in Chicago, “and get back in the gym.” Oh, okay, is that all it takes? When not even a good night’s sleep at a Holiday Inn Express would do, the Hawks insist that a trip back to the lab in Brookhaven will make all the difference. Beginning tonight with the Indiana Pacers in town (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Indiana), we will just have to see if home is where the heart was. I’ve made much about Atlanta’s arduous strength-of-schedule to start the season, in terms of opponent caliber. But there’s also the matter that Our Fine Feathered Friends haven’t strung together many days to incubate in their own nest. Since November 10, the Hawks have had one road swing of five games, and two trips three-games long, a back-to-back embedded within each of those stretches. Sure, Atlanta (6-19) did have an 11-day stretch at the end of October to “enjoy” the comforts of home, before having to fly cross-country to Portland to start that five-game Western trek. But even that period was unduly disrupted by concerns about Trae Young’s injury status and the news of John Collins’ 25-game suspension. Since that time, they’ve had nothing but single-game (one, against the Bucks) or two-game pit stops at State Farm Arena (3-8, incl. 1-6 over last 7 home games). That includes this weekend, where the Pacers, fresh from a day off after surging late to beat Boston at home 122-117 on Wednesday, will be followed by LeBrongeles. The Lakers, too, won’t be coming here without a day off, having spent their week cruising on relatively short flights through the Southeast Division. Atlanta has already been grounded and pounded through three road back-to-backs, losing the back ends by 122-101 (Lakers), 158-111 (Houston), and 136-102 (Chicago). Conversely, only once has a visiting opponent arrived at The Farm after playing the night before on the road, and that opponent was Tarnished State. “We’re just still learning how to compete,” Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce acknowledged after the blowout loss in Chicago. They came off a reasonably competitive loss at Milwaukee before Thanksgiving, then nearly upset the Pacers in Indy on Black Friday before succumbing in overtime. Of course, the Hawks had a resting Rockets team at home waiting for them just one night later. Pierce’s nightly crews were shorthanded, and tired, to be sure. But they have also been lugging around the youthful core of a roster that has hardly played meaningful minutes together in seasons past, and supersized-contract veterans that have contributed next-to-nothing of value on the floor. And in a head coach, through questionable substitutions, that is prioritizing committee-style minute shares and metered-out rehab returns over maximal lineups, and things like confidence, competition, and cohesion become a hard sell. Is simply shifting the area code back to 404 going to make that big of a difference, anytime soon? The Pacers are likely to get their franchise star and newly unmasked lounge singer, Victor Oladipo (quad rehab), back at some time over the next few weeks. In the interim, Indiana (16-9, 1.5 games behind 4-seed Boston) seems to revel in being a team without a clear identity. As a team, Indiana doesn’t shoot a lot of threes (2nd-fewest 3FGAs/game), and they don’t get to the line much (30th in free throw rate). While that means they’re high in shares of interior shots, they’re just middle-of-the-pack in 2-point shooting accuracy (51.1 2FG%, 19th in NBA). They haven’t been exceptional passers (18th in assist percentage), they don’t crash the offensive glass (19th in O-Reb%), and don’t drive the tempo of games in either direction (21st in Pace). After being harassed all night by the pernicious Bulls, Young and the Hawks will be relieved to face a Pacers squad that’s smack-dab in the middle for forcing turnovers (15th in opponent TO percentage; 24 Hawk TOs on Nov. 29 were 4 more than any other opponent so far). They literally don’t do much of anything to stand out. And I suspect coach Nate McMillan and his staff like it exactly that way, at the very least until they can get Oladipo back into the fold. No strengths for opponents to deny, no weaknesses to exploit. GM Kevin Pritchard stocked the team in the offseason with efficient supporting cast members (Malcolm Brogdon, T.J Warren, Jeremy Lamb, T.J. McConnell, Justin Holiday, the injured JaKarr Sampson), and contract-extended Domantas Sabonis (13.5 RPG, 4th in NBA) to pair in the frontcourt with Myles Turner (2.4 BPG, 4th in NBA). As such, they can afford to wait until Oladipo can build upon their playoff-worthy foundation. Along the way, they can stash as many Ws in the column as they can, so Victor Victorious won’t have to do so much to seal up a nice playoff seed in the East. Taking sound shots, wherever they are on the floor, and hustling back into stout defensive positions has been enough to stay above the fray. Indy (6-6 in away games) has also benefited, unlike Atlanta, from a friendly early road schedule. After edging the Hawks back on Nov. 29, the Pacers went on a five-game road swing of their own. Except theirs included Morant-less Memphis, OKC, Detroit and fizzling New York. The NBA West hasn’t been the 12-team juggernaut many projected before this season began, but the Pacers have yet to travel into the teeth of that conference. Including just one visit to Houston a month ago, on three days’ rest, in addition to the Grizzlies and Thunder, Indiana (5-2 vs. Western Conference foes) has not had to travel west of the Plains. Before they return to face Atlanta on January 4, the Pacers’ only “Western” road opponent will be New Orleans, a team that likely still won’t have Zion and may be dealing with a new coach. They have played in just one all-road back-to-back (Detroit and the Knicks). Before that last trip, the Pacers hadn’t played in consecutive road games since October 30. They haven’t had a back-to-back of any kind since leaving the last Hawks game to visit Philly, a space of nearly two weeks, and they won’t encounter one for another ten days. Even while enduring injury absences for Turner, Brogdon, and Lamb, the Pacers have had more time to work through adversity under their own confines or, at least, in reasonably close vicinity. While Trae carried the Hawks as best he could, for better or worse, when these teams last met (49 points, 8-for-15 3FGs and 9-for-9 FTs; 9 TOs and 6 assists), Atlanta was able to use bench help from DeAndre’ Bembry (11 D-Rebs and 7-for-9 2FGs), Alex Len and Bruno Fernando to neutralize the contributions from the Pacers’ balanced starting unit. Atlanta will try to use the returning Kevin Huerter (DNP-injury @ IND; 1st home start likely since Oct. 31) and Cam Reddish (1-for-7 FGs in 11.5 minutes @ IND) to greater effect in taking defensive pressure off of Young, whose teammates could muster just 8 assists (15 player TOs) in November’s 105-104 loss at the Fieldhouse. When on the road, the Pacers have effectively stifled their opponents’ fastbreak schemes (NBA-low 7.4 opp. points-per-48; next-nearest team allows 11.2). The Hawks still need to press the pace in transition, but they must be mindful of the need to look for trailers and corner-three opportunities, not piling up deleterious offensive foul calls (3rd-highest TO% on transition plays) while forcing actions that aren’t there. Defensively, the task for the Hawks include denying the obvious subjects, Sabonis, Turner and Warren, post position in the halfcourt that allows for easy putbacks. Absent obvious second-chance opportunities, the Pacers are inclined to just get back on defense. Free money for the Pacers involves getting Brogdon (NBA-high 94.6 FT%, up from NBA-high 92.8% last season) to the charity stripe. Besides his 8 assists and a single turnover, the Atlanta native’s season-best 15-for-15 display on Wednesday (12 fourth-quarter points, incl. 10 FTs in the final 4 minutes) helped the Pacers turn a ten-point deficit versus Boston, to start the fourth, into a five-point victory at regulation’s end. Young and his help defenders will have to be less lackadaisical off handoffs and screens than they were in Chicago, keeping Indiana from getting easy looks at the hoop. But they also must do so in a way that keeps them out of foul trouble and the Pacers’ best marksmen off the free throw line. Hopefully, a day’s worth of video and training at the Brookhaven facility will be all that was needed to drive those points home and keep Atlanta from descending into needless ruts tonight. A more mature, resilient and composed Hawks team will understand that fundamentals are fundamentals, regardless of the venue or the number of intervening days off. We’re quite a ways from seeing that kind of team reveal itself. But maybe, at least for tonight, with a more inspired 48-minute effort from players and staff, having their own fans and being inside their own Factory will be enough to get not just the occasional Highlight, but a rare win over a decent opponent as well. Simply clicking heels and crooning about Home like Dorothy in The Wiz won’t be enough. But a coordinated display of brains, heart and courage can make a huge difference, when the time comes once again to ease on down the road. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  15. “I beg your Pardon???” Happy Georgia Granite Gray Friday! But for a few shoppers cutting each other off in traffic while fighting to get to that last 60-percent-off smart 4K HD toaster oven at the outlet mall, I’d have already been back at the lab crafting up a gamethread for tonight’s Atlanta Hawks game in Indiana against the Pacers (8 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Indiana). Alas, here we are! My large, adult son of what should have been my large, adult father, Domantas Sabonis (18.9 PPG and 13.3 RPG) has gotten over his preseason contract squabbles and is playing really good basketball, y’all. Coach Nate McMillan’s club has made things work quite well (11-6, 6th in NBA East, winners of 4 straight and 11-3 in last 14 games) despite missing key components for much of the season, including Team USA seat-warmer Myles Turner (back from an ankle sprain), Hawks 30-win-stopper Edmond Sumner (out, fractured hand) and newcomer guards Malcolm Brogdon and Jeremy Lamb (both back in action; Brogdon’s 96.0 FT% is 1st in NBA). When Victor Oladipo gets back up to speed, watch out! Hopefully, that won’t be until after December 13, when these teams meet up at State Farm Arena and the Hawks (4-whatever) will (knock on wood) have Kevin Huerter in tow by then. In the meantime, some more of that middle-quarters magic from Wednesday’s Milwaukee loss, spread out earlier and later in this contest, could help Atlanta enjoy a much more favorable conclusion before hitting the skies for Houston tonight. At least DeAndre’ Bembry can’t foul Sumner this time around. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  16. “Aww, do I have to? I was just starting to like this gig!” Finishing just a few games above .500 might cost you a playoff spot out West. But in the Eastern Conference, the same record might be good enough to secure first-round homecourt. The Indiana Pacers hope to do a lot better than that, as the low-flying Atlanta Hawks swoop in for a visit (7:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Indiana) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. But the Pacers need more consistently sound contributions than they’re getting so far from the supporting cast. Bojan Bogdanovic struggles on the defensive end, while Thaddeus Young seems to be wearing down. Darren Collison hasn’t provided steady shooting like he did last season (NBA-high 46.8 3FG%; 33.3% so far), while Doug McDermott and free agent pickup Tyreke Evans haven’t been useful when their shots aren’t falling. Myles Turner (2.5 BPG) chases blocks but often abdicates the paint to do so, taxing the other bigs on the floor. But certainly, nobody’s worried about what Victor Oladipo brings to the floor every night. Building on a breakout All-Star campaign where he was awarded as the league’s Most Improved Player last season, Dipo is crashing the boards (career-high 6.9 RPG), expanding his range, and dishing the rock more effectively so far (career-high 4.9 APG), all while filling up the boxscore (23.1 PPG, 9th in NBA) and sustaining his tenacity as a defensive nuisance (NBA-high 5.8 contested 3FGAs per game; 4th in loose ball recoveries and charges drawn per game, as per NBA.com stats). But coach Nate McMillan’s crew tends to get more done when Oladipo is tasked with doing less. Mark Monteith of Pacers.com notes that Indiana (9-6, t-3rd in NBA East) prevailed in 25 of the past 28 games where Victor takes no more than 15 attempts from the field. The most recent example came here at the Fieldhouse last night, a 99-91 win over Miami where Oladipo went just 3-for-12 on field goals, tallying just eight points on the evening. He got the help he needed with Bojan’s threes, Turner’s rebounds and blocks, and Collison’s steals. But with Indiana falling behind 27-18 in the opening quarter, the reserves stepped it up and turned Friday’s game decisively around in the Pacers’ favor. Cory Joseph added a team-high five assists off the bench, Indiana aided by free agent pickup Tyreke Evans’ five three-pointers (23 points and 10 rebounds) and a banner effort by The Sabonesaw (too soon?). Backup pivot Domantas Sabonis logged 15 points and 12 rebounds (all defensive), like Evans all in the space of just 25 minutes. If he can expand his range to the three-point line, Sabonis will keep pressure on McMillan to have him supplement, or supplant, the inconsistent rebounder Turner in Indy’s starting lineup. Both have been equally adept at setting productive screens, ranking 7th and 9th in the league for per-game screen assists, respectively. Last night, the Pacers’ team defense was committed to neutralizing everyone on the heat not named Josh Richardson (7-for-10 3FGs, 28 points) in order to beat the heat. They hope to do the same with Trae Young (16.7 PPG, 2nd among NBA Rooks; 81.4 FT%, Rookie-high 8.0 APG) and the hapless Hawks (3-12) today, but it may prove to be a slightly tougher task. That’s because John Collins is slotted as probable to make his season debut for the Hawks. Young has been great at setting up teammates for scores, but there has been no one on the floor to return the favor. Collins won’t be of much assistance as a secondary passer, but if he returns swiftly to his form from late last season (8.1 RPG, 35.7 3FG%), he can grant Young more room to roam by drawing a pesky defender off to the paint or at the perimeter. Dewayne Dedmon (big poppa) returns from personal leave and should be active today in coach Lloyd Pierce’s rotation. Albeit not likely in time for this game, added reinforcements at the forward and center positions will alleviate the overburdened Hawks backcourt from carrying so much of the offensive water. A big beneficiary could be Kent Bazemore, quietly enjoying, if you can call it joy, career-highs of 14.8 PPG and 1.7 SPG. Despite a clunky outside shot (31.4 3FG%) in the early going, Baze is doing a better job of finishing around the rim (64.5 2FG%, best since at least 2013-14), long a bane and a bone of contention among his critics. When Oladipo, Collison, Joseph and Evans have their sights turned on Young and Jeremy Lin, Bazemore can have an impactful day playing off the ball. After not logging a steal or a block on Friday for just the second time this season, he’ll help the Hawks cause even more if he can get some stops and spark Atlanta’s transition game. It’s a back-to-back for Indiana, but the Pacers continue their homestand after enjoying four calendar days off. Unlike the Hawks’ recent opponents, who didn’t mind free-wheeling tempo, the Pacers will prefer to grind out a victory (28th in pace), fouling where needed to ensure they control the clock (19.6 personal foul calls per game, 2nd in NBA). Neither the Pacers (70.6 FT%, 29th in NBA) nor the Hawks (73.1 FT%, 22nd) are strong free throw shooters, so the final margin could be affected by which team proves to be more consistent from the line. Improved frontcourt support and a slower game pace, in combination, will contribute to a more palatable outcome today for the Hawks, one certainly better than Friday’s 138-93 debacle in Denver. The reduction of Pierce’s mix-and-match lineup permutations will give way to better stability for Atlanta on the floor and on the scoreboard, both in today’s game and in the long run. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record