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  1. However, no traces of Thecheesestandsalone, were found. ~lw3
  2. "B.I. and Zion! Brought to you, today, by The Number 10." So, how did your summer go? Mine? On balance, not too shabby. Got some overdue housework projects done, shed some pounds, got a little intown hiking in, got chased by some wild boars while going streaking, and after many trials, I perfected this Hummingbird cake recipe that I had been meaning to… oh, excuse me? Why, of course, I made that part up! It was Red Velvet cake, actually! And, yes, it was scrumptious! I’ll save Kevin some, next time! I don’t want to “boar” you with my troubles. There’s just something about David Griffin, head honcho of the New Orleans Pelicans, that tends to knock Pels fans off their feet. Griffin showed up on Media Day last month with a new head coach, a re-tooled roster, and his trademark gift of gab. He was casually rifling through things the team looks forward to accomplishing this season when he casually let drop a miniscule nugget of detail. Specifically, that the franchise’s supersized lottery prize Zion Williamson has been on the shelf since a time prior to Summer League, having fractured a metatarsal in his foot. But, hey, no worries! “He had a fractured right foot that was repaired surgically. His timeline should get him back on the court in time for the start of the season,” shared a glib Griffin with the suddenly glum reporters. “He was working out on his own on the court and, frankly, was doing an unbelievable job. It’s crazy sometimes what happens when you look your best.” Mm-hmm. Okay, fine! Maybe it would have been courteous to have spent the preceding summer weeks advising season ticket holders that the franchise face (with all apologies due to All-Star swingman Brandon Ingram) is in a sort of a holding pattern. But that’s neither here nor there. Griff wouldn’t be so optimistic if there was reason to anticipate a setb— “Obviously, two to two-and-a-half weeks from now,” Griffin acknowledged a couple weeks into NBA preseason action, of Zion’s plans to get his healing foot scanned, “means he will not be on the floor for the first week of games.” That includes today’s nationally televised affair with the visiting Atlanta Hawks (7:30 PM Eastern, ESPN, 103.3 FM in ATL, as United’s on 92.9). Griff and the team added there was, this time around, “no fixed timeline,” pertaining to Williamson’s anticipated return. Far be it for a Hawks fan to tsk-tsk another team’s shifting sands when it comes to player injury and availability statuses. But the story on storyteller Griffin always feels the same, that he wraps his desired perception of being a straight-shooter around his mendacity as tightly as a pretzel around Combos cheese product. Don’t ask about Combos, Zion, you don’t wanna know. Over at TNT, Stan Van Gundy was asked, during a media day for the network’s NBA broadcast teams, about the process that led him to return to the broadcast booth. “Well,” said SVG in trademark Van Gundy family fashion, “the first step for me wanting to get back into broadcasting was David Griffin firing me.” It’s sort of how David Blatt found himself reconsidering a career in European basketball coaching, after getting the rug yanked out from under him in mid-season while Griffin was “managing” the defending conference champion LeBronnaires in Ohio. Van Gundy’s replacement, former Hawks’ Vet-Min wing Willie Green, was left to fill in a conspicuous gap in the Pelican starting lineup. Green likely wishes he had a few more Vet-Mins to turn to for assistance. Opening night featured veteran Josh Hart with the top unit, for roughly ten minutes, until the guard came down with quad tendinosis. Willie G has since turned to rookies to supplant Hart (doubtful, as per himself, for today’s game). Namely, Tide-rolling second-rounder Herbert Jones (23.3 minutes/game, 2.0 PPG on 36.4 FG%) in the starting lineup, and mid-tiered first-rounder Trey Murphy (21.0 minutes/game, 41.2 3FG%) off the bench. Seeing New Orleans lean so hard in the early going on Jones and Murphy, who impressed at times in preseason and training camp, surely raises the eyebrows of Atlanta newbies Jalen Johnson and Sharife Cooper. As for a far shallower roster, the brows on Tomas Satoransky (8.0 minutes/game, DNP’d for 2 games) and Willy Hernangomez (DNP’d through 4 games) may reside in the back of their heads. The Olympic star for the Czech Republic, Satoransky was among several newcomers Griffin acquired to Etch-a-Sketch away other additions from recent Pelican seasons past. Free agent Lonzo Ball was signed-and-traded primarily for Sato and Garrett Temple. Starting point guard Devonte’ Graham and center Jonas Valanciunas arrived in NOLA via a multi-team deal that neatly dispatched Eric Bledsoe, Steven Adams and Wes Iwundu, along with a pair of conditional first-rounders. While Graham has carte blanche to make the most of an expanded role since coming from LaMeloville, Satoransky struggled and got short hooks from Coach Green, in the home-opener versus Philly and in the rematch with Lonzo last Friday in Chi-town, and he hasn’t been seen on the court since. Reportedly, Tomas played in the Bulls game despite suffering through a non-COVID illness, but he has not been listed on injury reports. I’ve seen no word on what the deal is with Hernangomez, who returned in free agency after appearing in 47 games for NOLA last season and starting during preseason games. Also getting fewer minutes than the rooks, Temple, backup big Jaxson Hayes, forward Naji Marshall and the spry Kira Lewis, haven’t fared much better. The Pels bench has been responsible for a league-low 18.8 PPG, while committing 7.4 TOs/game (3rd-most in NBA). There’s not much help for Ingram, who averages an early career-best 27.0 PPG on a career-high 22.5 shot attempts per game (only 2.8 FTAs/game so far, so he may be getting the cold shoulder from refs, too), but who has turned the ball over about as much he makes successful dishes (4.3 TOs/game, 4.8 APG). The rub is, Ingram and the regular starters were not supposed to be taxed this much, with the understanding that their franchise savior was merely a few days around the corner, and they were likely granted little time to prepare for an inestimable period without him. A more reliable source than Griffin, Green says Williamson is “progressing and doing more and more on the floor.” In the interim, Times-Picayune sportswriter Scott Kushner suggests the Pels (NBA-worst 19.9 TO%; 23.3 opp. PPG off TOs 2nd-most in NBA) do what they can to slow the tempo down and simplify the offense. Their one saving grace has been, at least for bad stretches, the Hawks’ bugaboo. Atlanta’s 77.8 D-Reb% sits impressively at fourth-best in the league following another slow-boil home victory, this one 122-104 on Monday at wayward Detroit’s expense. But that show has to go on the road, and the Pels (30.5 O-Reb%) hope to find exploitable size advantages, if not length, in the paint (39.0 team paint PPG, 2nd-lowest in NBA) to catch and tip-out the off-kilter shots that are soon to come from teammates’ decently-contested shots. That equates to a steady diet of Valanciunas (early career-high 15.0 RPG, 2nd in NBA; early career-low 41.4 FG%), Jones, NAW, Hernangomez(?) and Hayes crashing the glass and, often, into their opponents in hopes of favorable whistles. Keeping starters John Collins (4.0 personal fouls/game, 2.0 posters/game), De’Andre Hunter, and Clint Capela on the court and out of foul trouble will require schemes that goad Valanciunas into taking open jumpers and hooks (5-for-22 FGs betw. 3-10 feet from rim, as per bball-ref) while boxing him and others out. All hail Atlanta’s own, Anthony Edwards, who is becoming a national treasure during press conferences in only his second season of service with the once-undefeated Timberwolves. “Lock in. Lock the [Dellavedova] in!”, he implored of his associates, who let the Pelicans (1-3) sneak out of town on Monday with a 107-98 victory. Valanciunas (22 points, 23 boards), Ingram and Nickeil Alexander-Walker ravaged Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns’ supporting cast, gaining a 60-41 rebounding edge. It was one that Minnesota could not narrow until it was too late. “Everybody coming in here thinking it’s sweet playing the Pelicans,” Edwards grumbled. “Whooped our [Paul Pierces]… We got to wake up!” Ant-Man wasn’t crawling around criticism of himself and his star teammates, KAT and D’Angelo Russell, taking the Pelicans too lightly. “We can’t beat five people with three people,” Edwards warned, as he is well on his way to winning the sports media’s Yogi Berra Award. “We beat five people with five people!” With Trae Young (NBA-high 47 career games with 25+ points and 10+ assists, tied with James Harden since 2018) leading the charge, coach Nate McMillan’s club (2-1) on Monday returned to a more balanced offensive approach predicated on proper off-ball motion and ball movement, although shooters on occasion will need to be encouraged to take the well-crafted open shots. Taking the Highlight & T-shirt Factory on the road is a big lug. But with greater adversaries on the horizon, including tomorrow night in D.C., a wannabe contender like the Hawks must learn to do some heavy lifting. Griffin is as Griffin does, and that is serving as the Baghdad Bob for the NBA’s media scrums. No one embodies the saying, “There’s Nothing to See Here! All is Well!” better than Griff. But at some point, the fans at Smoothie King Center are going to want something genuinely worth seeing, lest they tread a few hours north up Interstate 55 to catch a glimpse at what 2019’s second-overall pick has been up to. Where did all the hyped-up Zion fans go? “Who, us? Oh, we just went whitewater rafting, served a soup kitchen, hung out with some Grizzlies, made some beignets! We’ve just been so busy lately!” Go 2-0, Bravos! And Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  3. “Join me in Boston, Al, and I guarantee you, within five years, we’ll be going places!” Big Birds! Bears and Bulls! Bugs, Brontosauruses and Bucks! Over the course of this home-friendly schedule over the next two weeks, continuing with the New Orleans Pelicans in town tonight (7:30 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, BS New Orleans), we can hope the Atlanta Hawks will be the busiest “Bs”, building up their hive while still delivering the biggest stings. Two Sundays from now, the 20th-winningest coach in NBA history may be able to don his Kool Moe Dee getup, and ask the visiting Pacers, “How Ya Like Me Now?” Using the upcoming schedule to expand their distance from current 9-seed Indiana, Nate McMillan’s Hawks could effectively dwindle the Magic Number for notching a Top-6 playoff spot (currently at 21) down to single digits. Have you missed the Hawks playing against the Eastern Conference? I sure haven’t. If we discount Cleveland and Orlando, Atlanta hasn’t faced an in-conference Play-In contender since Tony Snell’s three-pointer took out Tampato to kick off the post-All-Star schedule back on March 11. For a more legitimate Playoff threat, you have to go back over a month, to Miami on March 2. With the conceivable possibility of sweeping New Orleans and Memphis on back-to-back nights here at State Farm Arena, Atlanta (26-24) can head into the weekend bearing a better record versus Western foes (currently 13-12) than the mark against the ones in their own conference (also 13-12). Because the Hawks generally took care of business, versus sub-.500 teams like Golden State, and took advantage of the breaks they were given during their recent West Coast road trip, versus hosts like New Orleans (22-27), the NBA West now becomes a problem many Eastern rivals will have to overcome in order to catch up. Among East seeds 5 through 11, only the Bulls (10-17 vs. NBA West) and the Hornets (11-13) have played more than 20 cross-conference games. Miami (10-9 vs. NBA West), for example, has Atlanta’s opponent tomorrow, the Grizzlies, tonight and the Lakers before heading out West for a four-game swing. Later, they’ll have to dip over to San Antonio in a couple weeks before stopping by to face the Hawks here. New York (7-10) still has to host the Grizzlies and recuperating Lakers, along with the Pelicans twice and the Mavericks, this month, and they’ll also endure a six-game Western road trip among eight NBA West opponents in May. Pelicans stars Brandon Ingram (irritated toe joint) and Zion Williamson (sprained thumb) remain questionable in status for today’s affair. But Steven Adams should be available to give the Hawks’ Clint Capela (available, despite a sore hand; past seven games: 19.3 PPG, 14.4 RPG, 65.5 FG%, 73.5 FT%) a harder time around the hoop. Adams returned to action in Sunday’s 122-115 victory at Houston, registering a light double-double with the aid of seven offensive rebounds. Also back in action this past Sunday was Lonzo Ball, whose eight made buckets were all threes. That set a career-best for the guard with reformulated jumper mechanics (career-highs of 14.5 PPG and 39.2 3FG%), and his 27 points were two short of the career high from his rookie season in Los Angeles. While Lonzo had nine assists, he also had six turnovers, helping the Rockets to erase a ten-point lead in the third-quarter and go into the fourth quarter up by 3. Helping Ball and coach Stan Van Gundy (30th all-time in NBA wins) avoid a disastrous defeat on Sunday were forwards Willy Hernangomez (7-for-7 2FGs @ HOU, 15 points, 12 rebounds) and re-energized veteran acquisition James Johnson (7-for-11 2FGs @ HOU, 18 points, 4 blocks, 2 steals). New Orleans will need to get healthy and get on a winning stretch in order to escape the log-jambalaya with Memphis, San Antonio, Golden State, Sacramento, and OKC with one of the NBA West’s final three Play-In slots. That’s going to have to happen on the road, and the victory in H-Town raised the Pels to just 8-14 on the season. Van Gundy’s krewe parades their way up to Brooklyn tomorrow. The Pels have plenty of interior scorers, but they’ll need someone aside from Ball getting hot from outside to keep up offensively. In addition to his team-high six assists (are you there, Eric Bledsoe?), Johnson went 3-for-4 from outside during the Pelicans’ 126-103 home loss to the similarly short-winged Hawks last Friday. Kira Lewis (doubtful for today, calf strain) also made half of his four trey attempts. But their mates were a collective 3-for-21 from the French Quarter, proving no match for a red-hot Bogdan Bogdanovic (26 points, 6-for-11 3FGs) as the half-sized Hawks roster pulled away in the second half. Fresh off helping Joe Johnson and Team USA go undefeated during FIBA AmeriCup qualifying play in February, guard Isaiah Thomas (41.3 3FG% and 81.6 FT% last season w/ WAS, before being traded then waived by LAC) hopes to provide sparks for the Pelican offense for as long as Van Gundy can afford to keep the ten-day contractor on the floor. The Pelicans will rely on their defensive rebounders to spur the coast-to-coast fastbreak. Since the All-Star Break, New Orleans’ 14.6 fastbreak points per-48 (3rd-most in NBA) and 55.7 paint points per-48 (2nd-most in NBA) are behind only tomorrow’s Hawks opponent, Memphis, among Western Conference clubs. While growing more comfortable with his all-around game, Bogdanovic (last 4 games: 21.5 PPG, 5.8 APG, 4.8 RPG, 2.0 SPG, 1.3 TOs/game, 56.7 3FG%, 3.5 personals per game) has been quite clever at selectively applying mid-court non-shooting fouls to nip opponent runouts in the bud. New Orleans would greatly prefer to have their three-point possessions the old-fashioned way. The hard-luck Hawks (NBA-high 80.9 opponent FT%) and the Pelicans (80.2 opponent FT%) are the only NBA clubs whose opponents have shot above 80 percent from the charity stripe. While New Orleans usually finds the iron unkind themselves (73.4 team FT%, 29th in NBA), the Hawks must be judicious hackers, making sure their intentional fouls aren’t of the shooting variety. Pausing the game clock while allowing the Pels opportunities to add to their tally, plus enjoying the pursuit of second-chances off predictable free throw misses, would continue to give them life throughout the game. While the Pelicans and tomorrow’s opponent, the Grizzlies, have a long way to go to establish themselves as the Best of the Rest of the West, our Hawks now have a roadmap for becoming the Beasts of the Least of the East. Unite and Conquer! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  4. “Listen! Just form a (BLEEP!)ing levee around Skylar!” Mamas, please, don’t let your babies grow up to be podcasters. I kid. There are many fine podcast productions out there, featuring experts, humorists, special guests, and celebrities covering nearly every topic imaginable. It just feels like a good 28.7 percent of them are professional athletes just killing time. They’ve got ads now, too. According to sports radio during breaks every twenty minutes, Duncan Robinson of The University of Freakin’ Michigan has one called, “The Long Shot”, where he and a co-host get to babble about the NBA, “while showcasing stories of those that have,” as they infer he has, “overcome the odds and achieved success.” The alum from Governor Dummer and Phillips Exeter academies has overcome the odds, everyone. Keep your chin up, Franz Wagner! If you believe in yourself… If you gave me the binary choice of turning on the telly to find Stephen A. flipping a coin to decide which side of an argument he’s going to be gobsmacked by, then, yeah, I’ll take CJ McCollum’s perspectives instead. To keep it a buck, I’d really rather have Ivan Johnson’s. It’s not so much Yours Truly who have problems with pro-hoopster podcasters. It’s folks like the pride of Brophy Prep, David Griffin. The man’s been catching grief and put on Front Street ever since LeBron came home to Cleveland. Every move he made, before and especially after the Cavs won it all in 2016, was done with a sense of joylessness and misery. So much to overcome. He picks himself back up in the home of Mardi Gras, after the New Orleans Pelicans acrimoniously dispatched a former #1 pick to La-La Land. But then they luck out with the arrival of another one, in the form of Zion Williamson. Everyone around town is dancing with parasols in the streets. Except for Griffin. He is back to where he was in Cleveland, spinning his wheels trying to keep an otherworldly talent content and winning in a small NBA market, while skeptics swirl about. He brings in draft picks, swings deals with teams like the Atlanta Hawks for more prospects, seeks out shooters in free agency and veterans via trade, grabs a gabby veteran coach, all to build around Zion. “…it would be a high-class problem that this kid turns out so good,” said Griffin of Williamson in January 2020, while reflecting on his self-described “miserable” tenure in Northeast Ohio, “that we can make as many mistakes as we did for LeBron and still win.” While speaking with Joe Vardon of The Athletic, Griffin added, “LeBron’s a special winning machine, to think anyone’s gonna be that, no. But what it did do is prepared us for the crush of attention that comes from having a player that is that well followed.” The last thing Griffin needs is criticism made public about his credibility. Unfortunately for him, the podcasts are coming from inside the house. The pride of Duke University and Griffin’s 2019 free agent signee, J.J. Redick was barely gone from the Pelicans before lashing out at Professor Griff on his own podcast last week. There’s this thing where, as NBA veterans age, the GMs of the teams they work for look more and more like travel agents to them. Amid a still-raging pandemic, Redick wanted to be closer to his family, in the northeastern United States, and no amount of bottomless crawfish étouffée would convince the Family Redick to come join him down in N’Awlins. As thanks for helping babysit Zion through his rookie season, J.J. thought he had a deal with the Pelican brass that they would trade him, to this team. Or, maybe that team. But, no, not THOSE teams over there. It used to be that, when you were getting past your prime as an age-35-ish ballplayer and longed to spend more quality time with family, you’d just hang up your laces and retire (don’t get any funny ideas, Lou). But in this case, J.J. sought keep his NBA bag AND podcast AND treat Griffin like he’s Travelocity. “If you still want to be traded, I give you my word, I’ll get you to a situation that you like,” Redick relays Griffin assuring him prior to the start of this season. Griffin says he tried, but it takes two teams to tango. Having to wait until the trade deadline, only to get shipped to a team (the Mavs… snort!) he didn’t want to join, was just too much for the 36-year-old shooting guard in the twilight of his career to overcome. My heart aches for him. “Obviously, he [Griffin] didn’t keep his word.” Ouch! J.J. left some Dyn-O-Mite under the seats of both Griffin and Redick’s Dookie alum Trajan Langdon, the Pels’ GM. “I don’t think you’re going to get honesty from that front office,” J.J. grumbled, when asked on his podcast why any player should trust the organization. With Redick sowing seeds of mistrust on the Pelicans’ front lawn on his way out the door, suggesting they don’t have honesty inside their DNA, there’s no telling what will grow out of that in the seasons to come. One thing’s for sure, it is now much harder for Pels, Inc. to convince future free agents, or Williamson himself, to consume the crops. None of this is the Hawks’ fault. They’re just dropping by, passing through, hoping to snatch up a final win in this absurd eight-game, 14-day Western road trip before catching the first thing smoking out of Louis Armstrong International. Once they awaken this afternoon, having caught the red-eye from San Antonio, some beignets from Café du Monde might give them the sugar rush they’ll need to pull through. In these past two weeks, Atlanta (24-24) beat the Lakers without AD and pretty much LeBron, the Dubs without Steph, and the Spurs, in a not-at-all stressful double-OT game, despite having to start Solomon Hill. Tonight (9 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, BS New Orleans), they may have a shot at making this trip a .500 affair by beating a Pels team that will be without Zion (sprained thumb), All-Star Brandon Ingram (irritated toe joints), and the once-heralded Lonzo Ball (strained hip flexor). So, while I was wiping the Rocky Road off my TV screen after the ends of regulation and the first overtime last night, I couldn’t help but notice Stan Van Gundy’s skeleton crew dragged themselves into overtime, too, in their case by the remnants of the Magic. One of the prospects gleaned from Atlanta’s 2019 deal for the right to draft De’Andre Hunter, Nickeil Alexander-Walker was given carte blanche to shoot to his heart’s content. And shoot, and score, he did (31 points, 4-for-7 3FGs). But NAW missed a couple bunnies late in the fourth frame, and even more in overtime, while his teammates suddenly could not contain Orlando’s James Ennis, pride of Pace Academy Wendell Carter, or Terence Ross, a veteran shooter who seems perfectly fine with his lot in life and going about his business on a struggling team after the trade deadline without lashing out at his GMs, but as usual, I digress. So we’ve got two tired and worn-down teams, neither club a title contender nor a tank battalion, playing less-than-fundamental hoops in crunch time, both on a SEGABABA. This might be the most unwatchable game of the NBA season. Worthy of a gamethread post, perhaps, but nobody in their right mind is going to waste precious podcast time covering this baby. Zion won’t play, and that’s a bummer for SVG, since the Pels have now dropped to 0-3 this season in his absence, five Ls in a row going back to last year’s Bubble. One sweet deal New Orleans has had with their schedule is they’ve gotten this far without doing what Atlanta has already done twice before tonight – playing a road-road back-to-back. In fact, their last four contest couplings were played entirely here at Smoothie King Center. After beating visiting Cleveland and Dallas on second-nights last month, the Pelicans (21-26) hope to make it three back-end wins in a row. Their first road back-to-back series begins with Game #50, when they travel to Atlanta next week before heading up to Brooklyn. Trae Young (sore knee) won’t play, and that’s a tough break for Nate McMillan, the reigning Eastern Conference Coach of the Month who could slide into 20th place all-time in regular season wins with a victory today. For whatever Trae’s faults during last night’s 134-129 yuckfest in San Antonio, there is not even a chance to blow a late fourth quarter lead without his playmaking on a balky knee. Last night’s double-OT savior, Danilo Gallinari (sore Achilles), will give it a rest, too. Is League Pass paying customers to watch this one? McMillan will likely turn to the pride of LSU Lab School, Skylar Mays, to give Young (28 points, 12 assists, 15-and-4 in the two OTs) the rest he thought he was about to be granted last night. Small sample size theater, but Brandon Goodwin’s Defensive RPM (19th among PGs w/ 10+ MPG) is actually a shade better than Holiday’s. He’ll be useful to keep rookie Kira Lewis from having too many NAW-style moments today. Clint Capela logged 44 minutes against the Spurs and had a banner evening (10-for-10 FTs!!! 28 points, 17 rebounds, 5 blocks), but also missed several chippies that might have rendered the extra periods unnecessary. In addition to Onyeka Okongwu, Mays’ two-way partner Nathan Knight will be the likely beneficiary of floor time as a sub for Capela this evening. Even without Williamson, the Pels (53.0 paint points per-48, 3rd in NBA) hope to pound away inside with the burly Steven Adams, Willy Hernangomez, newcomer vet James Johnson, and the Hawks’ draft-and-tradee Jaxson Hayes. Van Gundy never needed to wait for podcasts to be invented before sharing what’s grinding his gears. “I don’t know how many of our guys have a defensive mentality,” he grunted back in February ((insert Redick joke here)). This, after Mason Plumlee messed around and got his first career triple-double (oldest center to break triple-double virginity since Patrick Ewing in 1996, as per STATS) to spoil SVG’s return to Detroit. SVG’s barb at his roster was also a lowkey jab at his boss. It was Griffin who thought swapping out Jrue Holiday for Eric Bledsoe (and a bunch of future Milwaukee 1sts and pick-swaps) in a multi-team deal would be a defensive upgrade. Instead, while Holiday is drawing accolades with the Bucks, E-Bled has been a disappointment alongside the occasionally noncha-Lonzo defensive attitude of Ball (out). Tonight, Bledsoe and NAW won’t have the backcourt assistance of Josh Hart (sprained thumb, as mine would be if I had to collect 17 rebounds last night). As superb defensive rebounders, the Pels are fine in back-and-forth halfcourt affairs. But they bleed buckets in transition (1.21 opponent points per possession, 3rd-worst in NBA; 18.3 opponent points per-48 off TOs, 4th-worst) and along the perimeter (38.7 opponent 3FG%, 2nd-worst in NBA), contributing to their 115.1 D-Rating (28th in NBA). Griffin brought back Wesley Iwundu and Johnson in dealing Redick to Dallas, but even he knows that for Van Gundy’s vision of a defensively sound unit that fits around Zion, Iwundu won’t do. Fortunately for SVG, soon-to-be 10-day contractor Isaiah Thomas isn’t coming through that door, yet. It’s the corner Griffin, the Jerry Colangelo disciple, has painted himself into. He’s always wanted to grow a smaller-market roster slowly and organically. Instead, he winds up getting otherworldly talents dropped into his lap, forced to build around them and catching strays, from the media on TV and side-eyeing players on podcasts, whether his best-laid plans pay off or not. Falling backwards into NBA superstars is not all bad of a circumstance, David. Come on, everybody, let’s all sing to make him feel better. When you wish upon a star… Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  5. Woj says, watch this space! ~lw3
  6. (after correcting Bogdanovic's name, Woj added that the lyrical Justin James in thrown into the mix for Milwaukee, too) ~lw3
  7. Dropping a pair of trade-wind nuggets from Kevin O'Connor at The Ringer. One more speculative than the other. https://www.theringer.com/nba/2018/11/19/18102234/nba-bold-trade-pelicans-anthony-davis ~lw3
  8. Saint That a Shame? Our Atlanta Hawks seek to make it two Ws in a row for the just second time… **gulp**… this season, as they face a resurgent New Orleans… **cough, ahem**… Pelicans team (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports N’Awlins) at The Highlight Factory. New Orleans… **giggle, snort**… comes in after a huge overtime win in Boston tonight, looking for… **smirk**… their fourth straight victory for the first… **lol, lmao**… okay, I’m sorry, Hawks fans, bear with me for a minute. We interrupt this game thread to ask a very important question. AINTS fans! Where y’at? Spectacularly blowing a lead with 61 yards of defensive room and only ten seconds left? Who Dat? More like, Who DOES Dat? No, seriously, what happened, y’all? New Orleans, Lose-iana: were you not the townsfolk who couldn’t seem to mind their own dadgum business, with all the incessant 28-to-3 jokes? Banners flying over that substandard Mercedes Benz stadium that’s domed so nobody inside can see them, Lame halftime dancers on the field pepping up their fans by forming some midgame score from a Super Bowl their team didn’t even participate in (y’all fans remember making it to a Super Bowl, right? I know, it’s been a minute.) Wide receivers rocking pregame tees with the score in black-and-old-gold? As if that score had anything to do with you? All those “28-3 Merry Xmas” signs? Well how now, brown cow? “24-23 0:10 Happy MLK Day!” There’s a five-letter word Antonio Brown has for this, but I’m forgetting, what’s it called? There’s no telling which millennium we’ll be in when the Falcons win their first Super Bowl. But when it happens, please, Atlanta, don’t let it blow up our coaches’ heads the way it does Sean Payton’s. Seriously, what is it with this guy? One little Bountygate-fueled Lombardi Trophy, and now his head is all inflated like a Foxboro football. Choke signs at Devonta, really? (I know, you got selective amnesia about that, Seanie. I would, too!) Postgame chest-chopping Dirk Koetter (WOO!), of all people, like you’re Ric Fricking Flair? You’d have thought an inflated-head coach would have learned his lessons, after acting pretend-tough and getting humbled by the Falcons AND the Bucs. But no, not you, Petty Payton! As the final seconds ticked on what should have been a stone-cold lock Aints victory, Showoff Sean got caught taking a moment to turn toward the Vikings fans (Minnesota, we owe you guys at least twice now) and gloat, mocking them with their own “Skol!” chant. Then Marcus Williams, perhaps inspired by his coach, does a Ric Flair strut of his own, instead of properly defending a simple out-route to Stefon Diggs. I promise I won’t strip down like D’Angelo and show off my one-pack flab, but I must turn to ask you, Coach: How Does It Feeeeeeel? Your Big Easy town has ONE major sports championship. Guess what: we have one too! And Atlanta got its trophy fifteen years before you. But you would never know it from hearing us open our big yaps, would ya? Take a hint, stay in yo lane, and get the Falcon over yourselves! Okay, that’s off my chest. Now, where were we… oh yeah, it’s their basketball team that’s coming to town. I wonder how many Saints will be watching the Hawks instead of preparing for the Eagles. As if the Philips Arena seats weren’t going to be vacant enough for a midweek January tilt between the Hawks and Pellies. There’s more than one transplant troll who was all set to show up tonight bearing those unbearable 28-3 signs, decked out in black-and-shiny-gold attire, strutting around with a parasol behind Jerome and The Stinger for his soon-to-be NFC Champions. Now? Yeah, the frigid, icy weather outside is matching their Aint-fan souls on the inside. Where their etouffee-eating butts would have been, expect a few additional empty chairs on display as these NBA teams take the floor. Okay, okay… onto the Pelicans. Don’t let the Aints’ woes distract you from the fact that a 2-11 Hawks team blew a pair of two-touchdown leads, one in each half, along with a four-point lead with under two minutes to play at the Smoothie King Center in November. A pair of jumpshots from Kent Bazemore (team-highs of 22 points and 7 assists @ NOP on 11/13) helped Atlanta seize the momentum back before halftime. But Baze’s last-ditch three-point attempt was blocked by Jrue Holiday to seal the 106-105 victory for the Pelicans, a game New Orleans led for barely over three minutes (Atlanta for over forty minutes) of the contest. You can forgive the NOPes if they come into tonight’s contest a bit road-weary. They took the Eastern Conference leading Celtics into OT and prevailed last night by a 116-113 score, but had little time to waste in getting, first, to Logan and, then, to an ice-glazed Hartsfield-Jackson, checking into their beds after 3:00 AM last night. After toppling New York and Boston, sweeping the 3-game road swing with a win over Atlanta would give the Bayou Birds not only their first four-game win streak of the season, it would also place them four games above .500 for the first time in 2017-18. A home-friendly schedule to close out January could keep the momentum going further, as New Orleans (23-20) hopes to catch Russell Westbrook and the OK3 (24-20) for the fifth slot in the Western Conference playoff chase. Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry needs to be concerned, though, with making sure his team doesn’t run out of NO3. Can surefire MVP candidate Anthony Davis (career-highs of 58.9 2FG%, 34.7 3FG%, 82.1 FT%) crank out at least 40-and-15 for the third consecutive game? That points-rebounds combo is a feat that has been accomplished just 341 times by NBA players since 1963, as per basketball-reference, but on nine occasions already by the 24-year-old Davis (45-and-16 @ BOS yesterday; 48-and-17 @ NYK on Sunday). This includes another pair of consecutive back-to-back games in October 2016. From bball-ref, the last player I can see who went for 40-and-15 in consecutive contests was Yung Shaq (November 1994). The only other NBA player to notch 40-and-15 twice this season? Davis’ Twin Tower in the frontcourt, DeMarcus Cousins. It’s kind of a pity that Gentry must lean so heavily on Unibrow (36.0 MPG), Cousins (career-high 36.1 MPG), and guard Jrue Holiday (36.9 MPG, most since his 2013 All-Star season). The trio combined for over 128 minutes last night in Beantown. That’s just two days after running the floor for a cumulative 130 minutes at MSG, to also outlast the Knicks in OT. They’ve got young legs, to be sure, but you can tell Cousins (25.4 PPG, 2.2 3FGs/game, 12.7 RPG, 5.1 APG) is deliberately pacing himself. Watch your TV screen whenever Boogie (assuming he plays today) makes an outlet pass, turns the ball over, blows a layup, or turns to the refs to plead after a non-whistle. Watch him disappear, completely, from your camera’s view as his teammates scamper down the court, 4-on-5, either in fastbreak offense (NOP: 6th in pace, 10th in fastbreak points, 19th in points per-48 off TOs) or transition defense (NOP opponents: 5th-most fastbreak points per-48, 7th-most points per-48 off TOs). Count the number of times he never even shows up in the picture. Yes, Cuz is loafing, especially when he sags on opponents’ pick-and-rolls, but it appears to be by design, with permission implicitly granted by Gentry. Cousins plays such an active role in the halfcourt offense that he prefers to conserve his energies while doing pretty much anything else. He recognizes this is all the effort needed to reach the playoffs for the first time in his 8-year NBA career, and he wants to be in decent condition by the time the dogwoods break out. One can imagine Gentry wants to alleviate Holiday (career-highs of 18.5 PPG, 57.6 2FG%) and his pinball-tilting pair of star bigs, if only he had a roster that could go more than two lines deep. Jameer Nelson is out on personal leave, while rookie guard Frank Jackson (broken foot) won’t return for a couple more weeks. Neither will the brutally overpaid Solomon Hill (hamstring), who may make his first appearance this season after the All-Star break, nor will Tony Allen. The Grindfather had a setback in his recovery from a fractured fibula and won’t get on the floor until New Orleans returns home. That leaves Gentry to turn to Ian Clark, Darius Miller, Dante Cunningham, Cheick Diallo and Omer Asik to serve cleanup duties for the starters, which include Rajon Rondo and E’Twaun Moore. New Orleans’ Big Three usually needs at least one of these residual Pelicans to go off to have success on a given night. Given the mileage their stars have logged, N’Awlins may need at least two Pellie-pellets to help secure victory tonight. Back in November, they’d have blown the home game versus Atlanta without Miller’s 21 points (5-for-8 3FGs) to supplement Moore’s game-high 24 (11-for-18 FGs). Last night, the task fell to Clark, who managed 15 bench points in almost 32 minutes, including the final 18.5 minutes before Holiday could put the game on ice with a pair of weakly-contested mid-range jumpers. Christmas is long past, but Atlanta (12-31; 4 straight Ws when holding opponents to double-digits) must Run Run like Rudolph for 48 minutes, and make the Pelicans reel like a merry-go-round. A full team defensive effort will be needed by Dennis Schröder (5-for-14 2FGs, 0-for-4 3FGs @ NOP; 26 points, 5 D-Rebs, 7 assists in Monday’s win over the Kawhi-less Spurs) and the Hawks (18.8 points per-48 off TOs, 3rd in NBA), putting pressure on Rondo and Cousins to issue wild passes, and on Davis and Holiday to put the ball on the floor and up for grabs. The Pelicans were looking pretty good the last time Davis was on this arena floor, a 112-94 blowout win that could have been even wider had Davis not crashed into the stands WWE-style while pursuing a loose ball. Some hoop-wonks at Inpredictable.com have created a new “Win Shares”-style measure called “Win Probability Added” (WPA), and Davis’ 4.99 WPA outpaces the entire NBA field. For kicks and giggles, would you venture a guess as to who leads the Hawks in this probabilistic category? Your Bologna-born baller has a first name, and it’s M-A-R-C-O! The former New Orleans Hornet, Marco Belinelli (4-for-6 3FGs and 4 steals @ NOP on 11/13) has a 2.37 WPA which ranks 25th in the league, ahead of such notables as LaMarcus Aldridge, Otto Porter, Nikola Mirotic, and Al Horford. Aside from Harrison Barnes and Dirk, Polo’s WPA is the highest among anybody not playing on a Top-8 team. Just putting his business on Front Street, for all you data-loving NBA GMs lurking for trades out there. Even with Davis tilting at shots in the paint (4 blocks vs. ATL on 11/13) the last time these two teams met, the Pelicans had little answer for Atlanta’s big men, including then-starter Dewayne Dedmon (5-for-5 FGs in just 13 minutes @ NOP), John Collins (6-for-10 FGs), or even Tyler Cavanaugh (6-for-7 FGs, incl. 4-for-4 3FGs). Miles Plumlee and the Hawks’ bigs must avoid drawing cheap defensive fouls that let Davis and Cousins pad their boxscore stats while allowing their teammates to catch their collective breath. Here’s hoping the True To Atlanta fans who brave the arctic temperatures downtown are treated to an entertaining evening, regardless of the final outcome on the scoreboard. As for any New Orleans fans at the game, if you need to stay warm, there’s a Starbucks in the food court… oh, wait, on second thought, never mind. Coffee is for Closers. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  9. “This me guarding Bazemore’s jumper. Ayyyy!” Dealing with the bigs won’t be easy in The Big Easy, as our Atlanta Hawks wrangle with All-Star talents Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins of the New Orleans Pelicans (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, Fox Sports New Orleans). Former Pelican Luke Babbitt and fellow Hawks starter Dewayne Dedmon are sure to have their hands full as Boogie and The Brow take turns pounding away in the paint and lofting open perimeter jumpers. Barring an off-shooting night, there’s no conceivable way these Hawks can keep New Orleans’ dynamic duo from filling up the box score with ungodly pinball-game numbers. The key for Atlanta’s big men to hang in there tonight is, when those titans tug and pull, to simply let go of the rope. The Pelicans’ injury report isn’t exactly brief. Rajon Rondo remains out after dealing all season with a sports hernia, and he’ll be joined by fellow backup guard Tony Allen (knee inflammation) and rookie Frank Jackson (foot fracture) as no-goes. Up front, the Pellies (7-6) have been making-do without Solomon Hill (torn hammy), Omer Asik (Crohn’s disease), and Alexis Ajinca (knee tendinitis). All that medical leave has coach Alvin Gentry fielding rosters 8-to-9 deep on most nights. Cousins (28.7 PPG, 13.8 RPG, 5.7 APG, 1.8 BPG, 1.5 SPG) is downright otherworldly. But Boogie will grant opponents chances to get back in games with a high number of turnovers (5.2 per game; 8 during Saturday’s 111-103 home win over the Clippers), hacks (3.9 personal fouls per game), ill-advised three-point shots (5.2 missed 3FGs per game), and distracted pleas to the refs when a call isn’t going his way. Recently-departed Pelican Josh Smith hopefully imparted some wisdom on the efficacy of those antics on his way out the door. Davis is every bit as much a marvel (27.3 PPG, 59.2 2FG%, 39.4 3FG%, 12.1 RPG, 2.1 BPG, 1.3 SPG, 2.1 TOs/game), particularly for as long as he can be paired with Cousins (2-man lineup: +8.1 points per 100 possessions). But the occasional dive to the floor by Unibrow leaves everyone at Smoothie King Center and fantasy owners holding their breaths. When either exits for the rare breather, the depth chart for N’Awlins leaves Gentry to turn solely to Cheick Diallo, who Atlanta’s John Collins will surely recall from Summer League had he bothered to look down on his way to the rim. The backcourt injuries have Jrue Holiday (37.2 MPG, most since 2012-13), E’Twaun Moore (31.3 MPG, up from a career-high 24.9 last season), and especially Jameer Nelson (27.5 MPG, most since his Orlando days) playing crazy minutes. To bounce back from a horrid performance in Washington, Dennis Schröder (2-for-16 FGs, 5 assists, 4 TOs on Saturday) must wear down the Pellies by coming off screens instead of going for straight-line drives. Dennis should be prepared to loft some floaters when the big Bayou Birds are packing the paint, rather than force the issue in hopes of some fortuitous whistles. And, as always, the Hawks (2-11) tend to be at their competitive zenith when Schröder is active and engaged defensively. The wear-and-tear on the Pelicans’ starters will lead to copious errors (16.2 TO%, 23rd in NBA). It is up to the Hawks to swoop in and take advantage of every possible opportunity to convert those errors into scores, especially live-ball turnovers that could have Davis and Cousins chasing Schröder and the Hawk guards from the rear. When those bigs do manage to get back in transition, Schröder and Isaiah Taylor need to find their own wings (including another ex-Pelican, Marco Belinelli) waiting in the proverbial wings. For all its offensive woes, Atlanta remains hot shooting above-the-break on 3s (39.6 3FG%, a shave off from 2nd in the NBA) and from the right corner (48.8 3FG%, tied-6th in NBA). Even without three PF/C’s at their own disposal, the Hawks close out their three-game road swing finally against a team that is as shallow in the frontcourt as they are. With minutes carefully distributed by coach Mike Budenholzer, a steady rotation of Hawk guards that understand their roles and execute properly could offset any frontcourt advantage by New Orleans and make for a compelling, four-quarter contest. As demonstrated six times already this season, Davis and Cousins going bananas in the box score does not, in and of itself, translate into victory on the scoreboard. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  10. Probably a premature post. I'll delete it if it goes nowhere. ~lw3
  11. http://www.thebirdwrites.com/2017/1/10/14232600/alexis-ajinca-seeks-nba-trade-new-orleans-pelicans-omer-asik-small-ball-improvement (BasketUSA article, Google translation of l'Equipe, via SB Nation's The Bird Writes) I always wonder why/how foreign players (Bogut in Australia being a recent example) get away with airing their frustrations with their teams via their home countries' media. ~lw3
  12. “If you call me Simon or Theodore ONE more time…” The Hottest Team in the East (double-checks standings… yup!) swoops into New Orleans today (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports NO). The Atlanta Hawks are hoping to extend their winning streak to five, one night after vanquishing Orlando. Beating the Magic 111-92 last night was a small measure of vengeance after Orlando tallied 131 points in Atlanta just weeks ago. Last week, the Hawks’ 105-98 win over the Pistons somewhat avenged a 121-85 home drubbing from a few weeks prior. Now, Atlanta hopes to make amends for the first bad home loss of the season, when a 4-10 Pelicans squad waltzed into Philips Arena just days before Thanksgiving and made the Hawks look like jive turkeys. The 112-94 pasting (34-14 in the opening quarter) occurred even while supernova Anthony Davis (career-highs of 28.9 PPG and 11.9 RPG, NBA-highs of 2.6 BPG and 10.4 FGMs/game) sat out much of the game due to a minor injury. The Golden State Invitational is in full swing. There is but one solitary playoff slot open for the Western Conference’s sub-mediocre contenders. The Pelicans are right in the mix, vying with the Kings, Blazers, and Nuggets for that 8-seed and the right to host Steph and KD for a pair of home games in April. New Orleans enjoyed this opportunity back in 2015, and they’d love another shot at postseason futility. Along with the Hawks’ next opponent (Dallas), the Pels (14-22) are mired amid a tough Southwest Division that includes the Spurs, Grizzlies, and red-hot Rockets. They’re just 1-6 against those foes, but one good thing they have in their pocket is their success against teams from the other conference. Monday’s 90-82 loss in Cleveland (after leading through three quarters) dropped N’Awlins to a still-spiffy 8-4 record against the East, including the resounding victory in Atlanta back in November. Sporting a .500 record since stumbling out of the season blocks at 0-8, Alvin Gentry’s club has won four of their past five, while getting reinforcements for the run toward the playoffs’ first round. Arriving to the season late while attending to family matters, Jrue Holiday’s jumper isn’t quite where he wants it (39.1 FG% since December 1). But lately, he has been dropping dimes (last ten games: 9.0 APG, 1.9 TOs/G) the way locals drop beads on Mardi Gras revelers. Down goes Tim Frazier to the second-string, but he won’t be any relief for the Hawks, not after he put up season-highs of 21 points and 14 assists (9 in the second half) in Atlanta, widening the rout to 35 points before the Hawks woke up in the third quarter. Tyreke Evans returned in mid-December and has been brought along slowly after recovering from knee surgery. Unfortunately, Quincy Pondexter will undergo another knee surgery that will cause him to miss the entire season. But the Pellies compensated by ending the long, international nightmare that was Donatas Motiejunas’ contract situation in Houston, signing the seven-foot forward to a prorated vet-min deal on Tuesday. The minute Donuts stepped off the plane at Louis Armstrong, he became a better prospect to relieve Davis than any of Gentry’s other options (Terrence Jones, Omer Asik, Alexis Ajinca, Cheick “Please” Diallo). But having not played on an NBA floor in 8 months, he’ll probably be too rusty to participate tonight. “Hopefully, it’s not going to take long to get back in game shape,” said Motiejunas during his presser. “I’m doing whatever I can to be ready as soon as possible.” The Pelicans’ recent surge coincided with coach Gentry’s decision (spurred on by a certain team consultant, perhaps?) to fully embrace small-ball, committing Davis and Jones (17 points off the bench @ ATL on Nov. 22) to the 5-spot while all but shelving Asik and Ajinca. They’ve been looking to off-again, on-again starter Dante Cunningham (41.7 3FG% in last 8 games, quickly returning from a fibula fracture) to be their stretch-4, although that may change once Motiejunas gets up to speed. It didn’t take until February, but rookie shooting guard Buddy Hield no longer seems afraid of his own shadow. Moved into the starting lineup in December, after a rough offensive start, Hield has shot a scintillating 53.3 3FG% over his past ten games. Yes, it’s kind of a default situation given the rookie crop these days, but Hield was named Rookie of the Month for December. Buddy’s budding and Davis’ dominance, unfortunately, have not put enough of a dent into New Orleans’ woeful offensive inefficiency this season. Ranking 29th in O-Rating (100.9 points per 100 possessions; NBA-low 100.6 since December 1), the Pels manage to score just 13.8 points per-48 off turnovers (28th in NBA). They shoot just 47.5% inside the 3-point arc, and don’t crash the offensive boards (17.9 O-Reb%, last in NBA), leading to very few second-chance scores (10.2 points per 48, 29th in NBA). The Hawks defensive challenge is to turn New Orleans’ offense inside-out. They want to entice leading scorers Davis (27.9 3FG%), Holiday (33.3 3FG%), and Jones (21.2 3FG%) to ply their wares from the perimeter, while keeping Frazier (38.2 3FG%), E’Twaun Moore (39.1 3FG%), Hield and Langston Galloway (36.4 3FG%) from getting open long-range looks. “K.Y.P.” is in full effect for the Hawks, who are moving back toward respectability in the perimeter defense department. Atlanta has kept seven of their last eight opponents from making a third (33.3%) or more of their three-point attempts (compared to just once in the 11 games before those). A healthier crew of Thabo Sefolosha, Paul Millsap, and Kent Bazemore has helped in this area. The Hawks benefitted once again from some favorable whistles, this time against the Magic (9-for-10 FTs) yesterday. But keeping foes off the free throw line, in and of itself, hasn’t translated into victories. Only one other time this season, out of six games, did Atlanta prevail while holding opponents to 13 or fewer FTAs. That was against Houston, who loves shooting threes but only made a third of them (12-for-36 3FGs). With Dwight Howard’s ability to keep opponents from making hay inside (22.6 opponent PPG-in-the-paint, 2nd-fewest among Centers with 25+ minutes/game), keeping New Orleans off the charity stripe while coaxing them to settle for well-contested mid-range two-pointers should be enough to stifle their offensive production over the course of 48 minutes. On offense, high ball screens directed by Dennis Schröder (last 4 games: 7.3 APG, 50.9 2FG%) should free him up for drives that force the Pelicans’ most active defender, Davis (team-high 1.5 SPG), to make plays on the ball. Unibrow is talented and flexible enough to divert Schröder’s drives, or to recover on the roll man, but he can’t cover the opponent’s entire halfcourt on his own, especially the opposite side. It’s up to Atlanta’s wings and forwards to stay in motion, freeing themselves up for passes from their lead guard and keeping the offense from stagnating. A headbanded Bazemore (17 points, 3-for-3 3FGs and 4 assists @ ORL) kept his head together and helped in this regard, as did Kyle Korver (4-for-5 3FGs vs. NOP on Nov. 22), who struggled with his shot last night but snuck in seven assists in under 17 minutes. New Orleans’ record is 3-11 when their opponents ring up 25 or more assists in a game, something Atlanta has done in their past three games. After piling up the points on the fastbreak (24-3) versus San Antonio on Sunday, the Hawks mustered just six fastbreak points in Orlando. Defensive rebounders sparking transition scores will be vital against the Pelicans, who are 2-13 this season when they’re outscored on fastbreak points. Even if individual Pelicans excel at times tonight, another balanced team effort spread out over four quarters should keep the Hawks’ good times rolling. A successful road trip may or may not be Big, but no one on this team should expect it to come Easy. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  13. “Just stop it, Omer! Stop it! You’re making me laugh!” It’s Gucci Time! Cut the lights on at the Highlight Factory. The 1st Year Out Da Feds is going swimmingly well for Gucci Mane, the East Atlanta rapper providing the musical interlude as the Atlanta Hawks host the New Orleans Pelicans. (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports NOLA). Tidbits follow. Get Ur Weight Off, Patna! -- Winners of two straight home games, the visiting Pelicans are struggling to shed perceptions that they’re overly dependent on one tremendously good player. Losers of two straight on the road, the Hawks (9-4) are trying to shed presumptions that they’ll fold like a cheap suit once a little adversity hits during a game. For some inspiration, both teams can look to The Artist Briefly Known as Guwop, who shed a metric ton of pounds while doing time for his crime! The East Atlanta Santa is shaped more like a candy cane now and is darn-near unrecognizable, the telltale ice cream cheek tattoo notwithstanding. The ex-con committed to dumping the Lemonade (more specifically, the stuff he used to mix in it, and I don’t mean sugar) from his post-penitentiary diet. The League vs. Anthony Davis -- Unibrow remains more than worthy of the Spotlight, even though his nightly production often winds up getting Wasted. The reigning Western Conference Player of the Week leads the NBA in scoring (31.7 PPG) and blocks, not just the Spider-Solitaire-at-work variety (3.0 BPG), while putting up career-best averages in rebounds (11.5 RPG, 6th in NBA) and steals (1.9 SPG, 7th in NBA). His improved maneuvering is earning him better looks in the paint (55.5 FG% betw. 3-16 feet; 40.7% last season) and drawing more trips to the line (career-high 11.1 FTAs per game, 81.3 FT%). His 38-and-16 helped New Orleans fumigate the Hornets in OT on Saturday, one night after Charlotte pulled a fast one on the Hawks. After “containing” Kristaps Porzingis to a single offensive rebound on Sunday, Atlanta will try to use boxscore-filling Paul Millsap to keep Davis out of the paint, and more reliant on his long-range jumper (32.6 FG% from 16 feet out). I Think I Love Her -- USWNT soccer star Lauren Holiday successfully delivered a baby boy, one month before successfully removing a brain tumor. As new mothers are apt to do eventually, Lauren ordered her caretaker husband to get the heck out the house, and that’s been of great benefit to the Pelicans. Jrue Holiday has wasted little time getting acclimated off the bench, averaging 21.5 PPG and 8.0 APG in two games. His return has helped the Pelicans (4-10) double their win total while alleviating the lightly-experienced but steady third-year player Tim Frazier (7.6 APG, 2.4 TOs/game). Holiday (44.4 3FG%) and Langston Galloway (season-high 23 points, 6-for-11 3FGs vs. CHA; “Jrue is a maestro out there. He’s finding everybody,” he told Pelicans.com) are shooting perimeter shots well, allowing coach Alvin Gentry to rely less on starter E’Twuan Moore (30.8 3FG%) and rookie Buddy Hield (24.6 FG%). The Appeal: Germany’s Most Wanted -- Goodbye, Manhattan! Dennis Schröder should be coming into today’s action with clearer eyes and a fuller heart, after putting up a clunker (0-for-8 FGs, 3 assists, 3 TOs in 21 minutes) against the Knicks during a Sunday matinee. Backup Malcolm Delaney wasn’t any better (1-for-4 FGs, 4 assists, 4 TOs in 21 minutes), and the point guard power outage (plus a bunch of flubbed shots around the rim) contributed mightily to Atlanta’s biggest deficit in a loss this season. The Hawks are 6-0 this season when Schröder’s plus/minus is zero or higher, and they’ll need Dennis and Delaney to get back on the positive side versus Holiday and Frazier. 6-for-17 Brick Squad -- Decent perimeter shooting helps the Hawks neatly mask their shortcomings. The team is 7-0 when shooting above 35 percent on threes, but the Views From Zone 3 are not as pretty (2-4) when Atlanta falls short of that mark. They’ve been especially “BURR!” of late, not coming close to 35 percent in their last three games (28.4 3FG%) and they barely cleared the 35% bar in Miami (35.3 3FG%) last Tuesday. To hear more “Bingo!” tonight, their teammates must get in better position for catch-and-shoot opportunities when the point guards are coming off screens and driving. Pelican opponents have hit 8.4 above-the-break 3FGAs per game, 3rd most in the league. Speed Bumps -- Dwight Howard will try to make amends from the jump, after granting Knicks backup center Kyle O’Quinn carte blanche (4 O-Rebs, 7 total, plus 6 points in 1st quarter) on Sunday. Howard (18-and-18 @ NYK) should have little trouble neutralizing Pelicans center Omer Asik, if he can make Asik pay for abandoning him to help Pelican defenders. Backup Alexis Ajinca is returning to action after missing the past two games with a shoulder injury, while Terrence Jones (illness) may sit this one out. The Return of Mr. Perfect -- Thabo Sefolosha (67.5 2FG%) is likely to return from his mild knee sprain, helping put various Pelican ballhandlers in the Trap House while replenishing the depth of what has been the league’s premier bench unit. He and Kent Bazemore should Go Head and exploit any advantages they can find against New Orleans, who have struggled mightily to find a steady contributor at small forward. Dante Cunningham supplanted free agent pickup Solomon Hill in the Pels’ starting lineup, but the Pelicans are eagerly anticipating a December return from Tyreke Evans (knee, blood clots) to fill the gap. Gone are inefficient ballers Lance Stephenson and Archie Goodwin, and incoming is swingman Anthony Brown, a former Laker rookie and the top overall pick of this year’s D-League Draft. Back on Road -- Gucci will be performing only at halftime, but Hawks players have no time to hang out for a postgame concert, anyway. After tonight’s game, the team immediately takes to the air to resume their road trek. Tomorrow’s pit stop in Indiana will be followed by games in Utah, Staples Center (Lakers), Oakland (Warriors), and Phoenix to round out the month. While the road trip is a bit daunting, the Hawks can’t afford to get caught tonight looking ahead. It’s best to work out the kinks and fix your flaws in November... when you don’t have Everybody Looking. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record