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  1. Just like old times. Tidbits ‘n stuff for the Atlanta Hawks ahead of the Saturday night face-off with the Detroit Pistons (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Detroit). For the Pistons, this won’t resemble the fresh-faced Atlanta Hawks team that energetically outclassed them, 117-100 in October’s season opener in Detroit, nor the weathered Hawks squad that, hardly a month later, crawled back into the Pizza Pizza Palace to get cheesed by a 128-103 score. One of last night’s Hawks Heroes, Eastern Conference POW candidate Kevin Huerter (past 2 games: 20.5 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 4.5 APG, 53.3 3FG%), hadn’t been a participant in either contest. Neither, for that matter, was Sekou Doumbouya, the Pistons’ newly 19-year-old sensation with a surname custom-made for the late Stuart Scott. Certainly, there was no Jeff Teague around. Among the best things for Jeff’s return to the Ol’ Highlight Factory, Ryan Cameron gets one of his signature calls back: “Jeffteeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeague!” Further, whenever the Hawks hit the road, Teague has a ton of options when it comes to getting a young teammate to order the postgame pizzas. Retrieving Teague gives Atlanta (10-32) a reasonable chance of getting up off the Eastern Conference doormat in many ways. The depth chart will look less like a shallowness chart, especially once Jabari Parker (out, shoulder) and Alex Len (questionable, back) can return to couch Atlanta’s maturing set of wings, including Teague-mate Treveon Graham, part of the package exchanged for Allen Crabbe’s contract, and DeAndre’ Bembry (team-high and career-high 22 points, 4-for-5 3FGs and 4 steals @ DET on Nov. 22). Further, Agent Double Zero’s inclusion renders Brandon Goodwin as one of the league’s best third-tier point guards, which is what the Norcross product deserves to be. And the dual-PG option we hoped we’d have with Trae Young back when Jeremy Lin was here, or when Evan Turner was acquired, can finally come to fruition. No one is expecting Teague (team-high 6.1 APG w/ MIN, despite just 13 starts in 34 games; 37.9 3FG%) to replicate the stunning undefeated month of January five years ago, where he became a Player of the Week, one-fourth of the NBA’s Player of the Month and sealed an unexpected All-Star invite. Much in the same way, few should expect Jeff’s former Timberwolf teammate, the Pistons’ Derrick Rose (team-high 18.1 PPG, despite just 2 starts in 36 games) to carbon-copy his MVP campaigns from days gone by. Rose (20+ points in 7-straight games, longest run since 2011) has grown accustomed to playing to his spots and his strengths in abbreviated bursts. That’s a skill Teague is learning to master as he shifts fully into a valuable reserve role. Now that it’s almost certain he won’t have to hunt for short-term high-rise luxury apartment rentals in Buckhead, Andre Drummond (NBA-high 15.7 RPG) will turn his full attention tonight to showing the Hawks, and whoever his next prospective club will be by this time next month, exactly what they’ll be missing. Drummond has had to wage battles for most of this season without two other Piston pillars, Reggie Jackson (lumbar stress) and Blake Griffin (knee surgery), who remain on the shelf indefinitely. As coach Dwane Casey’s club sinks out of playoff contention, it has become clear Drummond, Rose, Langston Galloway and Markieff Morris, are assets to be dangled by the Trade Deadline, especially so long as the veterans can stay healthy. Despite a 4-13 slide lowlighted by a three-game home sweep at the hands of the Cavaliers, Bulls and Pelicans, Detroit (15-27) was able to grab a branch this past Wednesday before they could hurtle completely into the quicksand. The host Celtics may not have been surprised by That Other AD’s obligatory double-double, or by Rose’s perfect 11-for-11 shooting inside the 3-point arc, or even Keef Morris’ efficient 23-point game off the bench. But Boston was wholly unprepared for the Pistons’ emerging youth movement, overwhelmed by the teenage titan Doumbouya (24 points, 8-for-8 2FGs, 2-for-5 3FGs) and his 22-year-old teammate “Svi for Three” Mykhailiuk (5-for-8 3FGs, 21 points and 5 assists off bench), the only Ukrainian-born NBA player aside from Len. Wednesday’s win was the surest sign yet that Casey, striving for his own job security, and the Pistons organization is preparing to pivot in ways that haven’t been this drastic since 2008, when then-GM Joe Dumars heralded a rebuild by flipping the late coach Saunders out of Motown after three consecutive Eastern Conference Finals defeats. With some strategic deals in the works by team president Ed Stefanski, Casey can finally inherit a young core he can nurture, if owner Tom Gores grants him and the front office the latitude to do so. With Friday night off, the Pistons’ brass certainly had to be inspired by last night’s topsy-turvy, quasi-historic win by the upstart Hawks in Spursville. Just a couple weeks ago, Atlanta nearly toppled the Kemba-less Celtics in Beantown. But in a sign of growth by coach Lloyd Pierce’s club, they flew home and beat a playoff opponent here at The Farm, the Pacers, the very next night. That was the Hawks’ first win of the season on the back end of a back-to-back, and they’re hoping the ebullience exuded last night will carry over in front of another friendly home crowd to make it two in a row. Coincidentally, last season’s final victory by the Hawks, over the playoff-bound Sixers, came one night after Atlanta fell short in San Antonio. Slowly but surely, thanks in large part to rookies De'Andre Hunter (33.6 opponent above-break 3FG%, 26.4 this month) and Cam Reddish (34.7 opponent above-break 3FG%, 32.5% this month; career-high 5 threes himself last night), there’s an identity building in ATL! Similar to November when the Hawks held the Spurs to 8-for-33 from outside, and the Pistons in the season opener to 10-for-37 shooting, Atlanta raised its record yesterday to 8-7 when they held opponents below 30 percent on threes (2-25 record otherwise), and all seven losses were just by single digits. Get this team competent and reasonably consistent in just that one regard, perimeter D, and Atlanta gives themselves a puncher’s chance on any given night. With health and confidence on the rebound, Reddy V and Cammy Redd showed us that Trae can now rely on more than just himself to deliver the body shots, or even the occasional knockout blow. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  2. That's not the way to "Flick My Bic", D-Rose. ~lw3
  3. Yes, Billy earned himself a statue, too. Sorry, Danny. Good evening, Friends! I am not just addressing all of you out there in Atlanta Hawks Nation, eagerly awaiting today’s season opener versus the Detroit Pistons (7:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and V-103 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Detroit) at Little Caesars Arena. By “Friends,” I also refer to individuals among us of the Quaker faith. If you’re not one, and you come across one, hug one. (WARNING: the following may contain perspectives gained from the Cracker Jack Box School of Theology. Viewer discretion is advised.) Around for over 350 years since its founding in England, the Quakers’ central tenet involves a belief that there exists a spiritual “light within”, a light which each human can internally access through experientialism, as opposed to relying on external, sacramental sources. Formally the “Religious Society of Friends,” Quakers got their name when their mid-17th-century founder, a dissenting English preacher testifying amid accusations of religious blasphemy, cited a magistrate judge who mockingly claimed he “bade them tremble” at what the founder asserted was “the word of the Lord”. The basis for “Friends” is a biblical reference in the Book of John, where The Notorious J.H.C. distinguishes his “friends” from mere servants. Associated with the Quakers’ signature wide-brim hats was the founder’s refusal to remove hats in court, or to comply with orders to be subservient or subjugate to laws that implied some divinely driven hierarchy among humans. It is why many Quakers grew to be acknowledged among the foremost abolitionists and opponents to slavery. It is also why they became one of the Protestant sects most rooted in pacifism. After World War II, the Quakers, many of whom were conscientious objectors, would become the first religious organization to receive a Nobel Peace Prize. The treatment of Quakers as heretics worthy of persecution was frequent in both the Old and the New World, where a Quaker convert turned colonial by the name of William Penn set up shop in the 1680s. The recipient of land as repayment of debts the King of England owed to his father, Penn granted 1,000 acres in his new Province of Pennsylvania to the Quakers’ founder, vowing to establish a colony where inhabitants were free from religious persecution and unjust imprisonment. He also planned and developed the capital of the future United States, the city of Philadelphia. Penn insisted that Quaker grammar schools be open to all citizens. His William Penn Charter School (1689), the first Quaker school in America and the school that, today, claims a strapping fellow named Matt Ryan as an alum, offered education to all races as early as 1770. Growing schools like Penn Charter began to build campuses outside of Philadelphia’s original city proper. Westtown School (1799) was built for coeds to live in West Chester, a one-day carriage ride away from the secular influences of Philadelphia. Friends Central (1845) moved out of Center City Philly to a sprawling suburban campus in Wynnewood in 1925. Beginning in the 1960s, notably with Power Memorial in NYC, DeMatha in suburban Washington, D.C., Evan Turner’s St. Joseph’s (of Hoop Dreams fame) outside Chicago, and St. Anthony in Newark, Catholic schools began recruiting and enrolling standout African American prep athletes, especially in the desegregating sport of basketball. The idea was to gain positive notoriety, local prestige and, in the process of building renowned athletic programs, perhaps some new adherents as well. The successful religious-based basketball programs became powerhouses on a regional, state, and even national scale. The movement to cast larger nets for basketball talent extended not only to religious schools like Philly’s Roman Catholic High, but the secular suburban ones, too. Wynnewood, in Pennsylvania’s Lower Merion Township, is home to not only Friends Central, but the public Lower Merion High School that Kobe Bryant and his many jersey-rocking stans have made famous. It was probably around the time of young Kobe’s prominence that Friends Central, and other Quaker schools, decided their athletic programs needed to get in on the act. The first future NCAA Final Four hero to walk the halls at Friends Central was a pogo stick out of Philly named Hakim Warrick. The Quaker schools ran independently from the state’s interscholastic hoop tourneys at the time, yet in 2001, Warrick helped snag the school’s first Friends Schools League title since 1974 before going on to become a legend at Syracuse. The next year, they drew future Arizona Wildcat Mustafa Shakur away from a Philly public school named coincidentally after William Penn. By the end of that decade, Friends Central was riding the skills of Philly-kid Amile Jefferson to the first of four straight state independent-school titles, drawing the attention of scouts at Duke University. Jefferson would go on to become a three-time team captain for a Blue Devils squad that won the 2015 NCAA title. No Dookie would ever appear in more games than Jefferson. Coach K and company didn’t return to this particular well at Friends Central, leaving the state’s 2016 Class AA Player of the Year, senior De’Andre Hunter, who was raised in Northeast Philly near his Under Armour circuit-ball teammate (Hawks two-way contractor Charlie Brown) to settle for a less-accomplished ACC program at the University of Virginia. But Duke was not done with Quaker schools from the Quaker State. Sports Illustrated, while producing a full-length documentary in 2018, claimed the Westtown School’s basketball team featured, “perhaps the greatest starting five in HS basketball history,” which is lofty praise, indeed. The towering center Mo Bamba commanded everyone’s attention, but it was the super-shy introverted kid, about five inches smaller, that Westtown’s head coach could not stop raving about. “Cam (Reddish) is the hardest working player I’ve ever had,” said Westtown coach Seth Berger to SI, “it’s not close… You’ll never see him try a move that he hasn’t practiced in the gym by himself… He’s the best offensive player I’ve ever seen in high school… unquestionably, the best combination of skill, size, athleticism, and intelligence.” More lofty praise for Reddish, 2018’s Mr. Pennsylvania Basketball, who grew up in gritty Philly-burb Norristown, same as Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce’s wife. Once more, Coach K was sold. Outside of high school hoops, Hunter and Brown trained together under Sean Colson, a former Philly prep star and journeyman pro who had a cup of tea in the NBA back in 2001, with ten-day contracts in Atlanta and Houston. De'Andre took Hakim’s and Amile’s college-championship legacy at Friends Central and turned it into a lineage. He led his UVA Cavaliers on a wild-and-woolly March Madness journey to the 2019 NCAA title while avenging an embarrassing loss when the top-seeded Cavs had to play the 2018 tourney without him. Another accented DeAndre of sorts, the Atlanta Hawks’ DeAndre' Bembry, mentored the college star, Brown, who followed him down the road from Friends Central at St. Joseph’s University. Now they may very well be teammates on an NBA floor. All of these local connections add credence to those who suspect Travis Schlenk, the Hawks’ GM and new Prez of Basketball Ops, must have aced a Chemistry class or two back in his own school days. Even better, Schlenk came away with a bachelor’s in something called Human Ecology, the interdisciplinary study of humans’ relationships with their natural, social, and built environments. But I posit there’s more involved than mere Philly roots when Schlenk and the Hawks maneuvered to pair these particular lottery talents with Atlanta’s growing stable of blue-chip pro-spects. Quaker schools are not into the whole proselytizing business. But both Westtown and Friends Central do require their students to attend a weekly “Meeting for Worship.” It’s akin to a collective for a Protestant church service. Except here, the Meeting of Friends and students involves sitting together, generally in silence, for at least a half-hour. Exceptions may include a Meeting leader who presents a query, or food for thought, as a point of initiation. Occasionally, after many minutes of pondering, an attendee will be moved by their “inner light” to stand and offer thoughts, or poems or songs, they find to be beneficial to the attending community. After that, it’s back to the silent treatment until the Meeting concludes. If you’ve managed to read this far, you’d know I’d be toast at these Meetings. If you’ve heard about Reddish, and Hunter, being a bit reserved for the types of players pro teams tend to gravitate toward, I may suggest that weeks after weeks of mandatory Friends’ Meetings will do that to you. The incoming first-rounders are mistaken by those not in the know as bearing some detrimental sense of passivity, of deference, of timidity that won’t fare well as the spotlight shines even brighter at this level. Schlenk was in the Warriors’ war room back in 2012, when Draymond Green fell into Golden State’s lap at Pick #35. He understands that there is room in this league for the more caustic, extroverted opinion machines like Green, when those teammates commit to improving their own game, conditioning, and leadership skills along the way. Travis was also in the draft room a year prior, when a decision to take the more reserved, withdrawn Klay Thompson at Pick #11 was at hand. Declining to pass up on either player was key to the bonanza of basketball excellence that would soon support the Warriors’ young, nifty-dribbling, sweet-shooting point guard star. Thompson, and the reigning NBA Finals MVP, could be categorized as the “strong, silent types” whose game occasionally makes all the noise anyone needs to hear. That “silent, with an emphasis on strong” characterization could very well be the future cases for both Hunter and Reddish, and perhaps 2018-19 All-Rookie selection Kevin Huerter, too. In Atlanta, for now, they can leave the jersey-tugging and flexing and crowd-rousing to 2019 All-Star candidates Trae Young and John Collins. If Reddish read his press clippings and hogged the ball during his stay in Durham, maybe Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett don’t get enough chances to shine as play-finishers and become Top 3 picks in the 2019 Draft. Maybe the trio of frosh doesn’t outlast Hunter’s eventual Natty winner, UVA, to emerge with the ACC conference title, and advance to within a single point of the Final Four. Cam routinely deferred, stepping forward only when called upon in critical moments, and his team won 32 games anyway. Now, instead of a 6’6”, 270-pound rim-rocking behemoth at center stage obscuring Reddish, the marquee in Atlanta is for a 6’2”, 180-pound sprite who absolutely craves finding creative ways to share the ball with talented guys like him. For the lottery rooks, their common off-court tutelage brings even more to the table for the young Hawks. Quakers are well-renowned for their structured consensus-building and mutual decision-making process. The underlying assumption is the sense of a common humanity, pulling toward “unity” rather than “unanimity” when there’s a need to reach a resolution. The “Quaker-based” consensus model produces team members who are well-versed in the practice of active listening, ensuring that every voice, including those of dissenters, is heard and valued equally in discussion. Adversity looms for all young teams in the pros as they look to make the rugged, slippery climb toward relevance and contention. Rough stretches of quarters, of whole games, of whole weeks, await. Especially eager to face the Hawks, in the early going, are teams loaded with veteran players and highly experienced staff. Teams like the Pistons, a squad that broke even (41-41) under coach Dwane Casey in 2018-19 and secured an 8-seed, one that returns its star talents and most of its starters despite a 4-game first-round bludgeoning at the hands of their division rival Bucks. Fervent in their belief they’ll need vets couched around Blake Griffin (out until November, hammy and sore knee) and Andre Drummond to better compete, Detroit’s biggest offseason additions were Derrick Rose, Markieff Morris, and soon-to-be fellow tricenarian Tim Frazier. On draft day, they acquired Kevin Porter and veteran Tony Snell from the Bucks, then cast off the 19-year-old prospect, Porter, for a trove of Cleveland’s future second-rounders and cash. With eight regular-rotation Pistons having at least five NBA seasons under their belts (almost nine, had they hung on to our old friend Joe), they are a team that can stash youngsters like Sekou Doumbouya, Bruce Brown, Svi Mykhailiuk and Khyri Thomas, pinning their development to the team’s long-term hopes rather than their immediate ones. Highly regarded NBA rookies and sophomores in repetitive lottery locales like, say, New York, or Dallas last season, will be looked upon to seize the Singular Superstar mantle, solve challenges mostly on their own, and turn things around in ways their predecessor peers could not. They often must swim upstream against veteran squads like the Pistons despite, not so much with, the residual talents of flawed teammates that put them in this situation in the first place. Conversely, in Atlanta, Hunter and Reddish can demonstrate leadership through listening and collaboration, contributing to an even-keeled locker room. They will have a stern yet relatable taskmaster in Pierce bending their ears, and a host of veterans, including the venerable Vince Carter, to help get them acclimated with all the off-court rigors and on-court tricks of the trade. Barely a couple months younger than the 22-year-old Collins, Hunter enters the league with a maturity and composure one normally would not expect of his newbie cohorts. For Hawks fans in search of something a lot more tangible in the near term, the rookies, including second-round center Bruno Fernando, step onto the court as the team’s best bets to make immediate impacts on the defensive end of the floor, the side where the Hawks found themselves most woefully inadequate in 2018-19 (28th in 2018-19 Defensive Rating, 24th after the All-Star Break, 22nd in final 15 games of the season; NBA-worst 20.9 opponent points-per-48 off TOs). The young veterans like Collins (5th-best in 2018-19 NBA for Roll-Man Defensive points per possession, min. 40 games played), Young and Alex Len will be expected to continue making defensive strides this season. But the first-year performers could be the rising tides that float all the Hawks’ boats. While both will start tonight, as Huerter’s minutes are restrained due to preseason recovery, whichever of Hunter or Reddish does not remain in Atlanta’s precocious starting five could be one of the strongest rookie candidates for Sixth Man of the Year since the days of Ben Gordon. Surrounded by a host of experienced veterans, including Turner, Bembry, Jabari Parker, Chandler Parsons, Allen Crabbe and Damian Jones, the rookie reserve is sure to have a featured play-making role while also charged with inducing stops on the defensive end. There’s no certainty that the Hawks’ plans will bear fruit immediately, or even this season, in the form of a formidable postseason contender. Yet the consumer confidence in this team’s long-term potential, carried over from the promising close of last season, has arguably never been higher entering an NBA season. Fan skepticism around an NBA team coming off a 29-53 campaign, conversely, has never been lower. If the playoff payoff begins to arrive in 2020, at State Farm Arena, there will be a whole lotta quakin’ going on, in the ATL and beyond. In the months and years to come, if Hunter and Reddish have much to do with a sudden basketball breakthrough, with teammates discovering and embracing their “inner light” as they reshape themselves into legitimate contention, Hawks fans will have many a Friend to be thankful for. Just remember, before you hug any Quakers in appreciation for their contributions, they had absolutely nothing to do with oatmeal or motor oil. Let’s Go Hawks! (and you too, Five Stripes!) ~lw3
  4. “I like to KICK… STRRRRRRETCH… aaannd KICK!” It’s time to renew that all-time great NBA rivalry… Fort Wayne versus St. Louis! Imagine if the industrialist owners of those 50s-era NBA midwestern franchises were just a tad bit more civic-minded. We’d never know for sure, but while we NBA fans might indeed be watching Detroit versus Atlanta tonight at State Farm Arena (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL), we could very well find ourselves rooting for expansion franchises. The Pistons are the Pistons because the top gadgets supplied to the automotive industry were cranking out of a foundry run by Fort Wayne’s Zollner Machine Works. The NBL team was branded by company executive Fred Zollner’s family as the Zollner Pistons, and the cagers brought multiple championships to the northeast Indiana city, prior to the BAA merger in the 1940s. It was Fred who was known as “Mr. Pro Basketball”. The Pistons came close to claiming back-to-back NBA titles in the 1950s, falling in the Finals to the (Philly) Warriors, the (Minny) Lakers and, probably, some (Greedy) point shavers. It was the Fort Wayne-versus-Minneapolis 19-18 stall-fest, in 1950, that would soon usher in the shotclock era. Around Indiana, it was reasonable to project that their Pistons would soon overtake those Lakers as the NBA’s next dynasty. Allen County built War Memorial Coliseum (probably a favorite venue of the late George Carlin) on the outskirts of its county seat in 1952 to keep the Pistons around, and the arena hosted the 1953 All-Star Game. Yet not even five years after getting into his new palace, Zollner was ready to high-tail it out of town. The Hawks’ town-trotting owner, Ben Kerner, felt Milwaukee wasn’t big enough of a beertown to support the brave new world of high-scoring NBA hoops, bailing for St. Louis in 1955 after just four years in America’s Dairyland. Zollner was watching closely, and it wasn’t long before he announced a move from Motor Parts City to the Motor City itself. The decision was questionable, since a decade before, Detroit clubs in both the BAA and the NBL folded. Is Detroit even a basketball town, like Fort Wayne? I imagine some disaffected Hoosier shifting his fandom to the Hawks after the 1957 move out of Fort Wayne. To continue supporting Midwestern pro hoops, it was either that, or root for the Royals who just relocated that same year to Cincy themselves. Otherwise he’d have to settle cheering for Minneapolis, and nobody likes the Lakers. At least St. Louis, he’d reason, looks like they’re not headed anywhere soon. No matter whether their teams were winning from one season to the next, Kerner and Zollner each struggled to keep the teams profitable in their new NBA locales. Zollner eventually sold the franchise to Bill Davidson, who kept the Pistons in (and mostly around) Detroit for the ensuing four decades. Revenue for Kerner’s Hawks stagnated after winning the 1958 NBA title in St. Louis, and no enterprising locals were willing to let him off the hook. He did find some takers, though, in recent Georgia governor Carl Sanders, and Atlanta-area real estate developer Thomas Cousins. Pro sports was off to a rocky start in Atlanta in the 1960s, in part due the tumultuous race relations that percolated at the time. But the continued success of Henry Aaron with the Braves facilitated the race to establish Atlanta as the Deep South’s first major-league city. Fifty years ago, Loving v. Virginia was perceived as the harbinger of some kind of national crisis. Tonight, people will spend their Friday nights sharing arm rests regardless of their background, while multi-racial Oklahoma Sooner legends Blake Griffin and Trae Young trade baskets. As competitors both franchises were stuck in neutral for decades, before the Pistons surpassing the Hawks by winning NBA titles in 1989, 1990 and 2004. But throughout their tenure in Motown, the Pistons have seemed like the NBA’s Club Castoff. Largely, a team accustomed to making-do with players other teams had already given up on. As sad-sack as the Cleveland Cavaliers of the early 1980s were, couldn’t find a steady role for Bill Laimbeer, and they couldn’t foresee a future with coach Chuck Daly. Orlando saw more of a chance at a championship-winning future with Grant Hill, and the Magic were more than happy to part ways with Ben Wallace in order to grab for the brass ring. Same deal with the Wizards, who couldn’t believe their luck when Detroit was willing to hand them All-Star Jerry Stackhouse in 2002 for the low-low price of Rip Hamilton. Portland had to shed their JailBlazers notoriety, so Rasheed Wallace found himself getting passed around. Pistons got three NBA trophies for making smart moves and draft decisions to accompany these acquisitions. But the strategy doesn’t always work out, as those who recall Joe Dumars bidding against himself for Josh Smith’s services can attest. In 2018, with current owner Tom Gores’ team formally back in town, his new management is trying the same tack. Gores put ex-Sixers executive Ed Stefanski in charge of stewing the Pistons Potluck for a new generation. Stefanski was with Toronto back in 2011, when that club gave Dwane Casey a shot to coach. Last season’s NBA Coach of the Year found himself washed ashore after his Raptors got Thanos’d in the playoffs yet again by LeBron James. The votes Casey earned for that coaching honor was attributed to first-place Toronto’s offensive resurgence, something Raptors management now entrusts to his successor and ex-assistant, Nick Nurse. Casey has been directed to eventually replicate that success, with a new set of staff, for a Detroit franchise that hasn’t seen much of a functional offense since the 2007-08 Flip Saunders-led team bowed out of the Eastern Conference Finals. He and the Pistons are turning to the mammoth Andre Drummond (18.9 PPG, NBA-high 16.6 RPG) and a slew of castoffs headlined by Griffin (career-high 27.3 PPG, 40.7 3FG%, 10.7 RPG). Blake’s star shone brightly in making the Clippers the surprise marquee club in L.A. for a half-decade. But with his injuries and dwindling assertiveness, the Clips were looking for an out, in hopes of spending Steve Ballmer’s cash on some future superstar instead. In mid-season last year, Detroit was more than happy to take in both him and his freshly-inked multi-year contract ($39 million in 2021-22, the season he turns 33 years of age). The NBA’s 29 other teams, including the Oklahoma City Thunder for obvious reasons, where unwilling to give shoot-first, shoot-next, shoot-last point guard Reggie Jackson a shot at scratching out an All-Star career as a lead ballhandler. The Pistons were the exception. Now with Casey at the bat, Detroit has to craft a gameplan where Jackson (3.7 APG, lowest since his 2012-13 season as a Thunder reserve) and the big men all share the ball, and a cast of role players all chip in to make the trio’s lives easier. If that sounds like a big challenge, that’s because it is proving to be one. The Pistons (5-5) squandered a 4-0 start to this season, dropping five straight games before escaping Orlando with a 103-96 win on Wednesday. Edging a Ben Simmons-less Sixers team at home, in a 133-132 overtime win over two weeks ago, is perhaps the signature victory thus far. After years of entrusting DeAndre Jordan to patrol the paint, Griffin isn’t fond of Drummond’s interest in expanding his range beyond the three-point line. The spread floor, in Blake’s estimation, only makes it more likely he’ll face double teams on his post-ups and forays to the hoop. The more pressing issue is that Griffin’s teammates aren’t scoring much from long distance, either. Detroit’s 30.5 3FG% has them ranked next-to-last in the NBA, with Griffin the sole Piston popping above a 35 percent clip. Getting Ish Smith (33.3%), Jackson (30.4%), Langston Galloway (29.3%) and Reggie Bullock (23.3%; 44.5% last season, 2nd in NBA) unstuck would do wonders for this offense (NBA-low 47.9 eFG%), although some of that requires more mindful inside-out play from both Griffin and Drummond. The Piston defense has been solid but front-heavy, as it is too reliant on Drummond, the sole player averaging at least one steal and one block per contest, barely (1.0 SPG, 1.3 BPG). They’re heavily reliant on Stanley Johnson and rookie Bruce Brown contesting shots and drives well from the wing, a strategy that doesn’t work when their opponents get hot. Fortunately for the Pistons, their opponent tonight is the Hawks, who struggle to string together two or more productive possessions on offense (17.7 TO%, 29th in NBA; 21st in 3FG%, 24th in FT%). Rookie guard Trae Young will need better movement and execution out of Taurean Prince, the marquee for tonight’s 50 Years in Atlanta celebration, who returns to the starting lineup, as well as Kent Bazemore. A combined 4-for-24 on threes during Wednesday’s 112-107 loss to the Knicks, none of that trio of Hawks stood out in a good way until it was too late for Atlanta to dig out of another unnecessarily large second-half hole. The Hawks’ Net Rating in 3rd quarters is an atrocious minus-25.9, and no other club is as bad as Chicago’s minus-12.9. The Pistons would love to feel sorry for Atlanta, but they have their own troubles getting off the blocks to start games (minus-13.6 Net Rating in first quarters, 29th in NBA). The team that shakes out of their doldrums after leaving the locker room is likely to be the one with something to cheer when they return to the tunnels. As new Piston and recent NBA champion Zaza Pachulia once said, “Nothing easy!” With exception to a couple noteworthy eras, it has not been a simple task for either of the Hawks or the Pistons to sustain competitive success over much of their five decades in their respective NBA towns. But unlike Detroit, Atlanta isn’t satisfied with the approach of cobbling together unwanted spare parts to build a something better than an Edsel. This is the type of town that moves on from the rusty Ford plant to make room for Porsche. If all goes well, by the time we celebrate the Hawks’ 60th, and 75th, seasons in the ATL, perhaps fans at The Farm will have some worthy banners to point to, as evidence that the best engines can indeed be built from scratch. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  5. PICTURED: Ad promo for future Atlanta Hawks head coach, circa 2003. Random Detroit Piston in foreground. Yadda yadda yadda, Atlanta Hawks visit the Detroit Pistons tonight (7:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Detroit), blasé blasé… ATTN: TANKFAM! Listen, I need you some of you fellas and fellettes to take a quick break. In that spirit, here goes a few interesting weblinks, to humor you while you step aside. In my I-got-no-spare-time-left time, many know that I double as the Smithsonian of poster-dunk archivists. So, the first sideshow is one of your favorite ex-Hawks, on one of your favorite teams (at least TODAY, they are), getting dunked on in the closing seconds to lose a game! Blowing it in the closing moments of a game, eh? What a novel concept. The second distraction is an article about an ex-Hawks’ Triple Double That Never Was. Bonus Hawks-affiliated Trivia, from this article: before this lame attempt at getting a last-second rebound, who was the previous NBA player to mess around and notch three-straight triple doubles? The third item to tickle your fancy is that same ex-Hawk (the subject of an upcoming “Where Are They Now?” thread over in the Seniorsquawk forum, sometime during the All-Star Break) in his current habitat. Here, he’s trying to demonstrate to viewers that he’s still got it, yet still finds a way to come up short! Say it with me: “He’s trash!” One more Pistons-Hawks Trivia item. This same ex-Hawk’s jersey number, with the Pistons, was previously worn (one season before him) by which other former ex-Hawk? Answer is in link #4 below! Grab a Kit Kat bar or something (V-Day candy is at a steep discount, right now! Just sayin’!), check out the links to kill time, and then meet us all back here in a few minutes, making sure to skip the bolded language in the Spoiler below! Tank You Very Much! (1) (2) (3) (4) * * * ((no, really: Tanksquad, get the Hawk outta here. Move along, now. Git! Git!)) * * ((and keep scrolling past the bold stuff in the Spoiler, Tankamaniacs. That’s not for you!)) * * * * * ((shhh… they’re filing back in here. Everyone, look busy!)) * * In conclusion, I’ve discovered the best home remedy for getting rid of a boil down there is to… what? Ohh, hey! You’re ALL back! Welcome back, my Tank Legionnaires! It’s crazy about that ex-Hawk, huh? No wonder the guy we got in the 2004 draft, along with that ex-Hawk via an infamous trade, never got to wear #5 for Detroit… they’re obviously waiting to retire that other cat’s jersey! I’ve always wondered, remember when dude went with the platinum blonde number, up top? Did he steal that look from Eminem, or vice versa? Anyway, yeah, our current slate of Hawks gave us all a grand ol’ time last night in Brewtown, and Some Hawks Fans can only hope that a desperate Motown team will be up to the task tonight. The Pistons’ Week of Living Dangerously began here at Little Caesars Arena last Friday, in a deflating loss to Blake Griffin’s former employer. No worries, they thought, as a bounce-back win in Atlanta is right around the corner! Unfortunately for the Pistons (and Some Fans), somebody forgot to gameplan for Dewayne Dedmon, who moved up to the top line and put up a career-high 20 points, plus 13 boards and 3 steals, as the Hawks blazed to a 118-115 win in its Sunday matinee. No biggie, Detroit thought, since they were coming right back home, where they had previously swept a five-game homestand! Oh, but here’s the thing. The first of those five wins were against the Cavs, who were obviously drunk even before Kevin Love exited that contest early in the first quarter with a busted hand. The next four opponents who sauntered into the Pizza! Pizza! Palace had each previously played just like the Hawks did yesterday: on the road, on the first night of a back-to-back. By the time the Pistons returned from ATL, they were greeted by a Pelicans team that only needed a night off. Detroit found themselves getting roasted, 118-103, by a New Orleans team that was starting, at center… Emeka Okafor (six O-rebs in under 14 minutes)! That really needs to be the last 2004-era reference in this thread. A rising sixth-grader back when Okafor got drafted, that Anthony Davis kid proved to be quite a handful, too. That new-car smell wafting from the pre-owned Griffin (last 3 losses: 38.6 FG%, 21.7 3FG%) is wearing off rapidly. Stan Van Gundy is predictably ringing alarm bells ahead of this rematch with Atlanta (18-40) that soon, they won’t be able to sniff the playoffs, either. “You just can’t limp into the break,” SVG told the Detroit News, the postgame interviewers and, presumably, his team, after the latest loss dropped the Pistons to 27-29, 2.5 games behind the 8th-seeded heat and fading fast. “We need to get a win and keep ourselves as close to this thing as we can, to have a chance to make a run.” No, he’s not talking about a “run” at Jaren Jackson, Jr. Van Gundy knows that another humbling defeat tonight, at home, in the finale before the All-Star Break, could prove disastrous for his team. Not nearly as disastrous for Michiganders as, “We’ve secretly replaced the fine water they usually serve with gruel we piped in from the Flint River. Let’s see if anyone can tell the difference!” Still, another L would be calamitous enough for the long-term prospects of the coach-slash-executive’s tenure with the club. The burden question: do the rank-and-file on the Pistons’ roster share that sudden sense of urgency? If they do, then they’ll have to come up with a scheme that keeps Griffin and Andre Drummond from getting gashed by opposing front lines (I forgot to mention New Orleans’ Nikola Mirotic, who showed off his nose-for-the-ball with 21 points and 12 rebounds against Detroit off the bench on Monday). Opposing bigs with some semblance of an inside-outside game have left Piston defenders unsure whether they were coming or going. That includes Atlanta’s Ersan Ilyasova, who is eager to put the lowlights from Tuesday night’s 97-92 thriller in his original NBA hometown on the back burner. Also a former Piston, Trillyasova added to Detroit’s misery on Sunday with 19 points, hitting half of his four three-point attempts while being one of four Hawk starters ushered to the charity stripe for six or more free throw shots (7-for-7 FTs). Atlanta was granted a season-high 37 freebie attempts by the Pistons, and they are a gaudy 9-4 when they climb above 110 points in games this season (2-18 when they score 100 points or fewer, as was the case yesterday). Detroit also allowed the Hawks to convert on 28 of 49 interior shots (57.1 2FG%), rendering the fantasy-friendly defensive figures from Drummond (25 points, 10 D-Rebs, 3 blocks @ ATL on Sunday) as ultimately empty calories. Off the bench in Motown, when Stan calls your name, who will Be There? James Ennis? Anthony Tolliver? “There were four, five, six loose balls when nobody goes on the floor,” Van Gundy lamented after the loss to the Pels. “There are three or four times we don’t get back, and people are behind us defensively. Times when we’re not pulling in on the roll man. Those things are inexcusable when you’re trying to win… We allowed our offensive play, our frustration of missing shots and just different things going on throughout the game to really get away from our defense. That’s kind of what we anchor ourselves on.” Yeah, kind of. To turn the frowns around town upside down, keeping Ish Smith, the point guard struggling in a starting role until Reggie Jackson returns, from incessantly switching onto Dedmon and Ilyasova would be a good start for Detroit on D. The Pistons did manage to keep Atlanta’s wings cool from the three-point line on Sunday. But given that one of those swingmen is Taurean Prince (good luck on Friday!), who’s been Cooler than Whip (last 3 games: 1-for-19 3FGs), that’s no great shakes for the fellows from Great Lakes. To be fair, new Clipper Avery Bradley’s presence is sorely missing. But instead of rushing out just to contest TP, Piston swingmen Reggie Bullock and Stanley Johnson need to stay home, helping the bigs around the paint to slow the rolls of Dennis Schröder, John Collins (good luck as well, especially versus Embiid!) and Dedmon to the hoop. Staying true to Nique’s “K.Y.P.” mantra, the Piston point guards (Smith and Jameer Nelson; ten combined personal fouls on Sunday) should hang out closer to the elbows, enticing the whirling dervish Schröder to hone his craft as a perimeter shooter instead of a toast-burning driver. There will be no more Malice at the Palace, as years of management ineptitude has sapped the Detroit fanbase of excessively passionate ticketholders, both inside and outside the city limits. But one can anticipate a little Animus at the Arena if these Pistons drag Detroiters through four more wretched quarters of basketball and break some playoff-starved hearts on, of all days, St. Valentine’s Day. Hell hath no fury like a spurned lover, dragged to a bad basketball game on a holiday night, pelting the arena floor with half-eaten Russell Stover chocolates. Or, so I’m told. Happy V-Day to you and yours! and Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  6. “I don’t know what to do with my hands!” In preparing a quick preview for this game between the Detroit Pistons and your Atlanta Hawks (3:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Detroit Plus), several times, I’ve confused this afternoon’s opponent with the LA Clippers. Just a couple weeks in, I imagine Blake Griffin’s teammates are still trying to envision him as a Piston, too. That’s how inextricable Griffin is from an iconic persona the former #1 pick of the Clippers built up over seven-plus pro seasons. The LA-era franchise leader in points scored, and SportsCenter highlights rendered, put that long-forlorn NBA franchise on the proverbial map. He won’t bear that kind of burden in the Motor City, but he will have to help re-entrench their team’s Bad Boys reputation, perhaps Eddie Haskell-style, while making them more consistent winners. Going from glitz-and-glam to grit-and-grease, Detroit is having a hard time figuring out what to make of their new star, too. He’s like a pre-owned model infused with that new car smell. His introduction has been infectious for the Pistons (27-27), who were sliding toward the Hawks and the NBA abyss just weeks ago but, after winning their first five games with Blake around (all at home), are threatening to push several Eastern Conference rivals out of the postseason. Opponents are still scratching their heads a bit, too, and that drawn attention has allowed Griffin (21.0 PPG, 25.0 3FG%, 7.0 RPG and 6.2 APG as a Piston) to serve as a catalyst for enhanced production by several of his teammates. Andre Drummond has been punishing the paint with more freedom around the glass (19.7 RPG in last six games). Stanley Johnson (15.0 PPG in last six) is playing with fewer burdens, while Reggie Bullock (51.5 3FG% in last six), Ish Smith and Anthony Tolliver have been burying perimeter jumpers with fewer closeout defenders around. The Pistons did slip up against his old team at home on Friday, the bench overwhelmed while trying to keep a rejuvenated Lou Williams in check. Also, the frequency with which Detroit’s offense gets bogged down when neglecting to move the ball has not been lost on its head coach. “Even though we've been winning,” Stan Van Gundy remarked to media, after Detroit managed just 15 fourth-quarter and 39 second-half points in the loss to the Clips, “we have that dilemma of how we're going to get Blake the ball and not be standing around watching.” They need a win today at the Highlight Factory to keep pace in the conference standings with the Sixers, who are reportedly stocking up for a playoff run with bought-out Hawk Marco Belinelli, the heat and the Pacers. For Griffin, he’ll have to demand the ball, early in the clock, and move the ball when the Hawks’ defenders coalesce around him, a strategy that worked wonders for LeBron James (new career-high 19 assists, 10th career triple-double in a 123-107 win @ ATL) and his “shorthanded” Cavaliers on Friday at Philips Arena. This task had been Drummond’s (196 assists, already more than double his career-high) to this point in the season, but he now has Griffin to key the offensive attack from positions all across the halfcourt floor, while he returns more fully to the low block. With teammates like Undulating Star Taurean Prince (0-for-9 3FGs, zero assists vs. CLE on Friday) struggling mightily on many nights, Dennis Schröder has been compelled to go it alone lately on offense (last 5 games: 20.2 PPG, 16.8 FGAs/game, 28.6 3FG%, 95.8 FT%, 4.2 APG) to mixed results. The temptation will only be higher, relative to Friday’s game, as he is less likely to have Griffin switched onto him, allowing him to feast against the likes of Smith, newly-acquired Jameer Nelson, Dwight Buycks (questionable due to illness) and Langston Galloway (5-for-9 3FGs @ ATL on Dec. 14). Atlanta’s starting lineup combined for 67 points but a mere eight assists (one of those dimes from the lightly-used Miles Plumlee) against the Cavs, however, and it’s on their floor-leader to model the importance of the extra-pass to the Hawks offense. When Dennis (10 assists, 2 TOs, 3-for-7 FGs vs. DET on Dec. 14) calls his own number against the Pistons’ block-averse defense, he must finish his got-heems off the glass, or else Atlanta will be perpetually one-and-done. Handling Drummond (19 rebounds and 8 assists @ ATL on Dec. 14) and Griffin will be a tough task for Plumlee and the Hawks’ frontline. They didn’t have Dewayne Dedmon for the last meeting against the Pistons, and Atlanta’s backup pivot will be hopeful for a big game after posting a pair of duds (combined 3-for-13 FGs and 6 boards) at Orlando and versus Cleveland. SVG has vowed to find a way to get his star frontcourt more rest. But Jon Leuer is out for the season, and Griffin’s fellow ex-Clipper Willie Reed remains suspended by the league through the All-Star Break. Further, the Pistons have Released The Boban to the Clippers, and second-year pro Henry Ellenson has yet to impress. One can expect an uptick in playing time for backup big Eric Moreland, especially if the Hawks’ bigs and paint drivers can get the Piston star starters in foul trouble. Detroit (9-16 on the road; one road win, at Brooklyn, since Dec. 15) has extra motivation to get into the playoffs, following Blake’s acquisition. The 2018 first-rounder they sent LA is only 1-4 protected. They don’t want to hand Blake’s old team a lottery pick. By the time May comes around, they want to find themselves challenging teams like the Cavs in the playoffs, not vying with teams like Atlanta (17-39) for a top-4 draft talent. As for the Hawks, it’s just the latest in a string of opponents facing a Must-Win scenario at The Highlight Factory. Ultimately, it’s up to them to determine which ones they let off the hook. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  7. Look what you made look what you made the Grizzlies do, Hawks... ~lw3
  8. Do they make Kias in Detroit? Just askin'... Can you inclu-dig it? ~lw3
  9. “We’ll be the biggest fans you’ll ever lose, Slim. Sincerely yours…” Let’s Get It! Amid these downturns in temperatures and competitive play, who better to serenade Atlanta Hawks fans during The Recession than The Snowman himself? While quadragenerian rhyme-spitter Jeezy enthralls his hometown head-nodders during tonight’s clash with the backsliding Detroit Pistons (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Detroit), it appears the number of “Stan” stans are dwindling by the minute up in Motown. Coach-PBO Stan Van Gundy has stridently stuck by his first Pistons lottery-draftee from 2015, swingman Stanley Johnson, handing him the reins as this season’s starting small forward. Johnson got Put On even after he put up a Bagel-for-13 shooting effort in his season debut. The growing pains seemed fine at first, as Detroit broke out of the gate with a pleasant 10-3 start, including a 111-104 victory at desolate Little Caesars Arena (Johnson missed that game while recovering from hip and back injuries). But like Dennis Rodman riding his motorcycle through the left-lane of an intersection, the worm has turned, causing The Master of Panic to pull whatever strings he can behind the curtain, and Johnson (35.3 FG%, same as last season; 28.6 3FG%, career-low 1.3 APG) was among the most obvious targets to yank. “He’s got to find his way,” said SVG to the Free Press last week, with his Pistons (14-13) mired amid its current seven-game slump, “and I think he’s very capable of shooting the ball better than he has and that’s what we want to get him doing.” Pulling the Stanimal from the first unit did nothing, however, to prevent the Pistons from dropping their seventh-straight contest on Tuesday. Losing by 19 versus the Millsap-and-Jokic-less Nuggets squandered a three-game homestand at the Big Pizza Pizza and was their second straight double-digit defeat. Detroit was granted a chance to get the homestand off on the right foot last Friday, as the Curry-less Warriors allowed them back in the game late. But Reggie Jackson (past 4 games: 32.7 FG%, 2.8 APG, 1.8 TOs/game) Schröder-ed away their opportunity with some ill-advised Ballin’ into a flock of Dubs, forgoing a chance to set up a game-winning or game-tying play with 15 seconds remaining. Stan benched Stanley… And Then What? Johnson was supplanted by an equally poor-shooting Reggie Bullock (36.8 FG%, 15.0 3FG%), a decisive downgrade on the defensive end. Whatever the case, the pressure is on Van Gundy to firmly establish a team identity going forward. He must figure out some lineups that can make buckets (last 7 games: NBA-low 40.1 FG%) and get stops, or else he’ll need to get with GM Jeff Bower and start making some moves, as a plethora of NBA players become trade-eligible after midnight. Dem Boyz got blocks? The Pistons rank dead last in inspected-rejected shots (NBA-low 3.2 team blocks per-48; NBA-low 2.4 in the last seven games), making the Hawks look like Tree and Dikembe out there (3.8 blocks per-48, 26th in NBA). They’ve simultaneously been the biggest victim of swats (NBA-high 6.3 opponent blocks per-48), and much like the Hawks, haven’t been rebounding the ball well on the defensive end. During this seven-game skid, opponents have snatched 10.9 O-Rebs per 48 (3rd-most in NBA). Buoyed by improved free throw shooting, Andre Drummond (61.2 FT%, 16 points, 10 O-Rebs, 10 D-Rebs, 7 assists, 6 TOs vs. ATL on Nov. 11) was the focal point for Detroit during their early success. But the heavy dribble-handoff activity that defined the Pistons’ early renaissance (NBA-highs of 13.2 DHO possessions and 11.0 points per game) has devolved into isolation station for Dre and his teammates in recent weeks (NBA-lows of 3.9 Roll Man possessions and 3.6 points per game). While Drummond must improve on his defensive imprint, it’s on Jackson and the Pistons’ ballhandlers to keep him involved in plays at the other end. Unfortunately for him, Atlanta’s proficiency in getting carved up along the perimeter may render him an offensive mirage if he cannot create putbacks and second-chances. Hawk defenders are following Coach Mike Budenholzer’s instructions to Leave You Alone in the corners (NBA-high 8.7 opponent 3FG attempts/game; 40.0 opponent corner 3FG%) if the odds are expected to work out in Atlanta’s favor. Several Piston playmakers will be tempted to Go Crazy, calling their own number from long-range without really setting up a play. Parked outside like they’re sittin’ on vogues, Tobias Harris (team-high 18.2 PPG, 44.3 3FG%) and Avery Bradley (40.5 3FG%) will be licking their respective chops after Witnessing LeBron’s Cavs light up the Hawks with 20-for-38 shooting beyond the arc on Tuesday. Even ex-Hawk forward Anthony Tolliver (broken nose; 36.5 3FG%) will be donning the mask in hopes of a Kyrie effect tonight. One benefit to having John Collins back in uniform tonight, even in limited minutes, is his activity around the rim (in tandem with Tyler Cavanaugh and/or Miles Plumlee) allowing the Hawks’ wing defenders to step further out of the defensive paint, hopefully curtailing the bombs-away approach the Pistons’ backcourt and stretch forwards have in store. His presence will also help reduce the success opponents have had converting inside versus Atlanta (53.9 opponent 2FG%, 2nd-highest in NBA; 66.2 opponent restricted-area FG%, 4th-highest in NBA). Like the Pistons, the Hawks have stuck with the forced-turnover-or-bust approach to defensive activity, although Atlanta has been more successful in separating man from ball (last ten games: NBA-high 16.8 opponent TOs per-48; DET’s 15.6 ranks 7th). Dennis Schröder and the Hawks’ wings will particularly be in Trap Or Die mode, in hopes of forcing Jackson into ballhandling mistakes. Whichever team is less sloppy on offense, and makes their opponent pay in transition, is likely to have the upper hand as tonight’s game heads toward the final buzzer. Before Jeezy warms up for his final postgame act, which team will prove to be the true Go Getta, with Hustlerz’ Ambition? Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  10. “CEL-E-BRA-TION!” After pushing the past two Eastern Conference finalists to the wall in consecutive days, and a well-deserved three-day respite, the scene shifts for our Atlanta Hawks to Little Caesars Arena. It’s the new, palatial, 20,000-plus-seat intown home of the Detroit Pistons (7:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, Fox Sports Detroit), the second-best team currently in the Eastern Conference. They’ve got a lively, well-known, coach-exec in Stan Van Gundy guiding the ship. They’ve broken out the blocks with a nice 8-3 record, including three in a row during this five-game homestand to stretch their home mark to 5-1. Fans are treated to cushier seats, clearer sightlines, a WiFi network modeled after Cobb County’s SunTrust Park, three Pizza! Pizza! Booths, a bar featuring a PB&J burger, and a Kid Rock-themed eatery. There’s franchise-face Andre Drummond, still just 24 years of age, leading the NBA with a career-high 15.2 RPG. And SVG’s biggest heist, 25-year-old forward Tobias Harris (acquired in 2016 for the low-low price of Brandon Jennings and Atlanta’s Ersan Ilyasova), is playing like an All-Star reserve candidate (career-highs of 20.0 PPG, 3.0 3FGs/game, 47.1 3FG%, 88.2 FT%). All of this fresh and successful news about the team leads to one, burning, smoldering question. Where the heck is everybody? Only Atlanta (tickets sold at 76.8% of capacity) has had less success thus far in filling up their NBA stadium (77.2%). And everybody already knows the deal with the Hawks (2-9), who are simply happy for now to give it The Old College Try every time they’re on the floor. The Pistons express a desire to win, not just compete, and pretty much are doing that. With all the hype rightfully directed toward LeBron and the Greek Freak, Detroit is looking down on both their teams in the Central Division. Yet, everyone is taking potshots at the rows of empty seats in the new arena. So, what gives? While it did go through some rough times, this stretch of Woodward Way never quite achieved the outright dystopia that RoboCop filmmakers depicted thirty years ago. While not nearly as spread-out as the team’s former expanses in Pontiac and Auburn Hills, the new digs in Midtown Detroit come with ample parking. Plus, there are streetcar and people-mover options for those who like the idea of their car windows remaining intact. So, access and safety are not big problems, even for suburbanite hoop fans that must now shift their gameday commuting patterns in ways they haven’t consistently done since the Pistons bailed from Cobo Arena in 1978. The Red Wings of hockey fame claim they’re selling out every game, although the new whiz-bang attractions around the concourse have made it tough to keep fans in their arena-bowl seats. Here, the Hawks’ would-be ticket-buyers gripe about the lack of a championship legacy, yet here’s a franchise that won two NBA titles before MJ, and one more afterward, that can’t lean on that history to sell out games (To that point, Chicago remains #1 in NBA attendance… yes, those Bulls). Lady Gaga and Kid Rock have packed the place to the rafters as recently as this past Tuesday. So maybe it is simply that Detroit, unlike Chicago, but maybe like Atlanta, is holding out for somebody in basketball that’s worthy of top-billing. And they’re not convinced that That Guy is already here. Detroit is hoping to reach the NBA Playoffs for just the second time in eight seasons. They’ve dipped into the mid-to-low-level lottery barrel in six of the past eight drafts, and have plucked a single All-Star-quality apple (Andre Drummond) and one other starter (Stanley Johnson: career-best 40.3 FG%, not probable to play with a hip flexor strain) in the small-p process. The young remnant first-rounders have yet to show that they’re Hot-n-Ready, as second-year forward Henry Ellenson joins his fellow Wonder Bread Twin, rookie wing Luke Kennard, along the third string of the roster. Detroit let Aron Baynes bolt for Beantown, and the Celtics also grabbed Marcus Morris in exchange for defensive stalwart Avery Bradley. They let Kentavious Caldwell-Pope walk to Tinseltown, making more room for Bradley while backing him up with more offensive-mided wings in Langston Galloway, Kennard, and Reggie Bullock, the latter filling in on the top line while Johnson heals. All told, the Pistons replaced two starters, but are relying on organic player development and a severely diluted NBA East to improve on a 37-45 record and a 10th-place conference finish (4 games behind the 8-seed) last season. That promise begins with their star center. Already in his sixth NBA season, Drummond has heretofore struggled to adopt new wrinkles to his game that could benefit his team. Yet Dre had been drawing raves in recent weeks not for his long-held rebounding prowess, but for his newfound ability to sink free throws. A career 38.1 FT% shooter coming in, Drummond sunk 28 of his first 36 one-pointers, including an unprecedented 14-for-16 effort last Friday to help his team top visiting Milwaukee. He has cooled off in recent days, including a bagel-for-7 outing on Wednesday night (the Pistons won anyway, 114-97, over Indiana). But Drummond’s improving marksmanship means more for Detroit than a mere extra point or two per game. Opponents, like coach Mike Budenholzer’s Hawks, cannot rely as much on the Bang The Drummond Slowly approach to stifle the Pistons’ offensive flow. SVG can keep his big man in the game for more possessions, not only producing more stops through his defensive board work and steals (1.9 SPG), but also contributing on the offensive end with second-chance opportunities and, now, assists (career-high 2.8 APG; 4+ dimes in four of his last five games). Rather than needing to be an integral Plan B element to Van Gundy’s gameplans, under-experienced backups Eric Moreland and Boban Marjanovic can be used sparingly. Bradley and Johnson can spend more time sinking their teeth into opposing perimeter-oriented offenses (like the Warriors, who shot just 10-for-27 on threes in a home loss to the Pistons on Oct. 29), and less having to help their dominant rebounder box out inside. Drummond’s more effective two-way presence is integral to Detroit being the only team other than Golden State among the NBA’s top-ten for both offensive and defensive efficiency ratings (9th in each category; Atlanta is bottom-ten in both areas). How well the Pistons can sustain their success this year hinges a lot on the comfort level of their star-crossed point guard. Reggie Jackson was withheld from major preseason participation as he recuperated from knee tendinitis and a groin strain. Then, he got caught up in the league’s early-season tradewinds, prompting assurances from Van Gundy that he shall not be moved -- not, at least, for Eric Bledsoe, Jackson’s newest division rival. Reggie is rewarding his team so far with a career-best 7.9 assists per-36. He is showing better decision-making within the perimeter as well, shooting much better than his troublesome 44.2 2FG% from last season, while producing his lowest turnover rate (13.3 TO%) as a starting ballhandler. But if a downturn in his production coincides with a plummet down the standings for Detroit, the spectre of persistent trade rumors won’t help alleviate the pressure on him. Jackson is capably backed by Ish Smith (4.0 APG off the bench, 1.5 TOs/game), and the conclusion to last season gave many fans the sense that Smith could succeed with a heavier workload. Bradley has been widely praised as one of the best on-ball defenders in the land, and one can bet he won’t be spending much time zeroed-in on Atlanta’s Kent Bazemore (35.6 FG%). Bradley will instead be hounding Dennis Schröder, who leads the league with 68.2 eFG% in isolation (min. 1.5 iso-possessions per game). In what would serve as a disappointment to Gordie Howe, the Hawks have produced a mere 2.2 “hockey assists” per game (tie-8th-fewest in NBA) despite dishing out the fourth-most passes (324.1 per game) per contest. Dennis can help his Hawks boost their secondary-assist production by kicking the ball out on drives to teammates who can swing the ball around the horn, particularly to spots Bradley cannot reach. Atlanta wants the majority of Bradley’s activities directed in the paint, crowded around Harris and Drummond defensively to help the Hawks in transition, and lofting interior shots (44.8 2FG%) where he has been less effective than at the three-point line (career-high 42.0 3FG%). Avery leads the NBA with 4.5 dribble hand-off plays, and 3.4 DHO shots, per game, but has shot just 37.8 FG% on those possessions. Cutting from swingmen Taurean Prince, Bazemore, and/or Marco Belinelli can help Atlanta keep Bradley occupied with running from pillar-to-post. When Jackson isn’t calling his own number, the Pistons will turn to leading-scorer Harris for end-of-clock shots. Similar to Bradley’s DHOs, Tobias takes a league-high 6.4 attempts per game on spot-ups, but shoots a modest 44.3 FG% on them. Poor player-personnel decisions from the recent past, plus a cadre of fans left weary after years of second-fiddle play in the LeBronference, are perception issues that the Pistons have been unable to leave behind in the ‘burbs. Detroit has been winning lately, but to inspire its long-reticent fanbase to take the leap and make more trips downtown, they must continue to do win, and avoid slip-ups on nights like tonight. Like Jay-Z to Mob Deep, the prevailing sentiment around Motown is, “We don’t believe you. You need more people!” Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  12. It’s never too early to take up a second career! The Atlanta Hawks are right near the top of the NBA… in one key category. The Bulls’ flop last night to Dallas dropped the Hawks into a tie with the Spurs (10-6), and 1.5 games behind the mighty Warriors (12-5), among the NBA’s best records versus teams at-or-above .500. Wins over Cleveland, the Spurs, Toronto, the Rockets, Pacers and Bucks, plus near-misses against the likes of the Celts and Warriors, suggest the Hawks (24-17) deserve the small cushion they’ve gained above the rest of the playoff pack, halfway through the NBA season. What has kept that first-round-homecourt margin from getting any larger has been Atlanta’s underwhelming record against the lower rungs of the league. Versus teams like tonight’s hosts, the Detroit Pistons (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Detroit), only the Bulls’ record against sub-.500 teams is worse (among the East’s Top 11) than Atlanta’s 14-11. The good news is, the Hawks have not dropped a game to a team with a losing record since collapsing in Minnesota back on December 26, and five days before that to those same Wolves at Philips Arena. Beginning with December home victories over the (at the time, with a winning record) Knicks and Pistons, Atlanta has rattled off seven-straight against the league’s current lower tier. But as the Dwight Howard-less Hawks showed against the Porzingis-less Knicks in New York on Monday, the Hawks still have their work cut out for them before they can fully rebuild consumer confidence in their competitive product. Speaking of confidence, normally, a “vote of confidence” from a team owner is a dreaded sign of bad things to come. But Tom Gores’ thumbs-up for coach/exec Stan Van Gundy just feels different. “I have full confidence in Stan,” Gores told reporters at halftime of the Pistons’ 102-97 win over the Lakers at Staples Center on Sunday, Detroit bookending their 5-game West Coast road trip with victories. “We are having a hard time, and Stan and I are very real about that,” the Detroit Free Press reported Gores as saying, “but we also know that we have a great group of guys. We believe they’ll work through this. We’ve hit a bump in the road and that’s what success is about, you gotta work though it.” Detroit is carrying the third-highest salary load in the NBA, albeit due to past mistakes. They’re eighth in guaranteed salaries next season, and top-ten in guaranteed salaries for the three seasons after that. Yet, at 19-24, they stand at 10th in the East, last in the Central Division, and two games behind those 8th-seeded Bulls. Things were expected to trend upward with the arrival of star guard Reggie Jackson, but it has decidedly not been the case (8-14 since Jackson’s return). Conversely to Atlanta, the Pistons hold a 6-16 mark versus current break-even or winning teams, the last W coming at home against LeBron-less Cleveland back on December 26 (before that? The 121-85 blowout in Millsap-less Atlanta, way back on December 2). Despite the playoff push from just nine months ago, Piston fans don’t seem terribly enthused. Their average attendance at the cavernous suburban Palace of Auburn Hills ranks 28th out of 30 NBA teams. Yet, as it pertains to Stan Van’s status, file it under “What else are ya gonna do?” Gores knows that Van Gundy, who fumed throughout December as things went haywire, cares deeply about his team’s on-court effort. “This isn’t the YMCA, this is the NBA,” zinged Van Gundy to the Detroit News and reporters pregame, when asked about the team’s defensive intensity. “This is high-level basketball; you’ve got to play it hard, aggressive and smart. It’s not enough to say they’re trying hard.” Gores is willing to let the man who cut bait on Joe Dumars’ disastrous Josh Smith contract work through the back end of Smoove’s buyout, which concludes this season. The Pistons have a few walking-wounded struggling to play as well. Logging the most minutes-per-game on the team, guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (40.4 3FG%) strained a rotator cuff early in the Pistons’ blowout loss in Oakland last Thursday, and the 23-year-old ironman will miss his third-straight game. Mega-rebounder Andre Drummond (NBA-high 36.1 D-Reb%) and his frontcourt mates Jon Leuer (out) and Aron Baynes (active) are each dealing with varying knee maladies. Detroit’s adversities should bode well today for a rested Howard, assuming he gets plenty of post touches and runs the floor. Dwight matched Drummond’s 15 rebounds, in five fewer minutes, during the 105-98 win on December 30 that nudged the Hawks back above .500 for the season. There was a time, up until around 2011, when Howard shot 59-60 percent on free throws consistently. Now he’s trending upward again toward that area (65.4 FT% in last 15 games), making it tougher for opponents to defend him around the rim without giving buckets away. Having to defend Howard straight-up specifically makes it harder for Drummond (team-high 1.5 SPG) to toil as an eager help defender. Once defensive ace Paul Millsap (January: 13.4 second-half PPG, 1st among East PF/Cs; 52.2 second-half FG%) and Dennis Schröder (28 points, 13-for-16 FGs @ NYK on Monday) inevitably find their offensive grooves, and the pace picks up, it becomes harder for Jackson and Tobias Harris (combined 12-for-31 FGs @ ATL on Dec. 30) to keep up. Detroit is the league’s most reliable defensive rebounding team (80.0 D-Reb%). The wall-building Pistons are, somewhat amazingly, more adept at one-and-done whenever Drummond (79.2 team D-Reb% On-Court; 82.2% Off-Court) takes a breather. This suggests it’s crucial for the Hawks to execute well in setting up, and delivering, first shots during its possessions. Tim Hardaway, Jr. is 7-for-22 on field goals in two games this season versus his father’s current employer, going 2-for-8 (0-for-3 3FGs) back on December 30 as he watched Kyle Korver (22 points on 7-for-13 shooting) carry the day offensively. But he came alive once again in the fourth quarter on Monday to hold off the Knicks, 108-107, matching Schröder with 9 points in the final frame. He’ll find less defensive pressure on him with KCP out-of-action. Detroit has been cuddling, snuggling, and petting for well over 100 games. Yet there are finally signs their tireless work on their Hatchimal is paying off, as second-year forward Stanley Johnson may at last be breaking out of his offensive shell. SVG granted Johnson significant playing time in the past 3 games, and he has responded by going 5-for-9 on threes (26.4 3FG% prior 40 appearances) and tying a career-high with 6 assists in L.A. on Sunday. That’s not quite enough to make Stan Van a Stanley-stan. But with KCP still injured, Johnson’s the most reliable defensive wing the coach has in the stable, and he can help prop up the league’s best defense in transition off turnovers (NBA-low 13.1 points per 100 possessions off TOs). If he keeps this up, Johnson will push “KST” test subject Marcus Morris (41.2 FG%, lowest since rookie season) further down in Van Gundy’s rotation. Possibly sensing a flame under his butt, Mook put up a team-high 23 points (incl. 4-for-8 3FGs), playing in all but five minutes during Detroit’s win in Los Angeles. While not exceptional against the Knicks (12-for-32 team 3FGs), the Hawks’ three-point accuracy on Monday met-or-exceeded 37.5 3FG% for the seventh time in the past eight games (43.1 team 3FG% in January, 3rd in NBA behind the Spurs and Celtics’ 43.4%). Before January rolled around, Atlanta’s 32.6 3FG% ranked 29th. Even Kent Bazemore (42.4 3FG%) is showing signs of life… at least, beyond the arc (41.1 2FG%). With the ankle injury for Mike Muscala, Coach Mike Budenholzer was compelled to turn to Kris Humphries to relieve Millsap and Howard. Kris’ 3-for-3 triples and team-high seven boards in 24 minutes helped get Atlanta over the proverbial Hump in New York. Expanding contributions from Mike Scott, Mike Dunleavy, and Taurean Waller-Prince would also help improve flexibility for Coach Bud’s rotation of bench forwards, at least until Muskie returns. Schröder and the Hawks have benefitted from the improving play of backup guard Malcolm Delaney (last 9 games: 51.8 FG%, 4.6 APG, 1.9 TOs/game; 37.4 FG%, 2.6 APG before). The rookie currently ranks 5th among all NBA players (min. 15 minutes/game) with a 98.0 D-Rating, a value that was especially good (91.2 in October/November, 2nd in NBA) before the team’s November/December nosedive. While stats are always sketchy in this area, his high rating suggests Delaney (5 assists and 2 steals @ NYK) and his teammates are doing something right. Another solid two-way effort by Delaney versus Pistons reserves Ish Smith (13 assists @ ATL in his last start on Dec. 2) and Beno Udrih could help the Hawks gain a decided advantage. Atlanta is 11-4, with just one loss (Boston) since November, when he collects four or more dimes in a game. Last month, it took consecutive home wins over the Knicks and Pistons to get Atlanta back on track. This time around, a two-game parlay would extend the Hawks’ road streak to six (most since the 12-game magic during December/January of 2014-15) and earn the team its 14th road win on the season, potentially tops in the Eastern Conference. Relying just a little more upon a player once self-identified as Superman could have the Hawks looking up, up, and away from the bottom half of the East. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  13. “You Gettin’ Mad... I’m Gettin’ Rich!” “DESTROYED! BASKETBALL!” Things sure were revving up in the Motor City the last time the Detroit Pistons met the Atlanta Hawks on the neutral court known as Philips Arena, a December day not much different than today (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Detroit). Why, it was only four weeks ago, when the league’s most-shy 3-point shooting team strolled into the Lamelight Factory and shattered their franchise record with 17 three-point makes (on 29 attempts). Sure, the Hawks were missing their Anchorman in Paul Millsap (hip). But the Pistons likewise enjoyed their biggest victory of the year margin-wise, 121-85, without their team’s leading scorer. Reggie Jackson (knee, thumb) had been out all season, but was ready to hop on the wave two nights later back home against Orlando. Surely, a surge to the upper room in the Eastern Conference was around the corner, right? Well, not exactly. They flopped against the Magic. The next game, though, they toppled their division-rival Bulls at The Palace. Happy days are here again, right? Well, not quite. A season-low 77 points in a loss at Charlotte (despite a familiar-sounding 26 & 20 performance by Andre Drummond) was quite a bummer. However, after that game came a resounding 117-90 victory in Minnesota (Drummond with 22 & 22). So, it’s Morning in Auburn Hills, right? Well, not really. The Pistons returned home and suffered an inexcusable 97-79 loss to the 76ers (and, no, Joel Embiid did not play). But, hey, after a couple days off, Detroit bounced back and prevailed in Dallas. Now, the ship is steering in the right direction, right? Well, hold your horses. Back-to-back defeats at Washington (allowing a season-high 122 points) and back home versus the Pacers meant it was time for the tried-and-true Players-Only Meeting! Leading scorer Tobias Harris felt relieved after the meeting, convened by backup big Aron Baynes after the 15-point loss to Indy. “It’s a dialogue about communication for everybody… it was good to just get everybody talking,” Harris told the delayed postgame media. Marcus Morris gave his best Bluto impression. “Are you going to play for the next man beside you, or are you going to play for yourself?”, he paraphrased for reporters. So, all for one, one for all, right? Well, not quite. See, Jackson (45.7 eFG%, lowest eFG% among top 35 NBA players in Usage%) kinda got the impression that the team’s frustrations were directed squarely toward him. After all, things were on the uptick before he returned – hey, did you not see how good we looked against Atlanta, without you??? So, a miffed Jackson decided to come into Chicago playing not so much Detroit Basketball, but something more like Deez Nuts Basketball, declining to take a shot, even when open, until nearly halftime. The result? A 113-82 drubbing. That’ll learn ‘em, R-Jax! “That wasn’t us,” said the always forthcoming Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy, “That was him.” Atlanta knows all about up-and-down, one-step-forward, two-steps-back basketball. I joked just yesterday, though, that the Hawks’ alternate logo ought to be a Black Box. Through all the ups and mostly downs, if you catch so much as a hint of off-court dissension on this team, from either coaches or players, your flight has officially landed inside a volcano. That’s never the situation in Detroit, certainly not when their head coach is anywhere within eight miles of a microphone. I present to you, via MLive and the Detroit Free Press, the many smooth stylings of “Stan Van Gundy: Master of Panic.” Reflecting after the loss to the Suxers, after returning from Minnesota: “We weren’t ready. To hell with the weather… You’re an NBA player. It’s your job to be ready to play. But I didn’t do my job in getting them ready to play.” After the loss to the Pacers: “We’ve definitely got to look at some things, lineup and rotation-wise. That unit (Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Morris, Harris, Drummond) is clearly not working… So, the question is, how long do you stick with it?... There’s no question we’re not as good as before (Jackson’s return)… Our offensive frustrations have taken a toll on our defense. It shouldn’t, and it’s not a legitimate excuse. But I’m just giving you the facts.” After the third-straight double-digit loss, in Chicago: “Team meeting, my [patootie]. Like I said before, that stuff means nothing; it’s what you do on the court. Talking is easy… It was a disgusting performance, by all of us. Me included. It was unprofessional. Embarrassing. Humiliating. Whatever you want to say, it was terrible… Looks to me like a lack of effort, a lack of heart… I guarantee you on Wednesday night, we’re not trottin’ that (starting) five out there again.” Riffing on players, like Drummond, concerned about fewer touches since Jackson’s return: “I told them today I don’t really care… you know what, my basic message today was, ‘Do your job’… Does the plumber get a motivational speech in the morning? No… He either does his job right or he doesn’t get paid… I don’t know in how many jobs, and I said this to them, does your employer pay you and then also take responsibility for your happiness? That ain’t the way it works.” All of that, and more, from The Notorious M.O.P. in just the past 18 days. If Coach Bud’s mealy-mouthed postgame commentaries bore you to tears, go catch some interviews in the Pistons’ locker room after a bad loss. Oh, and he’s not done. SVG is virtually down to using toes to find something he can point at people with, so he’s trying a different tack. “When a team is having the problems we’ve had this many times, it’s on me,” he told the media after a 25-point loss at home to the Bucks on Wednesday, “I’m not going to get in here and blister the players… I’m responsible. I got to figure out what needs to be done. Quite honestly, I’m embarrassed. I’m not getting it done. I’m NOT getting it done.” Detroit has one win in their past seven games, and that exception was gifted to them on Monday by Tyronn Lue, after the Cavs coach DNP-REST’d LeBron James. Close-shave losses to Golden State and Memphis served as encouragement, but the Milwaukee loss knocked them for yet another loop. Tonight, will they be able to once again sip from the Fountain of Relevance in Atlanta? While they indeed whooped the Hawks by 36 points back on December 2, Van Gundy surely noticed when the Hawks (16-16) got waxed on Toronto’s floor the very next night, by 44 points… and what happened in that same building less than two weeks later. After such high hopes to start the month, a loss in Atlanta tonight would plummet the Pistons (15-19) to 12th in the LeBronference, the very bottom of the East’s Crab Barrel. “We’re in jeopardy right now,” said You Know Who. With the curtains wide open, the Wizard of Osmosis is pulling on whatever levers he can find. Harris (16.3 PPG), the Pistons leading scorer, now comes off the bench, Stan Van turning to Tobias’ super-efficient sub Jon Leuer in the starting lineup. His play as a reserve (last 3 games: 23.3 PPG, 55.8 FG%, 52.9 3FG%, 8.3 RPG) has sparked the bench offensively, but Leuer’s effect on the starting-unit’s defensive intensity has yet to bear fruit. The Pistons’ three-point barrage back on December 2 essentially ended the Hawks’ ability to distract viewers with their then-top-ranked defensive efficiency. Their slippage has them at 7th place in D-Rating entering today’s action, although still 2nd in the East, ahead of Milwaukee and Detroit. Among the NBA’s top ten teams in D-Rating, only the Hawks and Pistons have a negative Net Rating, a tell-tale sign of offensive struggles. Behind Drummond, the Pistons, for their part, have also led the league with 84.5 D-Reb % in December (NBA-low 9.5 opponent second-chance PPG, only team allowing less than 10), so second-chances may be hard to come by for Atlanta, even for Dwight Howard (1 O-Reb in 25 minutes vs. DET on Dec. 2). This suggests that the first shots need to be good ones. For Hawks’ ballhandlers Dennis Schröder, Malcolm Delaney, Tim Hardaway, Jr. and (yes) Kent Bazemore, it means knowing when to attack the paint, like when they’re guarded by Jackson instead of KCP, and when to find passing lanes, rather than forcing the issue when Drummond and Baynes form walls and seal off penetration. Despite his considerable girth, Drummond (1.0 BPG) is decidedly not a shot-blocker, preferring to make stops by drawing charges and making steals when he’s not boxing out. He will be occupied with sealing off Howard and averting lob plays, so players on the opposite side of the floor from D8 need to be active, ready to receive the rock and finish plays from that side. Continuing to recover from a sore groin muscle sustained last week, Hardaway is a past-due target to get to the bucket, especially when KCP strays to help with Schröder. Hardaway was 0-for-7 shooting over just 13 minutes versus his prior team, the Knicks, on Wednesday. And in the UM alum’s last meeting with the Pistons, he was a few more wayward clanks (0-for-6 3FGs) from being disowned by his assistant-coach father. He and Bazemore (3-for-11 FGs vs. DET on Dec. 2) need to make more cuts to the hoop and be prepared to produce more assists for Schröder (11 assists, 1 TO vs. DET) via interior buckets. While Hawks foes like the Pistons have had a field day from the perimeter this month (NBA-high 40.5 opponent 3FG% in December; 11.6 opponent 3FGs per 100 possessions, 2nd-most in NBA), Atlanta continues its own slide in that area (8.3 3FGs per 100 and 31.6 3FG%, 3rd-worst in NBA). If your team relies on your 6-foot-8 power forward, shooting 31.0 3FG% and rocking a swollen eye, to take the most three-point attempts, you’re not making it easier on your team to win games. Instead of allowing Millsap to think he’s somehow spreading the floor, allow him to work on Harris and Leuer inside. The Hawks must feed the tandem of Howard and Millsap, and allow them to create better outside options for players paid to hit those shots, like Kyle Korver (3-for-5 3FGs, 1-for-5 2FGs in the OT win vs. NYK). Kyle’s last five triples have come by way of passes from either Howard, Millsap, or Mike Muscala. Facing a back-to-back, Coach Bud sat Thabo Sefolosha (season-low 16.6 minutes) in the second-half of the loss against Detroit, and Baze was given a rest in the final quarter. So Detroit’s decision to go buckwild from deep (11-for-20 3FGs) was no accident, especially after a first-quarter test (5-for-6 3FGs) revealed the water was fine. Both Kent and Thabo should be healthy enough to contribute major minutes tonight, making perimeter looks on the back end of the clock tougher for the Pistons. Detroit’s 32.9 3FG% since that game (27th in NBA) is not much better than Atlanta’s 32.1% (28th). Just as NBA opponents have figured out they should go ahead and let Atlanta fire away from outside, they’ve also learned not to bail out the poor-shooting Pistons with ticky-tack fouls. Detroit’s 18.0 personal fouls drawn (per 100 possessions) are the league’s lowest this month; their 19.8 FTAs per-100 in December are ahead of only Dallas’ 19.7. Plus, the lion’s share of those hacks are directed at Drummond, whose 44.2 FT% (41.1% this month) is actually a career-high. One half-full way of looking at the Hawks’ late-December stretch is that they have not lost consecutive games since December 5. They also haven’t won back-to-back contests since December 9, or consecutive home games since November 16. But these are low bars that they can clear tonight. Considering Bud’s hard-to-beat mentor (and the source of Van Gundy’s plumber philosophies) Gregg Popovich is swinging by on New Year’s Day, this is no time for the Hawks to resort to half-empty basketball. Let’s save all the drama tonight for the guys in the other locker room. Hit Dem Folks! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  14. Marc with the Stein-er Recliner... Can't you just feel the excitement? ~lw3
  15. “YOUR Dad’s a GENIUS!” It’s another Separation Saturday! When our Atlanta Hawks last left Auburn Hills, eight days ago, their Palace coup left the Detroit Pistons a bit embittered. Both teams have done fairly well for themselves in the days since, and each has a good reason to grab a win tonight (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, Fox Sports Detroit) —specifically, stiff-arming the competition below them in the conference standings. Atlanta and Detroit share the top spot among the East’s toughest remaining schedules, opponents each holding a 57% winning percentage. Seven of Detroit’s remaining nine games involve back-to-backs. The Pistons actually do pretty good with back-to-back series, as they’re an impressive 20-14 in those games. Even better, they’ve won their last six contests on the back ends of those series, and hoping to extend it to seven tonight. The Pistons are STILL amid that nine-game homestand that began with the loss to the Hawks on March 18. And the confines have gotten quite comfy. They dusted four lotto-bound teams before fumigating the Hornets last night (62 team rebounds in regulation, a season-high). Tonight, they’re on the hunt for their first six-game winning streak since the infamous Smoove Buyout spurred Stan Van Gundy’s club to seven-straight back in December-January of last season. After tonight, Detroit (39-34, 8th-seed in East) hosts OKC and the Mavs before finally hitting the road, for a three-game stretch that includes a miffed Bulls squad (2 games behind) and the heat. Their schedule concludes with a visit to Cleveland. Since they have a better record versus their Central Division rivals than they do against the Raptors, they might not mind bringing an extra bag to the Buckeye State in advance of a playoff series there. In the Hawks’ case, tonight concludes the back-to-backs (22-14, 11-7 on second nights) for the season. They’ve swept their last three series and are looking to extend that string to four tonight, after starting out the year sweeping their first three. Winning their sixth road game out of their last seven tonight should keep Atlanta (43-30, 3rd-seed in East) a half-game ahead of the Celtics, who are in Phoenix tonight awaiting a team that played yesterday, and extend their division lead over resting Miami to a full game. While two games each versus Cleveland and Toronto await, the sooner that these teams firm up their playoff positioning, the sooner they can focus on rest and recuperation ahead of the postseason. Bang The Drummond Slowly! The last time the Hawks were here, Mike Budenholzer’s strategic fouling of the Pistons’ mammoth center was a successful exercise in torture that even some presidential candidates could admire. Dre sunk almost half of his 17 foul shots to add 8 points to his 18-and-18 evening. But more importantly, Hack-a-Dre effectively short-circuited his entire team’s momentum, the Hawks eroding Detroit’s 11-point third-quarter lead to surge ahead for good in the fourth. “If we feel like it’s going to create an advantage,” Coach Bud said unapologetically to the postgame media, “we’ll continue to do it… (Detroit) was playing so well offensively, it’s a way to give your defense a little break and take the ball out of some other people’s hands and change the rhythm of the game.” Those “other people’s hands” rightfully belong to guys like Reggie Jackson (36.1 Assist%, 10th in NBA), who had 17 points and 10 assists without sinking a single three-pointer against the Hawks (0-for-6 3FGs on March 16). "He drilled us in transition, the pick-and-roll game, everything that we worked on," Hornets coach Steve Clifford praised of Jackson's offense after last night's game. Still, RJax is looking to right the ship after going 0-for-5 from deep last night while getting torched from the perimeter by Charlotte's Kemba Walker (25 first-half points; 6-for-9 3FGs; 5 assists and no turnovers). Their Atlanta counterpart, Jeff Teague, had half of the Hawks’ paltry 12 player turnovers last night versus Milwaukee, and went 0-for-5 on threes, but saved his best for last with 12 of his 18 points in the closing seven minutes of the contest. Detroit seized the frontcourt scoring edge from Charlotte thanks to 18-and-14 by Drummond (just two free throws, both missed), along with bench bigs Aron Baynes (16-and-8 in 18 minutes) and Anthony Tolliver (3-for-7 3FGs and 8 boards in 20 minutes). The Pistons will need a double-dip of that tonight from a bench corps that ranks last in the NBA with a cumulative 26.5 PPG and 41.4 FG%. Detroit relies more than any other team on three-point bench shots (40.7% of bench FG attempts are from 3-point distance), so the Hawks perimeter defense must continue to be on point today. Conversely, despite shooting just 32.0 3FG% on the season, the 45.4 FG% by Atlanta’s bench is the best in the East. Tim Hardaway, Jr., Kris Humphries, and Dennis Schröder will continue improving Atlanta’s offensive ambrosia, particularly when Kyle Korver (0-for-4 3FGs on Friday, 1-for-3 @ DET on March 16), Teague, and the All-Star starting frontcourt are having off-nights from the field. Detroit cooled off with 3-for-16 team shooting in the fourth quarter on Friday, as the Hornets’ reserves dwindled a 26-point mid-fourth-quarter deficit down to five with 38 seconds left to play. Similar to the situation with Atlanta’s bench scoring, in fourth-quarters, the Hawks shoot just 32.4 3FG% but their 46.4 FG% is second-best in the East, just a hair behind Miami (46.5 FG%). Detroit’s fourth-quarters haven’t been so hot (42.8 FG%, 26th in NBA). So they’re hoping once again to pounce early and hang on late, especially after SVG rested his starters in the final frame while the Hornets made their late-game charge. The Hawks got a bit discombobulated while up nine points with 80 seconds left in the last Pistons game, making the eventual outcome, a 118-114 win, a little tighter than necessary. After Paul Millsap’s And-1 bucket gave the Hawks the final lead of the night with under four minutes to go, their final 13 points were all free throws. A Teague turnover, a few missed freebies and some defensive lapses in the closing minute allowed the Pistons to sneak back into the rearview mirror. But Jeff’s 8-for-8 fourth quarter FTs helped make Detroit’s last stand too-little-too-late. Last night, Atlanta showed that they want to be a team that Lives by the D, not just the 3. Even with the iron unkind all night from downtown (5-for-32 3FGs), the Hawks refused to take, “Just not our night!” as an answer. They kept the Bucks few perimeter threats cool from deep (Khris Middleton and Jerryd Bayless 2-for-8 on 3FGs) and made Milwaukee earn just about every interior shot they could make. While Milwaukee missed 23 shots in the taint, I mean paint, Atlanta’s 58-42 points-in-paint advantage made all the difference in the final score. The Hawks also helped their own cause by slowing down the Bucks’ fastbreak, building a 22-14 advantage in that category as well. The Bucks, meanwhile, didn’t help their own cause by missing nine of their 26 free throw attempts. Foreshadowing, Pistons? Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  16. “There can be only one…” Another back-to-back, Jack! Coming off a successful twin-billing at home this past weekend, tonight starts one of just two back-to-back sets left for the Atlanta Hawks. Both include a trip to Greater Motown to face the Detroit Pistons (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, Fox Sports Detroit). Hoping to reach the postseason for the first time since 2009, Detroit (34-33) comes into tonight’s contest looking every bit like a young, upstart .500 team. Is this a team that’s won three of their last five, or lost four of their last seven? Are they winners of seven in their past eleven games, or losers of nine out of their previous 16 games? Are these the Pistons that won, in recent weeks, in Cleveland, at home against Toronto, and by 20 versus Portland? Or is Stan Van Gundy’s club the team whose last four road losses were by double-digits, including a 33-point nationally-televised blowout on Monday, against fellow 8-seed contender Washington? The answer to all of that is, yes, these are those Pistons. And with Joe Dumars a distant memory around Auburn Hills, Pistons fans couldn’t be much happier. Detroit is just a percentage-point behind the Bulls for 8th in the Eastern Conference, and tonight, they will embark upon a NINE-game homestand. Yes, nine games, for a team that’s a modest 19-11 in the roller rink otherwise known as the Palace. Detroit knows that a surge over the next 17 days at home could have them charging right up the standings. They’re also aware that anything less than a 5-4 mark out of this homestand would turn postseason hopes into a pipe dream. Tonight, these Pistons hope to get even with Atlanta’s tepid (22-18) in-conference record. After hosting the Hawks, the Pistons have four relative cupcakes (Sacramento, Brooklyn, Milwaukee, and Orlando) paying them a visit. Then it’s the red-hot Hornets. Then, whaddya know, it’s those Hawks again, one night after Atlanta hosts the Bucks. Then the Thunder, and finally the Mavericks, one night before traveling to Chicago. SVG knows there won’t be much room for error after that. As was the case this weekend with the Pacers, the Hawks (38-29) hope to have the Pistons stumbling into their upcoming schedule, not soaring and using a win over Atlanta to build momentum. The Hawks have some chasing to do as well. The reigning Southeast Division champs are just a game behind Joe Johnson’s Miami heat, along with the potentially sliding Boston Celtics, in the standings. They’re 20-14 this season in games of back-to-back sets, but that included a 6-0 start to the season. They can match that early-season run, but not if they get caught looking past opponents like Detroit. In the teams’ last meeting in December, the Pistons came into Philips one night after, first, coming from way behind to prevail in Miami, then enduring weather delays that prevented their arrival in ATL until the morning of the game. Early and sporadically, Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer deployed a Hack A. Drummond strategy, using Lamar Patterson, Tiago Splitter, and Mike Scott as part of the tag-team. Andre sunk 7 of his 25 points, but missed 11 free throws as the Pistons fell too far behind to catch up. Despite losing by just 107-100, the Pistons found themselves in a 19-point fourth-quarter hole before Atlanta kicked into cruise control. Drummond (league-highs 15.0 RPG, 34.6 D-Reb%) remains a top-notch defensive threat, but SVG has his All-Star center going after rebounds and steals, not Whitesiding and imperiling the paint by chasing after uncommitted shooters in search of box-score-busting blocks. Van Gundy upgraded the frontline by flipping Ersan Ilyasova to Orlando (along with Brandon Jennings) in exchange for Tobias Harris. But it’s really going to help the Pistons if forwards Harris, Marcus Morris, and rookie Stanley Johnson can help Drummond make stops. Harris is averaging 4.9 defensive boards through 13 games, and while that’s below his averages in Orlando, it still counts as second-best on the team. Detroit’s 3.6 blocks per game ranks 29th in the league, and their 7.3 steals average ranks just 21st. The Pistons are not strong shooters (26th in FG%, 22nd in 3FG%, last thanks to Drummond in FT%). But they are very stingy with turnovers (12.2 TO%, 6th-best in NBA), and they crash the boards after every carom (27.1 O-Reb% and 14.9 second-chance PPG, both 2nd in NBA). On defense, Paul Millsap and Kris Humphries must help Al Horford keep the paint clear of pernicious Pistons. The Pacers on Sunday couldn’t tell whether the frontcourt duo of Millsap and Horford (15-for-29 FGs vs. DET on Dec. 23) were coming or going (combined 11-for-18 2FGs, 4-for-8 3FGs vs. IND). Their ability to command defensive help has been freeing up Kyle Korver (4-for-9 3FGs vs. IND), whose 3FG% has grown from 29.3% in December, to 38.7% in January, 42.3% in February, and 52.8% mid-way through March. Leading scorer and dime-maker Reggie Jackson (career-high 22.3 points per-36 and 36.8 3FG%; 36.0 Assist%, 10th in NBA) helps Van Gundy push a Piston pace not seen by Michiganders since the days of Alvin Gentry, back around the year 2000. The less defensive pressure Jackson feels, the better Detroit’s chances for victory. The Pistons are just 2-9 (one win coming this past week, in Philly) when opponents get 10 or more steals, and the Hawks’ 19.2 PPG off turnovers now leads the NBA. Jackson commits 2.2 TOs per game (6.8 APG; 50.1 FG%; 48.5 3FG%) in wins, 3.2 TOs (5.5 APG; 38.2 FG%; 26.1 3FG%) in losses. Detroit’s ability to execute their offense successfully will be tied to Jeff Teague (4 steals vs. DET on Dec. 23) and the Hawks’ defensive effort versus R-Jax, whose defensive effort also falters when his offense isn’t fiyah. Dennis Schröder scored 11 of his 14 points in the first quarter of the last Hawks-Pistons matchup in December. Teague followed that up with nine of his team-high 23 points and four assists in the second. One X-Factor for the Pistons’ playoff hopes, but not tonight, will eventually be Jodie Meeks, who hasn’t played since October after injuring his foot, but will be activated soon. His fellow Georgian, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, has done a solid job of defending the perimeter, and will be busy chasing Korver (40.2 3FG% on the road) around tonight. But by the time of the Hawks’ next visit, Meeks could be the player that helps stretch the floor to the benefit of Drummond and Jackson. Detroit is the kind of up-and-coming team that could use a come-up against the Hawks, especially if Atlanta is the kind of team they might face in the first round of the playoffs. Winners of five of their last six, the Hawks can continue to whet their mettle, along the way to the postseason, by pulling off at least one Palace coup. Have a Happy St. Pat’s Day! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  17. “Bad Boys to the Bone!” Well, hello, there. Stan Van Gundy! Did you have yourself a Happy Smoove Buyout Day? One day before tonight’s tangle between the Detroit Pistons and the host Atlanta Hawks (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports South, Fox Sports Detroit), yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of Van Gundy inviting Josh Smith into his office to advise: “Look, it’s not you, it’s… okay, screw it, it’s you. We’re cutting you loose!” The Pistons sat at 5-23 when their GM/coach elected to apply the CBA’s stretch provision to his most notorious stretch-four. Even 5-23 doesn’t begin to reflect the scale of abject dysfunction that pervaded the roster, symbolized by its highest-salaried player, signed to a head-scratching free agent deal by a GM that no longer worked there. This was 5-23 with Smith, with Brandon Jennings, with Greg Monroe, with Andre Drummond. The team was a nightly #NotTop10 laughingstock. Piston fans were Pistoff, and Detroit’s once-proud suburban home attendance had fallen through the Palace floor. Just getting settled into the Motor City, Van Gundy wasn’t about to crash-and-burn in this Edsel. He knew Detroit would have to consult the White House to find a bailout more momentous than placing Josh Smith on waivers. Jumpshot Josh bounced from Motown to an eventful stop in H-Town, and now sulks and seethes on the bench in Tinseltown while averaging several career-lows, alongside just the latest head coach with that how-do-I-get-this-dookie-off-my-shoe look etched on his face. Picking up new paychecks at each stop along the way, he stopped by A-Town last March, and bragged to Ryan Cameron that “It’s a new day!” after sinking some lucky threes. Van Gundy could not possibly agree more with you, Josh. After waiving Smith, Detroit played .500-ball the rest of the way (27-27) through last season, threatening to break into the playoffs, and might have done even better were it not for Jennings rupturing his Achilles amidst their January turnaround. Since the waiver, the Pistons are a sound 44-39 coming into tonight’s meeting with another one of Smoove’s grateful former employers. Detroit didn’t chase Monroe is free agency, and now That Other Moose is handsomely paid on a Central Division rival that can’t seem to find traction. Midway through last season, and again this summer, they rolled the dice and committed to a backup lead guard from Oklahoma City. Today, Reggie Jackson (career-highs 20.4 PPG, 6.4 APG, 35.5 3FG%) waltzes into tonight’s contest as the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week. It is Jackson’s second such honor this season, matching Drummond, who won it for each of the first two weeks of the NBA season. No longer flanked by Smith and Monroe, Drummond has continues to come into his own. He earned his first weekly honor of the season, in part, by trouncing Budball with 18 points and 19 rebounds in a season-opening 106-94 win over the defending regular-season conference champs in Atlanta. 19 boards would count as a career day for most NBA players, but Drummond has already met or bested that tally eight times this season. That included 29 boards one week after the Hawks game, versus Indiana, and 21 rebounds in Chicago last Friday in a back-and-forth battle that stretched through four overtimes. Playing 54 minutes, Dre would certainly have grabbed even more boards had he not fouled out with just over a minute left. The Windy City win was the first four-OT game in the NBA since Jeff Teague’s Hawks nipped Paul Millsap’s Utah Jazz back in March 2012. But while Chicago had to fly out to New York for a game the next night, Detroit followed up their running of the Bulls with a restful three-day layoff. Still, one can hope that when the Pistons flew into Hartsfield-Jackson, their arms were tired. Much like the Hawks’ last opponent, the Pistons arrive in Atlanta one night after squeaking out a win in Miami, storming back from being 18 points down in the second quarter. The AJC's C-Viv notes they arrived early this morning, due to the soupy weather delaying their flight from South Florida. Detroit is 0-for-3 thus far, including a loss to the Lakers, when playing the back end of a back-to-back on the road. Stan has kept things steady among the starters. Detroit (17-12) has maintained the same starting-five since the successful season opener in ATL, with Jackson and Drummond joined by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and forwards Marcus Morris and Ersan Ilyasova. Due largely to a lack of healthy options and backcourt defenders, KCP (30.2 3FG%) is second only to Houston’s James Harden in daily NBA floor time, averaging 38 minutes per game. The former UGA star’s offense is beginning to turn a huge corner as well. Despite going 7-for-14 (4-for-7 3FGs) in Atlanta in October, his field-goal shooting was in the dirty thirties (38.9 FG%) through November. But KCP’s jumper is looking extra-crispy lately, particularly when Detroit is desperate for a closer to take pressure off of Jackson. He’s been shooting 43.9 FG% this month, hitting a big triple with under two minutes left in the fourth OT to corral the bickering Bulls, and overcoming a rough shooting night with the final seven Piston points to temper the heat yesterday. Jennings has returned to the lineup for the Pistons, and his good-soldier attitude (“best PG in the East right now,” he tweeted two days ago) has defused any questions so far about the Jackson/Jennings dynamic. He will be used not only as a Jackson backup but, more likely, as a secondary shooting guard to relieve Caldwell-Pope (40 minutes yesterday in Miami). While he’s unlikely to appear tonight, Jennings is expected to boost the bench, as he gets back up to speed. But he may also get showcased in Van Gundy’s quest to improve Detroit’s shallow backcourt situation. Jennings’ $8.3 million salary concludes his contract this coming summer. Detroit has managed without not only Jennings but Jodie Meeks. The former Norcross High standout, Meeks fractured his foot in just the second game of the season and remains out for a couple more months. Factor in the recurring D-League development of youngsters at the bottom of the depth chart (Spencer Dinwiddie, Darrun Hilliard, and Reggie Bullock) and Jackson, KCP and the crafty Steve Blake have had the guard rotation essentially all to themselves. Due to the diminished depth, and the boundless energy of Van Gundy’s young upstart starters (you too, Ersan), Detroit’s reserves rank last in the league with a collective 15.6 minutes per game, 23.3 PPG, 37.3 FG%, and 2.0 SPG. But the marksmanship of ex-Hawk Anthony Tolliver, Blake, and rookie Stanley Johnson last night (collective 11-for-17 3FGs @ MIA) helped Detroit’s reserves quickly turn the tables on the heat in the second quarter. The Hawks have to push the pace on the Pistons, and Jeff Teague needs to lead the way. The Hawks still go as Jeff goes: 12-0 when he posts a plus-minus of zero of better, 17-2 when it’s minus-3 or better, eight double-digit losses (including to these Pistons) when he’s done worse. Teague (38.5 2FG% in December) has contributed either 20 points or 10 assists just once in the past ten games, and that was ten games ago. On offense, especially when his jumpshot isn’t falling (4-for-12 FGs, 0-for-4 3FGs vs. Tim Frazier and Poor-tland), he must work his way around Jackson and draw help defenders into the paint. Atlanta is 9-1 when Teague gets at least six free throw attempts. He’ll find lanes to attack whenever triple threat Kyle Korver (8-for-12 3FGs last two games) draws Caldwell-Pope to the other side of the floor. On defense, Teague (1.1 SPG, down from 1.7 in 2014-15) must get back to bringing the same fullcourt terror to opposing guards that he provided consistently last season when the Hawks got on a wintertime roll. In the ten losses where Teague played this season, he totaled just 7 steals. It’s his responsibility to make shoot-first PGs like Jackson work the full floor. Jeff must not only spark the Hawks, who thrive off scoring from opponent turnovers, but make opponents pay by converting those opportunities into points. Among the top 25 NBA players in transition possessions, Teague’s 21.0 turnover percentage on those possessions ranks as the second-worst, and his 55.8 eFG% is the fifth-worst. While Teague has been merely putting on the veneer of a top-flight point guard, Dennis Schröder (7-for-10 FGs, team-high 18 points in just 17 minutes) took his own veneer and stuffed it in his sock, while socking it to the toothless Trail Blazers on Monday. The gummin’ German has recommitted himself to defend opposing guards better (2.4 SPG in last 5 games, 0.8 before that), and it’s resulted in an uptick in productive floor time (52.0 FG%, 50.0 3FG%, 5.0 APG, 1.6 TOs/game in last 5 games). Schröder and the bench corps must exploit the rest-and-preparation advantage over their lead-legged Detroit counterparts. Thabo Sefolosha will join Kent Bazemore in forcing tough perimeter shots, but it will help a ton if Lamar Patterson (one steal in his last 13 appearances) can get a couple stops, or if Justin (no significant minutes since November 21) can make the Holidays happy. Tight-but-smart defensive pressure along the perimeter and limiting dribble penetration by Piston guards will lighten the load for Paul Millsap and Michigander Al Horford as they try to keep Drummond and Morris (13 combined O-Rebs, 29 boards @ATL on Oct. 27) from piling up second-chance points, which is naturally the Pistons’ specialty (league-high 15.8 PPG). Horford and Millsap (who, like Teague, will play through a tweaked ankle) are among the league’s top-ten in Roll Man possessions, and Al is hoppin’ when he’s not just pick-and-poppin’. Among the top 15 Roll Men, Horford’s 55.9 eFG% is tops, while his 2.9 turnover percentage on those possessions is the best among the Top 30. Atlanta’s ball handlers must recognize this and feed Horford early and often on rolls to the rim. Millsap, meanwhile, ranks 2nd among the league’s Top-20 in eFG% on Post-Up possessions, and 31.6% of those Post-Ups ending in free throw chances blows away the field among the NBA’s Top-50 post-uppers. Atlanta’s bigs, including Mike Scott, Tiago Splitter and The Real Moose, must be relentless on interior shots against a Detroit team that allows 45.2 PPG in the paint (most in the East), and their guards must be clever enough to feed the bigs when they’ve got the likes of Ilyasova, Morris, and Tolliver covering them. Sharp passing and assertiveness can neutralize Drummond’s cherry-picking ways, compelling him to focus more on his defensive tasks, and making plays on the drivers and cutters rather than the ball itself. With the floor spread out in his favor last night, Chris Bosh didn’t bother to ask his doctor before feeding Drummond a pill or two around the rim, and Horford can certainly follow suit tonight. Drummond’s dominance in the offensive rebounding column has just as much to do with the Pistons’ own struggles making halfcourt shots (50.7% true shooting, tied for 2nd-worst in NBA) as anything else. Detroit only shot 37.9% on two-pointers back on Oct. 27, but 12-for-29 (41.4%) on threes (Detroit’s 8-1 when they sink ten or more). Last season’s MLK Day game saw Drummond nab 11 of his 18 rebounds (surpassed in the same game by Monroe’s 20) in the first quarter, but Detroit could muster only 12 points (8-for-24 FGs, 0-for-6 3FGs) in that frame. Last season, Atlanta’s opponents took the bait and jacked a league-high 25.8 threes per game, but shot just 34.1 percent on them. So far this year, Hawks foes aren’t settling quite as much (24.0 3FGAs per game, 16th in NBA), but are getting better looks (36.8 3FG%, 5th-most in NBA). Rather than being mesmerized by Drummond’s prodigious play in the post, improving the perimeter defense would make things easier on the Hawks tonight. Hawks point guards and roving wings can minimize the need for the bigs to vacate the paint (and Drummond) to help. A third-straight victory over Atlanta, a fourth consecutive victory overall, a fourth-straight road win to even up their away-game record, and a possible vault up to second in the East. All of that would suffice as quality gifts for the Detroit Pistons as they head into the Christmas Day break. But don’t bother wrapping anything, Atlanta. For Stan Van Gundy, Christmas already came a couple days early. Merry Christmas to you and yours, and Happy Holidays! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record