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Found 22 results

  1. “But, it was just charades! I yelled… LOW CUT SOCKS!... not, HOLTKAMP SUCKS!” Here’s hoping for a thoroughly uneventful game for the Atlanta Hawks, for a change! Their West Coast swing continues with a visit to the Houston Rockets (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, AT&T SportsNet in H-Town), who are out to secure their first-ever (???) 60-win season tonight. The main question is, how easy can the Hawks make this for the Rockets? Houston (59-14) won handily last night at the Toyota Center, a 114-91 victory over the playoff-probable Pelicans that was only contentious as far as the barbs and fouling on the court. Conference Finals Virgin Chris Paul (sore hamstring) was rested for the past two games, and coach Mike D’Antoni would like to DNP a few more key components. But James Harden isn’t inclined to go along with that plan. Harden (NBA-high 30.9 PPG, 36.2 Usage%, 30.1 PER and .293 WS/48) remains in front of the pack contending for the Maurice Podoloff Trophy. But when the Beard peeks over his shoulder, he sees a hairy situation: MVP candidates Cavs’ LeBron James, the Blazers’ Damian Lillard, and the Pels’ Anthony Davis are gaining on him as the regular season nears its end. Even with his Rockets a virtual lock for the Western Conference’s #1 seed entering the playoffs, Harden has no desire to shift to cruise-control. It’s up to D’Antoni to make sure Harden starts, and gets to lead on the floor when it’s time to salt games away. But the reigning Coach of the Year will also strategically massage his marquee player’s minutes. Impressively, Harden is likely to earn his MVP award with a downtick in per-game playing time for the second straight season (35.6 MPG, down from an NBA-high 38.1 in 2015-16). Hawks fans would have hoped for a different season where Houston would pass along their first-round draft pick. But the Rockets, unlike the Warriors, have stayed fairly healthy, and GM Daryl Morey concocted a squad deep enough with veteran role players (now including future Hawks jersey retiree Joe Johnson) that its winning collection of stars and starters don’t have to over-exert themselves, or play too far outside of their comfort zones. Just as Paul (7.9 APG, lowest since his rookie season) has effectively reduced the necessity for Harden (8.6 APG, down from an NBA-high 11.2 last season) to distribute the ball as much as last year, Clint Capela (18 points, 16 rebounds, 6 blocks, 3 steals vs. NOP) obviates the need for Harden (5.3 RPG, lowest since 2013-14) to dominate on the glass. Unlike some former MVPs, you won’t catch Harden (27 points, 8 assists, 9 TOs vs. NOP) wrestling around in the paint with the JaVale McGees and Mike Muscalas of the world when it’s time to vie for a tough rebound. Reigning Sixth Man of the Year Eric Gordon (4-for-9 3FGs vs. NOP, 4 assists, 4 TOs) serves as the sole traditional point guard in the rotation with Paul out, and he’ll need help from his Harden (1.8 SPG, 6th in NBA) and his defensive swingmen to get a bead on a rested Dennis Schröder (16 points, 7 assists, 4 TOs @ GSW on Friday; questionable with an ankle sprain). With Trevor Ariza, Joe and P.J. Tucker trying to slow Schröder’s rolls, catch-and-shoot opportunities will abound for Taurean Prince (team-high 20 points, 4-for-8 3FGs, 2 steals, 2 blocks @ GSW), Tyler Dorsey (3-for-7 3FGs @ GSW), Damion Lee and Andrew White. If Dennis is a scratch, that primary dish-and-swish facilitator role would fall to Isaiah Taylor, who moved the ball well against G-State (6 assists, 2 TOs in 19.5 minutes on Friday). Keeping the Hawks (21-52) within shouting distance late won’t be the threes, but the free throws, a factor that has worked well in the Rockets’ favor this year (75.0 opponent FT%, 3rd-lowest in NBA). Atlanta clanked an inordinate 11 freebies on 20 attempts in Oakland on Friday, as much a factor in the Hawks’ inability to continue putting the second-half scare to the Warriors (and Others) as anything else. Mike Budenholzer is fine coaching a beatable team that doesn’t beat themselves, so expect better focus by his Hawks from the charity stripe tonight. For Houston, it’s just a matter of getting the win total into the 60s, and zeroing in on sewing up the 1-seed, as quickly as possible. For Atlanta, it’ll just be nice to not be the backdrop to a lead story on SportsCenter for a little while. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  2. Let’s sing it, James! “Don’t Be Tardy for The Party… oh-oh-oh-ohhh-oh-oh…” You won’t get much zippy commentary on here about the “Real” “House” “wives” “of” “Atlanta”, as the divas grace the Atlanta Hawks and the visiting Houston Rockets (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, AT&T SportsNet Southwest in HOU) with their presence at Philips Arena today. I zoned out on that show for keeps years ago, back when the recently-ousted Phaedra, Kenya, and frenemies couldn’t figure out for themselves how much of a creep Apollo was. Or maybe before that, when Porsha intimated that the Underground Railroad had to have room for tracks. While RHOA is here to promote this weekend’s kickoff of Season 10 of the franchise, Hawks fans understand as well as anybody when a near-decade run of something grows a little stale. But so long as they don’t stage a(nother) one of their catfights, having to get separated by Harry and leaving behind weave remnants to get swept up off the floor, I’m cool with it. What I will delve into is how short-sighted I have been about Mike D’Antoni. Remember how we all cackled when his Phoenix Suns went all-in with their zany but successful Seven Seconds or Less offense? Well, guess who his boss was back then? Steve Kerr. It takes two to tango on the floor, and these days, Kerr, D’Antoni and Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer are advocates for an overall pace of play that, today, leaves even that Steve Nash-led team in the dust. As noted recently by Kevin Arnovitz, the 2004-05 Phoenix team that won 62 games, led the Western Conference and reached the conference finals before succumbing to Coach Bud’s and Coach Pop’s Spurs in five games, led the NBA with a 95.9 pace. With more teams going smaller and pushing the rock, the ’05 Suns’ tempo (opponents included) would rank 26th in the league as of today. D'Antoniball would be panned by many, including yours truly, over the later years, but it was not designed to accommodate wholesale dysfunction, as was the case with the Melo-Amar’e Knicks and the Kobe-Dwight Lakers. But most NBA coaches and players have since bought in. Thanks to gung-ho GM Daryl Morey, D’Antoni’s Rockets (6-3) are balancing that need-for-speed with former halfcourt heavyweights James Harden, Eric Gordon and Chris Paul (the latter out for another week or so with a bruised knee) directing traffic. D’Antoni has implemented a style that compels opposing defenses to pick between two evils and think fast. “Everything that [opponents] preach defensively,” the Rockets coach told Basketball Insiders, “we try to do opposite, or try and get to a spot they don’t want to be in.” Pringles isn’t wasting time running plays, and he’s certainly not wasting time with what he perceives to be inefficient shots. Houston has taken just 5.0 mid-range two-point shot attempts per game, and the next-lowest team, Memphis, has been hoisting nearly twice as many (9.5). As with Kerr’s Warriors, if you, as a shooter, are going to settle at this range, you had better make it, and Houston leads the way with a 48.9 FG% in this zone. The gameplan is the same for many Atlanta opponents. Build up a lead by drowning the Hawks in three-point buckets in the first half (17.4 first-half opponent 3FGAs per game, 3rd in NBA), shift inside and let the Hawks wear themselves out trying to claw back in front, then put them away with daggers in the second-half, once the wing defenders are too tired to keep up and overcompensating for the shorthanded presence in the middle. D’Antoni’s Rockets (NBA-high 54.1 three-point attempt rate) seem to be built to do just that. While it’s not a problem tonight, the design of an offense that turns a good chunk of the floor into a vacuum could pose challenges for the Rockets’ most significant off-season acquisition. Paul’s mid-range runners and spot-ups were a bread-and-butter of his offense for years, but he began to fully expand his range in earnest during his final season with the Clippers, taking 5.0 three-point shots per game and hitting a career-best 41.1 3FG%. Harden (26.6 PPG, 6th in NBA; 9.2 APG, 3rd in NBA) of course dominates the playmaking (35.0 usage%, 2nd in NBA), at least until CP3 returns to the fold, and how effortlessly the pair share the ball when on-court together remains to be seen. But either of them will need castmates that can hit more successfully from long-range. Reigning Sixth Man of the Year Award winner Eric Gordon’s career-high 23.9 PPG sounds nice, until one recognizes he has lofted 11.8 attempts per game from three-point territory alone (31.9 3FG%). Despite the added three-point shot volumes, forwards Ryan Anderson (37.3 3FG%) and P.J. Tucker (35.0 3FG%) and swingman Trevor Ariza (25.0 3FG%) are all shooting at-or-below their career averages. If wings Taurean Prince and Kent Bazemore are doing their letter-best, switching onto Harden and canvassing the three-point line, then Dennis Schröder (probable, despite his sprained ankle; career-low 6.5 D-Reb%) and the Hawks’ remnant guards would do well to help their foul-prone bigs secure the rebounds produced by the many clunkers veering from the rim. Any Hawks player trying to D-up a Rocket standing around the mid-range two-point area, or even in the paint outside the restricted area, risks wasting precious time and falling into D’Antoni’s traps. The Hawks (1-7) could turn the tables anytime Houston turns a blind-eye toward the perimeter. The Rockets have allowed first-quarter opponents to hit an NBA-high 50.8 3FG% in the opening frame, the sole team to have allowed foes to sink over half of those shots. The Rockets do have defenders, like Trevor Ariza, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Tucker, and Clint Capela (NBA-high 37.8 D-Reb% and 70.7 FG%). But those players would rather be occupied trying to stem forays by Schröder (one of 11 NBA players with 45/35/90 shooting split, min. 100 minutes played) into the lane, access that should be more unfettered without CP3 around. Atlanta will need Marco Belinelli (48.9 3FG%), Luke Babbitt (season-high 16 points @ PHI on Wednesday, 2-for-4 3FGs), and Prince (48.1 3FG%) to get early perimeter touches, allowing the Hawks to play their opponent even or in front, rather than scrambling from behind later. If everyone does their tasks for the Hawks well tonight, from the outset, the only “Atlantans” scratching and clawing on the court could be the ones aiming for a boost in tweets and TV ratings. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  3. “Once I pop, I can’t stop!” Rise Up! A heaping debt of gratitude is due to our dear Atlanta Falcons. That’s not just because they worked their tailfeathers off to make it to the “Superb Owl” in Clutch City, where our Hawks coincidentally face off tonight with the Houston Rockets (8:00 PM Eastern, TNT if you dare; better yet, mute it and set your audio to 92.9 FM in ATL). By making it all the way through January and into February, the Falcons allow Atlanta’s sports media to defer the thankless job of watching the Hawks with any real discerning eye. Usually, by the time mid-January rolls around, there are no defensive tackles to hide behind. Down in Florida, pitchers and catchers don’t even report for another week or two. Aside from the hoopla over National Signing Day, it’s a wrap for Bulldog and Jacket football, after the obligatory mid-tier bowl games. The march to March Madness rarely matters around these parts. By MLK Day, and for at least the month that follows, it’s our Clean Birds that usually get center stage in Atlanta’s sports scene to themselves, whether they’re ready or not. Thus, it’s fortunate that the ATL has little time to dwell on yet another fullcourt flub by the Hawks, at the hands of another undermanned but spirited team, this time in Miami last night. You might imagine the network that Ted Turner built won’t want to focus much time on these pitiful performances tonight, and thank goodness for that. If anything, the appetizer for tonight’s Warriors-Clippers matchup will center on the splendid campaign underway in HTX, led by MVP leading candidate James Harden (career-highs of 28.1 PPG, 11.3 APG, 8.1 RPG) on the floor, and steered by COTY candidate Mike D’Antoni off of it. Quick Hawks-related commentaries will be provided as to how much better the Rockets are doing without Dwight Howard (a first-round exit, Houston went 41-41 last season), and how much better All-Star Paul Millsap would look donning a more media-favorable jersey by month’s end. Not much attention will be directed toward the Rockets’ recent swoon. Yes, they’re at a respectable 36-16, third in the NBA behind the Dubs and Spurs. However, they’ve slowed somewhat in recent weeks. Houston beat the Hornets back on January 10 to cap off a 20-2 surge up the standings. Since then, their 5-7 record in the past 12 games includes wins over faltering Brooklyn and Milwaukee, and a very tired Sacramento team this past Tuesday. Thanks to 6th Man award candidate Eric Gordon (3rd-most 3FGs through 52 games in NBA history; career-high 54.6 eFG%) and Ryan Anderson (career-best 41.2 3FG%), the Rockets are the very example of the once-despised NBA team that Lives By The Three: first in takes (39.6 3FGAs per game) and makes (14.4 3FGs per game; 11th in 3FG%). As was the case for Miami yesterday, Houston hopes another bombardment from the arc will draw a white flag from the visitors early. But Houston depends on more than just three-point shooting to win. Buoyed by Harden’s bulldozing style as a burly ballhandler (10.5 FTAs per game; 1st in FTAs in 4 of the past 5 seasons), Houston (2nd in O-Rating) also takes the most free throw attempts (24.7 FTAs per game; 18th in FT%). The clock-stopping whistles gives the Rockets the mid-game respites they need when hooping at such a high tempo (4th in Pace). You’re likely to hear how much happier everyone is with Clint Capela and Montrezl Harrell interchangeably manning the pivot, in lieu of Howard. What you’ll hear less about is that the Rockets’ defense has softened in recent weeks. Their D-Rating (107.0) since January 1 is masked by the kind of offensive firepower and efficiency Dwight could have only dreamed about during his Texas tenure. The ball-dominating Harden turns the ball over a ton (5.8 TOs per-36, most in NBA history), and live-ball TOs often spell buckets for the opposition (18.0 opponent points per-48, 4th-most in NBA) if Patrick Beverley and Trevor Ariza don’t get back quickly enough. On the season, only Harden’s triple-double compatriot Russell Westbrook plays on a team that allows paint points (47.5 opponent points per-48, 2nd-most in NBA) more frequently. How did the Hawks coast past the Rockets to a 112-97 victory, back on November 5 at Philips Arena? Most significantly, they coaxed a season-high 22.3 TO% out of their opposition. Houston’s season-high 26 player turnovers (also most numerically by any Hawks opponent) included eight TOs from Harden himself, half of those by way of two steals each from the active hands of Millsap (5 steals vs. HOU) and Kent Bazemore (3 steals vs. HOU). Other things that helped on that day: outscoring Houston in the paint, 62-46; Harden (24 first-half points) and the Rockets going cold from outside (3-for-16 3FGs) in the second half; Bazemore and Malcolm Delaney going 4-for-4 on corner threes; and allowing the Rockets just 13 free throw shots. But forcing turnovers set the tone for the game in the Hawks’ favor. Atlanta tends to be at their defensive best when they are denying interior points (and free throws off cheap fouls) while forcing teams into mistakes and second-guessing before their planned shots can go up. They’re 9-2 (with no blowout losses) when they force TOs in more than 16.0% of opponent possessions. Such was not the case Wednesday, when the Hawks forced just 12 turnovers from heat players (10.6 TO%), allowing Miami to score seven more field goals and 18 more points-in-the-paint. The desperation to keep Hassan Whiteside from raising that paint deficit any higher is likely to cost rookie Taurean Prince some time. Prince was not even inserted into the game until the final quarter with the game already out-of-hand. But if he and Thabo Sefolosha (groin; 3 steals vs. HOU on Nov. 5) continue missing time, expect another early call to Prince’s fellow rookie wing DeAndre’ Bembry to help fill the void. His three assists off the bench was a team-high for a Hawks team that, suddenly, forgot how to move the ball. On that note, starters Dennis Schroder (14 TOs, 2-for-11 3FGs in past three games), and Bazemore (-144 plus/minus and 1.7 APG in Atlanta’s 12 double-digit defeats) ought to spend at least twice as much time on enhanced communication between the sidelines as they spend on hijinks from the bench. Fun and frivolity can go a much longer way when your team is not getting their heads beaten in on a weekly basis. Millsap at least expresses a willingness to take charge on the court (“I’ve got to do a better job of leading these guys from the start,” he told the AJC). But ultimately, it’s on the Hawks’ supposedly serious coaching staff to ensure more effort is going into floor leadership than cheerleading. When a racecar repeatedly blows a tire during the opening laps, at some point, pressure needs to be shifted away from the driver, and toward the pit crew. When it comes to defense and decision-making, will there be another all-too-familiar half-hearted effort in the opening quarter by Atlanta on Groundhog Day? Alternatively, might another furry creature familiar to Hawks fans -- the Possum -- rear its head tonight at the Toyota Center? Fortunately for the Hawks, Atlanta and the TNT booth could not care less, either way. All anyone hopes to see these days are Arthur Blank’s latest dance moves. And if all goes well this Sunday, the Hawks will enjoy another week of critical reprieve. Rise Up and Get Down, Arthur! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  4. “Truth be told, Dwight… this wasn’t my first choice of fingers...” No one can shake me of my conviction that we are destined to see the first ever 200-point score by a team in an NBA game. Yes, it may take an overtime or two to get there. But in my mind, the only question is whether the 200 mark will be reached by the Atlanta Hawks’ visitors, the Houston Rockets (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast in ATL, ROOT Sports Southwest in HOU), one of the Rockets’ opponents, or both. “This town of 2.2-million population ain’t big enough for the two of us!” That was the theme of what would certainly make for the most passive-aggressive Texas Western flick ever, starring James Harden and Dwight Howard in a behind-the-scenes 2015 shootout for the heart and soul of Clutch City. The reigning Players’ Choice MVP of the time prevailed, as Howard hopped on his saddle and high-tailed it on a player option, heading toward greener and more familiar pastures in Georgia. Back in Houston, it’s more of a Spaghetti Western now, the Rockets directed by their new quick-draw coach, Mike D’Antoni. Aside from his uncanny Pringles-logo resemblance, he’s best-known for his former success with Six Seconds or Less in Phoenix. But SSOL was SOL in New York, and in Los Angeles, where he briefly coached Dwight in an ill-fated adventure. So now D’Antoni has taken up a new tack, and it starts and ends with Harden. The Bearded One, previously not well-regarded for his ability to involve his teammates, has been moved to point guard, a plan ushered into motion more fervently with the injury absence of Patrick Beverley (knee scope). As a result of that plus the reduction of post touches brought on by Howard’s departure, Harden’s offensive production has gone through the roof (31.8 PPG, 12.4 APG, 7.0 RPG. 60.0 2FG%, 39.1 3FG%) all would-be career-bests through the first 5 games for the 3-2 Rockets. But what of SSOL? Houston’s current pace is actually below-average (98.9 possessions per-48, 19th in NBA), significantly below the 100.1 (7th in NBA) run under the stopwatches of Kevin McHale and J.B. Bickerstaff last season, a team that crawled into the playoffs as an 8th-seed at 41-41 and stole a first-round game from Golden State. What’s happening now is, D’Antoni’s direction has Harden spreading out teammates on offense, granting him exclusive rights to dictate the action. If he can get by his man and blow to the bucket, drawing fouls and earning free throws, that’s great. He and Trevor Ariza have more reliable floor-spreading options now with former Pelicans Eric Gordon (17.6 PPG, 39.5 3FG%) and Ryan Anderson (42.3 3FG%) arriving via free agency. Backup big Nene, formerly of the Wizards, has joined the crew and is capable of lofting quality shots outside the paint (team-high 23.5% of 2FGAs from 10 feet and beyond, at 50.0 FG%). So the new gameplan under D’Antoni takes longer to execute, but manages to be simpler: if Harden has an advantage to exploit, he’ll take it. If not, be ready for the pass. Don’t like the look you’ve got? Time’s a wastin’! Get it back to Harden. Start the cycle over. Time running out on the shot clock? Get it back to Harden, and let that man cook. The Rockets’ two losses have only been by single digits on the road, to the are-these-guys-for-real Lakers and the Cavs. One night after losing in Cleveland, the Rockets (already playing their 5th away game tonight) committed a season-high 19 turnovers but otherwise dissected Derrick Rose and the Knicks’ defense along the way to a convincing 118-99 victory. Joakim Noah and Kristaps Porzingis would come out too high in an effort to keep Harden (30 points, 15 assists) from barreling downhill toward the basket. Their actions left a cornucopia of his teammates, like Montrezl Harrell (8-for-11 FGs, 10 rebounds, 5 offensive) open in-and-around the paint. Gordon and Anderson (8-for-16 3FGs) found themselves getting whatever looks they desired as well. As for defense… oh, c’mon, nobody’s got time for that! Rocket opponents are shooting 52.1 eFG% (4th-highest in NBA), and for any team with Harden and D’Antoni, the best defense (109.0 D-Rating, 27th in NBA) is one hella good offense. As teams like the Wizards (3rd-highest opponent eFG%) can tell you, their one saving grace is when a team like the Hawks (1-for-12 FGs to start last night’s 95-92 road loss) come out looking like The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight. Continuously pitiful shooting by the pressing Kent Bazemore (0-for-7 FGs vs. WAS) and Kyle Korver (1-for-9 FGs, 4 TOs vs. WAS) kept the Hawks behind the 8-ball the entire evening on Friday, and subpar output from The Anchorman, Paul Millsap (5-for-14 FGs, 5-for-10 FTs vs. WAS) couldn’t stop the Hawks’ ship from sinking in the first half. Home cooking and the Let’s-Go-Hawks fan rhythms may help a bit, but ultimately the Atlanta offense must find some level of consistency no matter the gym or the opponent. Who in the Atlanta backcourt is going to keep up with Harden, the 6-foot-5 ballhandler? Valid question! Dennis Schröder is post-up-able, rookie Malcolm Delaney just got here, Bazemore is still finding his bearings in a variety of areas, and Korver cannot reasonably be expected to stay with Harden. So, expect a very busy day, at both ends, for reserve Thabo Sefolosha, the team leader in steals (2.8 SPG, 2nd in NBA). The active hands of Sefolosha and Millsap should be able to spark the suddenly dormant Hawks’ transition offense. Howard’s recent matchups in the paint could work well as an episode of This Is Your Life. Just three years after being hailed as Houston’s savior and the next in a long line of great Rocket centers, he found his floortime getting eroded by management last year in favor of a second-year player: Clint Capela, who now takes Dwight’s place as the starter. Howard (20 points, 12 rebounds, 4 TOs vs. WAS) should again be able to put up high-volume points and rebounds, but his role in the Hawks offense must expand with more picks to free up Schröder (20 points, 3 assists, 4 TOs vs. WAS), this duo the only starters who bothered to put a net-positive imprint on last night’s game. Capela, meanwhile, will hopefully be the second-best Swiss player on the Philips Arena floor tonight. The Hawks need a diversified offensive approach to keep the Rockets off balance, and sound rebounding to control the clock and keep the ball out of Harden’s hands as often as possible. Atlanta could choose to engage in a three-point shootout with Houston (league-high 35.4% of offense from 3FGs; behind only the Lakers with 24.6% of 3FGs unassisted). But the chances are good that they won’t like the outcome of that movie. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  5. Probably not a grand idea now, but IF the Rox were planning on calling Harrell back up, in advance of their playoff dash, now they'll have to wait. The 5 game-ban includes Rio Grande Valley's final 3 regular season games, plus two D-League playoff games. ~lw3
  6. “Tinder Love, Love So Tinder. Holding Me Close to You…” The NCAA doesn’t consider a 7-seed in the West Region beating a 3-seed in the East Region to be an upset. But fans of the Atlanta Hawks would feel just a tiny bit of a letdown if the Atlanta Hawks don’t ground the Houston Rockets (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast) on Swipe Right Night 2.0. After all, the Hawks have been making their case to march back toward a second-straight Final Four. Not too wild about the prospect of a $20-mill-plus-making Al Horford? The Rockets envy you. They’ve been shelling out that amount for Dwight Howard (61.8 FG%, 2nd in NBA; 28.9 D-Reb%, 6th in NBA) for a few years now, and are poised to compete with themselves this summer by paying him much more. The 30-year-old center has played a steadier role in the Rockets’ halfcourt offense, but still shoots a hack-able 50.4 FT% as his usage has fallen to the level of his rookie season. The Pride of The SWATS, Howard remains an interior help defender par excellence. But leaving his own assignment unattended leads to performances like Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns (32 points, 13-for-22 FGs, 11 rebounds) yesterday. And it’s Dwight’s Rockets, not the Hawks, who allow a league-high 11.7 O-Rebs per game. Atlanta’s driving guards will be adequately checked by Patrick Beverley, and shooters by Trevor Ariza (career-high 2.1 SPG), but they can’t cover everybody. Cuts by Hawks forwards and wings will render Howard a paint traffic controller and allow for jumpers galore by Al Horford and Paul Millsap (combined 11-for-20 FGs on Thursday, as the Hawks cruised against depleted Denver). The one guy who can stop D-12 from returning to Clutch City in free agency also happens to be the team’s other pillar. There have been reports that, ever since the 2014 playoffs, the two have been coming-and-going through GM Daryl Morey’s revolving door and asserting that this one-horse town’s not big enough for the two of them, each Rocket pleading with Morey to work the phones for a deal involving the other guy. The animosity has been evident on the floor as well. “No chemistry with that group. (Bleep)ing horrible!” That was former Hawks star Jason Terry’s postgame utterance, after a final loss before the All-Star Break sent Houston back below .500. Since Kevin McHale got dispatched in November, that duty of mixing this toxic brew into something palatable has fallen to J.B. Bickerstaff, a finalist for the “At Least You Tried!” award from the Bart Simpson Foundation. Bickerstaff tried to weave Collipark’s Finest, Clipper outcast Josh Smith, into the starting power forward spot after the Break. Suffice to say, it hasn’t worked out. After Josh shot 30.4 FG%, 21.1 3FG%, and 20.0 FT% while totaling one steal and no blocks in five starts, Bickerstaff has been Smoovely explaining why he’s been DNP-CD’ing Smith in the last seven games. “Josh is taking care of his body right now, working to get himself healthy,” Bickerstaff said, cryptically, to the Houston Chronicle. “When he got here (from the Clippers, in late January), it had been a while since he played. We kind of thrust him into a position and made him play. His body wasn’t prepared for it at that time. So, he’s taking this time to get his body prepared so he can help us down the stretch.” That’s Bickerstaff’s story, and he’s sticking to it. In lieu of Smoove, whose body allegedly isn’t ready, the Rockets have been turning to Donatas Motiejunas – yes, the guy who couldn’t pass a physical, nixing his trade to Detroit at the deadline – and Michael Beasley, fresh off of winning MVP in the Chinese Basketball Association and scoring 63 points in the CBA All-Star Game. Donuts put up 17 points in last night’s home win against the T’wolves, and Beas matched that number coming off the bench against, perhaps ironically to Smith, the team that drafted him. Bickerstaff also likes to go small and shifts Trevor Ariza to the 4-spot on occasion. Back in the Highlight Factory, expect to catch Josh and JET stepping away from the bench to grab a food court slushie when Kiss Cam time comes around tonight. Houston’s PB didn’t come with much of a J in the past, but Patrick Beverley’s jumper is getting wet (career-best 40.2 3FG%), as demonstrated last night against Minnesota. The Rockets point guard nailed five of his nine three-pointers and still found time to dish out a career-best 10 assists as his pairing with Harden (29 points, 14 assists, 9 TOs, 3 steals) kept the Wolves hungry all night. Hawks guards will need to close out on the perimeter when Beverley or Ariza are hovering. Houston religiously avoids settling for mid-range shots (10.7 FGAs per game, 3.6 fewer than the next-lowest team). It’s rarely a bad thing to be compared to Artis Gilmore, but Harden is well on his way to relieving the A-Train of an unwanted NBA record. The reigning Player’s Choice MVP is going to blow past Gilmore’s record of 366 turnovers (4.5 per game), compiled while playing for the ne’er-do-well Bulls back in 1977-78. Harden raised his goofs-per-game average on Friday to 4.6, and while the assists are up from his real MVP-runner-up season, they’re not increasing relative to the turnovers. Harden runs into a Hawks team that ranks 3rd behind Houston (10.2 team SPG) and Boston with 9.3 steals per game. While all the signs are there that this should be a wild back-and-forth game, the Rockets allow 0.5 more PPG off of turnovers, while Atlanta scores a net-positive 2.7 PPG (4th-best in NBA). The Rockets will push the tempo with Harden looking to run fullcourt and draw contact, allowing the league leader in free throw attempts (career-high 10.5 FTAs per game; 86.7 FT%) to feast from the line. Whether it’s Beverley on Jeff Teague and Dennis Schröder, or Harden on Kyle Korver and Tim Hardaway, Jr., those Hawks have to keep in front of their man and allow forwards to provide help with strips and pass pickoffs. Those help defenders should include a rested Kent Bazemore. Tonight will feature the rare on-floor meeting of guys who once swiped right on Kardashians. Kris Humphries will provide the requisite help around the paint to keep Howard and Clint Capela from producing second-chance opportunities (13.7 second-chance PPG, 5th in NBA). As is the case with turnover-transition points, the Rockets are a net-negative in this department, allowing 14.4 second-chance PPG (4th-worst in NBA). Expect Millsap, Humphries, and the Hawks’ big men to judiciously try extending Atlanta’s possessions. The Rockets will want to avenge the 121-115 loss to the Hawks in H-Town back in late December. Howard had 30 points (10-for-12 FGs, 10-for-18 FTs) and Harden added 26 (6-for-16 FGs, 11-for-12 FTs). But after starting out with a 41-25 first quarter and enjoying an 11-point fourth-quarter lead, Houston was overwhelmed by Horford (30 points, 5-for-7 3FGs, 14 rebounds), Teague (22 points, 8 assists, 1 turnover), and Bazemore (26 points, 5-for-9 3FGs), three of four Hawks starters with 20+ points. But for Kyle Korver’s 0-for-10 3FGs, or Schröder being in an abbreviated “player development” exile, it could very well have been five. Ty Lawson scored 14 points in that defeat, but can’t be kicked around anymore since he was waived in February, putting a lot more of the workload onto Terry. Bickerstaff needs to find enough defensive solutions to keep the Rockets close, and they’ll have to weaken Atlanta’s wing rotation with foul trouble to allow Harden to play Heroball at the close. With consistent on-ball pressure, transition defense and ball movement on offense, the Hawks can continue giving its fans more reasons to be smitten by what they’ve been accomplishing lately. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  7. Should auld acquaintance be forgot… and NEVER brought to mind? 2015. Phew! What a year, eh? Couched around the greatest postseason push in Atlanta Hawks history, and a record four All-Star Game participants, was the second-most successful calendar year of regular season games ever experienced by the franchise. From the rafters, Dikembe Mutombo wags a disallowing finger at those daring notions that Calendar Year 2015 was the greatest Hawks regular-season campaign ever, or that the most successful January-to-December stretch came from players rocking a Pac-Man jersey. Deke, Lenny, Smitty, and Mookie’s Hawks went 59-25 (70.24%) in 1997. In The Year of Many People’s Lord 2015, the Hawks had a chance to match that win total by winning last night’s and tonight’s road games. Even failing that, no outcome tonight will stop the gaggle of Hawks including Bud, Bawse, Jeff, and Sap from the 4th-best percentage record in any calendar year of its speckled NBA history (going all the way back to Tri-Cities). Currently at 67.86%, that’s a mark bested only by the 1997 edition, and the teams rolled out by the Czar with Nique, Doc, and Kevin in 1986 (69.62%) and 1987 (68.51%). To separate from the ’87 players and stand alone in second-place among calendar-year win totals, the 57-27 Hawks of 2015 must take out the Houston Rockets (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast) tonight at the Toyota Center. Speaking of Toyota… oh, what a feeling. If you’ve felt a tinge of a letdown after the wild success that marked the first half of 2015, try getting sympathy from a Rockets fan. H-Town was in the NBA Final Four last season, too, and even won a game once they got there. They have the Players’ Choice MVP, plus a “real” center who is still supposed to be, even at age 30, among the upper tier at his position. Furthermore, they went out in the summer to acquire a speedy point guard that shores up the position, at least offensively, and conceivably made it where their high-usage superstar shooting guard no longer has to handle the rock so darn much. None of that was supposed to add up to their current record of 16-16. Central to the issues in Space City was putrid defensive effort. A team that finished among the top-ten in defensive rating in 2014-15 (100.5, just ahead of Atlanta’s 100.7, 6th in NBA) has dropped down to 23rd so far this year (104.4, just ahead of Philadelphia). Rocket opponents are shooting 63.4 FG% in the restricted area (2nd-worst in NBA) and are making hay at the corner-three zones (2.9 corner 3FGs per game, 3rd-most in NBA). A team starting Dwight Howard, Trevor Ariza, and Patrick Beverley, along with the emerging Clint Capela, shouldn’t have so much trouble getting stops on the regular. Of course, decent team defense takes a five-man effort. And the fifth starter has been a problem. Houston’s superstar, James Harden, built up his MVP credentials in 2014-15 with gritty defensive effort. But the Bearded One seems to have reverted back to the downright hairy defense of yesteryear, the lackadaisical stuff that once made him a YouTube sensation for all the wrong reasons. Harden leads the way with a career-high 28.4 PPG (2nd in NBA), but his usage rate (even with Ty Lawson in tow) has inexplicably risen to a career-high 32.8%. His shooting percentage of 41.7 FG% (career-low 33.5 3FG%) the worst since his thunderous rookie season, and his turnover percentage of 15.3% is a career-high. Meanwhile, his defensive box plus/minus (-0.7) and defensive rating (106.1; net rating of -3.4 in home games) indicators suggest he’s about as ineffective a defender as he has ever been. It turns out it might actually take a Rocket scientist to figure out not only how to get Harden re-focused, but to find the proper balance of the Lawson/Beverley platoon. Beverley was in-and-out to start the season with an ankle injury. Lawson started the first 11 games before getting deposed, and has been a Porter Ranch-scale disaster (34.8 FG%, 31.0 3FG%) as a shooter and a defender. While one team tonight has an All-Star center who is only accused of pacing himself through the season, the other team has a well-paid center who openly admits to doing exactly that. Howard has been slowed by issues with his knee and back. As he looks forward to VetMinning his way to retirement at age 40, Howard, now in his twelth NBA season, doesn’t mind one bit when the coach rests him for whole quarters, or whole games. Dwight has become, essentially, a offensive board-crasher and help-defender who hopes nobody hacks him and sends him to the line (50.3 FT%, his worst in last three seasons). Howard’s partner-in-crime Josh Smith left over the summer for Los Angeles, and filling the hole at the power forward spot has been like trying to spackel a drive-thru window. Donatas Motiejunas just returned, and Terrence Jones (career-low 45.5 FG%) has been underwhelming in his return to action, and Montrezl Harrell, well, just no. So Capela has been granted trial-by-fire at the 4-spot. McHale’s navy tried to plug all the leaks, but after just 11 games (4-7), the commander was tossed overboard. J.B. Bickerstaff now steers the wheel, and while the team has crawled back to .500 under his watch, it’s hard to say whether they would have gone 12-9 under Kevin McHale anyway. “Over and over again,” Bickerstaff bickered Mark Jackson-style, after the Rockets fizzled late in New Orleans on Saturday, “we’ve disrespected the game”. Despite a pleasant Christmas Day defensive effort in a home win over the Spurs, J.B. wants to stop the “ugly Rockets” from rearing their heads. Jettisoning Lawson in favor of Jason “JET” Terry and Beverley has generally worked out, as has putting more trust in Thabo Sefolosha’s Swiss bro Capela (14.7 O-Reb%, 4th in NBA). But Bickerstaff has a better chance of righting the ship if he can find steadier contributions of the bench. Houston’s reserves manage just 27.1 defensive rebounds per-48 (28th in NBA) and their turnover ratio (16.6 per 100 possessions) ranks 27th. The Hawks (20-13) couldn’t hit the broad side of an Indiana barn last night (41.9 team FG%; Kyle Korver 0-for-8 3FGs), and was as sloppy with the ball as we’ve seen all season long (19.0 TO%, worst since losing in Brooklyn on Nov. 17). And yet they still found themselves, on the road, within a bucket of the lead with just under a minute to play. The defensive work to limit Paul George’s effectiveness, and coax him into questionable shots without fouling, allowed Atlanta to stay within reach until the sloppy end. They’ll need a similar effort tonight versus Harden, but they also need to keep a shoot-first guard like Terry from thinking he can be Monta Ellis. Whichever Hawks guard doesn’t draw Beverley should find minimal defensive resistance (unless Bickerstaff leans on Corey Brewer, or the barely-used K.J. McDaniels) and should have ample opportunity to make amends tonight. That guard is likely to be Korver, and the struggling shooter must work the corner spots with reckless abandon tonight, in order to shake off his slump. Capela and Howard will crash the glass, and create extra-chances. But Atlanta also did well yesterday making outlet passes off the Pacers’ offensive rebounds tough last night and should continue to do so again whenever they fail to snare the defensive rebound. Getting to the paint and making the extra pass without drawing charges and getting rejected will help the Hawks go into 2016 on a high note. Have a Happy New Year! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  8. "And, your playoffs point guard... James Harden!" ~lw3
  9. These Texas teams just couldn't wait until next weekend, could they? http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nba/2014/12/19/corey-brewer-trade-minnesota-timberwolves-houston-rockets/20650279/ ~lw3
  10. http://espn.go.com/nba/story/_/id/11446305/sacramento-kings-trade-jason-terry-houston-rockets ~lw3
  11. http://blog.chron.com/ultimaterockets/2014/04/rockets-make-it-official-with-josh-powell/ One trivial note: the street Powell was trying to access when he was arrested before a Hawks game in 2011 no longer exists. The segment of Park Avenue West (leading into parking decks below the convention center and arena, which was what Powell was trying to turn into) at Marietta Street was permanently closed off, as part of the construction for the College Football Hall of Fame. http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/news/story?id=6211159 ~lw3
  12. Welp, that's one way to kick a man while he's down... http://deadspin.com/terrence-jones-arrested-after-allegedly-stomping-on-hom-978559992 "Everybody makes mistakes," in 3, 2, 1... ~lw3
  13. Marcus Morris' play against us made this decision easier: https://twitter.com/MarkBermanFox26/status/268206142327492608 Is the D-League what LD and Ferry has planned for Mike Scott and Johnny Jenkins? Season starts I think this week. ~lw3
  14. From Adreian Wojnarowski via Twitter: Reports have stated that the Rockets, one of the teams after Howard, has put in a $25 mil offer sheet for RFA center Omer Asik from the Bulls... Does this mean that Houston has thrown in the towel once again on getting DH12? I know the Bulls can still match the deal, but if this is so, this now only leaves the Hawks and Lakers in the hunt for the big fella and I have heard that the Lakers have backed off a little as well. Orlando has said that Brooklyn is still possible trade partners, but my guess that this is just a ploy to keep teams interested and offering deals. I just feel that Orlando will relive Shaq's leaving and be left high and dry after next season as I believe the Hawks (and other teams) will wait until next offseason to bring him on home during FAcy.