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  1. Spurs wanted to go on a Glute-free diet? ~lw3
  2. “Are you sure you’re supposed to be here? I thought we shipped you and Coyote to Orlando for Stuff the Magic Dragon and cash considerations!” The dust has cleared and… they’re all still here! Yes, TLC, that’s right, unpack your bags. You too, Gallo! I don’t see the Hawks front office’s in-Travis-igence as some sign that Atlanta’s grand-poobah PBO is risk-averse. I see the team ultimately not proceeding with any Trade Deadline moves as a sign that Travis Schlenk is taking a bold gamble. He’s willing to bet that just because there have been rough seas this season, there’s no reason to move any deck chairs right now, unlike division rivals like the Hornets and Wizards. The glimpses of competitive competency displayed by the Hawks in recent weeks could be magnified and enhanced for 2022’s playoff push without any replacements, save for a buyout addition, given continued improvement at the direction of Nate McMillan’s current coaching staff. If Atlanta fails to reach the official postseason after standing pat, then Trader Trav put his signature on that. If they take off and become a first-round threat for the second consecutive year, that’s his John Hancock, too. “We know this group has the ability to be successful, as we saw last year,” Travis Schlenk shared with the AJC after the deadline passed. “We want to give them that opportunity to prove it to the world they can do it again.” That’s the big, fuzzy dice roll moving forward, beginning with tonight’s game at State Farm Arena against Gregg Popovich’s San Antonio Spurs (7:30 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast, 92.9 FM in ATL, CW35 in SATX). Coach Pop has relinquished managerial control to GM Brian Wright, but it is clear their Spurs, unlike the Hawks, aren’t willing to wait for the offseason before maneuvering in anticipation of the near future. Spurs Country was waylaid by yesterday’s Deadline deal sending Derrick White to Beantown. That trade plus the dispatching of Thad Young, Drew Eubanks and Juan Hernangomez provided San Antonio some lightly protected 2022 first-rounders via Boston and Toronto. The move only managed to add to the complications in the backcourt rotation around new All-Star Dejounte Murray (19.5 PPG, 9.2 APG, 8.4 RPG, NBA-high 2.0 SPG). While Goran Dragic will get bought out, Tomas Satoransky is expected to suit up after tonight’s game, pushing Pop’s perma-prospects Tre Jones (questionable, has been out due to a dental procedure) and Joshua Primo further down the depth chart. Steadier playing time is on the horizon for Gwinnett’s Other Finest, Devin Vassell (team-high 18 points off-bench @ CLE on Wednesday), and Keldon Johnson. Yet the eventual arrivals of ex-Celts Josh Richardson and Romeo Langford are likely to put the squeeze to Lonnie Walker (38.8 FG%, 34.7% in last 15 games), the pick the Spurs took ahead of Kevin Huerter in 2018’s Draft. Lob in last month’s departure of Bryn Forbes (team-high 23 points off-bench vs. ATL on Nov. 24) for the freshly departed Hernangomez, and there are plenty of shifting sands in San An. The Play-In games remain within reach for now, San Antonio (20-35) sitting just 2.0 games out of the 10th and final spot in the NBA West. Yet the Spurs are going to have to steady themselves while trying not to look like the clowns during this annual Rodeo Road Trip. After losing to the visiting Hawks 124-106 back on November 24, the Spurs righted their ship with a four-game winning streak, including victories at Portland and Golden State. Before the Christmas break, they won three of four on the road, including a sweep at The Crypt and a win at Utah, then returned home to wallop the Pistons to peak at 14-18. But then You Know What broke their stability, and their stride. In their last seven-game, East Coast-heavy road swing last month, the Spurs went 1-6, returning home with a solitary win at Boston despite some close finishes. Now they have kicked off a stretch where they won’t play before the home crowd until next month, beginning this past Wednesday with a 105-92 loss in Cleveland, and they’ll have to make do with a bunch of moving parts and a thinned-out frontcourt behind Jakob Poeltl and Doug McDermott. Last in the league with both a 33.8 three-point frequency rate and a 19.8 free throw attempt rate, the Spurs still feel as though their offense is built around the stars DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge used to be. Popovich’s imprint remains, however, with a club led by Murray that matches the Hawks’ NBA-low 12.6 TO% while pressuring opponents with a top-five pace (100.1 possessions per 48). Going forward, it is going to be sink-or-swim for Vassell (43.2 FG%, 34.5% on threes) and Walker to get their shooting proficiencies closer to the Olympian Johnson’s level (46.6 FG%; 42.7 3FG%, behind only McBuckets’ 42.9 3FG%). They’ll also have to catch up to Murray’s assertiveness in thwarting opponents’ assisted baskets (SAS 4-18 when foes ring up 25 or more assists). Richardson, Langford and Vassell are all under contract for 2022-23, but the Spurs now have the draft capital to supplant them all next year. San Antonio is finally getting some utility out of Zach “The Jesuit” Collins (7 O-Rebs in past 2 games), recently returned from injury and helping Poeltl (4.0 O-Rebs/game, 2nd in NBA) create extra-chances on possessions. Atlanta’s wings will be tasked with pushing Spur shooters out of their comfort zones and forcing extra passes off Murray’s dishes (18.1 drives/game, 4th in NBA ahead of Trae Young’s 17.8; 2.7 assists/game off-drives, behind only Luka Doncic’s 2.9). Then it will be on the Hawks’ frontcourt of John “The Baptist” Collins, De’Andre Hunter and Clint Capela to seal the Spurs’ bigs off the offensive glass. 18 Pacer offensive rebounds on Tuesday, the second most by a Hawks opponent this season, were the only things keeping Atlanta’s shorthanded foe within the same orbit. Including November’s Spurs game, Atlanta (26-28) is oddly 7-0 when allowing 15 or more offensive rebounds. But that required thoroughly outshooting opponents from the field (50.3 to 40.2 FG%). The Hawks can no longer rely purely on their boom-or-bust offense to climb fully out of its early-season rut, particularly versus far more talented opponents. Atlanta will once again have the benefit of a deeper roster and more familiar teammates. With yet another early game coming up this weekend, they’ll want to build up a steady lead through the first three quarters tonight, as they did versus Indiana, allowing starters to be rested ahead of a Super Bowl Sunday that is sure to be busier than the Hawks’ Trade Deadline Thursday. Now, if you were big on EX-Hawks getting dealt and/or cut… from Pawl, and Justin Holiday, to Dennis and Bruno… then the run up to yesterday’s Deadline was custom made for you! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  3. “Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Stayin’ Alive!” “Draft Tim Duncan. After that, stay alive.” You can bet Gregg Popovich has been thankful for the opportunity to do both. Perhaps, even in that order. He responded in true, curt Popovich fashion, after declining to discuss his approach toward Don Nelson’s career-wins record, to a reporter curious as to his personal “keys to success.” He’s now 18 wins behind Lenny Wilkens, and 21 behind Nelson. These are simple life keys that he offers. Stick around long enough for Fortune to fall into your lap. Then, don’t fumble it. Prosper, and then, live long! Here on the Squawk, we’ve beaten to death how thankful we were to have our team playing a role in the Big Fundamental not winding up in the greedy Celtics’ clutches. I’ll always wonder, but for the way that 1997 NBA Lottery shook out, how the landscape of the post-MJ era would have changed for the league. Presume Coach Pop is on the outs by 1998. With no clear avenue past Hakeem and Shaq, does David Robinson hit the hay early and retire too soon? Does Rick Pitino head to the Hall for his stellar NBA coaching career? Does the Knicks’ dream playoff season, in 1999, end in a title for Patrick Ewing and Jeff Van Gundy, making New York City all the more insufferable? Are the Spurs still in South Texas? Do the likes of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili become, and remain, Eurobasket hoop legends, inspiring others to stay satisfied on that side of the Atlantic? And, whither The Pop-lar Coaching Tree? Do the sideline careers of Steve Kerr and Doc Rivers ever get off the ground? Was there still time for Mike Budenholzer go back to hooping in Denmark? Ensuring we would never need to discover the answers, coach-GM Popovich and the Spurs’ brass didn’t get tricked into picking Keith Van Horn. And for that, all of San Antonio remains grateful, even today as the Atlanta Hawks stop by (8:30 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Bally Sports Southwest-San Antonio) in hopes of extending their win streak at AT&T Center to three in a row. There are more than a few fans of the NBA’s Silver-and-Black that would be thankful to live long enough to witness a Spurs club (4-12) that prospers in the years after Popovich finally calls it a day, on the sideline and in the front office. One thing the Spurs are doing, for better or worse, is moving the ball, roadrunner fast. They haven’t been top-ten in pace (currently 5th in NBA) since the Finals years of 2013 and 2014, with Ime Udoka and a departing Coach Bud assisting Pop. It’s the clearest sign of an exodus from Iso-oriented ball dominated by former Spurs LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan in recent years. Popovich is giving way to point guard Dejounte Murray (18 points, 11 assists, 10 rebounds vs. PHX on Monday) and an array of small-to-mid-sized wings like Derrick White, Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell, returnee and recent Buck Bryn Forbes, and Lonnie Walker. Isolation sets represent an NBA-low 2.4 percent of San Antonio’s possessions. What lingers following those former Spur stars’ departures, though, is an offense that still doesn’t embrace the three-ball. Only DeMar’s newest club, the Bulls, and the one prior to his Spurs tenure, the Raptors, come close to matching San Antonio’s current 2FG frequencies (NBA-high 68.9 percent of all shots from the field; NBA-high 33.3 2-point makes and 63.6 2-point shots per game). San An’s money shots (NBA-high 53.2 paint points per-48) come with a foot or two in the paint, but outside the charge semi-circle (22.3 non-restricted area paint FGAs/game, shooting 46.3%, each 2nd in NBA). When failing to achieve penetration, the Spurs are more than happy to settle for the tried-and-true mid-rangers (15.6 mid-range FGAs/game, 4th in NBA). The Spurs sit behind only Golden State with 69.3 PPG created off of assists. But the offensive modus operandi appears to be finding driving lanes that draw in defenders, then to float, pull-up, lob or kick out for the closest-range, most lightly-guarded shot a teammate can find. High-percentage, low-efficiency (105.5 O-Rating, 25th in NBA). Complicating matters for the Spurs offense are their collective struggles to, first, get to the charity stripe (NBA-low 16.8 FTAs/game), and second, to make shots from there (NBA-worst 68.3 FT%). Accidental Olympian Johnson is the sole Spur getting more than three free throw shots per game, and both he and Murray (each at 66.7 FT%) challenge the notion that two out of three ain’t bad. Disrupting plays with minimal contact is the name of San Antonio’s defensive game. Dejounte (2.1 SPG) leads the way, as demonstrated with his strip of an inbounds to Chris Paul for a fastbreak layup on Monday, pulling the scrappy Spurs within three points of Phoenix’s defending Western champs with 15 seconds to spare. Murray’s 3.9 deflections per game rank third in the league, as per’s hustle stats, as does White’s nine charges drawn on the season (the roving Thaddeus Young isn’t far behind). When the Spurs keep themselves in contention for victories, as they did in storming back versus Phoenix, they’re skillfully building advantages in the turnover column (16.1 opponent TOs per 48, 4th-most in NBA) while limiting foul trouble (16.5 personals per-48, 2nd-fewest in NBA). The downside for the Spurs is the ease with which their backcourt-heavy defense (48.2 opponent paint points per-48, 3rd-worst in NBA) gets exploited in the interior, via Roll-Man P&R or Post-Up plays, nearly neutralizing their halfcourt offensive approach. Starting pivot Jakob Poeltl (7-for-9 FGs, 1-for-6 FTs, 5 O-Rebs and 4 D-Rebs vs. PHX) is getting back into form following his bout with COVID, and Popovich sprinkles in stints for Thad Young and Drew Eubanks to alleviate Keita Bates-Diop, as offseason pickup Doug McDermott (sore knee) shuffles in and out of the active lineup. The Spurs’ interior defense is ripe for peeling by the Hawks’ John Collins (116.0 O-Rating, 1st in NBA East and 6th overall) and Clint Capela. Opportunities abound for Atlanta to get the dormant former Spur Gorgui Dieng rolling (career-low 41.2 2FG% w/ ATL; career-best 59.1 2FG%, incl. 66.7% in 16 games last year w/ SAS), and to find mismatches inside the perimeter for Danilo Gallinari (career-low 42.6 2FG%). Gallo was 3-for-3 inside the perimeter during the Hawks’ 113-101 win over the Thunder back home on Monday, leading Atlanta’s bench brigade with 11 points and six rebounds. A Grizzlie last year before getting picked up off waivers by the Spurs, Dieng will likely be charged with finding the best Cajun turkey in Memphis ahead of the team’s arrival early Thursday morning. Absent Collins, Capela (28 points, 5 blocks and 17 boards) played the key role in aiding Trae Young (28 points, 12 assists, 7 of ATL’s 12 player TOs) and Atlanta to their second consecutive win in the Alamo City, back on April 1. The double-overtime win amid a treacherous springtime road trip was pivotal in getting the Hawks up to .500 level for the final time last season. Similarly, albeit at a far earlier stage, Atlanta (9-9, 1-8 in away games) would be thankful for the opportunity to enter winning territory for the last time this season. Much was made of the arduous early road schedule, but even the Hawks’ sole road victory in New Orleans was fraught with late-game danger and suspense. We will get to see whether Nate McMillan and the Hawks coaching staff has since done enough to keep players from reverting to bad habits, particularly on defense, when they’re far from the cozy confines of State Farm Arena (on road: 114.9 D-Rating, 3rd-worst in NBA; 11.9 opponent TO%, 2nd-lowest in NBA; 15.6 opponent fastbreak points per-48 and 48.7 opponent paint points per-48, each 4th-most in NBA). Enough about what might have been. Let’s get this show on the road! Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  4. “Even Denzel knew better than messing around with Godzilla! Kong doesn’t stand a chance!” So, this is gonna be it, right? Atlanta Hawks versus Gregg Popovich: The Finale? Ever since the Spurs’ GM hopped on board the team bus in Oakland after a loss in 1996 and stunned the players by declaring he was taking over for Bob Hill, it has been a long ride for Coach Pop. 1,301 regular season wins later, Popovich has three annual Coach of the Year awards, a sterling 5-1 record in The Finals, and a coaching legacy tree that looks more like kudzu. Aside from a couple years at Golden State, Popovich has been associated with Spurs Basketball ever since coming on board as an ace assistant for Larry Brown in 1988. A former star hooper in the 1960s at Air Force, invited to team trials for the U.S. men’s basketball team ahead of the fateful 1972 Olympic Games, Popovich will aim high by going for the gold once more at the delayed Summer Games in Tokyo. With former Hawks headmaster Lloyd Pierce serving as an assistant on Team USA, Coach Pop hopes to make amends after coaching, as best he could, the flawed 2004 grouping that settled for bronze in Athens. From this standpoint, it sure feels like this NBA season and the Olympics will finally be the end of the road. That is, unless the 72-year-old Hall of Fame lock still can’t let go. “I had to keep making promises,” Popovich explained while helping Coach K oversee practice for what would be Team USA’s most recent gold medalists in 2016. He changed his mind after firmly and repeatedly committing he would follow retiring Spur legend Tim Duncan out the door. “Manu [Ginobili] was going to [re-]sign a few years back and he was like, ‘Are you going to be here?’. Tony [Parker], then, Kawhi [Leonard],” Coach Pop told ESPN, as reported by the San Antonio Express-News, before pivoting to 2015’s biggest free agent prize, Texas native LaMarcus Aldridge. “Then, when we were recruiting LaMarcus, he was like, ‘Are you going to be here?’. It just goes on and on. So I guess I can never stop. I can never retire.” Having ably aided with the transition away from Duncan and company, Aldridge was bought out last week to let him pursue a trip to glory with Blake Griffin in Brooklyn. That move gives Team President Pop and the Spurs a chance to formally look ahead. Popovich probably hoped he could leverage The Games of the XXXII Olympiad with an eye on leveraging one Last Ride with an NBA superstar, probably 2020 free agent Anthony Davis. Then COVID hit, the games and the Games were all postponed, and AD re-upped with the world champion Lakers in 2020’s deferred free agency period. Giannis locked himself down with Milwaukee, as did much of the cream of 2017’s draft class in securing rookie-max deals with their respective clubs. Now, barring more pandemic-related shenanigans, Team USA will tip off group play three calendar days after the theoretical Game 7 of the NBA Finals in mid-July. While in Japan, San Antonio’s team president will hardly have time to Zoom call during 2021’s NBA Draft across the Pacific. A prized lottery pick is far from a certainty – because, Coach Pop – for the oft-overachieving Spurs (24-21, 8th in NBA West but better than 5 Eastern clubs, including the 23-24 Hawks; 3.5 games ahead of 11-seed Sacramento) at this stage. This summer’s free agent period will likely wait until Tokyo 202One concludes. The most anticipated headliners for his Spurs to target could be Kawhi (player option with the Clippers), Hawks restricted free agent John Collins, current Spur hanger-on and remodeled point-forward DeMar DeRozan (team-highs of 20.6 PPG and 7.2 APG), veteran guards Mike Conley and Jrue Holiday, and former Hawk Dennis Schröder. A Kawhi reunion in San Antonio is Not Happening. And with all due respect to these other fellas, Popovich doesn’t dream of riding off toward the sunset chasing titles with them. Not as a coach, anyway. He’s particularly not waiting around to be asked if he’d stay on the sidelines for the course of DeRozan’s next contract. Collins suffered an ankle sprain and a bone bruise in the first half of Atlanta’s 117-110 loss at Phoenix on Tuesday, and he will sit this game out (8:30 PM Eastern, BALLY Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, BS Southwest in SATX), plus at least the next four. The injury gives the Spurs’ front office, with or without Coach Pop, one less game tape to review ahead of their summertime pursuits. It is conceivable, once DeRozan moves on to greener pastures, and the contracts of old-fogeys Patty Mills and Rudy Gay come off the books, too ($54 million combined expiring salaries), that the Spurs will be the team with an offer sheet bearing Collins’ signature. Before putting ink to paper, JC will have to ponder whether it’s better to risk tethering his near future with guards Derrick White (38.8 FG%) and Dejounte Murray (15.6 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 5.3 APG), or alternatively with Trae Young. One thing that will be intriguing, going forward, is whether Popovich will come around to selecting Young for Team USA, effectively reuniting the Hawks superstar with Pierce. There’s a really good chance that former gold medalists, especially those that can afford to wait until 2024 to chase another one, will graciously bow out of this summer’s Games. Strong likelihoods of a Tokyo Drift, among Team USA’s 57 finalists to make the 12-man roster, are prospective NBA Finalists and conference finalists who already lacked much of an offseason, to say nothing of quality family time, after 2019-20’s proceedings concluded in November. Trae’s 25.4 PPG scoring average is virtually tied with Tokyo Drifter LeBron James, while the 22-year-old phenom’s 9.5 APG is behind only tricenarians James Harden and Russell Westbrook. Tack onto the court FIBA’s court dimensions, making it less necessary for Ice Trae to hoist threes from Nagano, and his case becomes more compelling. A high-caliber passer, double-team draw and floor spreader, who – let’s go ahead and say it – will not likely have logged a ton of postseason minutes over the course of 15 calendar months? What’s not to like? San Antonio has gone 7-9 during back-to-back series, but it has only won two out of eight of those games on the back end, catching the Knicks napping and splitting a pair in Detroit last month. The Spurs stumbled through the start of this nine-game homestand that began with a loss to Charlotte on March 21 and followed a decent close to its mid-March Eastern excursion. But there have been signs that they’re regaining their footing. They bounced back from a bad 17-point home loss to De’Aaron Fox and the Kings on Monday with a payback 120-106 win over their playoff-hungry rivals here at AT&T Center last night. Victories will require a balanced offensive effort going forward, and the Spurs got that last night with all five starters, plus Mills and Gay off the bench, logging double figures. It was a similar deal when the Spurs bested the Hawks in Atlanta by a 125-114 score (belying a 110-72 drubbing after three quarters) on February 12, only with the injured Lonnie Walker (out, sore wrist) chipping in more than Gay. Skylar Mays’ and Brandon Goodwin’s final-quarter garbage time allowed the Hawks to double their double-digit scorers to four, in a game that didn’t help secure Popovich’s Team USA assistant’s long-term employment at all. Young (25 points, 3 assists in three quarters vs. SAS on Feb. 12) and Atlanta would love to spread the wealth tonight, and they may have no choice, given that Collins’ absence renders the Hawks’ rotation under coach Nate McMillan seven-deep, six if De’Andre Hunter (DNP’d last three games, listed as questionable again tonight) is again a no-go with his swollen knee. Full-court production from Kevin Huerter, whose chicken-dinner winner-winner mercifully ended the 21-game San Antonio Slide in January 2020, Bogdan Bogdanovic (team-highs of 22 points, 4-for-8 3FGs, and 4 steals @ PHX), and the gun-shy Tony Snell (4.1 3FGAs in his first 7 starts, 2.1 in his past ten, incl. 5 total in his past four) will be essential for Atlanta to avoid its first losing streak of three or more games since February 15. Despite shooting just 31.1 FG% in his last seven appearances, Red Velvet has shown signs of green-lighting in the past two games (5-for-11 3FGs at DEN and PHX). The wings especially also have to outwork their counterparts on the glass, as the Spurs know better than to rely too heavily on Jakob Poeltl (team-high 8.0 RPG; 3.3 O-Rebs per game in March, 7th in NBA) to do everything in the paint. Aside from Murray, second-year swingman Keldon Johnson (6.3 RPG; 20 points in the win @ ATL on Feb. 12), likely DeRozan’s heir-apparent as the undersized four, and sixth-man Gay (5.0 RPG) collect more caroms per game than Aldridge did in his abbreviated Spur stints. The Hawks’ help-rebounding activity will alleviate Clint Capela (16 ‘n 16 @ PHX, but just 1 O-Reb in each of the past 2 games), who won’t have Collins to clean up all the shots he redirects, and Danilo Gallinari, who is likely to slide back into the starting five. Capela will likely get a new swat streak going after his 20-game string of blocking at least one shot ended in Denver. The Spurs’ frontline will be unable to counter with either Gorgui Dieng (out, shoulder), the vet who debuted for San Antonio after being picked up this week, or Trey Lyles (out, ankle). Nate Mac (2 wins behind Mike D’Antoni for 20th all-time) has been hesitant to strategically deploy lotto-rook Onyeka Okongwu (12.5 rebounds per 100 possessions, a shade behind Collins’ 12.7; team-high 59.6 FG%) beyond a few minutes at a time. But with both Collins (3-for-11 FGs and team-worst minus-35 vs. SAS on Feb. 12) and Hunter healing up, and a meeting with a Pelicans team that likely will have Zion Williamson (sprained thumb) on the docket tomorrow, this seems like an ideal time to lean on both Okongwu and two-way wonder Nathan Knight, the latter all but silent during this eight-game road swing, to come off the bench and let their respective freak flags fly. Already the winningest NBA coach all-time when the playoffs are included, Popovich may roll into next year just to surpass Lenny Wilkens and Don Nelson, as he sits just 34 games behind Nelson, before handing the keys over to any of his Spurstree assistants, be it Becky Hammon, Will Hardy or Nets assistant Ime Udoka. He could similarly get to 2,000 games coached (64 games away), and then pass his mentor Brown at 2,002, before turning in his trusty whiteboard. With one postseason victory, Gregg could pull up with Pat Riley in second place at 171 playoff wins. Any chance, though, of surpassing the esteemed Phil Jackson’s 335 regular season wins-above-.500 (Pop’s at 333), and certainly Jackson’s 229 postseason victories, is too big of a lift. Unless the Spurs’ coach plans on chiding refs and reporters deep into his eighties. In a one-sport pro town, I imagine when you coach the one major pro team to multiple championships and win at a legendary level, rest assured, you’ll be dearly missed. Even if you’re simply heading back upstairs to a cushy fulltime front office gig. Win or lose, I’m just thrilled our Hawks, as of today, aren’t the only pro team under the heat lamp here in the ATL. Baseball and the defending NL East champs are back. Josef and Atlanta United are revving up for a tear through CONCACAF and MLS, and we’ve even got two other local clubs preparing to make Top-4 picks in their respective drafts this month. One thing I can say with confidence… the Bravos won’t suffer through any decades-long losing streaks in San Antonio any time soon. No fooling! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  5. “No foul call. No peace!” Just four home games remain before the “Break”, and our Atlanta Hawks have to make the most of it with a back-to-back, tonight, versus the San Antonio Spurs (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Whoo-Whee It’s Cold in SATX), and tomorrow, against Nate McMillan’s prior employer, the Indiana Pacers. In a theme similar to several of our Hell Week visitors from just over a week ago, the Spurs (14-10, 1.5 games behind 4-seed Phoenix) have hardly had to move before arriving at State Farm Arena. Much has been made of their ability to, yet again, stay afloat in the uber-competitive NBA West, earning coaching legend Gregg Popovich plaudits he isn’t even seeking at this stage of his career. But the biggest beneficiary to his team’s record, to date, has been the schedule. Until arriving in Atlanta ahead of today’s contest, the Spurs haven’t left the Lone Star State this month. In fact, they haven’t seen an NBA game outside of Texas since Steph Curry delivered one of his Y’all Must’ve Forgot performances back on January 20 in Oakland. After that, seven consecutive home games at AT&T Center, then a horse ride over to Houston, then a gallop home for a series split with Steph’s Dubs. Twenty-five games in, and the Hawks (11-13) are the first Eastern Conference team the Spurs have visited all season. Their last road win came in Portland back on January 18, a victory made less impressive by the fact the Blazers were readjusting after losing CJ McCollum in the game versus Atlanta two days prior. Over three weeks of home cooking, and the Spurs have done, well, a’ight for themselves. LaMarcus Aldridge left midway through a blowout loss against Memphis back on February 1, and he remains out while getting treatment for a hip flexor, the same sore hip he had season-ending surgery on back in 2012. In his absence, San Antonio has gone 3-1, earning close victories over the Wolves, Rockets, and Warriors before a third-quarter combo of Curry and Kent Bazemore (24 combined points in that quarter) did them in during their last game on Tuesday. After showing some promise in the twilight of his career as a remodeled stretch-five last season, helping San Antonio nearly extend their absurd playoff streak to 23 seasons, Aldridge has the look of a 35-year-old pro hooper who now shoots threes primarily because his post-play faculties (career-low 8.4 rebound%) are betraying him. In his absence, Coach Pop has had to jump-start Jakob Poeltl, a 2016 discarded ninth-overall pick who has been (stop me if you’ve heard this before about young second-tier lotto picks, Hawks fans) wildly inconsistent. Coach Pop has also had to turn to a starting unit that often appears to have three swingmen on it. Poeltl, who signed a three-year deal in the offseason to stick around, arrived in the Kawhi deal that also brought DeMar DeRozan and a future pick that became Keldon Johnson into Popovich’s stead. DeRozan no longer treats three-pointers with the disdain Manhattan maids have toward windows (33.3 3FG%, nearly a career-high on 2.0 tries per game). But the 6-foot-6 forward is basically thrust into Aldridge’s former stretch-big role, due to San Antonio’s creakily constructed frontcourt. DeMar mans the 4-spot ahead of occasional Hawk Killer Rudy Gay who, like Aldridge, is in his 15th NBA season. Johnson, the 6-foot-5 second-year pro out of UK (y’all remember Kentucky Basketball?), is the Spurs’ leading rebounder, at 7.1 RPG. That’s just a shade ahead of Dejounte Murray (7.0 RPG), San Antonio’s starting point guard who is their secondary playmaker behind DeRozan (career-high 6.7 APG, just 1.7 TOs/game). Lots of players doing uncustomary things is how Coach Pop hopes to spur confusion for opponents preparing game plans. After playing in just 17 games for the entirety of his rookie season, Johnson has started in all 25 Spurs games so far. Similarly, My Main Man from 2021’s Draft, Devin Vassell, has to be shocked the slow-growth Popovich tabbed him for his first NBA start on Tuesday. Peachtree Ridge’s Finest was put on the top line as Derrick White’s long-awaited return from a toe injury proved a bit shaky. Until the point guard can put his best foot forward, Coach Pop is going with a Lands of Always Winter pairing of White-Walker off the bench. With Tre Jones and Luka Samanic on G-League assignments, and with Trey Lyles and Drew Eubanks used sparingly, Popovich runs out lineups that run at best nine-deep. Players know they’ll get quick hooks if they turn the ball over (NBA-low 10.9 TO%), don’t scamper back into defensive positioning in transition (NBA-high 38.8 opponent D-Rebs per-48; NBA-low 13.5 opponent points per-48 off TOs), don’t help secure boards off opponent misses (75.2 D-Reb%, 4th in NBA), or get too hack-happy (NBA-low 17.0 personal fouls per-48). Beyond their friendly schedule, it’s Popovich being a stickler with fundamentals that has San Antonio sitting comfortably above .500 even without Aldridge around for this seven-game road swing. Against mediocre competition, quality possession control keeps them in the running just long enough to grant Murray and DeRozan (career-high 89.2 FT%) chances to save the day. It has also helped the Spurs they’ve been lucky. Either that, or they’re savvy enough to know precisely whom to foul. San Antonio opponents’ 72.7 FT% (lowest in NBA) is diametrically opposed to Atlanta foes shooting an NBA-best 82.1 FT% (incl. 83.2% here at “home”. We sure could use some Thundersticks!). Hell Week concluded on Saturday for the Hawks’ players, but it continues unabated for head coach Lloyd Pierce. The challenge of climbing uphill, for coaches like Pierce, now in his third NBA season holding the whiteboard, is figuring out ways to out-strategize and outwit old-timers and long-haulers like Coach Pop and Dallas’ Rick Carlisle. We’re eternally grateful that LP figured out how to do this 13 months ago, when Trae Young, Kevin Huerter and Cam Reddish conspired to mercifully end The Curse in Alamo City. Then, there are games like Wednesday’s in Dallas, where the Hawks’ backcourt failed to close out on perimeter shooters and the game alike. The league’s worst three-point shooting team went 7-for-9 from Deep Ellum on many open looks in a 118-117 win over the Hawks, leading many fans to become far less gracious of LP’s tactics. Pierce’s schedule has faceoffs forthcoming versus Defense Over Everything Tom Thibodeau, Big Brain Brad Stevens, and Smarmy Face Erik Spoelstra. Getting repeatedly hoodwinked and bamboozled won’t help LP’s cause, nor will further complaints of a lack of “defensive urgency” by his own team stifle criticism of his own adequacy. My Man 20 Grand, Trae (25 points, 15 assists @ DAL) must find ways to excel in this game knowing his scoring output won’t likely come from pleas and idle threats for whistles. The Spurs will give him a multitude of pressures and traps, from a variety of angles and players, and he will have to make smart decisions with the ball in his hands and smarter choices away from the ball. He and the Hawks guards have to help secure long rebounds and keep the open-looks from Patty Mills and the Spurs’ shooters to a minimum. On offense, the ball must wind its way, preferably up high, to John Collins (33 points, 8 rebounds) and Clint Capela (21 minutes @ DAL due to foul trouble, 19-game double-digit rebounding streak ends), who should find size advantages galore to exploit. Similarly, the ball should hardly touch the floor for Danilo Gallinari (2-for-12 FGs @ DAL), who is due for a bounceback game after his would-be game-saving shot fell short in Dallas. Atlanta’s frontcourt leaders should be able to up-periscope most defenders the Spurs throw their way, and by boatracing San Antonio’s “bigs” in transition, they can alleviate pressure on Young and Atlanta’s perimeter shooters, enlivening the Hawks’ stale transition offense (10.2 fastbreak points per-48, 5th-worst in NBA; 14.2 points per-48 off TOs, 3rd-worst in NBA). We all recall how close Popovich himself came to getting usurped in his third season at the helm, probably by ex-Hawk and ex-Spur turned TV analyst Doc Rivers, after a 56-26 season and disappointing playoff run was followed by a drab 6-8 start for the perpetual also-rans to 1998-99. Coach Pop was rapidly running out of fingers with which he could point at other people. “The Admiral’s and Tim Duncan’s prime years are being wasted!”, was the hawt take of the time. Without the stick-to-it-iveness by the franchise with their self-appointed head honcho to see things through, there is likely no 31-5 finish to the strike season, no Memorial Day Miracle, no kickstart to an impressive NBA Finals and trophy run for the Spurs. Certainly, at least, not for him. Sometimes, for these neophyte NBA coaches, all it takes is some Big Fundamentals to turn the trick. Until then, instilling small fundamentals will do enough to pass the time. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  6. “…and then Trae can just lob it to Zion from right about… there.” Still slouching all weekend on the MLK Draft, so it’s Tidbits Time! First, Atlanta Hawks at San Antonio Spurs. Let’s get the particulars (8:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, KENS 5 in SATX) out of the way. The Spurs (17-22) ought to be the Patron Saints of Boomer NBA Twitter. If you long for the dying art of the mid-range jumper, DeMar DeRozan’s game is tailor-made for you. DeRozan will hoist the occasional triple shot, every other game or two, just for GP (General Principle, not so much Gregg Popovich). Yet the reigning Western Conference POW has been on a tear like few other NBA stars since mid-December (last 12 games: 65.1 FG%, 87.6 FT%, 27.3 PPG, 5.7 APG) while going almost entirely against the grain (0.6 3FGAs/game). Slashing for dunks and threes “The Old-Fashioned Way” (72.7 2FG% within 10 feet of the rim) has been enough to keep DeRozan’s scoring average high, but the main thing is that his jumper (62.9 2FG% on pull-up shots) has been as wet as a Riverwalk gondola. There have been only two NBA players in the past 35 years that have gone on a streak of 20-point games while shooting 52 percent or higher in each of them. Yet unlike His Airness, no one is out here making a silhouette out of DeRozan’s 15-foot pull-up. Breaking MJ’s “record” with Game #13 tonight (further, joining Kareem, Shaq, KAT, Mailman, and Greek Freak with 13+ game streaks of 20 points & 50 FG%, as per bball-ref) seems an easy reach, on paper, with Atlanta (115.3 road D-Rating, 28th in NBA) in town. However, Double D may first want to consult with fellow Texan James Harden, whose historic 30-point scoring streak ended at the hounding hands of DeAndre’ Bembry and the Hawks in Houston last year. Many Boomers’ least favorite NBA Boomer keeps the Spurs from being fully embraced by those who miss the days of Ginobili’s money elbow jumpers. There are signs, though, that even Coach Pop is relenting on his team’s mid-range mania. NBC Sports’ Tom Haberstroh notes that the Spurs are the last of the 30 NBA clubs to ever have a calendar month where they’ve shot over 30 three-point attempts per game. They came close in December (28.9 team 3FGAs/game), and they’re well on their way to getting it over with this month (33.1 January 3FGAs/game). The biggest factor is their big factor, LaMarcus Aldridge. LMA was just dabbling until going 3-for-5 from downtown, dropping 40 in a 30-point Spurs win at Memphis on December 23. From that point on, he’s been like Mikey eating Life cereal (2.7 3FGs/game, 53.6 3FG% in last 11 games, at least one 3FG made in each). Hey, LaMarcus likes it! Aldridge’s and DeRozan’s recent exploits are arriving too late for whippersnapper All-Star fan voters to put down their avocado toast long enough to care. But if they keep it up, and if the Spurs (1.0 game behind red-hot 8-seed Memphis) can stay in contention for their NBA-record 23rd-straight playoff appearance, media and coaches will be sure to make note. Wednesday’s 106-100 loss in Miami concluded a 4-game road trip for San Antonio (8-9 vs. NBA East), and the annual Rodeo Road Trip month of February is right around the corner. Despite a loss to the payback-seeking Grizzlies last Friday, they managed to steal two impressive wins, beating Boston and staging a triumphant return for DeRozan at defending-champion Toronto. Just 11-9 at home, the Spurs want to build some momentum at AT&T Center, since they’ve got just six home games left (incl. Hawks and heat this weekend) before the eight-game road swing that straddles the All-Star Break. Two days after losing in Milwaukee, the Spurs came home and bashed the NBA-best Bucks 126-104 on January 6, their last home appearance. The deluge came mostly off the bench, Rudy Gay and Patty Mills (combined 8-for-12 3FGs) scoring 38 of San An’s 59 bench points. Spurs reserves rank top-5 in the league in per-game points, rebounds, assists, and blocks, which can be amazing when one considers how tough it is for some to get a steady diet of floor time. Coach Pop’s Good Side is like the Holy Grail. Our old friend DeMarre Carroll (9 MPG, 22 DNPs and counting; salary guaranteed through 2020-21) is still searching for it. Rookie first-rounder Keldon Johnson (7 total minutes in 2 appearances) and sophomore Lonnie Walker (one pick before Kevin Huerter, who’s played 2400 more minutes) can’t find it. But once somebody succeeds in currying favor with Popovich, it’s hard for the coach to even consider turning to somebody else. Dejounte Murray spent all last season recovering from an early-season injury, only to find himself scrapping for minutes (and, for a while, starts) with Pop tart Derrick White. Like DeRozan, Murray is unlikely to be a safety valve along the three-point arc (1.3 3FGAs/game) and his assist production (4.1 APG, behind DeRozan’s 5.1) leaves a little to be desired. But Murray’s defensive game (3.3 steal%, 2nd in NBA) remains his strong suit, the kind of thing Coach Pop and the Spurs (111.5 D-Rating, 20th in NBA; worst D-Rating since 1996-97) used to profess to caring about. Murray finds his playing time gobbled up by the players Pop has grown enamored with over the years, whether it’s the slightly more seasoned White and Bryn Forbes (36.6 3FG% on a team-high 6.2 attempts/game), or aging wonders Marco Belinelli and Patty Mills (40.7 3FG%). Maybe Popovich is holding out for Dejounte to stretch the floor more effectively, or to provide more consistent offensive production. But the early returns on The Tony Parker Treatment don’t seem to be going well. Murray was benched mid-3rd quarter for the rest of the game in Toronto, before the Spurs’ comeback from 17 points down to win. Similarly sidelined by Pop in Miami on Wednesday, he returned in for a couple minutes midway through the fourth quarter. But after matching an offensive foul he drew with one of his own, Dejounte was pulled and never saw the floor again. Trey Lyles (12 boards in the 108-100 loss @ ATL on Nov. 5) lost his starting gig for a stretch, but Pop still re-Lyles on him to start. Despite the forward averaging 5.6 PPG on 38.6 FG% over his past 15 starts, Lyles’ penchant for occasionally having a big rebounding day keeps him on the top line, much to the chagrin of Jakob Poeltl (I’ll start pronouncing his name right if we bother to trade for him; 8.0 RPG and 2.3 in his paltry 7 starts this season). I’m going to have to give up on my Boomer mentality that one can’t possibly depend upon conventional power forwards to be full-time starting centers. That seems to be where Popovich is at, with Lyles adjacent to the new stretch-five Aldridge. For the time being, it appears to be Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce’s newfound stance as well. Help may indeed be coming soon for Trae Young, in the form of former Hawks good Jeff Teague (out for tonight along with Trevon Graham, paperwork, what’s the rush). As for Teague’s Demon Deacon alum John Collins (9.8 RPG and 3.0 BPG in last 5 games; one or more swats in 13 of 15 games, 30 of 61 games last season), “help” may have to eventually come in the forms of Bruno Fernando (re-activated tonight) returning from Collipark, and Jabari Parker’s shoulder and Alex Len’s back getting straight. Blotting out the Suns on Tuesday night was made a little easier for the Hawks, with Ricky Rubio out and a pleasant dash of home-cooking from the refs (Tired: protect the rim in transition. Wired: give up dunks but goad opponents into taunting techs). But it also was great to see Collins, Huerter and Young looking like the most melodious collective since Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. All three Hawks had double-doubles against Phoenix, the first trio in NBA history to do so before any of them hit their 23rd birthday. Huerter (15 rebounds, 8 assists, 4-for-5 3FGs and a steal on Tuesday) was particularly effective in making Kelly Oubre look more like Kelly Price. To keep recent history from repeating, Murray will do what he can to suppress Trae (29 points, 13 assists, 3 TOs vs. SAS in November) after the Spurs guard endured a nightmarish 4th-quarter stretch when the teams last met. The Spurs will also seek to overwhelm the Hawks with size upfront. Atlanta (9-32) offset any disadvantages with Huerter’s prowess, plus Young rewarding Damian Jones with post feeds for his activity off the bench. But the Hawks are really well-aided when De’Andre Hunter is a gatherer on the boards. Including his team-high 8 rebounds when the Hawks last beat the Spurs, the power forward by circumstance has only collected six or more rebounds in six games. Yet the Hawks are a sturdy 3-3 in those contests and hadn’t lost one of those games by more than 8 points (also back in November, when he snatched a season-high 11 rebounds plus 27 points vs. Milwaukee). At least for tonight, particularly when matched up against Lyles or Gay while Cam Reddish checks DeRozan, Hunter could be Collins’ biggest help of all. February 15, 1997. Boomers were thriving, bread was a nickel, Nique was a Spur, we know the story. Let’s just relax about the Alamo City losing streak for now. If the Hawks pull off an end to the nearly quarter-century run tonight, that’s great. If not, let’s all chill until Atlanta can build a sustainable core worthy of ending it once and for all. Schedule Watch! The Hawks aren’t in town, but I bet you can guess who is. That’s right! The Detroit Pistons get the second of their two-days’ rest in the ATL while awaiting the Hawks’ return from Texas for a game tomorrow evening (way fewer Tidbits tomorrow, I promise). This feels all so… familiar. Hey, NBATV, why don’t you pull a curveball and make Jeff Teague your special in-studio guest tonight? Oh, who am I kidding? It’ll probably be Andre Drummond. Might as well make use of the Big Penguin’s time, since it sounds like he won’t be chillin’ around town for long. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  7. Meanwhile... the last NBA visitors to lose at The Farm may or may not be handling the losing ways well. ~lw3
  8. “MIIIIIILES PLUMLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!” Arriving in the mid-1990s, my first place of residence in Atlanta had no sunlight coming through the front windows. The rear windows allowed a picturesque view of the late John Portman’s stylized downtown skyline, almost exactly the one popularized in postcards and on TV shows. But by the time the sun’s light creeped through those windows, after work, it was already setting in the west behind those hulking skyscrapers. For the first year of my life in Atlanta, the imposing multi-story structure across the street shadowed my humble, 60-year-old studio apartment, the factory’s broad windows and former entrances solidly boarded. One fading word on that building gave a hint of its past glories: “Scripto”. The world-famous writing pen and butane lighter company was an Atlanta institution, with nearly a thousand workers at this plant for over four decades before moving to the OTP ‘burbs in 1977. Not long after the factory and office buildings were shuttered, the daylight was about the best thing anyone could hope for while living in that area. Here was the makeup of the block around this defunct building: a probably-unlicensed taxi company; a five-dollar barber shop; maybe the Northern Hemisphere’s last speakeasy; a tire repair company and storage lot; a pool hall; and a “dance” club, where there was more standing around and posturing than legit dancing. Surrounding this block: weathered, poorly-managed apartments; trap houses whose tales would soon make rappers famous; and Fulton County’s drug and alcohol treatment center, a package store within view of its front windows. The area around the Scripto building slept during the day, but the streets and their inhabitants came “alive” at night, especially on Friday and Saturday nights in the ‘80s and ‘90s. If, by, “alive,” you could count beat-heavy music bumping from cars, and ladies-of-the-evening, a few of them actual ladies, negotiating with suspiciously slow passers-by through their car windows. Bitter, boisterous, bullet-riddled arguments over lost wagers and bargained wages, were de rigeur on weekends under the moonlight. This scene wasn’t all that unfamiliar, I suppose fortunately, to Atlanta’s newest arrival from Philadelphia. Still, my one place of solace lied just two blocks south, at a tomb, surrounded by a reflecting pool, containing the remains of Atlanta’s, and America’s, most prominent civil and human rights advocate, situated between the church he and his father once led, and his birth home. This area was not always this way. It would not be for much longer. In December 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was in Oslo, Norway, accepting the Nobel Prize for Peace. The day after flying home from Scandinavia, the Nobel Laureate joined members of his Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, marching in the Sweet Auburn streets with striking workers from the nearby Scripto Pen Company plant, demanding equal pay for both its skilled and nonskilled laborers. The year of ’64 was a pretty big one in the City Too Busy To Hate. Just days before King marched with the Scripto picketers, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the owner of a hotel just across the freeway from the plant. In a landmark case, the Court found that the Commerce Clause of the Constitution allowed Congress to compel private businesses like his to comply with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, enacted earlier that summer. Many downtown businesses, notably Rich’s Department Store, were already taking the hint by then, thanks to student sit-in protests like the one in 1960 at Rich’s, where King was arrested. Atlanta’s public schools, like the all-black high school right down the street from Scripto that was celebrating multi-sport star and recent graduate Walt Frazier, were in their third year of wrangling over the federally-mandated demands to desegregate in earnest. Atlanta civic leaders, led by mayor Ivan Allen, were also pushing to become a major-league sports town in the early 1960s, but America’s pro sports associations were dealing with the stark realities of newly integrated teams needing to travel, lodge, and eat together. To facilitate the relocation of baseball star Hank Aaron’s Milwaukee Braves to The South, the city turned to a pair of local Jewish immigrant brothers turned hotel magnates, who constructed the Americana Motor Hotel downtown. Its opening years were marked by Klan demonstrations, and the resistant racists setting a fire in one hotel owner’s driveway, a scene similar to the cross-burning in King’s lawn a couple years before. But Dr. King and civil rights leaders, unintimidated, convened meetings and stayed at the Americana, even before it officially opened in 1962. The hotel deliberately featured no water fountains, since the city’s ordinance still required those amenities to remain segregated. By the spring of 1964, construction of Atlanta Stadium was underway, and the hospitality at the Americana would help convince MLB to move the Braves south. It wouldn’t be much longer before a pro basketball team from St. Louis would come east. In January of 1964, King was named Time’s Man of the Year. That same month, a collection of NBA All-Stars, including St. Louis Hawks draftees Bill Russell and Wayne Embry, threatened to strike and not participate in the game, if owners continued not to recognize the players’ union and its demands for worker accommodations like pensions. Facing the prospect of national embarrassment as minutes ticked by on their first nationally-televised event, the struggling league’s owners and commissioner relented. King may very well have been inspired by the bold 1964 NBA players’ boycott, as by the year’s end, he was touting the need for civil rights to expand its scope beyond public accommodations to issues of collective bargaining with local governments and private industry. In a TV interview discussing the Scripto strike that December, King declared: “We have decided that now is the time to identify our movement very closely with labor,” adding, “There will be many more to follow.” The Scripto strike and the national boycott of its products, promoted by King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, proved successful within a matter of weeks. All employees were granted Christmas bonuses and wage increases, and Scripto’s CEO and other business leaders begrudgingly attended the city’s formal celebration of their newest Nobel Laureate. But the advancement of the Civil Rights Movement, under King, into matters of labor, industry and, soon, war-making, unnerved people across the sociopolitical spectrum. An array of “Stay In Yo Lane”-style warnings from Malcolm X to J. Edgar Hoover flooded into King, some cautions more threatening than others. Hoover’s malicious missive to King, masqueraded under the guise of an angry Black citizen, was typed shortly after King was announced as a Nobel Prize winner, yet King returned from Oslo to support the picketers anyway. An AP photographer who followed MLK during that time, and snapped a picture of him with the Scripto strikers, was forewarned by her mother. “Honey, be careful. I’m afraid, someday, someone’s going to try to kill that man.” The mother’s concerns proved prescient. Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis, 50 years ago this April, while in town convening with striking sanitation workers. Near coincidentally, just a month later, Atlanta developer Thomas Cousins and former Georgia governor Carl Sanders announced the St. Louis Hawks would come to play in King’s grieving city in the fall of 1968. Until a new arena could be built, the Hawks would hoop it up at a coliseum at Georgia Tech, the Deep South’s first higher-education institution to peacefully integrate without a court order. The wild-west-meets-dirty-south nature of the neighborhood I moved to in 1995 would change drastically within a few years, thanks to an oft-tempestuous but eventually productive relationship between divergent King Family members and the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) to expand the King National Historic Site from Auburn Avenue to Freedom Parkway. The Scripto factory and surrounding buildings were cleared by the time of the Olympic Games, and the roughneck street became the tranquil parking entryway for the historic site, with its new museum, Gandhi statue, civil rights walk of fame, and Ebenezer church building. The King Center eventually became the nation’s most-visited site under NPS management. Signing a bill by Congressman John Lewis, the former Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee leader, the President formally designated the memorial site an upgraded National Historical Park, the first in the state of Georgia, just days ago. What’s in the area now? The Freedom Parkway trail connecting downtown with east-side neighborhoods and the Carter Presidential Library. Gentrified (yet integrated) apartment and condo towers, including one replacing my old building, with fountains, porches, salons, a popular local drip-coffee shop, and far superior downtown vistas. While the surrounding area continues to have its share of struggles, the only drugs publicly sold these days now come from behind a CVS counter. Our Hawks are fortunate to play in an American city with such a rich history of advancing, however arduously, the principles of equality, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all. As Atlanta’s foremost citizen, Dr. King serves as not just an annual inspiration, but a daily one, that we should not feel shackled to the accomplishments and setbacks of the past, to the shortcomings of our present-day, or to the constraining expectations of others around us. A lot of things had to go right, and a lot of tugging in the direction of justice had to happen, before a kid would take the risk of reversing his once-enslaved family’s century-long migration north of the Mason-Dixon line, much less become a supporter and long-winded thread-writer for a local team where fans can, today, come together from all corners of life to cheer. While sleep was often a chore as a new resident, I was fortunate to be able to rest nightly within a stone’s throw of where Dr. King, and later his equally-advocating wife, Coretta, are laid to rest for eternity. The depth of our NBA team’s recent, deliberate downturn in on-court success pales, by comparison, to the unjust hills and valleys our citizens around the globe strive to overcome. Hawks fans might not get to enjoy victory today at The Highlight Factory, as Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs (3:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Southwest in SA, NBATV everywhere else) pay his disciple Mike Budenholzer a visit. The wins for the home team will continue to be few and far between for the foreseeable future. But we know things around here were not always this way. And they won’t be, not for much longer. Sunnier days, dreamier nights, and grander victories, will eventually come if Hawks players, fans, staff and owners commit to thinking smartly, endeavoring patiently, and celebrating our advance toward the NBA mountaintop, together. How long? Not long! Happy MLK Day! And Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  9. “No worries, Pop. That Collins kid will be back down in a second or two.” Vader and Skywalker clash once more! Gregg Popovich, head coach of the San Antonio Spurs, looks to resume his homecourt mastery over the visiting Atlanta Hawks (8:30 PM Eastern. Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Southwest in SA), in the process reminding his self-described former “co-coach” that the student has not yet become the teacher. To which every team in The Association can surely attest by now, double-digit leads are nothingburgers these days, specifically those leads in the teens and twenties. In Atlanta, the Celtics eroded a 16-point first-quarter deficit and eventually found itself cruising to a 110-99 victory with whirling dervish Kyrie Irving at the wheel on Saturday. The day before that, OKC was up 23 points at the AT&T Center early in the second quarter before the Spurs stormed back, taking over on a Manu Ginobili three-pointer at the start of the fourth quarter and hanging on for the 104-101 win. The key to the turnaround, as only Popovich can describe it, was “an attitude change, from ‘poor me,’ to ‘screw you’!” While the Hawks-Spurs series has long been one-sided, particularly here in San Antonio (last Hawks win here in February 1997, 0-19 since), Atlanta has been like a bad penny, hard to shake loose. Four of the past five matchups with the Hawks here in Alamo City resulted in just single-digit winning margins for the Spurs, three of them within five points. A 15-point third-quarter lead by the home team last March was nearly erased, when super-sub Junior Hardaway heated up and a bucket by San An native Taurean Prince shrunk the Spurs’ lead to 86-85 with eight minutes to spare. Even going into the final minute up by 11, San Antonio had to endure threes by Hardaway and Prince and rely on 5-for-5 free throw shooting from Kawhi Leonard to keep the pesky Hawks at arm’s length. Leonard remains a no-go, he and guard Tony Parker missing the start of this season with quad injuries. Even with The KLaw on the floor, without the pesky Parker (DNP) around in March’s 107-99 Spurs win, Hawks guard Dennis Schröder (22 points 10-for-18 FGs, 10 assists, 2 TOs) proved to be a tough cover. With the help of Danny Green (4 steals vs. OKC on Friday, also 5-for-13 3FGs), Coach Pop will design a defensive scheme in hopes of similar fortunes as they had on Friday with reigning MVP Russell Westbrook (5-for-22 FGs, 9 assists and 2 TOs). While it never rose to the scale of “I Dont wanna be here,” LaMarcus Aldridge held an airing of grievances with Popovich prior to the start of training camp. Roundly criticized for his performance in the Spurs’ first postseason without Tim Duncan around, Aldridge felt that a higher volume of early post touches was the cure for his woes. “It was an afterthought [to feed Aldridge the ball early]. But it was both [probably his fault and the team’s] because I didn’t feel like I would get it,” Aldridge divulged to ESPN last month. “So, I probably didn’t run the floor as hard, or I didn’t seal as good. Then, they didn’t look for me. Then, when we [he and the ballhandler] both thought about it, it was too late.” Fortunately for LMA, he’s not in Phoenix but working for a stable franchise with a championship pedigree and a head coach that values input from his senior players. Popovich listened, and LaMarcus agreed to run the full floor. The early returns are promising, as Aldridge has posted a career-high in scoring efficiency (24.4 points per-36) at age 32, with upticks from last season in field goal shooting, three-point attempts, rebounding and assists. But how well the good vibes hold up remains to be seen, at least until usage-leader Leonard and Parker return to the fold. Running the floor is essential for Aldridge (8.4 RPG) and frontcourt mate Pau Gasol (8.2 RPG, team-high 3.8 APG) tonight, as it appears the Hawks (3-13) will have as full a complement of bigs at their disposal as they have had all season. Dewayne Dedmon made things difficult from the jump for Al Horford in Saturday’s return to his old stomping grounds, and there’s no telling how close the final outcome could have been had Coach Bud stuck with John Collins (18 points; 7 rebounds, 3 offensive vs. BOS) a little longer in the final frame against the Celtics. Sixth-man forward Rudy Gay (11.8 PPG) ranks second on the balanced Spurs in scoring, but has yet to fully imbibe his new team’s well-regarded defensive Kool-Aid. Mike Muscala (ankle) and Miles Plumlee (quad) may not get activated, but will be available to play, in Milester P’s case for the first time all season. Coach Bud has stated a preference to go just four-deep at the PF/C spots, and for Luke Babbitt (probable, back) to play more at the 4-spot. So, with former starter Ersan Ilyasova (DNP vs. BOS Saturday) getting back up to speed there may be limited room at the inn, which is a great problem to have. From the field, opponents have been outshooting the Spurs (45.9 to 45.1 FG%) on the season, and perhaps the key saving grace for Kawhi-less San Antonio (10-6) has been the iron being unkind to their foes at the charity stripe (NBA-low 70.8 opponent FT%). Atlanta has shot well away from home (78.9 road FT%, 10th in NBA) and must continue to take advantage on the rare occasions the Spurs (17.1 personal fouls/game, 2nd-fewest in NBA) send the Hawks to the line. Shots failed to fall for former Spur Marco Belinelli (2-for-6 2FGs, 0-for-4 3FGs) on Saturday, and the bench bomber should not hesitate to turn that around tonight. Literally, with the need to push the tempo on the Spurs (NBA-low 97.3 pace) and speed up possessions, shots by the Killer B’s (Belly, Kent Bazemore and Babbitt) have to be more of the catch-and-shoot, rather than the pump-faking, jab-stepping or spot-up, variety. Atlanta’s catch-and-shoot percentage of 41.6 3FG% ranks behind only Golden State’s 42.3 3FG%. On spot-ups, they’re also shooting NBA-highs of 43.7 FG% and 58.1 eFG%, but this can work against them versus a Spurs defense that prefers opposing shooters to be static in the halfcourt. San Antonio wants to shoo the Hawks shooters off the perimeter and put the ball on the floor, in hopes of producing turnovers and wayward shots. Poor me, or screw you? Will a Hawks team, one that isn’t yet playing like it knows either its record or its franchise’s decades-long futility in Alamo City, put the screws to an experienced yet incomplete Spurs squad? And can they do it long enough for Coach Bud to finally feel the proverbial force versus his longtime mentor? Let’s Go (not you Sea) Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  10. “How ‘Bout Them Apples?” The shorthanded San Antonio Spurs have a very real chance to seize the top spot in the West with a win tonight over the Atlanta Hawks (8:00 PM Eastern, TNT, 92.9 FM in ATL). The Hawks, despite entering Decade #3 of losing in the Alamo City, are aiming for another top-four seed finish in the East. They have a very real opportunity to win here for the first time since Steve Smith’s Hawks blew out Dominique Wilkins’ momentarily-bad Spurs way back on February 15, 1997. The Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard (questionable, concussion symptoms) has a very real chance at being handed the Maurice Podoloff Trophy soon. The Hawks’ Mike Budenholzer, who politicked to get Kawhi in black-and-silver, has a chance to win the very not-real-at-all “Del Harris Trophy.” Coach Del was one pretty funky homo sapien during the 1981 Playoffs, where he navigated Moses Malone and the Rockets all the way to the NBA Finals after finishing the season with just a 40-42 record, the first team with a losing record to reach The Finals since 1959. The Rockets even made Larry Bird sweat it out a couple games before he could earn his first NBA ring. The following season, Harris pulled off his next trick. With Rudy Tomjanovich retiring, Calvin Murphy shifting to the bench, and Mike Dunleavy, Sr. adjusting to life with a namesake toddler and a three-point line, Houston struggled mightily out of the gate. The reigning conference champs started the 1981-82 season at 16-21, with about half of those losses by double-digit margins. But Moses and seasoned newcomer Elvin Hayes worked out their frontcourt kinks, leading to a big turnaround. A close loss to Mike Woodson and Larry Drew in Kansas City ended the regular season for a Rockets team that allowed three more points than it scored. Still, Houston checked in at 46-36 -- at that time, the most victories ever for an NBA team that was outscored over the course of 82 games -- then took Seattle the full three games in the opening playoff round. To this day, only one other NBA team has ever won more games while being outscored in a season. That team, also, was coached by Del Harris. Harris (presently helping Spud Webb run Dallas’ D-League outfit in Texas) took over the helm at The Forum in Inglewood in 1994, shortly after the failed Magic Johnson Coaching Experiment. Del inherited a Lakers lottery team with James Worthy retiring, Nick Van Exel coming off his rookie year and Eddie Jones entering his own, and he kept ex-Lakers Drew and Michael Cooper on board as his assistants. The 1994-95 Lakers continued taking their lumps in losses, but played strongly enough throughout the year to close at 48-34, despite being outscored by 18 points. Their win tally might have gone into the 50’s had Jones and top scorer Cedric Ceballos not missed time with mid-season injuries, or had they not lost eight of their last ten games. The turnaround was good enough for Harris to earn Coach of the Year, and his Lakers continued to impress in the postseason. They upset a 57-win Sonics team in the first round before falling in six games in the conference semis to the Spurs, a team featuring three D.R.’s (David Robinson, Dennis Rodman, Doc Rivers) and a VCR coordinated, with aplomb, by a young Mike Budenholzer. After winning their last three games, Coach Bud’s Hawks (37-29) are on pace to win 46 games, despite being outscored by 28 points to this stage of the season. LeBron James’ 2007-08 Cleveland Cavs (45-37) were the last NBA team outscored over the course of a season to win 45 games, and no team not coached by Del Harris (contrary to rumor, not the love child of Lin Dunn and Frank Drebin) has ever won more. Should Atlanta manage to go 9-7 to close out the regular season without outscoring their foes by at least 1.75 PPG, they’ll tie the ’82 Rockets as the 2nd-winningest outscored NBA team of all time, and the 4th-most successful outscored team ever (in terms of winning percentage, behind the ’54 Knicks, those ’95 Lakers, and the ’51 Celtics, as per Basketball-Reference). It speaks to the nature of the Hawks’ season-long play that the above scenario is very plausible. Atlanta could unqualify themselves from this “honor”, however, if they play out the season with the tenacity exhibited during Saturday night’s resounding 107-90 victory in Memphis. This team willingly gives up lightly-contested threes to minimize easy halfcourt twos and clock-stopping free throws, but it’s on the opponents to make those three-pointers when they get them. Atlanta’s last three opponents, Brooklyn, Toronto, and Memphis (combined 19-for-88 3FGs) couldn’t cut the mustard. Tonight, do the Spurs have enough sauce? When a fuller-strength Spurs team visited Atlanta on New Year’s Day, they finished 9-for-27 from downtown, 6-for-19 in regulation (Leonard 1-for-6 on threes, in an uncharacteristic 3-for-12 shooting day; 13 points mostly on 6-for-7 FTs). They finished one make short of what was needed to top the Hawks, who prevailed 114-112 in OT thanks to crazy second-half scoring (27 of his then-season-high 32 points) and a clutch offensive rebound from Paul Millsap, plus a red-hot Tim Hardaway, Jr. (then-season-high 29 points, 9 in OT; 6-for-7 3FGs) and Kyle Korver off the bench. While it remains to be seen whether Leonard will be activated for tonight’s game, some of the Hawks’ starters are catching a break either way. Forward LaMarcus Aldridge is out for an indefinite period, following an unfortunate recent reoccurrence of heart arrhythmia. The crafty Tony Parker (10-for-18 FGs, 7 assists and 1 TO @ ATL on Jan. 1) gave Dennis Schröder fits when the teams last met. Struggling with back stiffness, Parker sits out tonight, as will his lengthy understudy, rookie Dejounte Murray (sore groin). Considering that 3-and-D specialist Danny Green (39.1 3FG%) and wily vets like Manu Ginobili, Pau Gasol, David Lee and David West will all suit up tonight, MVP candidates like Kawhi (NBA-high 0.278 WS/48; career-highs of 26.2 PPG, 3.4 APG, 89.7 FT%) have had a lot less to work with when trying to win games this season. If Leonard can play, he’ll once again be a handful for the Hawks’ defensive swingmen. But if he is a late scratch, the Spurs’ leading scorers coming into tonight consist of sixth-men: Gasol (12.1 PPG, 7.8 RPG, recently moved to the bench), sniper guard Patty Mills (42.1 3FG%), and Ginobili. The trio would also be San Antonio’s leading remnant assist-men. Of course, the Hawks are notorious for playing down to the availability of their competition. They must avoid breakout games by the likes of Jonathan Simmons, Davis Bertans, Bryn Forbes, and surefire Scrabble play Nicolas Laprovittola. Led by Schröder, Atlanta certainly must put the screws to Mills, the guard from Down Under who has helped the Spurs go 30-1 this season when he goes Up Over nine points in a game. He will try to get that many in the first quarter alone. Versus a visiting Warriors team that fielded only Zaza Pachulia among its routine starters, Mills contributed a team-high 21 points in a 107-85 rout on Saturday. He got help in the passing game from forward Kyle Anderson and Manu, the three combining for 16 assists and just 3 turnovers. Mills’ starting Dubs counterpart, Patrick McCaw, was flustered by San Antonio’s defense into an 0-for-12 outing from the field. But the Spurs had few answers for guard Ian Clark off the bench (36 points, 15-for-21 FGs), a development that could portend another green-lit performance by the Hawks’ Hardaway tonight. Playing just 21 minutes in Memphis, Timmy’s 8 points on Saturday concluded a solid 20-game streak of double-digit scoring. Although Dennis struggled defensively against Parker in January, he did drop ten dimes on the Spurs, the final three of them for crucial Hardaway triples that forced overtime and put the Hawks in front during the extra period. Despite dogged defense from Mike Conley and Tony Allen on Saturday, Schröder generated 8 assists, and his Hawks are 9-3 this season when he produces more than 8 of them. The more Mills needs help from Green and/or Leonard in impeding Schröder’s path to the hoop tonight, the better looks Hardaway and Kent Bazemore (15 points, 6-for-10 FGs @ MEM) will receive. If Mills has a rough outing against Dennis (3 steals @ MEM), the only alternative Gregg Popovich has at the point guard position would be rookie shooter Forbes (season-high 8 points in 25 minutes vs. GSW on Saturday), who has made just four assists in 23 games all season. More likely, Coach Pop would rely on Ginobili and Anderson to set up the halfcourt offense. Besides the challenge of countering Millsap without Aldridge around, Popovich will also need a strong effort from the improving Dewayne Dedmon (8.2 RPG and 71.8 FG% since taking over as a starter in January) to keep a fresh-legged Dwight Howard (DNP @ MEM; double-double in 8 of last 10 games) out of the restricted area. Pau is not excited about the notion of the Hawks pulling off a double-play on the road against the Gasol Brothers. When he’s in the game, Pau and Lee will try to play Atlanta’s bigs physically around the rim, in hopes of drawing fouls and opening up shooters outside the paint. If that fails, Pau will try to draw them outside (50.0 3FG%) and open up the floor for cutters. With or without Leonard available, it will require smart defensive wing play by Thabo Sefolosha, Bazemore and Taurean Prince, reading-and-reacting against San Antonio’s playmakers, for the Hawks to keep the Spurs offense sputtering. Whether tonight’s game ends with a close win or a blowout loss, the prospects for Atlanta keeping this season’s win-despite-losing string going is very real. Coach Bud may someday become our Coach Pop. In the meantime, he does just fine as our Coach Del. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  11. Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot, and Never Brought to Mind? ((Blame it on the champagne! Cutting this draft game thread short to get rested up for the games today. Catch y’all later!)) The block is hot, the block is hot! It’s a busy Sunday sports afternoon in downtown Atlanta. Hopefully, the NFC South champion Falcons will make quick work of the New Orleans Saints and sew up a #2 playoff seed. If so, at halftime, fans in the Georgia Dome may consider sauntering down Dominique Wilkins Way to see if the Hawks can keep the San Antonio Spurs (6:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Southwest in SA, NBATV elsewhere Sorry, ESPN lied to me) from extending their win streak to five. For Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, there’s been no letting up on his mastery over his former heir apparent. Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer is still angling for a first regular-season win over his ex-boss. The last time the Hawks defeated San Antonio in Atlanta, in March 2010, Coach Bud was on the Spurs’ bench, and then-Hawks coach Mike Woodson was almost on his way out of town, despite what would be a 53-win season. To counter Manu Ginobili’s 38 points and Tim Duncan’s 29 points plus 13 rebounds, to prevail 119-114 in overtime, Atlanta needed 22 points and 18 boards (!) from Al Horford, and 26 & 9 from Marvin Williams. San Antonio (27-6, 1.5 games behind Golden State) has since won 11 straight games over the Hawks, piling onto a head-to-head win streak in San Antonio that extends back to the mid-1990s. In addition, here are the resulting scores when Popovich’s Spurs visited what’s purported to be Atlanta’s “home” floor, ever since Budenholzer flew the coop and took the reins here: 105-79 in January 2014, 114-95 in March 2015, 103-78 in December 2015. A victory today is paramount, for Atlanta (17-16) to complete a 3-game homestand successfully. But short of that, the Hawks have to keep teams, whether it’s the Spurs or the Timberwolves, from leaving them in the dust. Tim Duncan has hung up his jersey for the final time, but Atlanta may catch an additional break if San Antonio’s leading scorer is unable to go. Hey, Kawhi Leonard? To kick off 2017, how about a greasy pork sandwich, served in a dirty ashtray? Leonard has struggled with a stomach bug and digestion over the past few days, missing his first pair of games this season. Having the two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year (2.0 SPG), 2016 MVP runner-up, and San Antonio’s top offensive threat (40.1 3FG%; career-highs of 9.9 FTs/game & 92.2 FT%) taking another couple of days off would theoretically (these are the Hawks we’re talking about here) be beneficial to Atlanta today. Despite The Claw’s defensive prowess, Leonard is needed on the floor more than ever to keep the Spurs balanced offensively. Staying clear of foul trouble (1.5 personals per game, lowest since his rookie year) is perhaps the reason his shot blocking activity has declined (0.5 BPG, down from 1.0 last season). If he starts today, Atlanta will rely on Thabo Sefolosha and Kent Bazemore to shoo him off the 3-point line and settle for interior shots (career-low 49.9 2FG%). Dennis Schröder needs to get his wings post touches that force Leonard to defend the ball up high. Jonathan Simmons stepped up in Aldridge’s absence, the swingman putting up 19 points (most since his season-opener) to help the Spurs come back from a first-half deficit to beat the visiting Trail Blazers on Friday. A former ABL standout and D-League tryout, Simmons is highlight-reel-caliber, but has struggled enough with consistency and focus to keep Coach Pop suppressing his playing time. Kyle Anderson stepped into the starting lineup in Kawhi’s place, leading all starters with 8 boards against Portland. Leonard’s illness has also forced the issue on power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, the five-time All-Star who has been hesitant to take over games. Facing his former team for the second time in 8 days last Friday, despite Kawhi being inactive, LMA took just 3 field goal attempts, finishing with 8 points (the Spurs still beat Portland by 18). Despite the 2015 free agent prize’s deferential nature, Aldridge did step things up in the prior three games (26.0 PPG, 10.3 RPG, 64.0 FG%). Aldridge’s team is eager to get him more mid-range looks. Given that they’re shooting fewer and fewer three-pointers each season (26.7 percent of FG attempts from 3-point range, 28th in NBA; NBA-high 41.0 3FG%), the Spurs are using Aldridge and newcomer vets Pau Gasol and David Lee to diversify the offense. Despite Duncan’s departure, the Spurs also keeping the tempo low (26th in pace) to accommodate their big men. To speed things up, the Hawks have to keep the pressure on Tony Parker (5 assists, no TOs vs. POR on Dec. 30) at both ends, and force someone else on the floor to make quick decisions with the ball. Dwight Howard (13.4 RPG, 2nd in NBA; 78.3 FG% last 8 games) and Paul Millsap have to outrun the Spurs’ bigs and be in position to score when Schröder and the Hawks’ ballhandlers are setting up plays. Kyle Korver (22 points, 3-for-8 3FGs vs. DET on Friday; 6-for-13 3FGs past two games) will be blanketed by Danny Green, but the more that Schröder and the Hawks’ wings can produce while Korver is away from the ball, the more likely Spurs’ defenders will draw help from Green and grant Kyle the cracks of daylight he’ll need to produce from the perimeter. Matching San Antonio’s diverse attack will keep the Hawks competitive for 48 minutes, something we haven’t seen against the Spurs in awhile. Happy New Year! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record