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  1. “Do you know who you’re passing to? Do you like the things that I am coaching you? Where are you throwing to? Do you know?” Everybody and their mother trying to get out of the Big XII Conference is trendy now. But consider Trae Young, a small-t trail, small-b blazer in that one department. This guy spurned blue-blood Kansas to stay close to home, spending his freshman year in 2017-18 under the watch of Lon Kruger, who had recently helped propel Kansan prep-schooler Buddy Hield into the upper echelon of the NBA Lottery. The Sooners were not known to be an NBA blue chip factory; prior to Hield in 2016, the last lottery pick was Blake Griffin in 2009, and you’d have to roll the clock back to 1989 to find the prior one in Stacey King (also a sixth-pick; Mookie went post-Lotto 12th). But Trae was undeterred, staying True to Norman, the college town just south of his heroes playing for the Thunder in Oklahoma City. His reward was getting to become the face of a team whose next-best player was a James… Christian James, currently with a team in a second-tier professional Italian league. Young was left to carry this team, and carry he did, becoming a network TV sensation while leading the nation in points and assists per game. OU surged up as high as #4 in the NCAA D-1 rankings, with wins over USC, then at #3 Wichita State, at tenth-ranked TCU, and versus his dad’s alma mater of Texas Tech to go 14-2. Then the Big XII scouting reports were full – get the ball out of Trae’s hands, and then make some of these other OU players beat them. Sooner than later, the faltering started, and Young shouldered the blame. Because who else are critics going to waste time criticizing? I mean, Brady Manek? Kameron McGusty? Who are these guys? Does even Trae know? Going 2-12 the rest of the way, hurtling out of the polls, the Sooners were bounced by their in-state rivals -- Lindy Waters III and the Oklahoma State Sooners – in the opening round of the Big XII tournament. Charitably deemed a 10-seed, OU fell in the “first round” of the NCAA tourney, too, to Jeff Dowtin (how do you not name the kid Thomas?) and the Rhodey Rams. Trae was a hero, and the stats backed him up. But he couldn’t save everyone, and that was held to his detriment at Draft scouting time. What the reality was – and somewhat is, as Young prepares to face rookie Waters and his new team, the OKC Thunder (8 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, BS Oklahoma) – was that Trae was NBA-competition ready, and even NCAA Tournament ready, but the players he relies on nightly to help sustain prominence are not-so-much. I bring up the examples of McGusty and Manek because, in 2022, each had a starring role for their college teams, after transferring out of Kruger’s OU and finishing up elsewhere. McGusty’s Miami Hurricanes made it to the Elite Eight. Manek’s UNC Tar Heels will be playing the game of their lives against Coach K in the Final Four on Saturday. But McGusty, then a sophomore, and Manek, a touted in-state freshman, weren’t up to snuff in 2018, when a one-and-done Young was ready to shine. James was All-Big XII in 2019, but his accuracy declined from 55.9 eFG% (w/ Trae the prior year) to 43.5. Manek’s, from 57.7 to 55.7, declined every season before leaving the retiring Kruger and finding his way to Chapel Hill this season. McGusty, who transferred to Coral Gables upon Trae’s departure, never reached 50.2 eFG% again until this, his senior season where he led the ACC in points scored. It would have been convenient to have had peak McGusty and peak Manek at the time of Trae’s wondrous college season. Better success on the scoreboards for OU could have forced Atlanta’s hand to trade up, not down, if they wanted a shot at Young. But often, those developmental levels don’t align. For now, we as fans of the Hawks (38-37) have to hope that the peaks of John Collins, De’Andre Hunter, Kevin Huerter and Onyeka Okongwu coincide with Trae’s All-NBA-worthy tenure in Atlanta – and, that we haven’t already seen these NBA career zeniths. There’s not much more to share ahead of today’s game, as Jalen Johnson (out, concussion protocols) joins the power forward heap on the injury report. Danilo Gallinari (out, elbow contusion) remains sidelined while there isn’t much news on the timeline for Collins (foot strain, finger sprain). Hawks coach Nate McMillan was able to lean on Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot for forward minutes in Monday’s 132-123 win at Indiana, and he may need to do so even more if Hunter (questionable, sore knee) is again a late scratch. Tomorrow’s rescheduled game back home against Cleveland will necessitate deeper lineups for Coach Nate, so Gorgui Dieng will likely see more of the floor alongside either of Onyeka Okongwu or Clint Capela. The Thunder (22-53) still intend to close out the season with a bang, even as it takes one key player after another and puts them in rice. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (ankle) joins Darius Bazley (knee), Josh Giddey (hip), and Ty Jerome (hip) on the out-for-the-season list. Old fogies like Mike Muscala and Derrick Favors have long been shut down, while timetables for Kenrich Williams (knee, out since February) and Lugie Dort (shoulder, same) don’t exist. That leaves a lot of upstarts for Mark Daigneault to play heavy minutes, including Waters, Theo Maledon Vit Krejci and Isaiah Roby. The quartet hit four triples each as the Thunder came back late to beat the subsiding big-T Trail big-B Blazers in Portland on Monday night, 134-131 in OT. Roby (30 points @ POR) and Aaron Wiggins (28 points) each achieved career highs, joining forces with Maledon (team-high 10 D-Rebs) and Aleksej Pokusevski (11 assists, 8 rebounds, 6 TOs) to keep up with the Blazers on the boards. OKC shot 44.4 percent on threes Monday in Portland. If the Hawks elect to play at the level of their competition for 48 minutes, they might find themselves scrambling to keep up with an outfit with nothing to lose that shoots even sharper than Indiana (47.2 team 3FG% vs. ATL on Monday). As was the case down the road in Norman years ago, Young’s current team seems to be leveling off, at best, just as he is ascending, although his brilliance may be enough to lead another upset or two at postseason time. It simply comes down to not having enough teammates peaking at the right time, no matter how eager you are the be the winning, show-stopping star – isn’t that right, Shai? Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  2. “So, shall we Shag now, or shall we Shag later?” Out went the team that has allowed the most points per game in the East. In comes the team that scores the fewest points in the West. Who is the one that will frustrate us the best? The homestand keeps rolling along for our Atlanta Hawks, with Mike Muscala’s Oklahoma City Thunder (7:30 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, BS OK) here today to follow up Saturday night’s act by the Charlotte Hornets at State Farm Arena. The Hawks made quite the nail-biter out of their contest against the weary visitors from Carolina, in part, by letting the Hornets collect a whopping 21 offensive caroms. They now face an OKC team that, nominally, leads the NBA with 48.4 RPG. Fortunately, coach Mark Daigneault has been placing emphasis on the defensive backboards (NBA-high 37.8 D-Rebs), not as much on the end where OKC (NBA-worst 50.5 TS%) is woefully inefficient. Still, he’s got various and sundry Thunder crashing the glass at all times. The undrafted Kenrich Williams, rookie second-rounder Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, and 2019 second-rounder Isaiah Roby came off the bench and snatched nine offensive rebounds away like candy from Al Horford and the Celtics on Saturday night, part of OKC’s square-shaped three-game road excursion that concludes with a trip home tonight. Nine of the Thunder’s 15 O-Rebs, leading to 12 second-chance points, came in the fourth quarter, beginning shortly after a Jayson Tatum triple widened the C’s lead to 20 points. Al’s layup with 63 seconds remaining, putting Boston back up by twelve, was supposed to close the proceedings. But sloppiness and a loss of focus ensued from the scrubs on the home side. A Darius Bazley putback of a missed Shai Gilgeous-Alexander free throw, a pair of ballhandling Celtic turnovers, then a three-pointer by Lugie Dort following a rebound of Kenrich’s missed three, narrowed Boston’s edge to four, pressing Ime Udoka to begrudgingly shove his starters back in to save the game with ten seconds to go. Despite bowing out with a 111-105 defeat on Saturday, scrappiness keeps Daigneault’s poor-shooting, low-scoring Thunder in ballgames, as it did one evening before in a 96-89 loss at Milwaukee. The world champion Bucks saw its comfy 20-point third-quarter lead evaporate, down to two, in the space of just nine basketball minutes. A 91-89 rockfight on Friday, with just under 30 seconds to go, ended mercifully with a 15-foot sling from Milwaukee’s goliath, Giannis, and some missed heaves by Gilgeous-Alexander. Nonetheless, for last weekend’s home teams, the later-game outcomes versus the Sooner State visitors seemed painfully unnecessary. Boston’s and Milwaukee’s recent game tapes ought to feel familiar to Nate McMillan, who sits tied at 696 NBA coaching wins for 19th all-time with former Milwaukee and St. Louis Hawks coach, and Knicks coaching legend, Red Holzman. Nate, who also recently passed Red for 20th all-time in regular-season games coached, doesn’t have John MacLeod on his personal radar. But once he scooches past McLeod with 12 more victories, McMillan will have 18th-place in NBA wins all to himself for a while. Get your weight up, Spoelstra! McMillan watched with dismay on Saturday as Eastern Conference Player of the Week finalist Clint Capela (81.5 FG%, 14.3 RPG, 1.7 BPG and 1.3 SPG in last 3 games) routinely left his man to help flail at a loose Hornet. The problem wasn’t Clint, but his teammates, who individually failed to properly rotate, box out, and grab Charlotte’s misses with intention. They looked a lot like Atlanta United standing around the net in NYC yesterday, leaving goalkeeper Brad Guzan out to dry. At least those defenders aren’t allowed to use their hands to retain possessions. Tonight, McMillan’s Hawks get to vie for 50/50 balls with the springy young legs of Bazley (team-highs of 6.0 D-Rebs/game and 1.1 BPG), lotto rook Josh Giddey (team-highs of 7.3 RPG and 5.6 APG), sophomore Aleksej Pokusevski, and SGA (questionable for today, sprained ankle; team-high 20.4 PPG plus 5.1 RPG). They also get to wrangle with the Thunder vet who is the team’s most efficient player by most metrics, and it’s not South Atlanta/Georgia Tech legend Derrick Favors. Leading the charge in per-minute D-Rebs for OKC, the longtime former Hawk Muscala (team-best 22.3 points per-36) also comes off the bench as the only Thunder contributor who hits threes with some level of proficiency (46.7 3FG%, 4th in NBA, on nearly four attempts in under 15 minutes per game). Of the ten other Thunder players getting up a pair of three-point shots per game, only Robinson-Earl (36.2 3FG%) has been hitting above a 32-percent clip. The Thunder are a quintessential R-and-3 team, where everyone is expected to run at the rim for rebounds and everyone, excepting maybe Favors, is expected by Daigneault to hoist threes at the hoop, all without regard to skill level. With all due respect to SGA, Giddey and Dort, no one better personifies the Thunder than The Moose, once he gets loose, when they’re playing at their best. Muskie got the next night off in Boston after snagging a season-best nine D-Rebs and sinking a season-high 4 threes on six attempts versus the Bucks. He is playing like a 30-year-old career bench guy who knows his contract will soon expire and is at the end of his ro… I’m sorry, what’s this? I’m hearing that this isn’t Money Mike’s contract year? That he was brought back to OKC, on a two-year deal (club option for another $3.5 million next season) by pick-hoarding boss-man Sam Presti this past August? It is true that Muscala was enjoying the best statistical season of his career with the Thunder last year, arguably better than his final go-round with the 24-58 Hawks in 2017-18. But once he got shelved alongside Horford in mid-March, with a purportedly sprained ankle, the sun looked to be setting quickly on his eight-years-long tenure in The Association. Perhaps it would soon come time for “Mike Jawz” to rekindle his fledgling rap career. Make the music with your mouth, Mike! Things looked to be careening toward a future in beat-boxing in the summer of 2019, when the Minnesota native and free agent was shocked to find Presti rapping at his door, Masai-to-DeMarre-style, with a contract offer in his other hand. While more attention was paid to this past offseason’s pickup of Favors, a renewed contact for Muscala, two weeks Derrick’s senior, was under most everyone’s radar. Including that of Mike, who teared up at what looked like maybe his final NBA exit interview last May. Suffice to say, Sam’s a big fan. While the 2021 tank was certainly integral to Presti’s far-sighted plans, it was notable that OKC was a nifty 17-22, mere games behind Memphis in the rambunctious NBA West, then went on a 5-28 plummet the rest of the way after he put Muskie, Horf, and most importantly SGA (plantar fascia tear) in rice. Yes, the Thunder (6-10) have dropped four of their past five. But they have won five of the past seven games when Muscala has played. He’ll have at least one Atlanta Hawks fan, after tonight’s final buzzer, rooting him on to many more Thunder victories in the months to come. Longtime viewers of these long-winded threads (this keyboard’s catching a reprieve over the Turkey Break) already know that I don’t stop weighing the Trae-Luka draft-day deal with the subsequent inclusion of Cam Reddish. Floor general Trae Young’s arrival to Atlanta, in 2018, meant it was time to help pack Dennis Schröder’s bags, too. In a three-team deal, the German kid known as the Menace, and some French kid nicknamed TLC, headed to OKC. Moose went to Philly, while Carmelo got a nice lunch here at Mary Mac’s Tea Room. More importantly, the Hawks seemed to have a 2022 lotto-protected first-rounder coming its way. That extra pick looked juicy to Hawks fans back then. That was until Presti put the squeeze to the competitive veteran talent on his roster, figuring out a downright pyramidical scheme of obtaining draft picks to help desperate teams dump vets, then getting more picks to help desperate teams acquire them. Because 6-10 at this stage of the season is a resounding overachievement, one of the only possible first-rounders OKC has going out, not coming in, could conceivably be back in play for Atlanta. This pick bifurcates into 2024 and 2025 second-rounders if – somehow, not already when --it makes it to the next NBA Lottery. As the Western Conference looks more and more like the NFL’s AFC, the Thunder currently sit one full game behind Minnesota for the final prospective Play-In spot. As for the teams below them, the Kings are a royal pain, the Spurs are simply going through the motions, the Pels are up a crick without a chicken drumstick, and the Rockets, bless their hearts, have no idea what’s going on. One more team out West gets caught slipping – looking at you, Minnesota – and Atlanta fans could be throwing back popcorn at Play-In time. The T’Wolves remember moonwalking into a rare playoff spot, in 2018, thereby gifting Atlanta with the chance to draft Kevin Huerter in the small-p process. The dealing away of Dennis and Mike just days after that draft may reward the Hawks as Adreian Payne had done once before. Only this time around, Mike may have a personal say in that transaction transpiring. Now I’m not suggesting actually keeping the theoretical pick. I don’t know Duke University’s Paolo Banchero from Buford Highway’s Pollo Campero, and I’m not trying to start bathing in the waters of Lake Tankathon anytime soon. But there is a “lock” next to Oklahoma City’s line on that site, one that looks like it could be “picked” with just a little more work on their end. What I do find tantalizing is the maximization of near-term draft capital for the Hawks’ front office, ahead of 2022’s Trade Deadline. Atlanta could package one of both of its picks with a veteran to upgrade its roster in preparation for the, well, let me not jinx our own chances at the P-word by saying it aloud, not with our streaky Hawks (8-9) a full game behind momentary 8-seed contenders Cleveland, New York and Boston. The less the conveyance from OKC looks like a mirage, the better Travis Schlenk and company’s pre-Deadline negotiating positions to upgrade the roster for a certain kind of run. Jalen, Onyeka, Sharife and Skylar continue to toil in hopes of future rotational minutes. And as De’Andre works to get back up to speed, the last thing the Hawks need, going forward, is a future mid-to-high-level draft-pick for some long-range prospect, least of all their own selection. Continuing to avert the risk of that future tonight, Atlanta needs to be superior in execution in all avenues, from guarding OKC’s perimeter shooters and closing out without committing bailout fouls, to winning the turnover battles, avoiding the roving Dort on inbound plays, moving the ball without overdribbling and making open shots, to most importantly keeping the Thunder hopelessly one-and-done on offensive sets. As long as Atlanta takes care of fundamental business, it won’t matter what OKC’s star ballhandler does. “He’s like Trae, only… taller! Bigger! More versatile! A better defender!” I, along with many others, fell for the “Like Trae, but better,” hype surrounding the pro-tential of Gilgeous-Alexander, who would be the Hornets’ main-stager right now, had the #11 pick not been swapped down for the Clippers’ next pick, Miles Bridges, on 2018’s Draft Day (not a lot of Who Won The Trade talk around that one, eh?). Both Trae and Shai earned their big-bag extensions this summer. Yet, as Trae displayed more recently, your ability to shine, as a young and playoff-inducing superstar, often comes down to the company you keep. Shai’s not, “like Trae,” and he’s not “better.” With his 6-foot-6 frame, SGA is naturally a better shooter than Trae from the field, and he ought to be better along the boards, as he is. But his shot-creation skills, from a team-leading guard standpoint, pale in comparison, even without veteran talents paired alongside him to siphon away the usage. With steelier defenders and a savant defense-oriented coach around him, a more dedicated and durable Young has been able to narrow the gap on that side of the floor. Reddish’s scoring binge in the past two games, and Capela’s 20-and-15 evening in the win over Charlotte, has them now comfortably joining three other active Hawks (discounting the injured De’Andre Hunter) in double-digit scoring this season. With a repeat of his 36 points over the past two games, Huerter could soon follow suit, granting Young and the Hawks the deep and balanced offense that had been touted, on paper, in the run up to this season. Stuck much like Luka in the West, Shai is largely left to chart his own path back into playoff-caliber territory. Very much unlike Luka, he's awaiting less experienced talents like Bazley, Poku, Tre Mann and Giddey to fill the gaps. Young spun straw from the outset with the Bazes and Bembries, but eventually benefitted from the healthy presences of Capela, ex-Clipper legend Lou Williams and ex-Thunder star Danilo Gallinari. SGA, who dipped his toe in playoff waters with Lou and Gallo’s Clips and Gallo’s Thunder during his first two trial-by-fire seasons, will need crafty vets around once more, in order to make his next scene-stealing postseason breakthrough. It was assumed in the short term that the essential veteran in tandem with Gilgeous-Alexander would be Favors, by default. But it is becoming more evident that Muscala, of all people, may be the keeper, perhaps even the player other GMs will pray Presti dangles for deals, once it’s time to talk turkey about picks and prospects as the Deadline approaches. It would be great, come March 30th with a handful of this season’s games remaining, for Atlanta to be in a position to “help” Moose and Shai with a playoff push in OKC. But that is far into the future, and the Hawks have more immediate concerns at hand as they look to sweep their homestand and sustain their newfound momentum. Having trae-ded places on their professional trajectories, Young and his aspiring Hawks have no time for regrets about stealing any of Shai’s Thunder. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  3. “ATLAAAAAANTA, GEORGIA! Where the wins come sweepin’ up from Plains!” How much farther out can our Atlanta Hawks build this springboard? The Hawks are in no position to look past Al Horford and the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder at State Farm Arena this evening (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Oklahoma). But a couple weeks ago, when the back-half schedule was finally revealed, many of us fans were staring at that long, arduous Western road trip, wondering just how bad the plunge was about to get. What we didn’t have at the time was a platform for success. Now, if the Hawks (20-20, matching last year’s win total) can extend their winning streak to seven in the final game before the road trip, they’ll be in a fine position to make quite a splash by the time the excursion ends. Perhaps, even doing more than just staying afloat. Most of us don’t fondly reflect upon the 2016-17 season of Coach Bud, Pawl, Dwight, Dennis, Timmy and Baze, but that was the last season the Hawks were at-or-above .500 forty games into a season. After some early season struggles, it took that team’s seven-game win streak, our franchise’s last, to get there (our favorite new quadragenarian, Kyle Korver, was traded to Cleveland midway through that run). That was also the first season the Hawks had to deal with the departure of our four-time All-Star, Al Horford, to Boston. As the Trade Deadline looms, Al is shaping himself up for any playoff contenders interested in picking up the final two-plus years of the four-year, $109 million deal he signed when he bailed Boston for Philly in 2019. The 34-year-old is scoring 14.4 PPG, the highest since his final season in Atlanta, with his shooting efficiency up a smidgen from his disastrous Sixers tenure. His current head coach would not find it easy to bid him adieu. “Al’s an unbelievable person and an unbelievable player,” praised the Thunder’s Mark Daigneault, after Horford game-winning dish to Lu Dort sealed a win over the Spurs last month. Horf was DNP’d in three of OKC’s subsequent four wins, including the 118-109 win over the Hawks two nights later. The Thunder (17-23) have a shot at snatching one of the final play-in spots, but team exec Sam Presti is committed to playing the long game, and some combo of low-first-rounders and veteran reserves may be enough to swing a deal over the next week. Horford is expected to play Atlanta for the first, and maybe last, time in a Thunder jersey today. Meeting him in the paint, John Collins (20.3 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 1.4 BPG in last 8 games) is making it similarly difficult for the Hawks to consider parting ways prematurely. Stepping up as Atlanta works through some dinged-up frontline health issues (Clint Capela and Onyeka Okongwu remain listed as questionable), Collins registered double-digit rebounds in consecutive games for the first time since the Hawks-Hornets series in early January. One of his four blocks and several of his five offensive rebounds were critical on Tuesday to helping Atlanta avoid a deflating defeat in hurtling Houston. During this win streak, the Hawks (40.5 3FG% and 83.3 FT% in March, tops in the NBA East), and Trae Young, in particular, have been able to turn to an array of hot-n-ready shooters coming through. Danilo Gallinari, Tony Snell and Kevin Huerter combined to nail 13-of-23 threes in the win over the Rockets, allowing Young (13 points, 14 assists vs. HOU) to be the lowest scorer among Atlanta’s starters. Young’s scoring ebb likely won’t last much longer, especially if Dort (contract-guaranteed for two more seasons this week; 4-for-9 3FGs vs. ATL on Feb. 26; questionable due to a sprained toe) and rookie Theo Maledon (season-high 12 assists vs. ATL; questionable, sprained thumb) aren’t available to haggle him tonight. But it is comforting to see, even against lower-level competition, Trae’s nightly contributions supplemented in winning fashion by a competent and balanced offense. The offense in recent games for the Thunder (17-23) has been typified by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (23.6 PPG, 41.3 3FG%) calling his own number and teammates, when not calling their own numbers, setting up Gilgeous-Alexander. OKC isn’t among the best at moving the ball, even with Horford around, and when SGA lacks primarily ballhandler help (George Hill has been out for months, too), things can get stilted (league-worst 1.23 team assist/TO ratio this month) when he isn’t setting teammates up, either. SGA seeks to bounce back from objectively his worst performance on the season, committing 8 turnovers, getting just one free throw, assist, and rebound apiece, and checking in at minus-36 as his Thunder were plundered 123-102 in Chicago on Tuesday (no, Kris Dunn wasn’t involved). All of that and his 21 points were spread out over just three quarters, as Daigneault set him aside with OKC down 102-79 entering the fourth. “Finding a balance between [SGA’s] own offense and helping the team function,” the Thunder coach noted after the Spurs win last month, is a high priority for the talented guard’s development, adding on that day, “He didn’t get seduced by the points on the board.” But for two-way center Moses Brown (20 points, 16 boards incl. 8 O-Rebs, 5 blocks), the Windy City washout could have been much worse. The emergence of Brown, in just his second NBA start, rookie Aleksej Pokusevski (23 points, 10 rebounds and 4 assists in Sunday’s home win vs. MEM), and Kenrich “Shag O’Neal” Williams (14.7 PPG, 70.4 FG% last 3 games, 3-for-3 on threes in past two games) makes the older heads in OKC’s frontcourt, including Horf and his former Hawk backup Mike Muscala (DNP’d in 3 of past 4 games), all the more expendable. Trevor “Who He Play For?” Ariza was just Iguodala’d to Miami on Wednesday, OKC using some of the TPE from Gallo’s sign-and-trade. And Hamidou Diallo was sent to Motown this week, for a swing at Svi Mykhailiuk. Perhaps inspired by Moses, Presti would like to let even more of his people go in the coming days. Creating another TPE with Ariza’s salary could facilitate more deals. The Gallinari-Snell-Huerter trio combined to shoot 3-for-14 from downtown when the Hawks fell in OKC last month (Kevin matching Trae’s 3-for-9 on 3FGs), and 7-for-28 from the field for the game. They weren’t the only drags on Atlanta’s offense. But their newfound familiarity with where and how to attack, inside and out, is creating a diverse synergy (118.0 O-Rating, 3rd in NBA East; +10.3 Net Rating in March, 3rd in NBA) that makes it harder for opposing defenses to simply drill down on Young. If Bogi Bogdanovic (8-for-17 FGs in past two games) joins the party, too... watch out! The Hawks’ diving platform was looking more like a short plank a couple weeks ago, with the treacherous Western waters awaiting below. The Rockets game initiated a run of 13 straight opponents from the NBA’s superior conference, including three home games when Atlanta returns next month. But consider, as the squad prepares to kickstart its tour at STAPLES Center, that the Hawks won’t have the most important unavailable player, between the two teams, when they face off with Anthony Davis’ Lakers. Also, while it sure helps to have Luka tearing teams apart by his lonesome, Trae’s forthcoming faceoff with the Clippers seems much less imposing after last night. By continuing to take care of business tonight and extending the springboard, the Hawks can build the kind of momentum that won’t have them feeling all wet by the time the road trip ends. Cannonball! We could poo-poo Atlanta’s winning ways by focusing on the lessened strength-of-competition. But in bowling, if you’re given ten frames where you’re left to knock down the 1-pin on the second roll, rolling a gutter ball over and over will have you down in the dumps. That was the story permeating through the opening months of the Hawks’ season, a chapter they need not turn back to anytime soon. Alternatively, picking up all the spares, and allowing yourself a chance to closeout with some winning strikes, will have you going from “What on Earth Am I Doing?”, to “WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? I AM!”. (Enjoy retirement, Pete Weber!) Stop AAPI Hate! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  4. “Alright, who leaked out that our coach voted for Horford and Scary Terry?” The NBA Blender is funny. Isaiah Thomas had long imagined that he, and a former Atlanta Hawks star, would play as a professional pair in a critical tournament game. As the self-made, former Boston Celtics star sipped on a socially-distanced margarita in San Juan last week, there’s no way he could have imagined, five years ago, that his ex-Hawk co-star would be Joe Johnson. It was at the All-Star midseason classic, in 2016, when I.T. whispered sweet nothings into Al Horford’s ear. Join me in Boston in the upcoming summer, Thomas confided in the All-Star center’s ear, and we can build a championship squad around us! Jeff Teague isn’t helping you reach the mountaintop. Neither is Jeff’s backup, Dennis Schröder. But, says Thomas, I’m the tank engine you need to get where you want to go. You. Me. Maybe, KD… Banner #18! “I wrapped him up,” Isaiah boasted of Horford’s free agent deal, confirming he broke the ice during the preceding All-Star break about prying free the four-time All-Star and aligning him on Team Green. “I knew he was coming to Boston, for sure.” “Man the things he was doing to us in the Playoffs,” Thomas told Bleacher Report in the offseason after being ousted by the upstart Schröder and the Hawks, while conveying the age-old sentiment that if you can’t beat them, get them to join you. “I’m looking forward to him doing that for us.” Word to Tito! A half-decade later, Thomas is representing Team USA. But not in Tokyo. No, he was in Puerto Rico last week with Joe Jeezus and Hawks one-timers Jordan Sibert and James Nunnally, aiding the Americans in locking down a qualifying spot in next year’s FIBA AmeriCup. Joe and Isaiah combined for 20 points, nine rebounds and three assists to keep Gustavo Ayon’s Mexico squad at bay in the finale and help USA finish at 6-0 in group play. The Dominican Republic, fortunately, didn’t need Horford’s help to go 4-1 and qualify for AmeriCup, too. Unlike Isaiah, Al is busy in the NBA, but not on the Celtics team he joined when he abandoned Atlanta for a four-year, $113 million deal. He declined the final year of that deal, and surprised Boston by signing with a division rival in 2019. But he’s not there, either. Instead, Alfredo is employed in the state that brought you Trae Young. Thomas, meanwhile, gets to watch his replacement with the Celtics (no, not you, Jeff) pairing up in the NBA East with the star of 2012 classic movie “Thunderstruck”, Kevin Durant, only on yet another Atlantic Division team. I.T. was showing out in the Caribbean in hopes an NBA club paying attention will toss him a raft ahead of the playoffs. In the meantime, he and the ex-Hawks are helping USA lock down a reservation for Olympics 2024 so that folks like Trae won’t have to do so years from now. Thanks for your service, Isaiah. Tonight, Young returns to his schoolboy state to face Horford, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the Oklahoma City Thunder (8 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Oklahoma), a club that has been very, very good to Hawks past and present. Dennis made a name for himself playing with Russell Westbrook and Paul George and, later, Chris Paul, before being sought out and acquired by LeBrongeles. Now, it’s Al’s turn to use his play and veteran leadership as a springboard for a timely trade back into championship contention. So far, so good! Late in Wednesday’s back-and-forth with the visiting Spurs, Lu Dort found himself in a shootout with Patty Mills. Normally, for a fellow known more for his defensive skills than his sharp-shooting, a second-year pro that was shooting 31.7 3FG%, it’s Advantage, The Other Guy. But San Antonio was hounding Gilgeous-Alexander (11 1st-quarter and 21 3rd-quarter points, career-high 42 points vs. SAS) defensively, daring somebody else to beat them. And Horford kept right on feeding Dort, who, I can only presume, Al thinks has a surname pronounced “Dart.” Lu lived up to Al’s trust (or, misperception) by bulls-eyeing all of his final three treys in the closing four minutes of action. Horford, who also splashed a fourth-quarter three and one of his mid-rangers to keep OKC in the running, assisted on two of Dort’s three-pointers, the final one off a kickout with under three seconds left to play to avoid overtime and secure the 102-99 victory. For rookie coach Mark Daigneault and the Thunder (13-19), they avoided losing their fifth in six games. Their prior victory was a resounding win in Cleveland this past Sunday, but let’s not mention the Cavs again, shall we? While they’ve gone 5-10 since going 8-9 to start the season, OKC showed no love while beating Giannis and Milwaukee on Valentine’s Day here at Chesapeake Energy Arena. They accomplished the win without the services of SGA (career-highs of 23.5 PPG, 6.4 APG, 55.8 2FG%, 41.9 3FG%), who has since returned nicely after missing time with a sprained knee. Nikola Jokic and Denver arrives in Okietown tomorrow. Seeing how well a certain team fared without Andre Drummond in the middle recently, Daigneault is saving Horford (out, rest) for Saturday. A former Hawk and Horford backup, Mike Muscala, is now the most experienced Thunder player active tonight, with Trevor Ariza (personal leave, out indefinitely) and George Hill (thumb surgery) unavailable. Also missing honey-dip dunker Hamidou Diallo (sore groin), Daigneault will throw Dort, SGA, Dariuses Bazley and Miller, rookie Theo Maledon, and whatever’s left in the kitchen sink to encourage Young to give up the ball and not get in back during Atlanta’s possessions. The pride of Norman North High had a rough outing in his last trip to this NBA floor, in January of last year. Despite 26 points, 16 assists and just one turnover by Trae, and solid production from John Collins and Cam Reddish (questionable for today, sore Achilles), discombobulated defense and a lack of creative offense made things easier on CP3 (18 points), Dennis (21 bench points) and SGA (24 points) to win the day over coach Lloyd Pierce’s visitors, 140-111. None of those guys, one must note, were the leading scorer for OKC on that wintry day. Young will greatly welcome Danilo Gallinari (OKC-high 25 points, 4-for-6 3FGs vs. ATL in January 2020) averaging a team-record ten threes per game for the Hawks going forward, but hopefully that record-smashing production (38 points vs. BOS, most for Gallo since he was a Nugget in 2015) won’t be necessary to win on most nights. Inspired perhaps by Horford’s lead, plundering the Thunder tonight will require inside-oriented ball movement by Atlanta (14-18). The Hawks are 5-12 when Collins produces just one assist or fewer, and they’re 4-1 when Clint Capela cranks out two dimes or more. Swift decisions to either post-up or kick-out and crash the glass can grind the Thunder’s interior defense (17.6 opponent points per-48, 24th in NBA with Horford) into submission. On what is now (no longer “that other team from Ohio”) the league’s least efficient offense (NBA-lows of 104.6 O-Rating and 21.6 O-Reb%), Al’s absence should allow the Hawks’ frontline to shine at both ends while pressuring Isaiah Roby and Muscala into foul trouble. Even Gallo (career-low 39.1 2FG%) can get into the act with his height advantages, throwing the Thunder’s defensive game plan off-balance. Countering OKC’s defensive pressure on the point-of-attack will also require Tony! Toni! Toné! Snell (4-for-6 3FGs, helping the Hawks make a team-record 23 triples in the 127-112 win over Boston) to do it again. It feels good, too, if Kevin Huerter and Reddish, if available, can connect on what should be a bunch of open perimeter looks, and if Young can move off-ball to keep eyes on him. Horford, averaging his highest scoring average (14.6 PPG) since biding adieu to The ATL, has been putting on a good face, and the PR machine to max up his veteran value is running at full bore. “Philosophically, he just believes in team basketball, and he’s walked that walk for a long time,” Daigneault told The Oklahoman, who grants his big man a career-high 5.6 3FGAs per game (only Dort, the Thunder’s version of Marcus Smart, shoots more) in return for making his own job so much easier. “He’s just a flat-out winner.” But the anxiety is rising for Horford, who faces more than just sitting out the postseason for the first time since tearing pec #2 with the Hawks in 2013-14. He’s locked into his current contract, owed as much as $81 million over this and the next two seasons (2022-23 is non-guaranteed, but team exec Sam Presti might see that as reason to keep him around). Horf sees Nate McMillan, “Mister Sonic” who went on to coach Seattle, and Pierce’s top assistant must bring to mind a former Sonics rookie of McMillan’s, Nick Collison, who moved to the Sooner State with the franchise and never left until it was time to retire. Al wants no part of that fate. With the trade deadline mere weeks away, and OKC not in the running as a postseason threat anytime soon, Horford has no intention of becoming, “Mr. Thunder, Jr.” With GMs putting third-tier players on the waiver wire in hopes of making cap room for incoming veterans, Horford, and his exiled buddy Thomas, want to be among contenders’ final ingredients. They’ll need guys like Presti who are willing to press “Purée” on the presto-change-o machine. Relax, Al! Here, come sit by your old friend Moose. Do you like piña coladas? Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  5. Woj says, watch this space! ~lw3
  6. Dwight's a UFA, but there's still a shot at a "Double-D" reunion! ~lw3
  7. "I'm Sorry, Baze. But, like Triple H says, it’s What’s Best for Business!" Okay, Minnesota, listen here. Let us help you, help us, help you. Our Atlanta Hawks are not making the NBA playoffs for the first time since “This Is Why I’m Hot” and “Buy U A Drank” were bangin’ on the airwaves. But that’s nowhere near a BFD as your Timberwolves being on the fringe of being a playoff participant for the first time since Usher, Lil Jon and Luda were screaming “Yeah!”. Snoop wasn’t even Dropping It Like It’s Hot yet. Heck, your boy Prince and the New Power Generation had just released Musicology, and still had FIVE top-10 albums yet to work on. So most folks think you, Minnesota, are pulling for the Hawks (what’s left of them, anyway) to do their letter-best to trip up the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Oklahoma). Beating your Northwest Division rival and low-seed competitor, one night after they nearly blew it at home against Sacramento, would seem to make it easier for you to make the Western Conference cut. But we know better. That’s because we know our Hawks aren’t the only club whose receipt of a Top-14-protected pick hangs in the balance over the coming weeks. Everyone knows we have your first-rounder, postseason-pending, from abandoning ship on The Adreian Payne Project back in 2015. But few realize you’ve been holding onto OKC’s pick, pried free from Utah (2015’s Enes Kanter trade), ever since giving up on The Ricky Rubio Experiment. Both picks melt into a pair of future second rounders if they’re not used in this or the next two seasons. That’s not so much a BFD in your case, as your starting lineup is a virtual First Round Pick Museum already. But there’s no telling if you’ll get a better deal out of OKC’s pick in the coming seasons, so long as Russell Westbrook (25.2 PPG, 10.1 APG) and Friends stick around the plains. Further, your own pick could be very valuable for us here in the ATL, as it’s standing probably won’t get much better in future years. Besides, all Hades will break loose if we’re all still sitting here two years from now with your conditional pick somehow still in play. So, Minnesota, here’s what we can do for each other. Until you clinch, T’wolves, you continue to take advantage of the breaks you’ve been given. Much like when you outlasted Golden State without Curry this past weekend, you can prevail in D.C. tonight without John Wall around. The Spurs may not have Kawhi back at 100% on Saturday against your well-rested squad. Sure, you’ve got a tough opponent schedule ahead of you. But there’s no need to wait two weeks from now, when our Hawks pay a visit to the Target Center, for you to notch your next victory. Meanwhile, here in Atlanta (20-47), we’ll do our part to make sure your division rival, the Thunder (40-29, just 2.0 games in front of 9-seed Denver and **rubs eyes** 10-seed San Antonio), don’t get to add a lottery pick to their currently star-studded stable. Otherwise, OKC’s ability to add a young star prospect on a rookie-scale deal might be enough to entice Paul George (career-high 41.0 3FG% and 2.0 APG) and Carmelo Anthony (35 points behind Reggie Miller for 19th all-time; 7-for-14 FGs vs. SAC on Monday, 1st time above 50 FG% in 20 games) to play this thing out in the Sooner State. Tonight, we vow not to sit around and just let Westbrook (7-for-34 3FGs post-All-Star Break) ply his wares from the perimeter, since that seems to work against the Thunder’s better interests on most nights. Trying to out-shoot the Hawks from downtown hasn’t been that hard of a task, as the Thunder (52.0 3FG%) demonstrated the last time these teams faced off, and as the Bulls (45.9 3FG%; 77 combined 3FGAs) were all too happy to do over the weekend here at Philips Arena. But Russ jacking threes (5.5 3FGAs in OKC losses, 3.4 in wins) takes him off the free throw line (6.7 FTAs in losses, an even-more Russ-diculous 7.2 in wins). He hasn’t been MVP-caliber at the charity stripe this season (career-low 73.4 FT%, down from career-high 84.5 FT%), which might be part of the reason he’s settling for shots outside the paint so frequently. Because many of those jumpshots come in isolation (4.4 iso FGAs per game, 4th in NBA; 0.85 points per possession, lowest among top 9 NBA iso-shooters), the copious treys tend to stifle the ball movement by Russ, individually (102.2 O-Rating and -10.1 Net Rating in losses, 115.1 & +16.8 in wins), and the Thunder as a team. Hawks point guards Dennis Schröder (probable, sprained elbow) and Isaiah Taylor (probable, sprained ankle) will stay up on Westbrook and go over screens, compelling the Thunder guard to do what he does best, drive to the rim (NBA-high 18.9 drives per game; Dennis’ 16.2 ranks 4th in NBA), and set up his teammates for less-contested scoring chances (14.3 assist% off drives, second only to Chris Paul among players with 10+ drives/game; Dennis’ 9.1% ranks 27th) when the Atlanta defense contracts. The three leading scorers for the Hawks when last these teams met, on December 22, aren’t available. Marco Belinelli (27 points) and Ersan Ilyasova (22 points) are currently in the pregame line at either Pat’s or Geno’s, while Malcolm Delaney (20 points) remains out with a sprained ankle. With Atlanta Competitanking their way out of a 16-point second-half hole, it took a lucky triple from Westbrook with two seconds left to avoid overtime at The Peake and escape with a 120-117 win. You’re welcome, Minnesota. Oh, and the Hawks’ top assist-man from that game, Kent Bazemore, has exited stage left due to a bruised knee bone. That doesn’t mean Hawks’ whiteboard wizard Mike Budenholzer will make things simpler for OKC to overwhelm tonight. Or, more precisely, it doesn’t mean Thunder coach Billy Donovan will make it easy for ATL to underwhelm. We know how it works around here by now. Steven Adams (NBA-high 4.9 screen APG; questionable, bruised hip) comes down with a bout of australopithecus afarensis or somesuch. Westbrook slips and slides like he did last night, PG13 tweaks an ankle. Next thing you know, our poor Hawks have to pretend-contend with the likes of grizzled vets like Raymond Felton, Nick “yep, still here” Collison, and replacement starter Corey Brewer (15.0 PPG, 53.8 FG% in last 3 games/1st 3 starts w/ OKC). It would help the Thunder if Andre Roberson (out for season, torn patella) was available. But for as long as George is in the game, he’ll be tasked with keeping Taurean Prince (career-high 38 points, 7-for-13 3FGs, 9-for-10 FTs) from smelling himself once again, trying to force errors by getting him to put the ball on the floor and not in the air. Only the Thunder (NBA-high 15.9 opponent TOs, 16.8 deflections & 9.4 loose-ball recoveries) get foes to make more mistakes than our pesky Hawks (15.8 opponent TOs). The good news for you, Minnesota, is that while Atlanta gives up (17.7 opponent PPG off TOs) nearly as much as they get (NBA-high 18.4 PPG off TOs, tied w/ OKC) from turnovers, the Thunder are masters of turnover transition (NBA-low 14.2 PPG off TOs). The less George contributes, the less this factor matters. So we’ll try to keep him out of foul trouble (team-high 2.9 PFs/game, tied w/ Adams). Shorthanded as the Hawks may be, they’ll have their full frontcourt complement in tow, including Tyler Cavanaugh (probable, ankle sprain) and Money Mike Muscala (career-high 19 points vs. CHI; 8-for-11 3FGs in last two games) to back up Dewayne Dedmon and probable All-Rookie snub John Collins (15-for23 2FGs in last three games). Hopefully for OKC, Collison, Patrick Patterson and rookie Dakari Johnson will be needed only to relieve Adams (16 points and 11 boards vs. ATL on Dec. 22), not supplant him. For all the attention on you, Minnesota, Oklahoma City’s schedule is looking quite arduous as well. Houston, Toronto, Golden State and Boston are all on OKC’s docket among 11 consecutive games versus above-.500 clubs, a stretch that commences when the Thunder return home to deal with your fellow playoff-contending LA Clippers. They won’t get another gimme until their April 11 season finale, at home, versus the Grizzlies. The importance of making relatively easy wins relatively easy should not be lost on OKC. So, don’t worry about what we’re doing over here, Timberwolves. You take care of business on your end, and just help us help you achieve our mutual objectives. On that note: hey, Tom Thibodeau, this is no time to be out here tinkering with newcomers in your backcourt rotation. That task is for lottery-bound teams like our Hawks, not yours. You’re free to give D-Rose his obligatory 40 minutes per night… but only AFTER you clinch. Capisce? Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  8. “No, but seriously, Nick, I’ve been good this year!” Trying to cram games around the schedule for teams not included in the NBA’s traditional Christmas Day lineup is often a chore, but no lumps of coal await the Atlanta Hawks in their stockings. After burrowing through a quick jaunt to Oklahoma City tonight to face the Thunder (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Oklahoma), our Hawks will sneak in one last run back home, on Christmas Eve Eve versus the Mavericks, then enjoy up to three days of festive rest, their longest break since Black Friday weekend. The Thunder would love to focus on sleigh-ing Chris Paul, James Harden and the Houston Rockets, their visitors on 12/25. But first, they have Coach Bud’s Hawks, tonight at Chesapeake Energy Arena, then a rematch with Quin Snyder’s Jazz in SLC, tomorrow, to put up with before Monday’s primetime game on ABC. Oklahoma City (16-15, 11-4 at home) thumped visiting Utah on Wednesday to finally creep above .500 for the first time since Halloween. But they know a precarious fifth-place in the Western Conference is not where anyone expected them to be at this point in the season. There is no doubt that “What is wrong with the Thunder?” will be the theme for much of the Christmas Day NBA coverage. But all the predictable concern-stipation from basketball’s media-wonks will get amplified if OKC (8-3 this month) slips up in either of their preceding games. Around Squawkland, we’ve already rinsed out that whole “What’s wrong?” narrative, beginning with coach Billy Donovan’s need to contemplate seeking another line of work, continuing by gauging Carmelo Anthony’s interest in pursuing a high-scoring sixth-man role, and Russell Westbrook’s interest in relinquishing the ball earlier in the shot clock, and finally ending with consideration of 2018 free agent Paul George perhaps finding a new NBA jersey under his tree, no later than by the trading deadline. The reigning MVP deserves plenty of leeway to sort this whole thing out on the floor. But only Ben Simmons averages more touches per game (103.1) than Westbrook (96.0; Atlanta’s Dennis Schröder averages 91.3, 3rd-most in NBA). And no one holds the ball longer than Russ, 9.3 minutes per game accounting for more than a fourth of his average time on the court. That stifles the production of on-court threats like Anthony and George, who had grown quite accustomed to isolation play with the ball in their hand and plenty of time on the possession clock. Despite ranking fourth in the league for isolation possessions himself, Westbrook’s 0.89 points per iso possession (37.6 iso FG%, down from 38.8 FG% last season) is not only well below those of burlier playmakers like LeBron James (1.28) and Harden (1.09), but also Schröder (1.01, 44.4 iso FG%). Melo (6th-most iso possessions in NBA) isn’t faring much better (39.1 iso FG%), leading many to suggest they need to share the floor a lot less. George, 10th in iso possessions as a Pacer last season, has been the odd-man out in OKC (22nd in iso plays) and barely registers a blip (34.4 iso FG%) once he finally gets featured in the offense. Fortunately for the Thunder’s starting lineup, they have Steven Adams (NBA-high 16.4 O-Reb%) back after missing time with concussion symptoms and handling cleanup duties with aplomb. They also have Andre Roberson to limit run-outs by opponents at the other end. Roberson also works well in the halfcourt with Adams (32.4 defensive roll-man FG%) to stifle foes’ pick-and-roll plays. But Donovan has yet to find a second-string rotation that keeps opponents in check while his top scorers catch a breather. OKC’s most-utilized 5-Man lineup without any of The Big Three (Raymond Felton, rookie Terrance Ferguson, Jerami Grant, Josh Huestis, and struggling free agent Patrick Patterson) have tallied just 15 minutes on the floor together. For any scenario that unfolds for their stars and their coach in the future, tonight, the Thunder need to do something that other NBA clubs have had no problem doing in recent weeks, and that’s blow out the Hawks’ discombobulated bench (minus-6.1 points per-100 possessions this month, 7th-worst in NBA). Atlanta’s reserves have displayed a propensity for blowing early leads of varying sizes. Offensive-oriented scorers have struggled to shoo anyone off the three-point line, or to keep opponents from tipping-in second-chance points. Defensive-minded players like DeAndre’ Bembry get sloppy when they’re – okay, he’s – expected to handle the ball. Then, bearing many of the same problems, the starters struggle to re-establish the squandered momentum upon their return. The holes dug by the Hawk reserves would be much steeper if not for the energies exerted by new-jack jumping jack John Collins (18 points on 6-for-7 FGs, 9 boards, but 4 TOs vs. IND on Wednesday). Despite going 1-5 in recent games, Atlanta has held leads well past the mid-point of first quarters, in five of those past six contests, at the time of Dennis’ first substitution (five times by Isaiah Taylor, and once by Malcolm Delaney). By the time he checked back into the game, each time before the mid-point of the next quarter, the Hawks found themselves playing from behind in five of those six games. The exception occurred in Wednesday’s loss, when the Pacers tied up the game at 36 apiece while Schröder sat, after Indy was down 21-17. The modest average lead of +3.3 PPG was gone, thanks to an average net swing of -6.7 PPG over an average stretch of about seven minutes. For the Competitank to roll efficiently against, and occasionally over, teams like the Thunder, Atlanta needs its bench crew to limit turnovers, as scoring on the other end tends to be OKC’s specialty (19.4 points per-48, 2nd in NBA behind red-hot Toronto). Further, Atlanta will need starters (NBA-high 14.4 opp. second-chance points per-48; OKC starters’ 15.4 points per-48 is an NBA-high) and reserves alike to box out and keep bigs like Adams and Dakari Johnson from racking up freebie points on extra-chances. Much like Donovan, Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer must find a rotation that sustains leads better. Unlike Coach Billy D, Coach Bud is in under no pressure to figure that out. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  9. AMC Presents: THE WALKING DNP-CD After yet another ridiculous display from Russell Westbrook on Saturday, will the Oklahoma City Thunder guard go Super Saiyan on the Atlanta Hawks tonight (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Oklahoma) in OKC? Westbrook ran roughshod over the Phoenix Suns over the weekend, his latest triple-double virtuoso performance including a career-high 22 assists to accompany 26 points and 11 rebounds, guiding the Thunder to a cruise-controlled 114-101 victory at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Russ acknowledges the incessant post-game talk about getting triple-doubles, or not getting one, or averaging one (for the record: 30.4 PPG, 11.0 APG, 10.5 RPG), has been grating on a player who gets easily bristled anyway. “Honestly, man, people and this triple-double thing is kind of getting on my nerves, really,” he advised the Oklahoman this past week. “People think if I don't get it, it's like a big thing. When I do get it, it's a thing. If y'all just let me play -- if I get it, I get it. If I don't, I don't care. It is what it is. I really don't care. For the hundredth time. I don't care. All I care about is winning, honestly. All the numbers (bleep!) don't mean nothing to me.” The difference between a Most Valuable Player candidate and a disreputable stat-padder is that Westbrook’s efforts have been leading to winning basketball for a team that was sapped of a lot of talent over the summer. But despite prevailing in seven of its last ten games, wins haven’t been coming easy of late for the Thunder (16-11). Backcourt mate Victor Oladipo sprained his shooting wrist over a week ago, in the first quarter against visiting Boston. Westbrook would carry OKC to victory against Al Horford and Friends, but his team experienced tough sledding in its next two games on the road. The Thunder fell 114-99 in Portland, then 109-89 in Salt Lake City, with hardly anyone aside from Westbrook and Enes Kanter able to provide offense, and no guards able to make stops. Oladipo, who remains out tonight, is OKC’s second-leading scorer and (by default) assist-maker, and top 3-point maker. So when Jerami Grant couldn’t fill the bill as a replacement starter, coach Billy Donovan switched to former Hawk Anthony Morrow, the sharpshooter who lit up Philips Arena with a season-high 4-for-6 3FG performance a couple weeks ago in a 102-99 Thunder win. On Saturday, Morrow’s three triples helped the Suns set early. In the NBA West, a slide toward .500 basketball only risks a dogfight with Portland to avoid the eventual 8th-seed and a first-round meeting with Golden State, but that’s what OKC wishes to avoid. In the mediocre East, a .500-ish record places your team anywhere between the 3rd-seed and the 11th. And Atlanta finds itself on shaky ground in the 10-spot (a half-game in front of the rising Wizards) after falling flat late in the first and second halves of its 107-99 home loss to Charlotte. Against the Hornets, pick-and-roll defense was poor, and closeouts along the perimeter were shaky at crucial junctures. Westbrook (32 points, 13 rebounds, 12 assists @ ATL on Dec. 5) sniffs out weaknesses and mistakes to exploit in opposing defenses. Guards Dennis Schröder and Malcolm Delaney have to make swifter and wiser decisions on screens than Hawks fans witnessed on Saturday night. Schröder also has to finish on drives in the paint, remember to feed Dwight Howard (23 rebounds, but 6 FGAs vs. CHA; 2 FGAs off putbacks, none assisted by Dennis) early and often, and force Westbrook to make defensive plays that go beyond transitional rebounds. One of the few Hawks who made a positive impact at both ends on Saturday was Kent Bazemore (6-for-9 2FGs, 5 assists, one crazy block). No one will confuse Kent with Stella, but while he doesn’t completely have his groove back he will have his starting spot back, for now. Coach Mike Budenholzer intends to watch his minutes closely, although he has been on the floor about as much as starter Thabo Sefolosha in recent days. It will be not Thabo, but Tim Hardaway, Jr. who returns to the bench, and that’s a bit of a surprise. More pressing for the coaching staff than watching the status of Bazemore’s sore knee is the lack of defensive impact among the reserves. Atlanta’s bench ranks dead-last in the NBA this month with an atrocious 119.5 defensive rating. Predictably, the Thunder bench’s offensive efficiency isn’t stellar (99.3 December O-Rating, 26th in NBA, even with Enes Kanter), but Atlanta’s bench isn’t much better (99.7, 23rd in NBA), despite the inclusion of Kyle Korver to the unit. Bazemore and Sefolosha will log plenty of floor time not only helping to contain Westbrook and close out on shooters, but to help Hawk reserves (league-worst -19.5 December net rating) from leaking lots of oil. (If I could use Purple as a protest font color to get Bud to play a certain somebody, I would). Paul Millsap (24 points vs. OKC on Dec. 5, second-most this season; last six games: 19.8 PPG, 4.3 APG, 2.0 SPG) needs to dominate his matchup with rookie Domantas Sabonis, and the Hawks getting productive paint touches will draw help from Andre Roberson away from the perimeter, freeing up Atlanta’s guards and wings for quality perimeter shots. Of course, there will be plenty of misses among Atlanta’s long-distance shot volumes. But when Westbrook gets the rebound or the outlet pass and begins to make a head of steam in the other direction, there had better be five Hawks in position and awaiting his arrival across the halfcourt line. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  10. “THESE cats were 9-2?” Which creature has one voice, and yet, becomes four-footed in the morning, then two-footed at noon, then three-footed by the evening? Per ancient myth, for centuries, untold numbers of Greek visitors were flummoxed, stumped – and then, promptly devoured – by the mighty Sphinx, for failing to come up with a correct answer to the above question. Alas, the responses to the world’s most perplexing riddles often prove amazingly simple. Oedipus eventually solved the riddle, and the once-formidable Sphinx responded by devouring itself. In modern times, that’s what it looks like we’re witnessing with the offense of Mike Budenholzer’s Atlanta Hawks, a stunned Sphinx eating itself alive. To be fair, though, there’s no evidence the latest visitor -- Russell Westbrook, star of the Oklahoma City Thunder (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Oklahoma) -- suffers from any sort of Oedipal complex. The Greek hero Westbrook takes after is more likely to be Narcissus, and the resulting behavior – authoritativeness, superiority, self-admiration, exploitation – is producing far better results on the current-day NBA floor than whatever these furballs are that Atlanta has coughed up over the past several weeks. Lil’ Rage leads a furious, and almost single-minded, attack for the Thunder (13-8, winners of five straight), the current NBA leader in minutes played, points scored (31.0 PPG, 2nd in NBA), field goals shot, free throws shot, and assists dished out (11.3 APG, 2nd in NBA). Plus, at a ridiculous 10.8 RPG (9th in NBA), this 6-foot-3-inch point guard can literally initiate his own offense from the defensive end of the floor. “Just grabbing the ball before the other team does,” Westbrook explained (narcissistically!) after snagging 17 boards (16 defensive) last night, to go along with 28 points and a dozen assists, along the way to a 101-92 victory over Anthony Davis’ visiting Pelicans. Westbrook’s feat is enough to make Davis’ output of 37-and-15 look small by comparison. “(Davis) can’t just beat us by himself,” said Thunder big man Enes Kanter postgame, “That’s what a really special player does, look at Russell. Getting his stats, but making everybody else better.” Westbrook’s usage percentage, 41.0%, would blow away not only his career-mark of 38.4% (2014-15 season), but also the King of Go-It-Alone basketball, Kobe Bryant’s 38.6% during the 2005-06 season. Despite the Lakers offense resembling more of a data point than a Triangle under the auspices of Phil Jackson (your third-leading scorer? Smush Parker!), Kobe carried the team to a 45-37 record and a 7-seed. Naturally, when it comes to playoff possibilities, and beyond, Westbrook and head coach Billy Donovan have to be thinking, “Why Not OKC?” Combine Westbrook’s take-charge attitude with the current state of collective catatonia from the Hawks, and the possible absence of OKC center Steven Adams (sprained ankle last night), and fans at the Dimlight Factory have a good chance at witnessing the NBA’s first-ever Triple Twenty Game, nevermind a sixth consecutive Triple Double. Since 1983, the closest any NBA Monstar has came to a 20-20-20 feat (for points-rebounds-assists) was when Earvin Johnson put up a Magical line of 24-17-17 in an April 1989 win over the Nuggets. Shaq tore down the Nets with 28 points, 24 rebounds and 15 swats in November 1993. In his last visit to Philips Arena, in November 2015, Westbrook had team-highs of 34 points, 11 rebounds, and 7 assists – this on a team that featured co-stars Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka. But the Hawks, with former Thunder mate Thabo Sefolosha starting ahead of Kent Bazemore (fancy that!) prevailed, 106-100. Well, so much for sharing! Budenholzer’s current crew of Argonauts appear doomed in their long quest to nab the Golden Fleece, and their ship seems perilously close to sinking prematurely. The Hawks (10-11, 1-9 in last ten games) have been blown out by almost epic proportions in recent losses, and may have to sail headlong into tonight’s contest once again without Commodore Paul Millsap (hip) around to steer. An era that once valued the ideals of everyone contributing, sharing, and placing an emphasis on team defense, seems to have given way, and probably at the worst conceivable time for a Hawks team that has long been satisfied with building a constellation instead of relying on one particular supernova. Although Adams (69.0 FG% in last 4 games) snapping out of an early funk has much to do with OKC’s recent turnaround, they can turn to Westbrook when the going gets tough and expect him, granted enough time, to sort things out. The Hawks know they have no Westbrook, Durant, no LeBron, no Harden, no Curry, no DeRozan, no Isaiah, no Lillard, no Wall, no Kawhi, no Kemba, no Blake, no Melo, no Davis to turn to on their roster when adversity strikes. There’s not even a reliable Lou or a Jamal off the bench to change things up on the offensive end. For the past several seasons, that fact proved to be, more often than not, a competitive advantage for the Hawks. Uncertain which Atlanta player was going to have a big game? How could you, as an opponent, figure it out, when the Hawks weren’t sure themselves? You, as a fan, need somewhere around 45 wins, with an occasional playoff series win, and an All-Star or two thrown into the bag? Why pay such big prices, when Atlanta can get it for you wholesale? Sadly, Budenholzer’s Riddle seems to have been solved by opposing NBA coaches. Pack the paint, and dare the Hawks to try anything other than bricks and dead-end drives. Beat the weathered-down, over-30 starters down the floor in transition, before they can figure out whether they’re coming or going. Confound Atlanta’s open catch-and-shooters by out-pointing them with your iso-oriented, double-teamed stars and subs. And then sit back and watch the Hawks consume themselves, shifting outside of their element into iso-oriented drives, thoughtless passes, and aimless spot-ups, in desperate and futile attempts to match the things your team already does well. The Hawks talk a good game in the locker room about steering the ship around together. But when the inevitable mouth-punch arrives, players on the floor start looking inward for answers. Rome was not built in a day, and it’s going to take a lot more than one evening for the Hawks to turn their fortunes around. But tonight’s as good a place to start as any. An overriding objective is to have Westbrook push toward a 20-spot in two other categories – turnovers (where the Hawks must punish the Thunder in transition, not the other way around), and personal fouls. Over the course of his career, OKC is 31-41 (18-27 on the road) in games where Russ logged at least 6 turnovers and 3 personals. The Thunder is making do without second-string guard Cameron Payne (foot), as Donovan turns to rookie Semaj Christon (5 assists, 1 TO vs, NOP yesterday) and Victor Oladipo more often than he’d like when Westbrook needs a rare breather. For all intents and purposes, Dennis Schröder (21.8 PPG, 52.9 FG%, 8.0 APG in last four games; two TOs in last 50 minutes of play) is officially the Jason of Atlanta’s Argo. He must put Westbrook to work on the defensive end, and beat him down the floor in transition for simple scores. Quick enough to go under screens and still thwart drives, Dennis must guide Westbrook away from the middle of the floor and toward help defenders, where the Thunder guard will be more inclined to give up the rock. Westbrook’s tantalizing ballhandling skills cause many an opponent to get caught ball-watching, to the benefit of his Thunder teammates. Schröder’s floor mates must use active hands to cut off passing lanes to Oladipo (team-high 2.2 three-pointers per game, 39.5 3FG%), bench acquisition Jerami Grant (39.3 3FG% in OKC), and rookie sharpshooter Domantas Sabonis (46.0 3FG%), the latter having served his team just fine as a rookie starting stretch-4. If everyone is doing their jobs, there will be no need for the Hawks to allow Russ to pile up bonus points at the charity stripe. No more than two defenders need worry about contesting his shots, one if they’re beyond the three-point line (33.0 3FG%). Westbrook has accounted for 58 percent of his team’s free throw makes, shooting 84.0 FT% through eight road games. If anyone gets to the line for OKC, it should be his teammates (59.2 road FT% for OKC w/o Westbrook). Dwight Howard (1.2 post-up FGs per-game, lowest among 15 bigs getting four or more post-up possessions per game) must run the floor and work from post-to-post, dominating his matchup with the offensive-minded Enes Kanter (career-high 60.2 2FG%). Howard has not been credited with two or more assists since getting escorted out of the November 18 game Charlotte a bit early, the Hawks 4-1 in those games prior to his ejection. When getting touches, D8 must read the defense quickly; if a high-percentage post shot is not in the works, kick it out to Schröder and the Hawks’ wings, rather than sucking up precious shot clock time, risking more turnovers (19.1 TO% on post-ups, 2nd-highest among those 15 bigs) and drawing fruitless fouls (19.1 shooting foul% on post-ups, highest among those 15 bigs). If Howard, or any of the Hawks’ starters, are unnecessarily lethargic in running the floor, setting screens, getting open, deflecting passes, or closing out on shooters, Coach Bud must make a sub as soon as possible. There is no need to watch leads evaporate into thin air, or holes turn into caverns, in the opening quarters, just hoping the players’ rust will somehow wear off on the floor. That goes for tonight, and all games going forward for Atlanta. If the riddle has clearly been solved (“Man!” is the answer to the Sphinx riddle above), it’s on this coaching staff to drum up some new riddles, and to do it quickly, before their team devours itself. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  11. Unless Lauvergne pushed the date forward, his contract for 2016-17 was just guaranteed back on August 15. (EDIT: Correction on that "full" guarantee...) ~lw3
  12. “Al Jefferson swears this stuff will cool your nerves. Bottoms up!” 51 rebounds?!? Wide-load Jared Sullinger and the Celtics; the league’s per-game rebounding leader Bulls; the Magic in TWO overtimes. None of them managed to collect 50-plus boards in a game against the league-leader in rebounding percentage, the Oklahoma City Thunder. But the Atlanta Hawks did just that, along their way to a 106-100 victory less than two weeks ago. Atlanta’s 14 offensive rebounds also tied a season-high among OKC opponents. And, wouldn’t you know it, those pesky Hawks are back tonight in OKC (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, Fox Sports Oklahoma), aiming for their third straight win! What to do? What to do? As a rule of thumb, if rebounding is your team’s forte, and if it’s the Hawks who have done the best job so far in out-rebounding you, it might be time to consider a different line of work. With his team getting the night off, head coach Billy Donovan and his staff watched last night in horror as Zaza Pachulia’s 17 rebounds were all for naught on behalf of a Dallas team that fell, 98-95, while being held to 36.0% shooting by visiting Atlanta (14-9). 51 opponent rebounds by the Hawks is veritable disaster for the Thunder. 51 opponent rebounds by the Mavs against the Hawks? Meh. Just makes things a lil’ interesting… Most teams are striving in vain to out-leap the uber-lanky Kevin Durant, and out-muscle Serge Ibaka. Most teams are trying to get presidential candidates to vow they’ll build a wall around Enes Kanter (1st in NBA with 17.1 O-Reb%; six O-rebs @ ATL Nov. 30) and make Turkey pay for it. Most teams, after allowing 20 offensive rebounds and 100 shot attempts while watching their top perimeter threat go just 1-for-6 on threes on the road, would simply tip their cap and call it a night. But the Atlanta Hawks aren’t like most teams, and Mike Budenholzer isn’t like most coaches. Like a girl’s age to R. Kelly, an opponent’s offensive rebounds ain’t nuthin’ but a number to Coach Bud. Last night’s victory raised the Hawks to 8-2 on the season (6-7 otherwise) when their opponents seize MORE than 12 O-Rebs in a game. The last loss for Atlanta under this condition was nearly a month ago. Last season? 23-7. They’re pulling the ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ even more often now, and yet they are #Winning more than Charlie Sheen (these days, anyway). Budenholzer sees beaucoup offensive rebounding chances for the opposition as a signifier that shots are anything other than “Nothin’ But Net.” And the production bears that out. In those ten games this season when Hawk opponents are going “off” on offensive boards, they haven’t shot above 45% from the field in any of them. In the remainder, opponents shot at least 45% in seven of those 13 games, and Atlanta is 2-5 in those seven games. “I thought our defense was good. When you are playing good defense there is probably more opportunities for offensive rebounds,” the coach responded to the AJC during last night’s postgame commentary. “I thought (the Mavs) were taking tough, contested shots. Some were coming up short with tough bounces.... I’d like to be better on the boards but it’s usually a sign you are getting a lot of stops.” Hey! I heard that over there, quit that snickering! Yes, he called them “stops.” We oughta help Bud come up with a more apropos term. Yields? Restraints? Impedances? BudStops? By any other name, Paul Millsap knows you have to make some “stops” when it counts in the clutch. “I think our defense did great,” Millsap (team-high 9 D-Rebs, 3 steals, 6 free throws, and 20 points vs. Dallas) said last night. “We didn’t do a great job on the offensive rebounding but down the stretch we got some key rebounds and executed on the offensive end.” By any other name, Donovan knows all about the Hawks’ ability to produce “stops.” The Thunder (13-8) still got 48 rebounds (13 offensive) during their loss in Atlanta, and they needed all of them, and more, in a game where they shot just 39.8 FG%, including 7-for-19 from downtown. When OKC’s leading defensive rebounders in a game are their two pillar scorers, Russell Westbrook and Durant (combined 69 of their 100 points, 15 of their 35 defensive rebounds), that suggests a lot of players – Ibaka, Kanter, Steven Adams, Nick Collison, Andre Roberson – aren’t pulling their weight. That has to change tonight, allowing KD (9th in NBA for 2FG%, 5th in 3FG%, 4th in PPG, 32-and-10 at Memphis on Tuesday) and Russ (6th in PPG, 1st in assist percentage) to spend more of their energies on getting buckets, and less on retrieving misses, while testing their rest advantage against Atlanta. With Ibaka, the Thunder’s Big Three shot a respectable 28-for-57 in Atlanta last month, a task made all the more arduous with the pestering defense provided by the Hawks’ wings and forwards, but they got no help from their teammates (9-for-36 shooting). Westbrook came alive with 17 points in the final frame (mostly by calling his own number, to the exclusion of Durant) to wipe out a 10-point Hawk lead, setting the stage for the Teague Time layup line to take hold in the last two minutes. Without KD, the Thunder again had to turn to Westbrook the last time the Hawks came to Chesapeake Energy Center. Despite shooting just 8-for-24 from the field, Westbrook enjoyed a 17-for-17 shooting day from the charity stripe, and his 15-point fourth-quarter outburst were needed for playoff-hungry OKC to overtake a Hawks team that was missing both Thabo Sefolosha and Kyle Korver. In that game last March, it was the Hawks backups, specifically Dennis Schröder and Pero Antić (combined 7-for-11 on threes) that carried the day for the offense and helped Atlanta stay in front until the final six minutes of the game. A repeat of last night’s performances by Schröder and fellow reserves Kent “Big Shot” Bazemore, Tiago Splitter, and Mike Muscala (16-for-28 combined FGs) would help keep the Hawks in even better position to win tonight’s game. As Pachulia knows, it often takes an ex-Hawk to try and out-Hawk a Hawk, and the Thunder got that effort out of Anthony Morrow (6-for-10 3FGs) back in March. But Morrow and Waiters were 3-for-19 shooting in Atlanta, and they need to hit under-contested shots to take the pressure off OKC’s big guns. Swingman Andre Roberson and center Steven Adams were rendered all but negligible in their efforts to defend against the Hawks last month, with Adams shut down in the opening half and Roberson particularly flustered throughout the game. Donovan hopes the Thunder’s 125-88 trashing of the Grizzlies in Memphis on Tuesday is an encouraging harbinger of things to come. Yet it will be interesting to see if Donovan continues to start the duo of Roberson and Adams tonight, or if he’ll turn elsewhere on the roster for immediate help. Westbrook has been dazzling as a distributor (16 assists, 3 TOs @ MEM on Tuesday), but when he is your best pass-first option, by far, something’s amiss. Russell’s 14.4%-assisted two-pointers are a career-low, and his 35.5%-assisted threes are way down from 51.2% during his MVP-nominated effort. D.J. Augustin (career-low 17.6 assist percentage) isn’t the best passer, but someone has to help Westbrook play off the ball. Waiters? (gulp.) Today is his birthday, and OKC’s 11-3 when he logs at least two dimes… so go for it, Billy! The campaign to get Cam Payne meaningful minutes is picking up steam after the rookie returned from a strong D-League stint. Donovan has emphasized he’s counting on Payne to dish the ball to justify his playing time. Al Horford (9 first-half rebounds and 8-for-15 FGs vs. OKC, 7-for-12 2FGs @ DAL) ran circles around Adams the last time out, and then Collison committed three swift turnovers in the space of four-and-a-half minutes. Second-year player Mitch McGary isn’t quite ready-for-primetime but is back after a quick D-League run down the street. Kanter (one steal, eight blocks in 21 appearances) would likely suffer a similar fate to Adams, but if Donovan can re-orient Enes to the defensive rebounding duties tonight, he may be able to have a greater impact on the outcome. As long as you can croon-and-swoon and woo the likes of Heidi Klum on the regular, does it really matter that you don’t have Tyson Beckford’s face? Much like Seal, Budenholzer understands that winning ugly is still winning, especially on the road. We’ll see tonight if his devil-may-care approach works with less than 20 hours of rest in between road games. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  13. “Chill, Harry! This ain’t yo’ cousin!” The only Trapping going on tonight will be on defense. But coming off a letdown in San Antonio, will the Atlanta Hawks regroup, and Put On for their city against the high-rising Oklahoma City Thunder (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, Fox Sports Oklahoma)? Tonight’s homegrown halftime and postgame performer, the no-longer-young Jeezy, should fill a few extra seats in the stands. But by and large, this crowd won’t be here just for Tha Snowman: you know these fans came to see KD and Russell ball. After some floundering while working through some kinks under new coach Billy Donovan and enduring Kevin Durant’s hamstring injury, OKC (11-6) comes into the Highlight Factory at full-strength. Lately, they’re rolling Thunder: winners of four straight and the last three by double-digits. In those past three games, Durant has been stepping up, the reigning Western Conference Player of the Week averaging 30.3 PPG while shooting an MVP-runner-up-quality 58.5 percent on his shots. Oklahoma City enjoyed two days of rest after Friday’s 103-87 home win over Detroit, one in which KD hit four of his nine threes and still found time to hit all ten of his free throw attempts and collect 12 defensive rebounds. It’s the kind of elevated, all-around performance the Thunder have come to expect out of the #2 pick from the 2007 draft. As for the #3 pick, well… Hopefully, Al Horford won’t think he’s Ballin’ ‘cause he got a block. The Hawks (11-8) need more full court intensity from Donovan’s collegiate star pupil, certainly more than the paltry four rebounds Al amassed over 21 minutes on Saturday while watching the esteemed Tim Duncan pile up 18 rebounds with ease. Like Durant, Horford’s out to Get That Broccoli this summer, but only one of these two future free agents is playing like they want much of it. If you lookin’ for Al, will he be on the block? On offense, Horford can continue to draw Steven Adams out of the paint with jumpshots, but he must call for the ball and produce around the rim, particularly when OKC shifts to the defensively non-resistant Enes Kanter. OKC’s opponents take a league-high 32.0 shots per game around the restricted area. Shotblocking help by Ibaka (2.5 BPG, 4th in NBA) and Adams (1.7 BPG) represent the Thunder’s usual last-lines of defense. Contracting the Thunder centers toward the hoop and enticing help from Ibaka and Durant will make life around the perimeter simpler for Paul Millsap and the Hawks’ wing shooters. If Al isn’t gonna Church Off on these Courts, he’ll leave the Hawks behind the proverbial 8-ball. There’s got to be some Love in this (Basketball) Club for boxing out, particularly tonight when Durant and centers Adams and Kanter (57.5 FG%, 6th in NBA) cherry-pick for caroms off missed shots by Thunder guards. Westbrook (27.2 PPG, 4th in NBA; 9.9 APG, 2nd in NBA; 31.5 3FG%) had himself a subpar game versus Detroit: 14 points on 5-for-14 shooting, plus a whopping 11 turnovers before fouling out. But Russell’s 6-3 tall like he ten-feet tall, and after a shot of Mountain Dew Kickstart or two, he will be committed to charging (literally) to the hoop, in hopes of favorable buckets and whistles. When Russell misses shots, he knows the league’s leader in offensive rebounding (30.4%, only team above 30% in the NBA) has his back. Among Thunder guards D.J. Augustin (44.7 3FG%, 13th in NBA), Dion Waiters and Anthony Morrow, the best defense is a lot of offense. Andre Roberson will keep himself busy all night occupying Kyle Korver. But one of Korver, Thabo Sefolosha and Kent Bazemore will find open shots, or draw attention from Durant and Ibaka away from Millsap. So long as they, and the ball, keep moving on halfcourt sets, Atlanta’s many catch-and-shooters will find the Thunder tend to Leave You Alone. Trap all day, play all night: after vanishing in San Antonio (2-for-10 FGs, 4 TOs), Jeff Teague has got to be a Go Getta. Not only must he impede Westbrook without fouling and quarterback his own halfcourt offense, but he must be the key to the Hawks’ transition scoring game, which rivaled their football cousin’s red zone offense in futility against the Spurs. Thunder opponents get nearly ten steals per game (2nd-most in NBA), accounting for OKC’s 17.1 turnovers per game -- only Philly (19.0) commits more. The Hawks remain second in the league with 20.9 PPG off turnovers, and are the only NBA team with a net average of five or more points off TOs (+5.8 PPG). Teague can reignite the Atlanta offense by displaying some Hustlerz Ambition, getting out on the break and converting at the rim. Layups are nice, but fans will Luv It if Jeff finishes a dunk or two. Bazemore (11 points, 7 rebounds, one technical foul @ SAS) found himself flailing away at the ball, and the air, displaying constant frustration with referee calls in the second quarter on Saturday, as the wily Spurs mounted their decisive run to put the game on ice early. Baze came off the bench on Saturday night, and that will continue tonight as Sefolosha plies his trade against his old buddy KD. Composure was key in San Antonio, and it will remain so tonight. Granted plenty of chances, Durant and Westbrook will get their fortuitous plays, but that is no reason for anyone to Lose their Mind. Let’s Get It! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  14. Another big body can't hurt OKC, especially for him at that salary. ~lw3