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  1. If Oprah was a Hawks fan… Zero-dot-something-or-other. That’s where my enthusiasm level currently lies as an Atlanta Hawks fan, on a scale of 1 to 10. That’s not where any of us are supposed to be, running on Emotionally Empty this late in the season, especially not with visions of Knicks On Ice dancing in our heads. But our Hawks aren’t supposed to be, on a scale of 1 to 10, still teetering toward 12 in the NBA East. After Birdboxing and forcing myself to witness the tragicomedy that was the middle quarters of Wednesday’s curb-stomping loss in Detroit, I went searching for Oprah. Specifically, a JPG version of a specific GIF that aptly expressed my visage of abject dissatisfaction with the Hawks’ focus and effort, or the lacks thereof. I came to discover, while Googling “oprah smdh”, a treasure trove of reactions from America’s Talkmaster, with all due respect to our own dear Neal. Each one perfectly encapsulated the faces I was making during not just the Pistons game, but the Pelicans game and that other Pistons game and the Spurs game and… From the Royals to yahoos up in Forsyth County, from Whitney and MJax, to Kim K, and Tom on the Couch, from fake-mad cattle ranchers to a “non-fiction” author peddling fiction for her Book Club, Oprah has put up with, and seen, and heard, an awful lot. That’s just the stuff with the cameras rolling on her for the better part of four decades. You can try it yourself, with “oprah nope,” “oprah disgusted,” “oprah what,” or the like in the Search window, and you’ll find yourself watching Hawks games through her reactions. We’re all in The Sunken Brewster’s Place with this team. If we could simply cleave out the seven-game road skid AND the ten-game home skid, these latest flops would seem like minor irritations, blips and slips unbecoming of an otherwise sure-shot Eastern Conference title contender. Sadly, we cannot. Instead, we’re repeatedly left feeling like James Caan in “Misery,” laying captive and beaten up in Kathy Bates’ bed and, frankly, we’ve just grown tired of feeling at this point. If you want to see a fanbase at wit’s end with their head coach for his once tried-and-true, now growing tired-and-untrue, rotations and schemes, hang out with supporters of the Golden State Warriors (48-25, still 3rd in NBA West, 3.0 games ahead of Utah) this evening. At least Steve Kerr has RINGZ to fend everybody off, and starting off a season 29-7, with zero two-game losing streaks, grants any coach plenty of rope. Unfortunately for us Hawks fans, tonight’s outcome matters not. We already know things are going to go one of two ways with Nate McMillan's team. Behind Door Number One: our Hawks will see that the Dubs left their heart, Steph Curry (50 points vs. ATL on Nov. 8), and his sprained foot in San Francisco, not take the game-planning seriously (coaching staff included), and then leave themselves susceptible to Jordan Poole’s and Jonathan Kuminga’s Show of Shows. Those guys just had the first-place heat in Miami looking like The Shield breaking up, steel chairs and all, but our players will still have their minds fixated on what, if anything, a rested Klay and Dray bring to the proceedings. Or, behind Door Number Two: the Hawks do come home armed with a reactivated Danilo Gallinari and the infamous Sense of Urgency, quit complaining about a lack of "legs", handle their business for 48 minutes on a Friday night at The Farm (7:30 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Yay Area in SFO, NBATV elsewhere), and lift Atlanta sports fans’ spirits. Momentarily. Atlanta (36-37, Play-In Magic Number: 5) will likely have to win two consecutive road games just to make it into the NBA Playoffs, but they have not put together a two-game road streak since The Night Before The Night Before Christmas (Dec. 23 @ PHI, 8 days after a win @ ORL; the last two-game streak with limited intervention was around Thanksgiving). The Hawks’ last likely chance to do so comes next week, in Indiana and in Trae’s home state, at Oklahoma City. When they fail to do so for the umpteenth time, not a creature will be stirring. On scales of 1 to 10, my ambivalence and numbness levels are hovering around Pi Squared. I truly want to care more, to feel more, and I am grateful that thousands of Atlanta fans in attendance tonight are Built Different. There’s only so many more ways, unfortunately, my face can contort like Oprah’s as these Hawks play their favorite game against random opponents: ‘You get a point! And YOU get a point! And YOU…!” Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  2. “I’m just here with Beastmode and F.A.B. so I won’t get fined.” Welcome back to San Francisco, Atlanta Hawks! It’s the happy home of the first-place Golden State Warriors (10 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Bay Area) and their world-famous Big 3. You know them well, right? Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, and Jordan Poole! Sorry, you were probably thinking of Andrew Wiggins, or James Wiseman, weren’t you? Much has been made out of the lack of reliable star power, after Ja Morant, emanating from the 2019 NBA Draft. But after dwelling near the basement of the draft order for much of the preceding half-decade, Warriors exec Bob Myers seems to have hit it out of the park, and into McCovey Cove, with their splash of a selection that year at #29. While he’s still, as of today, a career 39.2-percent shooter, the 6-foot-4 Poole is doing his letter-best lately to imitate the production anticipated from a still-rehabbing Klay Thompson. What was merely a suspicion has become glaringly evident over the previous three games of G-State’s cozy eight-game homestand at Chase Center. An everyday starter, Poole has lofted 10.7 three-point shots per game in blowout wins over the Hornets, Pelicans and Rockets, swishing 46.9 percent of them, while averaging 27.3 PPG and 1.7 SPG. Going 9-for-9 on free throws last night in the 125-107 win over Houston to pad his 25-point outing, Poole missed his first freebie in the season-opener against the Lakers, and he hasn’t missed one since. Jordan can be streaky – 2-for-7 from downtown against Houston, he’s had 1-for-6, 2-for-6 and 0-for-7 evenings baked into his 35 percent perimeter shooting average – but he cannot be accused of being gun-shy. He’s getting buckets inside, too, with an early career-best 59.1 2FG% boosting his breakout numbers (18.4 PPG, 3.4 APG, 1.3 SPG). A surefire benefit of playing heavy minutes alongside Green, Bball-Ref has Poole in the Top-20 league rankings for both Defensive Win Shares and Defensive Rating. The youngest active veteran, by far, on the Dubs’ roster until Wiseman (knee surgery recovery) can reutrn, the 22-year-old Poole started 21 of 108 games in his first two seasons, largely out of necessity. Now, his place in the rotation, if not the everyday starting five, is becoming the mother of invention, too. “I got nothin’ for you.” Poole responded with a smile in craftily evading a query from a pool reporter last night, as to why he continues being called out to postgame media by head coach Steve Kerr and returning vet Andre Iguodala. “If they’re saying it in public, they’re probably telling me in private.” That’s to say nothing of what Coach Dray is offering him behind the scenes. Kerr is playing more of the role of a head coaxer, as he sees on-ball defense and ball-handling (3.2 TOs per 36, a touch high) among the last elements for making Poole a set-it-and-forget-it member if the starting unit. How potent could this team – already atop the NBA West and 1.5 games in front of tomorrow’s Hawks opponent, Utah – become if Klay can slide into a full-time small forward role, and we get the Splash Triplets as a result? Reverting Poole to a reserve spot beside Steph’s sweet-shooting in-law, Damion Lee (44.4 3FG%, despite 1-for-6 over last two games, the first of the season scoring in single-digits off the bench), feels a bit redundant at this point. Further, if Thompson, scheduled to return to practice in a week or so, is slow in getting back up to playing speed, Poole Play will be vital in keeping Golden State’s aura shining, and not merely on the court. I’m not suggesting Myers is hanging up on Daryl Morey’s calls, nor that he is initiating the calls himself. But how convenient is having another 15-plus-point scorer – 32-million-dollar man Wiggins -- as a tradable trinket at the negotiating tables? There’s a reason Poole is being publicly chided on a near-nightly basis, and Wiggins (last 4 games: 15.0 PPG, 1.5 APG, 0.3 SPG, 38.8 FG%) is not. No, Andrew (team-high 29 points and 7 boards, team-low minus-23 vs. ATL on March 26 w/o Curry), it’s not because you are scoring so well. The only team with a Defensive Rating (NBA recipe) in the double digits at 97.0, Golden State is also the only squad collecting dimes on anywhere near 70 percent of their baskets (72.1 team assist%) – Atlanta’s last opponent, Phoenix, checks in at second-place at 65.3. No one is doing 3-and-D better than the Dubs right now, and the NBA-75-adjacent Thompson has yet to lace up his shoes. While awaiting his marksmanship to return to legendary levels (37.4 3FG%, which would be a career-low for a full season), Curry has acquitted himself well as a willing defender (1.4 SPG) in the early going, too. But there’s no need for Kerr to waste his time chasing Trae Young around, not with Poole and Iguodala (rested last night, hip injury management), Gary Payton II, Lee, Wiggins, and Green to throw at him. If Warrior defenders put the screws to Trae too much, they may risk getting hammered once more by his partner-in-grime. John Collins had the Steph-less Warriors looking like tools last March, before a national audience, to the tune of a career-best 38 victorious points, drilling 4-of-5 shots for three as he made himself at home like a depot in Chase Center. If Collins (probable, strained foot) isn’t getting rested ahead of tomorrow’s game, Green (no points, no steals, 2 rebounds, 9 assists but 4 TOs in 27 minutes vs. ATL last March) will want to shift-shape back into a wrenching interior defender today. While Poole self-assuredly ascends from training wheel to third-wheel in the Bay Area, Atlanta (4-6) is left to wonder who is going to propel their trike forward, on behalf of back wheels Young and Collins, as they trek through this juggernaut of a packed schedule with limited time to do much besides shootaround. Opposing coaches are figuring out the luxury of being able to shelve critical contributors, for rest and recovery purposes, and still finding the wherewithal, via stars and role players alike, to overwhelm Atlanta by games’ end. The Hawks are 99 and 94/100th percent healthy, but they’ve been lathering away games late in the second halves. Outscored 76-40 in the last two final-frames, versus Utah and in Phoenix, coach Nate McMillan’s club swings by San Fran to face the league’s most efficient fourth-quarter collective (+17.0 4th-qyarter Net, 1st in NBA). In no small part thanks to Atlanta, tomorrow’s opponent in Salt Lake City (+15.5) ranks second. Composure is key, and McMillan was expressive of that in all but calling out his ace scorer, the league’s leader in technical fouls drawn, by name. “We continue to allow that to be a distraction,” McMillan said to the AJC and Saturday’s postgame media, “that” being questionable calls and especially non-calls by the boys and girls in gray, “where we stop playing, or we foul purposely, or we get technicals.” “And we’ve got to grow up,” he continued, “we’ve got to mature on that.” Proper pronoun placement keeps a truism from becoming a Trae-ism. McMillan is right in desiring that his team, and certainly its most visible performer, avoid summoning The Spirit of Josh Smith, at critical junctures when whistles aren’t blowing in their favor. Note, though, at nearly every step of the way, since Curry rose into championship-level prominence, he had a Draymond on the court, or a Kerr on the sideline who, for better or worse, took up for their star teammate’s umbrage. They do the berating, the haranguing, the tongue-lashing, so Steph (down to 4.2 FTAs/game, but NBA-high 97.4 FT%) doesn’t always feel he has to. The mannerly Nate Mac, as best I can tell from the Goggle machine, was last tossed from an NBA venue in 2017, with Paul George’s Pacers, and in 2012 with Joel Przybilla’s Blazers in 2005. He doesn’t need to be ejected, he just needs to seem audibly incensed with referee nonsense, drawing the occasional Ts that let Trae get refocused on FGs. Kerr can be counted on to F5 a clipboard and earn the heave-ho at least once per season, making his stand while leaving winning time to his trusted assistants. To the benefit of the Atlanta head coach’s “3C” philosophy, Young will feel much calmer, and his Hawks clearer and better connected, on the court if McMillan at least pretends to lose his cool, for justifiable reasons, every once in a while. Granted, there’s nobody remotely resembling a Draymond on 29 NBA rosters. But if Bogi Bogdanovic isn’t going to be that release-valve of a third-wheel that the Hawks need to be competitive at closing time, perhaps he could at least dig into his trusty bag of Serbian slurs and become the braying backstop his backcourt buddy sorely needs. He’s coming in hotter during games, and with his season-high 18 points against the team that draft-and-traded him (4-for-11 3FGs, also season-high 7 rebounds), Bogi joins Collins, De’Andre Hunter and Danilo Gallinari as Hawks hitting at least 40 percent on threes. It’s an encouraging sign for a Basketball Club that could use some. Unfortunately, over the course of Atlanta’s unelectric 1-5 slide, Bogdan has taken a combined nine fourth-quarter shots, made two (1-for-6 FGs in past three games), and has as many assists as you and me put together. Bogi, whoa-gi, woe-gi! His team-worst minus-13 in seven minutes of Saturday’s fourth-quarter flop in Phoenix was a mild improvement over his minus-15 stretched out across seven minutes against the Jazz. But at least he sees the floor. McMillan cannot afford to have crucial veterans, specifically Delon Wright (three minutes in last three games, all garbage time vs. UTA) and Gorgui Dieng (10 minutes or less in six of last seven contests), getting their roles deep-sixed on a purportedly deep roster. Coach Nate being alligator-armed about G-League-assigned rookie Jalen Johnson’s participation is one thing. But the key offseason pickups will not build a comfort level, with what ought to be essential two-way roles, if they’re sliding below The Solomon Hill Line for per-game floor time. It will be fantastic if Cam Reddish, featured in all twelve minutes (1-for-5 4th-quarter FGs vs. PHX) as Atlanta failed to endure the onslaught of Devin Booker, emerges to become that steady third-wheel starter in his third pro season. And/or, Hunter. In the meantime, Golden State appears to have the proper vets, playing confidently in their individual roles, guiding youngsters on and off the court, that allow for a 2019 draftee like Jordan Poole to eventually thrive without wasting too much time in Santa Cruz. For Atlanta to be able to boast, one day, of its Big 3, they’ll need current vets that aren’t playing and acting like they belong there. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  3. Nice try, Raptors. Play harder, next time! Tidbits! Welcome home, Hawks! I don’t know if Steph Curry will be a late scratch for this Sunday feast (7:30 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Bay Area in SFO, NBATV everywhere else). But especially if he’s a no-go, this return to State Farm Arena must be a winning one. No one needs to process the narrative of how a squad that consumed a 60-burger in Tampa, and left with a 50-burger in a doggie bag, pulled themselves together and won in Atlanta tonight. Trae and Gallo are available, for all the more reason to put the Dubs (23-26, 9-17 on road, 1-5 in away games w/o Curry) away. While there are plenty of teams in both conferences chasing each other for a seat in the musical chairs finish for a Play-In spot, more than a few NBA fans are hoping their teams will reverse course, and Suck for Suggs. Did you see that young man last night? Wowzers! I liked what one Golden State of Mind commenter said, after Friday’s washout Warriors game, pretty much that Andrew Wiggins strives real hard to be the third- or fourth-best player on his team on the floor. No matter who he’s playing with, or against. Congrats to Grant Hill! He’s come a long way since that three-quarter-court pass to Christian Laettner, eh? USA! USA! Draymond! No idea how long you’ll be in town, but please, before you run off with your hawt takes to fix what’s “wrong” with women’s professional sports, spend an evening at dinner with Renee Montgomery. Yes, she’ll make room within her packed calendar for you. She, and Candace Parker, can clue you in on what has long been happening before your big ideas came into your head. Have Shaq come along, too. And, no, you’re not all going out to eat a steak sandwich at Subway. Happy Passover! Happy Easter! And, Happy 404 Day! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  4. Presented, without context. “I’m the greatest defender the NBA has ever seen!”, crowed a paraphrased Draymond Green, for no good reason whatsoever. He’s not exactly “King of the World!” on some Titanic, but he is standing out there on deck, just daring the Evergreen cargo-bros of the world to come at him. With nobody around Pennsylvania Avenue to trade potshots, Dray’s head coach, Steve Kerr, now spends his time doing introspective podcasts, and taking umbrage at misguided muckrakers reading too deeply into them. Kelly Oubre is cutting off press conference attendees wading too far into his pending free agency. On TV, Steven Curry is busy refining his Bud Abbott bit, with CarMax salespersons as his Lou Costellos. Oh, excuse me, Steffen. Whatever torpedoes Draymond (out, illness) dares to face while chugging full speed ahead, he understands his Golden State Warriors are decidedly not in the same boat as the water-bailing Orlando Magic. Get back a spry Klay Thompson in 2021-22 to join Green, Curry (out, inflamed tailbone, which sounds nice), and emerging Lotto-rook James Wiseman, keep around young vets like Andrew Wiggins and Eric Paschall, then provide hungry two-way guys like Nico Mannion and Juan Toscano-Anderson and title-starved vet-mins as filling. Soon, they’ll be making a lot of love. It’s Dray versus Tony Allen, Coach Kerr versus journalists, anything to distract fans from watching Golden State versus Anybody on the hardwood right now, as many plan on doing tonight with the Atlanta Hawks swinging through Chase Center (10 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Bay Area in SFO, ESPN everywhere else). Kerr’s Dubs will steer as much attention as they can away from the fact they let their division rival Sacramento Kings, on zero nights’ rest after surviving Wednesday’s 110-108 affair with Atlanta, hang a season-high 141 regulation points on them. Maybe Draymond (DNP’d vs. SAC) is on to something here. Bear in mind that the Warriors (22-23, 3-8 in past 11 games, losers of three straight) are too busy trolling to be worried about tanking. Another developmental lottery-pick talent to toss into next year’s roster mix is fine, but not a priority. What we have is Oubre doing what he can (at times, too much) to secure his bag this summer, Andrew Wiggins going through the motions until something matters, James Wiseman striving to maintain his rookie composure, and Kerr urging everyone on the team that even if you don’t know what you’re out on the floor doing, do it fast (103.4 Pace, 2nd in NBA), and steal some wins along the way. If all goes fine, the Warriors (10th in NBA West, 2.0 games ahead of the Kings and Pelicans) can slide into the Play-In games this May and build up confidence, ahead of next year, by knocking off some hopeful 7- or 8-seed, then even putting a scare into a top-flight contender in the opening round. That’s kind of what the transitioning LA Clippers did in 2019, when they stared down Curry, Kevin Durant, and the best of the West, the defending NBA champs, and forced them to play six first-round games. Those Clippers, led in postseason minutes by Danilo Gallinari, had Playoff Lou to thank for their victories. 36 points and 11 assists for Lou Williams helped knock off the Dubs in Game 2. LouWill’s 33-and-10, also off the bench, and including 11-and-4 in the final quarter, helped his Clips stave off elimination in Game 5 and put Warriors Nation on edge. “A force of nature,” The Ringer described Lou at that time, “the Warriors can’t stop.” Going forward, the main tasks for Williams, soon to be reunited with Gallinari and the Hawks (22-22, 4.0 games ahead of 11th-seeded Tampato, 0.5 games behind 4-seed Charlotte) following yesterday’s deadline trade of Rajon Rondo’s new contract to the Lakers’ intown nemesis, are to stay healthy and COVID-free, firm up the bench consistency, pick up the offensive slack when starters rest, and be ready to give KD and Nets Nation the heebie-jeebies in the first or second rounds of the playoffs hopefully to come. Similar to Clint Capela, this is no time for wholesale transformation, as Atlanta simply needs Sweet Lou (5.6 assists per-36, behind only Paul George’s 5.8 w/ LAC) to be the sweetest Lou he can be at this stage of his career. We rarely got the full Lou Will Experience during his prior two seasons in Atlanta. His untimely 2013 injury in Brooklyn short-circuited any hopes of Larry Drew’s crew being a threat in the post-Joe era. His struggles under new coach Mike Budenholzer’s watch extended into what was nearly a monumental 2014 playoff run by the Hawks. But the former South Gwinnett sensation firmed up his professional reputation as a quintessential sixth-man star, first in his next NBA stop of Toronto, and later with both of Los Angeles’ clubs. Here’s hoping for stability back home in the ATL, as the soon-to-be free agent seeks to firm up what could be his final NBA contract ahead of his age-35 season. “There’s plenty left in my tank,” professed Williams on Instagram, “and I’m privileged to continue my career in my backyard.” Lou won’t be a factor in the outcome of this, and perhaps the next, Hawks game, as COVID-related clearances will delay the process for Thursday’s traded acquisitions. Atlanta is going to need somebody beside the usual suspects to be a factor tonight. With no Williams, no Rondo, and of course no Dunn, Lou’s fellow Gwinnetian, Brandon Goodwin (10+ minutes played in 13 of ATL’s first 17 games, 3 of the Hawks’ last 27, none since Feb. 13), will need productive minutes setting up shooters and getting back to the ball when Warrior defenders clog teammates with the ball around the paint. Even as De’Aaron Fox enjoyed his career-night with 44 points (most by any King since Boogie in 2017), his Kings were able to crown the Dubs last night with the aid of second-year guard Kyle Guy (17 points, 4-for-6 3FGs, 6 rebounds, 4 assists) staying active off the bench. Atlanta needed one more among its supporting cast, aside from the returning ex-King Bogdan Bogdanovic (20 points, 4-for-6 3FGs @ SAC) to get hot from outside in order to outpace Sacramento on Wednesday. But the combo of DeAndre’ Hunter, fifth-starter Tony Snell and Gallinari were surprisingly low-volume (4-for-17 together from the field, 0-for-6 on threes), leaving Trae Young (29 points, 9 assists, one late lawn-dart on seven 3FGAs) to try and outfox a Fox in the clutch. Atlanta’s defense will allow an opposing player or two to go off in a game, but in a losing effort so long as said players are inefficient, not focused on defending, and/or not passing the ball for better shots. The active verb is called Wigginsing, although Andrew (this month: 20.5 PPG, 53.1 3FG%, 2.2 APG) had an efficient 26 points and 10 boards in the loss at Sacto yesterday. But the Warriors have any number of Luke Kennards and Terrance Manns ready to Wiggins the boxscore while the stars heal up, most notably Jordan Poole (20.2 March PPG, 40.3 3FG%, 93.1 FT%), Curry’s famed brother-in-law Damion Lee, point guard Mannion (5-for-8 3FGs @ SAC, 9 assists in past two games), and Mannion’s fellow two-way backcourt mate Toscano-Anderson (perfect 6-for-6 FGs @ SAC). LA’s desperation to elevate Kennard, and his timely performance against the Hawks, facilitated Atlanta’s sudden deal for Williams. To a lesser extent, Mannion’s emergence allowed Golden State to help Charlotte fill a gap by sending out Brad Wanamaker for second-round considerations. Kerr will lean on Mannion (2.7 APG, tops among active Warriors) but also Mychal Mulder and, with perhaps a bit of burning sage, Kent Bazemore off the bench in hopes they’ll keep the ball moving. Golden State is tops in the league with 67.2 assist percentage, but Curry, Green and Wanamaker had much to do with that position. While Capela and John “Still Here!” Collins seek to overwhelm Wiseman and, without Draymond around, likely the league’s worst rebounding club (72.2 D-Reb% w/ Green, 24th in NBA; net -2.4% w/ Green off-court, as per bball-ref). Atlanta has to win in the assisted baskets department to prevail comfortably tonight. Atlanta out-dimed their last four vanquished foes by 26.3-20.5, but their opponents out-assisted them in this week’s two defeats, 23.5-19.0. Excessive Oubreing and Bazemoring, dribbling aimlessly in search of hero-ball shots that disrupt the flow of the offense, would leave the Hawks playing at parity, which is precisely what Kerr and the Dubs seek versus any opponent in this otherwise disposable season. Who’s the greatest look-away three-point shooter in NBA history? LeBron, Dennis, Nick Young? Hmmm. Somebody go ask Draymond, so we can get the debate percolating on this burning question! I see he’s got time. Newnan Strong! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  5. “Giving up Rookie donut-fetching duties, talk about how tough that was for you!” Live, from Atlanta, it’s Stupor Bowl I! We’ve come a long way from that one banner evening, in February 2015 at The Highlight Factory, when our Atlanta Hawks outclassed coach Steve Kerr’s future first-time champion Golden State Warriors. With their record raised to a league-best 42-9, it sure felt like the home team Hawks could do no wrong. Dare we say, NBA Finals Preview? Not a single player from that day will be dressed when these two clubs meet tonight (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Bay Area) on the same floor. It’s better to say that not one of those players will be in uniform, given Draymond Green (sore heel, read that however you wish, out for tonight) won’t exactly show up in a barrel, while Klay Thompson (probably out for the season, ACL rehab) and Stephen Curry are doing their best Andre Aldridge and Kent Bazemore impressions on the sideline. Not even five years later, many around the league are wondering -- if not outright worrying -- whether tonight will be an NBA Lottery Preview. Back in the Squawk’s Schedule thread before the season began, I suggested that the Hawks were likely to stumble out of the gate, given their need for the young talent to acclimate, the inherent lack of defensive aptitude and, most importantly, a cruel November schedule. I had them at 6-14 coming into December, so being a couple games off the mark isn’t all that bad, considering the injuries, a significant suspension, and pitiful veteran depth. (Glad no one will ever know I picked all four of their actual wins wrong). Yet I also marked today’s game as a key turning point in Atlanta’s melodious march to mediocrity, a hallmark victory that would propel the team to 40-or-so wins and a shot at putting a nice scare into a 1- or-2-seed come playoff time. What I could not have predicted was that John Collins would not be coming through that door for a few more weeks, or that Kevin Huerter (shoulder strain) would be trying to return to form for a second time. I also errantly assumed that the Dubs would at least have Curry carrying them with Trae Young-style nightly figures, and Green holding things down until he gets thrown out of games. Without those headliners, or KD consolation prize D’Angelo Russell, or virtually anyone with championship mettle checking in, not even Kerr, who cut his hand after breaking a clipboard in frustration last week, can summon up enough fire or magic to get his team competitive for 48 minutes. The exception on the championship mettle front is kinda sorta Kevon Looney (7-8 FGs and career-high 5 assists, in GSW’s win here about a year ago), who was thrust to the fore in the 2019 Finals due to the perpetual absences of KD and Boogie. Bothered by hip and nerve issues, he has been greenlighted to play in his first game since the season-opener tonight. The rest of the crew looks like names the players’ union might be worried about crossing a picket line during a strike. Is that Clifford Franklin and the Jackson Brothers I see out there? You thought your favorite NBA team had issues with key starters and supporting cast members missing time. For G-State, throw in second-year guard and 2018 first-rounder Jacob Evans (strained adductor), who has played in just 3 games so far, or former Hawk and two-way Warriors guard Damion Lee (fractured hand) for good measure. This was the kind of pivotal Hawks-Warriors game I had in mind back when the schedule came out, but not with Golden State (NBA-worst 4-17) looking like this. This is as much of a Must Win for the Hawks (4-16, 10 straight Ls, 1-13 in last 14 games), in their current state of flux, as one will find in their schedule. They’ve got the Warriors right where they want them. That is, the people wearing Warriors jerseys on the floor today, only slightly more recognizable than the fans wearing Warriors jerseys in the State Farm Arena stands. Aye, but there’s the rub. It’s one thing to be challenged by names you know well, like James Harden (how bad was he, from Monday through Friday, to NOT win Player of the Week? Cool story for Melo, though) and Russell Westbrook. It’s another thing altogether when you’re engaged in dogfights, on your home floor, with folks you barely know, where no one is remotely an NBA star. With all due respect to Boogie replacement Willie Cauley-Stein, Looney, former Hawks Killer and Iguodala replacement Glenn Robinson III (team-high 32.0 minutes/game), Klay fill-in Alec Burks, the career-salvaged Marquese Chriss… who do you gameplan for? “Get Out” director (I think) Jordan Poole? And, why? The Villanova star turned steady interior scorer for the replacement Warriors has not been 2018 Hawks first-rounder Omari Spellman, but Golden State’s 2019 mid-second-round pick, Eric Paschall (17.0 PPG, 19.9 per game as a starter). Kerr has offered Spellman encouraging compliments of late – “He’s really explosive athletically,” the coach said following Omari’s double-double in a suddenly rare win last week versus Chicago. But it’s Paschall who’s getting the top-line minutes, and the rookie has rewarded them with boundless energy. Together, the body-double Dubs have some nice-enough size, but the offense (104.7 O-Rating, 25th in NBA) gets stilted when Kerr has too many of them out there at once. That’s especially true when Draymond isn’t in the mix. They also don’t rebound well enough as a team (71.1 D-Reb%, 26th in NBA) for players who often have size, or at least girth, advantages on paper. This is the rare game where Atlanta *should* be capable of asserting itself at both ends, treating Hawks fans in the crowd to their first home win in nearly a month. It’s the rare game where the biggest star on the floor is a Hawk with a chance to shine. But someone who is not a SLAM magazine cover model has to produce consistently from outside the 3-point arc. Zach LaVine’s Bulls thought they had a lifeline when they traipsed into Chase Center last Wednesday in search of a rare win. LaVine lit up the Nets with 36 points, but his team as a whole shot 38.2 percent from the field, and they found themselves at the mercies of Paschall, Spellman (2 steals and 3 blocks off the bench, in addition to his double-doub), and point-guard-by-default Burks. Aside from slinging the ball around, Draymond (8 assists) barely had to lift a finger. The offensively woeful Orlando Magic shot 42.5 FG% as a team, but they had to hang on last night for a 100-96 win at home against a Warriors unit, with Green (7 of GSW’s 21 assists) that will shoot much better than 39.6 percent from the floor in Atlanta. One or two players (like Evan Fournier last night) are allowed to go off, but the Warriors are showing they can thrive against unbalanced opposing offenses. So far, the only semi-reliable option not named Trae for Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce has been rookie De’Andre Hunter, whose 3-for-9 shooting from downtown helped road-weary Atlanta escape Houston on Saturday without a 50-burger loss in the pit of their stomachs. Relieved from the travails of defending in Harden’s grand shadow, Hunter may be in for a banner day tonight if he can just figure out which Warriors to lock onto and exploit. It is a grand test for the Hawks coaching staff to make sure the players understand and adhere to their defensive roles versus Kerr’s nebulous Warrior lineups. If they comprehend who they’re supposed to guard, and how to get open for convertible shots, tonight, they won’t be worrying over where the fifth win on the schedule will come from, tomorrow. The Warriors have reason to use tonight as a springboard as well. The next games after this are in Charlotte and Chicago, then back home to face Memphis (probably without Ja Morant) and the Knicks. Atlanta is just 4.5 games out of the 8th spot in the East. But even in the rough-and-tumble NBA West, Golden State sits 5.5 games behind the setting 8th-seeded Suns. A nice little run here or there, and maybe the Splash Brothers might not need to sit out the whole regular season, after all. Such a prospect might scare a first-round opponent or two, but not the rest of the league. Travis Schlenk and company collecting upper-tier first-round talents like Monopoly Game pieces is one thing. But his former employer getting a top pick with healthy stars returning for 2020-21 runs chills up people’s spines as they look on at Tankathon in dismay. No one ever wants to know that a Wiseman once said, “Man, was I lucky to wind up with the Warriors!” Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  6. “SHOOTIN’ AT THE WALLS OF HEARTACHE… BANG! BANG!...” Our Atlanta Hawks came at The King and missed, but they’ve got another Golden State opportunity ahead of them during this four-game road swing. The Hawks outraced the Warriors from Staples Center up to Oakland ahead of tonight’s game (10:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Bay Area in SFO, NBATV everywhere else), and they hope to take advantage in what is, very likely, their final visit to Oracle Arena. The Hawks’ connections with this venue, the oldest one in the NBA, run deep. It was here, with the Warriors, where Kent Bazemore, Dewayne Dedmon (out for tonight again, personal leave) and Jeremy Lin, all undrafted players shuttling back-and-forth from the D-League, began formally charting the course of their careers as NBA pros. GM Travis Schlenk and Coach Lloyd Pierce built up much of their impressive resumes here, the former playing critical roles in the scouting and drafting of the modern Dubs’ first championship core, the latter working with Stephen Curry and pre-Linsanity Jeremy during a half-season as an assistant in 2010-11. The Dedmon-less Hawks failed to make the critical plays in the paint they needed to fend off the Lakers in Sunday’s 107-106 last-minute loss. Atlanta (3-10) having to play without Dedmon again tonight ought to make things easy on the Warriors (11-3). That is, if only coach Steve Kerr can get Kevin Durant and his pal Draymond Green (UPDATE: out for tonight, see next post) focused on tearing into the Hawks, instead of each other. Freshly returned from injury, Green failed to look for KD, or any other teammates, at the close of a tie game in regulation last night, after the defending NBA champs had scored 11 consecutive points to draw even with the host Clippers in L.A. After stealing a rebound away from Durant, Draymond dribbled up the court and lost the ball in traffic as time expired. The misfortune of being caught between Durant’s passive-aggressive commentary and Green’s dragon breath fell to their Warrior teammates, who were reduced to clapping in a futile effort to drown out the stars feuding on the sideline prior to the overtime period. The Dubs fell short in OT to the Clips, 121-116, after Durant fouled out with his squad up by three. They headed back upstate late last night ahead of tonight’s contest, but not before Durant and teammates spent time bickering boisterously (as reported by ESPN) in the postgame locker room about Green’s decision-making during regulation. “One of the most intense and volatile scenes of this Golden State championship era,” tweeted Woj on ESPN’s report, my emphasis on the words, “One of”. The Hawks are the kind of opponent that can cure a lot of ills, at least momentarily. But the longer Golden State fails to take their aggressions out on Atlanta (17.2 second-chance opponent points per-48, 2nd-most in NBA; NBA-high 24.2 opponent points per-48 off TOs), the more likely they’ll find themselves in a late-game situation as precarious as the Lakers found themselves in on Sunday night, with the basket in Trae Young’s sights. Sure, it sucks not having the shot-making magic of Curry (6th in NBA for 3FG%, out with a groin strain, GSW 39-60 all-time without him) around to obscure your team’s internal squabbles. Fortunately for Golden State, they do have former Hawks preseason standout Quinn Cook (4th in NBA for 3FG%) standing in for Steph in their starting lineup. Cook will get some help from Shaun Livingston, who himself just returned from injury, to add to the maze the Hawks’ rookie star must navigate on his adventures to the hoop, a path that will feature Andre Iguodala, Durant and (UPDATE: not so much) Green, at turns. As per NBA Stats, Young currently ranks second in made field goals and field goal percentage, and third in assists, in the league off drives. When you have a phenom like Curry, good things can happen just by virtue of a couple degrees of separation. Ex-Hawk Damion Lee got hitched to Curry’s sister, Seydel, in the offseason, and now joins his brother-in-law on the Dubs’ roster with a two-way deal. One of Steph’s security guys had a cousin, undrafted out of Wisconsin-Green Bay and out of the league after going through the motions last season with Toronto. That cuz (no relation to DeMarcus) got a chance to shine in training camp, and now Alfonzo McKinnie (48.3 3FG%) gets major minutes relieving the Warriors’ swingmen, doing many of the things former fan-favorite Bazemore once did here at Oracle. With the Warriors playing a back-to-back, look for both Lee and McKinnie to get pressed by Kerr into significant action tonight. After Klay Thompson jacked up 16 attempts, sinking five, in last night’s loss to the Clips, Kerr will want to make sure his off-guard doesn’t shoot his arm off trying to bombard Atlanta. Pressed into a high pace of play, Hawks’ opponents are lofting nearly 35 attempts per game and hitting on 38.5 percent of them (4th-highest in NBA). The Dubs’ opponents similarly shoot as many, but they struggle to convert (31.4 opponent 3FG%, 2nd-lowest in NBA) due to superior perimeter defense and their signature switching. That’s why, despite the back-to-back, tonight’s contest could be a breeze for the Warriors if they take care of business on the interior, and don’t resort to shooting fouls (26.0 opponent FTAs per-48, 5th-most in NBA; Atlanta’s 27.5 tied with Miami for the most) to make up for listless defense. One of the Hawks’ few advantages thus far on the season has been inside scoring (+2.6 paint points per-48), even without Dedmon and John Collins around, and the Warriors will need the platoon of Jordan Bell, Kevon Looney, and momentary starter Damian Jones to neutralize that edge. The Warriors rank 6th in the league for blocking shots, despite no one aside from Bell (1.0 BPG) averaging more than a swat per contest. Despite their obligatory collapse during the third quarter, Atlanta stayed in their game versus a Laker team that was, like Golden State, playing the back end of a back-to-back, by outscoring them in the paint (46-44), on fastbreaks (19-14), and off turnovers (30-25). They’ll need a similarly active effort on defense and in transition if they intend to bid farewell to Oracle with their first win in this building since 2011. With the rest advantage, the Hawks will be… 2 Legit 2 Quit in their Oaktown finale, so a victorious outcome for Golden State can’t be foreseen as… Automatic. It always… Feels Good to leave the champs pointing fingers at one another, and Life Is… Too Short not to take advantage of a distracted and shorthanded bunch from the… Jump. Will Atlanta have enough focus and firepower to leave these Warriors feeling… The Blues? Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  7. “I Can’t Feel My Feet When I’m With You…” Under cover of night, the Atlanta Hawks made their daring Escape From Sacramento in time for tonight’s rematch with the world-champion Golden State Warriors (10:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Bay Area in SFO). Assuming the fans can make it into the arena this time, the burning question is: who’s suiting up? Whoever becomes our draft lottery prize this summer, get you a star who, when he announces his switch to low-cut sneakers, it makes the national news. “Stephen Curry to play in Under Armour low-tops for the first time,” ESPN breathlessly reported yesterday evening ahead of today’s game at Oracle Arena. The Babyfaced Assassin expects to return to action while still dealing with tenderness in his sprained, “definitely not 100 percent”, right ankle. What Could Possibly Go Wrong? “It is kind of ironic that I made the switch this season considering my ankle issues,” noted Curry, who missed the past six games while enjoying (just saying! I’ve learned my lesson!) his 30th birthday, “but this shoe is stable and engineered to maximize my performance. I will still wear my ankle braces, but I have total comfort and security in my new shoe.” We shall see. Back when the young guard outta Davidson was scurrying around Oakland with fishtail legs, the Warriors turned to Keke Lyles to straighten him out. For the past several seasons, Lyles has been dutifully occupied with the trunks of Atlanta players, as the Hawks’ executive director of player performance. So, these days, Lyles gets to oversee players like the brutally durable Dennis Schröder (career-high 22.6 points per-36, career-low 3.1 TOs per-36), who needs to be a “healthy scratch” in order to miss tip-offs. Kent Bazemore might disagree, Steph (21 of 71 games missed this season), but the solution to your aggravations might not be the kicks. The Dubs’ Death (Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green) and Dying from Laughter (JaVale McGee) Lineup started coming apart at the seams almost as soon as Curry (an uncanny 59.2 2FG%, to go with his 42.4 3FG%) was put on the shelf. Klay fractured a thumb a few days later, and Splash Bro 2 remains out for another week or so. Days after that, KD cracked a rib, and he sits as well. Perhaps getting his Three Amigos move on a little too aggressively, Draymond became the next to hit the IR with a pelvic contusion. It has reached the point where Coach Steve Kerr will be thrilled just to get Omri Casspi (sprained ankle) back on the floor. The Dubs (53-18) have gone 2-4 since losing Curry, mustering just 75 points on Monday in a 14-point loss to a San Antonio team that has one huge, lingering injury issue of its own. Former Hawks preseason notable Quin Cook got his Isaiah Taylor on against the Spurs (20 points, 5 assists). But it’s clear from starting Cook and Nick Young together that there’s still not enough offensive firepower to compete against decent teams, on most nights, without Golden State’s Monstars available. Cook (hand contusion), Zaza Pachulia and isoBaze thief Andre Iguodala (shoulder contusions) and Patrick McCaw (wrist fracture) were all questionable going into Monday’s game, but all played, each one aside from McCaw in the starting lineup. Starting at center today will not be our old friend Zaza, nor will it be McGee. It will be Jordan Bell, the 6-foot-9 rim-protecting second-rounder who has Chicago Bulls brass kicking themselves. Bell (.184 WS/48, 4.4 Box Plus/Minus, 1.1 VORP, 18.2 PER) is arguably the sole 2017 draftee neck-and-neck with Atlanta first-rounder John Collins (.155 WS/48, 1.4 BPM, 1.3 VORP, 19.1 PER; questionable for tonight with his sprained ankle) in terms of efficiency metrics. Bell’s first start since mid-January is not merely a reward from Kerr for enduring what Bell described to pregame reporters today as a, “roller coaster, up and down” season. The Warriors had three days off entering tonight’s game, the opener of a four-game homestand, but Kerr wants the regular season minutes for his vet backup big men (Pachulia, McGee, David West) carefully metered out. They get to close out their schedule with a bunch of playoff-hungry outfits (Utah twice, OKC, New Orleans, Indiana, Milwaukee). Kerr wants his team trending up, as healthy players return and as they approach Game #82. So, don’t expect Kerr’s playoff-prepping bigs to be out here wrangling excessively in the paint with the likes of Dewayne Dedmon (a smooth 13-and-10 last night), Miles Plumlee and Tyler Cavanaugh. That task will fall heavily upon Bell and Looney tonight. While the Dubs have some gimmes on the docket like the pesky Hawks, two games against division-rival Phoenix will be on back ends of back-to-backs. The last loss before the Spurs game was a Tank-buster last Friday night, here at Oracle, at the “expense” of the Kings. Sacramento overwhelmed the remnant Warriors with the buddy-movie team of Buddy Hield and Skal Labissiere (combined 8-for-14 3FGs off the bench). That was essentially the same team that the Hawks, without Schröder, successfully held serve with for two-and-a-half quarters last night, before the Kings finally pulled away. Golden State has a chance to further sew up the #2 seed (and avoid a premature playoff meeting with the Rockets) with a win today. In that regard, they can't afford to mess around with Atlanta (21-51), especially given their inherent homecourt and rest advantages. Final issue: Will Steph get invited to Damion Lee’s bachelor party? That’s always uncomfortable, towing the future bro-in-law all around Vegas with the Day-Ones, just to keep the future missus in good graces. I know this well, I’ve seen it in the movies. Things could get even more Hawkward if Curry returns to hang a 40-burger on Atlanta and its newest starter, who just signed his second 10-day deal this afternoon. Still, I figure Lee will find a way to accommodate Curry on his party bus. But given the tenuous state of Steph’s ankles, Damion, make sure that thing comes equipped with a lift. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  8. “Is Joe a schlub? Maybe. But he’s OUR schlub, fans, c’mon!” “BOOOO! SELL THE TEAM, YOU MORON! YOU SUCK!” Barely two seasons into his tenure, things weren’t going terribly well for the owner of the reigning world champion Golden State Warriors, who pay our Atlanta Hawks a visit tonight (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Bay Area in SFO). Only six years ago this month, Joe Lacob approved the trade-away of the Warrior fans’ heart-and-soul. A second-round pick who would become the NBA’s Most Improved Player two seasons in, Monta Ellis was the long-term investment that, by his seventh season, seemed to be paying off, the occasional moped incident aside. Fans unilaterally understood, if ever their team could arrive at the elusive Shangri-La known as the NBA Finals, or even just the playoffs, it was essential to build the roster around a high-scoring, playmaking guard like Ellis. Alas, Dubs, Inc. didn’t seem to share that sentiment. Not exactly, anyway. At the trade deadline in March 2012, Monta, the reigning Western Conference Player of the Week, was sent packing to Milwaukee, in exchange for the talented and occasionally upright center Andrew Bogut. The trade didn’t necessarily spoil a possible playoff run, what would have been just the second in the franchise’s prior 16 seasons. The last one, in 2007, was a magical carpet ride guided by Baron Davis, and Ellis was looking the part of an heir apparent once Davis bolted for L.A after the following season. The momentary success from the 2007 We Believe season never sustained itself. The playoff appearance before that one was in 1994, back when the fellow being honored at halftime on this cool March evening, Chris Mullin, led the charge. This night was supposed to be about Mully. And it was, right up until Lacob tried to partake in the good vibes, after Mullin thanked the crowd, to reveal the jersey banner. By then, We Believe had become We Berate. Monta's Move had gone over about as well as a guy working on his golf swing in a hotel room. “Now that we got that over with…” Lacob snidely remarked, after allowing the din of disdain to die down once he grabbed the mic. “Today is about history… and respect.” Bump that! What kind of history had Lacob (and his even more-reviled predecessor, Chris Cohan) built up with to earn respect from the long-suffering ticketholder mob? Where’s the respect for Monta? BOO! Keeping his speech in line with pro-wrestling heel protocol, Lacob interrupted himself and put the mic down, in fading hope that the crowd might encourage each other to simmer down. Not happening. The Guest of Honor stepped forward to try and save Lacob’s forlorn face. “Sometimes, change is inevitable,” Mullin remarked, speaking somewhat directly to the elephant in the room. “It’s gonna work out just fine.” When the good-cop approach didn’t work, the one guy in the arena with a Warriors championship ring took matters into his hands. “Show a little bit of class!”, derided Rick Barry, incidentally one of the least classiest greats in the history of the league. Yeah, Rick, we’ve been down this stay-classy road already, take your pleas down to San Diego. “This is crazy! Seriously! C’mon, you’re doing yourself a disservice!” No, Rick, trading away a 25-point scorer that you’ve developed over seven years for a potentially washed bag of bones? THAT is a disservice. BOO! HISS! HISS! It was amazing the Warriors’ brass ever got through the ceremony. But you could see how their dedicated fanbase was past its boiling point. They had been sold bills of goods on draftees Chris Washburn, Mitch Richmond, Tim Hardaway, Chris Webber, Joe “Yes, we tanked for him” Smith, Adonal Foyle, Antawn “Shoulda Just Kept Vince” Jamison, Jason Richardson, Mike Dunleavy, Ike Diogu, Patrick O’Bryant, Ekpe Udoh, all of them top-ten NBA picks spanning 25 years. Each, including Mullin, was the lottery pick that was supposed to help the team turn the corner toward NBA greatness. They’ve endured the handing of the franchise keys to C-Webb, to Run TMC, to Spree, to Tawn, to J-Rich, to B-Diddy. It’s now 2012: Old Man Kobe and the Lakers are running laps around these division “rivals”. The once-equally downtrodden Mavericks just won a title, and even the Clippers – the Clippers! – are finally starting to get their act together. The latest Warriors Savior is gone, and everyone is still tapping their toes, pointing at their watches. One guy who couldn’t make it to these proceedings? Wardell Stephen Curry II. The third-year guard had just suffered yet another ankle injury days before, this one season-ending. Say, couldn't we have just traded one bag-of-bones (Curry) for another (Bogut) and kept Monta around? Guess who was in the building that day? Klay Alexander Thompson. The rookie hadn’t started more than a game yet. Nice fella, he just can’t carry a team anywhere. Lose just a couple more games at the end of last season, and we coulda had Jimmer instead! Darn that Curry kid, out here spoiling things. All this losing, all this pseudo-tanking, all this cycling through middling talent. When, pray tell, are we going to draft ourselves a real, bonified Savior? This was Warrior fan thinking in 2012, when the notion of Splash Brothers was still in the nascent stages. What if Lacob could have told the crowd: “Listen, I know you’re unhappy. But that broke-down guard we drafted a few years ago? He’s gonna win back-to-back MVP awards, and soon! Your Savior is still here on the roster, folks. He’s gonna join forces with our mid-tier lotto rookie, from this past year, to form a backcourt tour-de-force the world has never seen before! Your next NBA Finals MVP? I got a guy named Schlenk upstairs who will be bringing him over in a couple years.” “That center you’re all bitter-beer-faced about right now? What if I told you him getting injured is the ONLY reason you fall one win short of a three-peat? In a season where we win over 70 games! 70! We'll be half-a$$ing it and still be 48-14 six years from now!" "This very summer, people, we’re drafting one of the greatest defensive non-centers of all time… in the second round! Not only that, how about this: that player will help us woo a future league MVP to become our MVP of our NEXT victorious NBA Finals… you know, the one after the LAST Finals MVP, who will still be here?” “Show of hands, who wants to sign up for all that? Okay? Then, all of you, shut your pieholes, give it a minute, and thank me later! Go f’n Warriors!” Mic drop. Banner raise. There will be no scintillating analysis of tonight’s Hawks-Warriors matchup. Not on this glorious March afternoon. But I do want Hawks fans, particularly the skeptics about management, ownership, and The Way Forward, to look at the Dubs not with the prism through which we see them today, but the looking-glass Dubs fans peered through, disapprovingly, just six years ago. A rebuild of our beloved Hawks (19-43) remains the right move. But we should all understand by now, tear-downs and rebuilds can be tenuous, cyclical, frustrating, and downright exhausting. They usually don’t pay off quite the way you anticipate, if they do at all. Just ask a Warriors fan. Not one of these new-jack johnny-come-latelys flaunting jerseys in Philips Arena today, no. Talk to the older-school supporters, the ones who foresaw Monta Ellis’ abrupt departure as a harbinger of yet another decade full of terrible things to come. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  9. “Dray, did I ever mention that you did an awesome job in ‘Shrek’?” Happy Early Father’s Day! Almost every day is Father’s Day at Philips Arena, as opposing players are granted ample opportunities by the Atlanta Hawks to make their NBA-playing papas proud. After leaving former Hawk Glenn Robinson, Jr. beaming with pride yesterday, it’s likely that Mychal Thompson and Dell Curry will enjoy watching their kids’ Golden State Warriors (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, CSN Bay Area in SFO) become just the latest team to son the Hawks during Atlanta’s ill-fated homestand. Dell’s got the night off, with the Hornets game on TNT, while Mychal’s Lakers are on the road before playing in Dallas tomorrow. So maybe both should be in the building as the Splash Brothers aim to keep the nets wet at The Other Team’s Highlight Factory. Heck, it’s a good thing the son of another ex-Hawk, Wes Matthews, wasn’t around to put the lid on Atlanta (34-28) last Wednesday, after the Hawks coughed up another late-game lead. Perhaps the spawn of former Warrior Tim Hardaway, Sr. might have a say about things before all is said and done tonight. But it’s going to take a lot more than a hopefully hot hand to make a positive difference, especially against the NBA’s best offense. Junior Hardaway (60 points and four assists in last two losses) has done all he could offensively during this homestand to help drag his Hawks out of unnecessary holes. Perhaps too much at times, given his propensity for over-dribbling and taking desperation shots. The need to turn to Hardaway and Paul Millsap (50 points and 19 rebounds in last two games) for clutch scoring, unfortunately, has come at the expense of sound ball movement, or much legitimate movement at all. Their fourth-quarter offense has been less of a silver, and more of an aluminum lining, given how frequently the Hawks get roasted from outside. Flat-footed transition defenders, including Hardaway, left a backpedaling Dennis Schröder out to dry as the game hung in the balance. Atlanta defenders, who need to avoid giving up three-point daggers, instead strive to compensate for their bigs by converging around the paint, going for strips in anticipation of two-point shots, and getting caught Torch Red-handed. Atlanta foes get just 22.3 percent of their shots on layup/dunk attempts (3rd-lowest in NBA), but the Hawks must allow their quality interior defenders (Millsap and Dwight Howard, specifically) to earn their stripes without unnecessary help. Thanks (but no thanks) to swingmen distracted by stars in the paint, players like Robinson have made highlight reels out of the Hawks’ under-defended corners (40.9 opponent corner FG%, 6th-most in NBA; only team with winning record allowing over 40 percent). Schröder (7 assists, 1 TO vs. IND on Sunday) also got little help from his teammates on the offensive end, especially early (14 team assists through three quarters vs. IND). Once renowned for their motion offense, the Hawks (1.54 assist/TO ratio, 21st in NBA) have failed to produce more assists than their opponents in each of their last nine defeats. Tonight, they face a Warriors team that leads the league in assist-turnover ratio (2.1, only NBA team above 2.0), assist percentage (70.7% of baskets made, only team above 65) and assist ratio (21.4 assists per 100 possessions, only team above 20). The Dubs have hardly skipped a beat in these areas even after losing Kevin Durant last week, likely for much of the balance of the regular season. Kent Bazemore, a two-way dud (1-for-7 FGs, -17 plus/minus in 19 minutes) against the Pacers, along with Thabo Sefolosha and Hardaway, must be more mindful of the drive-and-kick threats than the Globetrotter dribble shots by Curry, whose recently-wayward jumper is only beginning to thaw. Beginning two weekends ago versus Brooklyn, and continuing through halftime of the Warriors’ visit to Madison Square Garden yesterday, Steph had gone just 33-for-102 from the field, 10-for-47 on threes. His opponents found it much easier to lay off Patrick McCaw and Matt Barnes, instead of Durant, to cover the Warriors’ greater threats. Curry finally shed the post-All-Star rust in the second-half (7-for-11 FGs, incl. three third-quarter triples) against Derrick Rose and the Knicks, to keep Golden State (51-11) from dropping three straight for the first time since Bazemore’s squad went on a brief losing streak in November 2013. Even without KD on the floor, Curry still has Thompson (29 points, 9-for-9 FTs, 4-for-9 3FGs vs. NYK), Andre Iguodala, and Draymond Green at his disposal, to say little of Thompson (team-high 40.8 3FG%). Even when they get beaten off the dribble, Atlanta defenders must avoid over-pursuing Warrior ballhandlers and dare them to finish their circus shots inside. On-ball defenders like Schröder and Bazemore must go over screens religiously. Golden State’s offense can remain dry if they are deprived of open three-point attempts and cheap trips to the free throw line. Due to ankle synovitis, Atlanta doesn’t have the son of Mike Dunleavy, Sr. to help keep up in a shootout. Durant (25 points, 14 D-Rebs) was the sole Warrior capable of keeping Howard and Millsap (nine combined O-Rebs) off the offensive glass during the Dubs’ 105-100 win over visiting Atlanta on November 28. Continuous fullcourt pressure from the Hawks’ starting big men should prove taxing for former Hawk Zaza Pachulia, Green (team-high 40 minutes vs. NYK yesterday, 37.9 MPG in last four games), and David West, as well as the son of ex-WNBA player Pamela McGee. JaVale will particularly seek to step up his game in Shaq’s place of residence. It is Dwight’s responsibility to ensure that he (65.0 FG% during ATL homestand, but just 6.7 FGAs per game) is the Hall-of-Fame-caliber center worthy of McGee’s undivided attention. It will take a properly-disciplined Hawks defense (paging Coach Bud) to stay competitive with Golden State for four quarters and keep the game-clinching moments from becoming another family affair. Failing that, every perimeter defensive lapse is likely to cause Hawks fans to elicit nearly-incestuous cries of, “Oh, brother!” Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  10. “How Ya Like Me Now?” Gird your loins! One night after getting molly-whopped by a random NBA foe for the third time in the past four games, the Atlanta Hawks pick their beaks up off the floor to find the Golden State Warriors (10:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, CSN Bay Area in SFO) awaiting their arrival. Tonight, Atlanta is confronting the most talented, most exciting, most formidable basketball player known to mankind. We’re talking, of course, about Zaza Pachulia. Sure, we could spend time waxing poetic about the possibility that Draymond Green (team-highs of 9.0 RPG, 6.9 APG, 2.2 SPG, 1.6 BPG) may not be available to play, having twisted the ankle on his non-kicking leg while trying to avoid teammate Ian Clark’s Adam’s apple under the rim last Friday night at the Staples Center. After all, but for Green’s late-game heroics, the Hawks might have pulled off an upset over the Curry-less Warriors last season at Oracle Arena. Both Clark and Green sat out on Saturday, but the Dubs still held Minnesota at bay, 115-102, for their 11th straight victory. The only L in their past 15 games came against the same foes that vanquished Atlanta last night -- the Lakers, back on November 4 -- and they’ve beaten L.A. twice since. Green feels “pretty confident” he’ll suit up and play today. But there is no need to dwell on who is suiting up at forward for the Hawks’ opponent-du-jour, especially given the past two games have seen Atlanta (10-7) fall flat against a Utah team that was missing Derrick Favors, and a Lakers team that was absent Julius Randle. All-Star and leading scorer Paul Millsap’s inability to exploit mismatches versus inferior competition, whether by his own lethargic shortcomings (4-for-11 FGs and 5 rebounds in each of his past two games) or his teammates’ inability to keep the ball moving in his direction, has fueled the Hawks’ offensive swoon. You can toss in the early departure of Anthony Davis in last week’s flop versus the Pelicans for good measure, Millsap just 4-for-9 on field goals in 23 ineffective and short-leashed minutes. Atlanta is 9-0 when Paul posts a positive plus-minus. You can either feed the Anchorman, and reap the benefits of his production early and often, or just sit back and accept that the Hawks’ ship be sinking. We could focus on the Warriors’ impressive on-court efficiencies, ranked 1st in the NBA for offensive rating, field goal percentage, true shooting percentage, assist/turnover ratio, and assist percentage (franchise-record streak of 30+ assists ended vs. MIN on Saturday; franchise-record 47 assists vs. LAL last Wednesday), plus 2nd over the past week in defensive rating after experiencing some struggles out of the gate. A low-cost free agent acquisition, Pachulia swapping starting lineups with Andrew Bogut has contributed to Golden State ranking near the league’s basement (tied-27th) in D-Reb%, a factor the increasingly trolled Dwight Howard could use to his advantage if he’s got the energy to run the full floor. Alas, after making the Lakers (28th in D-Rating) look like defensive juggernauts in both the second and fourth quarters of play yesterday, and after allowing the low-scoring Jazz to look like the ’82 Nuggets in those same quarters, any further detail would be a waste of time. Over-reliant on Howard’s ability to protect the rim, the Hawks have relaxed on opposing ball handlers. Atlanta collected at least ten steals in each of their first six games, and in eight of their first ten contests. They’ve had just one double-digit tally in the last seven games, the exception being 11 steals in the win at Indiana. After failing to force double-digit turnovers in just six games in 2015-16, this season’s Hawks are already halfway there before the close of November, this following blowout losses to New Orleans and the Lakers (9 opposing-player TOs apiece). Worries about Stephen Curry swishing highlight-reel jumpers from Sausalito are pointless if Atlanta remains passive, failing to contest shots, drives, catches and passes from the perimeter. Kyle Korver looks like he could use a road map once he’s screened out of an opponent’s offensive play, while Kent Bazemore finds himself getting mouse-in-the-housed too often in isolation. That spells trouble when the Warriors space the floor out for Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant, the latter the reigning Western Conference Player of the Week. The lack of quarterbacking from Dwight Howard and Dennis Schröder must be rectified for the Hawks’ starting unit to fix their defensive flaws. The Warriors (15-2) already look like the world-beaters they were designed to be. But Atlanta’s greatest challenge on the floor won’t be named Steph, or Kevin, or Kevon (Looney) or Klay, or Zaza. As of this moment, the Hawks’ greatest impediments to success are in their own heads. Some trepidation in the face of adversity can be expected from a roster with under-experienced components playing key roles, as is the case for Atlanta at the point. But it’s unacceptable as a lasting hallmark for an NBA team featuring three over-30 starters with significant playoff experience, under the direction of a lauded coach that should know by now how to make adjustments that stop opponent runs and keep games under control. Beating the Warriors tonight is secondary to a larger objective: the Hawks have to quit beating themselves. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  11. “FOUND: Something Steph Curry can NOT do well!” You wanna lock down a playoff spot in the East? Win your games on the road. Go all the way back to 1984, the first time NBA conferences carried eight teams into the playoffs, and you’ll find that among the Eastern Conference teams on the outside looking in, not one finished their season with an away-game record of 19-22 or better. For teams like the Atlanta Hawks (14-15 on the road), a winning road record makes the rest of the regular season schedule academic. This upcoming 5-game road trip is loaded with landmines, including tonight at the high-flying Golden State Warriors’ house (10:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, NBATV, CSN Bay Area). But if the Hawks continue to shake free of their winter doldrums, take care of business against lesser teams, and pull off a big win or two, they can sew up their ninth-straight playoff appearance, in a nicer spot than most. The biggest issue for the Hawks going into tonight’s game in Oaktown? Trick-shot-artist extraordinaire-turned-MVP Stephen Curry is questionable to play, perhaps resting the twisted ankle he played through during Saturday night’s stunning overtime victory in Oklahoma City. Most threes in a game? Most threes in a season? Most buckets in the league this season from 30-feet-and-out? Most consecutive games with a three-pointer? All NBA marks established, re-established, and/or newly-shared by Curry in the past week alone. Not too bad! Why, his performances have become Abdul-Rauf-esque! Curry will at least be on-hand for a heroes’ welcome, as the Warriors return to Oracle Arena (24-0 at home, last home loss to Chicago on January 27, 2015) for the first time since February 9, completing their arduous cross-country, cross-All-Star-break trip in grand style. As much of a Steph infection that Curry (36 points on a personally tepid 14-for-22 shooting from the field, 5-for-11 on 3s @ ATL on Feb. 22) has inflicted upon the league, Atlanta probably prefers to gameplan for tonight hoping he’ll be on the floor, as his presence takes one less excuse for a letdown performance by the Hawks off the board. Head coach Steve Kerr’s staff must be aware that these Hawks have already blown games to teams missing the likes of Kyrie Irving, Jonas Valanciunas, Al Jefferson, Rudy Gay, Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, Blake Griffin, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, and Hassan Whiteside. So sitting Curry at this juncture wouldn’t be a terribly risky decision. For the Hawks (33-27), the task ahead if Curry sits is making sure tonight doesn’t become The Shaun Livingston Show. Be it Curry, Leandro Barbosa or Livingston, Atlanta guards Jeff Teague and Dennis Schröder must put Golden State’s floor leaders to work by maximizing their lateral movement. That’s done by compelling them to work through multiple screens on defense, or applying pressure on the ballhandler from halfcourt whenever the Warriors have the ball, working them toward the sidelines instead of the hoop. Heavy minutes for Livingston (2-for-14 on 3s in two seasons w/ GSW) would certainly take a three-point threat off the board. Thus, limiting his ability to post-up the Hawks’ guards, and to drive-and-kick outside to perimeter threats like Klay Thompson (41.3 3FG%) and Harrison Barnes (41.2 3FG%, 5-for-14 3FGs @ ATL), would be key to rendering his input negligible. Like Curry, sixth-man Andre Iguodala (hamstring) was shelved for today’s shootaround ahead of tonight’s game, although the likelihood is greater that Iguodala plays. The Hawks were successful in neutralizing point-forward Nicolas Batum in Sunday’s win over Charlotte, and similar principles should be in play here with Iguodala (3-for-12 FGs, 0-for-6 3FGs @ ATL), assuming he suits up, and Draymond Green (2-for-10 FGs, 0-for-4 3FGs, 4 TOs despite 14 rebounds and 9 assists @ ATL). Green has been less Donkey from Shrek, and more Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh lately. He’s been lashing out first at Miami’s Hassan Whiteside, then at coaches and teammates, as he has struggled to get good looks (28.1 FG% 0-for-9 3FGs) in the last four games of Golden State’s road trip. He’s been less effective of an interior shooter at Oracle Arena (49.3 2FG%) than on the road (53.7 2FG%). Paul Millsap and the Hawks’ forwards must disrupt his passing lanes and force tough shots without fouling. They must also be mindful of the need to crash the defensive boards and not getting caught ball-watching when Warrior shots are hoisted. Before outlasting the Hawks in ATL, the Dubs were torched by Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum (72 points, 12-for-16 3FGs) in Portland, then eked past the Clippers despite a combined 65 points by Chris Paul, Jamal Crawford, and J.J. Redick. In Golden State’s next game, Atlanta’s starting backcourt of Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver could only muster 20 points (2-for-9 3FGs) between them, leaving the heroics mostly to reserves Dennis Schröder and Tim Hardaway, Jr. (13-for-21 FGs, 30 points) as Atlanta crawled back into contention from 23 points down in the third quarter. Last week, Miami was able to gain a lead in the final minute against Golden State, thanks to Dwayne Wade’s 32 points and a 15-point (3-for-3 3FGs) effort from backup Josh Richardson. Russell Westbrook contributed a double-double (26 points, 13 assists) for the Thunder on Saturday and might have been able to put a lid on the Warriors in regulation, but for his 0-for-6 shooting on threes (2-for-16 FGs beyond 5 feet) plus seven turnovers. Outside shooting by the Hawks needs to be on-point, at least for early stretches during tonight’s game. Atlanta has become accustomed to wearing out opponents in the paint (+3.2 net PPG in-the-paint, 6th in NBA), in hopes the home-run perimeter shots (34.0% of 4th quarter shots being 3FGAs, 7th in NBA) will arrive in the fourth quarter. It worked out on Saturday when Kent Bazemore and Al Horford’s threes gave the Hawks the breathing room they needed against hard-charging Charlotte. But against Golden State, the outside jumpshots need to serve as the body blows to set up interior plays later. Post-waiver-wire acquisitions Kris Humphries and Anderson Varejao will be suited up and ready to play in a pinch, if needed. Both will help spell the rebounding gaps brought on by the respective injury departures of Atlanta’s Tiago Splitter and Golden State’s Festus Ezeli. In crunch-time situations, the Warriors have held opponents to a league-low 16.7 3FG%. But in those closing quarters, Warrior opponents score a league-high 47.4 points-in-the-paint per-100 possessions. That’s fine-and-dandy when the game is a laugher by then, or if Curry is around to serve as a late-game savior. But if Atlanta can successfully spread out Andrew Bogut (5 blocks @ ATL, incl. 3 crucial 4th-quarter swats at the rim as GSW pulled away) and Green early by making them work the defensive perimeter, those players will be less likely to deny cutters late. A surprising win, with or without a healthy Curry, would make for a nice start to what could be a momentous road trip for Atlanta. But as important as a road win, for the Hawks, would be a competitive effort from the jump. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  12. “I’m just keepin’ the COTY trophy warm for you, Steve!” BANG! Kyle Korver, from three-point land once more! That makes it a record 127 games in a row! It’s the kind of consistency we may never see out of an NBA player again! Whoops! Stephen Curry has hit a triple in all 52 of his appearances this season, and last went home with an 0-fer back on November 11, 2014 at the hands of those wascally Spurs. It’s highly likely Curry will get to 126-in-a-row tonight at Philips Arena, as his Golden State Warriors continue fine-tuning their record-shattering skills against the Atlanta Hawks (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, NBATV, CSN Bay Area). While Steve Kerr’s Warriors haven’t come out of the All-Star Break firing at all cylinders yet, they’re cruising along with a NBA-best 49-5 record, while Mike Budenholzer’s Hawks (31-26) have looked rudderless far too often. The seizing of the Threak consecutive-game record is so expected at this point for the league’s reigning MVP, that nary a mention has been uttered of the man who, if only for a couple more days, holds the current one. Korver has had his share of lapses over the course of the season, but has managed to find a better groove from downtown with at least two three-pointers in each of his last six games (48.5 3FG% in that span). Facing a Splash Brothers dual threat, plus a dogged perimeter defense led by Andre Iguodala, Korver will need to find that level of consistency tonight, and get a lot more help than was available on Saturday, when Atlanta missed an abysmal, franchise-worst, 32 perimeter shots, leaving the door open all night and daring the Milwaukee Bucks to come charging through. The Bucks finally obliged in the second overtime session, and now the Hawks face losing their fourth-straight at the Dimbulb Factory for the first time since April 2007. The Chef has teased his legions of fans from time-to-time, most recently when he hit just one first-quarter three-pointer along the way to a 1-for-9 night versus the Thunder on February 6. But the Hawks need not overbear themselves with somehow shutting down Curry (league-highs 29.7 PPG and 67.4 TS%) from outside and preserving Korver’s place in the NBA annals. Jeff Teague (likely to play despite a wrist injury in Saturday’s loss), Dennis Schröder and Kent Bazemore, at turns, must keep a body in front of the dribbling maestro, both in halfcourt and in transition, and must not expect help defenders to bail them out. @NBASupes aptly spotted many occasions on Saturday, where poorly-contested dribble-drive penetration by Bucks forwards and guards alike caused breakdowns across the interior of the defensive floor, specifically when the Hawks helpers arrived and abandoned their boxout and defensive assignments around the rim. Curry is looking to score more often than not on drives from the outside (78.7 points per 100 drives, 4th most in NBA; 8.7 assist%, 32nd in NBA). And hero-ball isn’t the worst circumstance the Hawks can find themselves facing. Golden State is 40-0 when they exceed 25 assists in a game, a less-imposing 9-5 otherwise. With the Dubs in transition, Bazemore and Sefolosha also have to remain mindful of Klay Thompson (behind only Curry in threes made this season) and Harrison Barnes darting toward the corners. Golden State is 29-0 this season when they sink 40% of their three-point attempts. Contrasting with the Hawks’ doldrums, six of the Warriors’ eight most prolific three-point bombers are hitting shots above a 40-percent clip this season. Atlanta, by comparison, can boast only of Teague (40.4 3FG%) and Mike Scott (40.6 3FG%). Strong off-the-ball defense and forcing the Warriors’ ball-handlers to settle for isolated jumpers (and boxing the heck out) is the way to go. Four of GSW’s five losses (including one in Milwaukee) involved the team shooting below 41 percent from the floor for the contest. In a much more titanic visit to the ATL last year, Golden State got off 103 shots (with help from a season-high 19 O-Rebs), but could muster just 36.4 3FG% (non-Splash Bros 4-for-16 3FGs) while the Thabo-less Hawks were en fuego (55.6 3FG%, Korver/Bazemore/Scott/Teague combined 13-for-19 on threes) in a splendid high-paced affair that serves as the high-watermark of the Budcox Regime. The Hawks got off on a bad talon against Milwaukee as Teague (2-for-8 FGs, 0-for-2 3FGs, 5 assists) struggled to get the Hawks flowing offensively from the jump, leaving a lot of the heavy-duty lifting to a headstrong but eventually overwhelmed Dennis Schröder (25 points, team-high 8 defensive rebounds, 10 assists, 5 TOs). Schröder is eager to help the Hawks’ quasi-bigs fight for boards inside (as @Hawkmoor and others noted, 17 O-Rebs by the Bucks on Saturday helped them keep the lid open), but he cannot abandon his man before shots go up, without communicating that specific teammates need to rotate. Like the guards with Curry, and the wings defending the perimeter, Paul Millsap and Al Horford must play the interior as if they understand help isn’t coming. The ability for the Hawks to even stay in the contest tonight will involve a level of shooting proficiency from both Teague and Korver that disallows Curry (2.2 SPG, 4th in NBA) from sagging off to help force turnovers inside. On the first game back from their All-Star Break, Portland’s Damian Lillard (51 points, 9-for-12 3FGs, 6 steals, 7 assists, zero TOs) and C.J. McCollum (21 points, 3-for-4 3FGs, 7 assists) matched the Warriors’ pace and were unrelenting in a 137-105 victory that slowed Golden State’s roll just a bit. “Best center in the league!” joked master-of-all-trades Draymond Green (9.6 RPG, 7.3 APG), after he lofted shot-after-shot above DeAndre Jordan to help Golden State hang on to edge the Clippers at Staples on Saturday. As he prepares to face up against another super-versatile power forward in Paul Millsap, Green is likely to log plenty of time at the 5-spot again tonight. Andrew Bogut is missing time with a sore Achilles, while Festus Ezeli remains sidelined following arthroscopic surgery in January. The Hawks have to find a way to exploit the Warriors’ shorthanded interior defense. Defensively, Mike Muscala played well in a short stint against the Bucks. A rested Moose needs to show his antlers tonight when going head-to-head against Marreese Speights. Horford will continue to play from the high-post and the arc, but he must make quicker reads when the Warriors defense reacts to his threat of a jumpshot. His abilities to find cutters (Millsap, Bazemore, and Scott would be prime targets), set up Teague on dribble-handoffs, roll to the hoop, and find open options along the perimeter, makes him a focal point for keeping the Warriors guessing. When Green or Speights comes out of the paint to challenge, Horford has to think fast, and act faster. Same deal for Teague, and Korver, coming off of picks. A lack of instinctive play is among the most glaring elements of Atlanta’s offensive woes this season. Too much reading and insufficient reacting turns Budball into Badball, as opponents are becoming hip to the game when the Hawks decide to kick the ball back out or go cross-court. Against the Warriors’ precision, hesitation and second-guessing equals death. It’s clear that there is no outcome tonight that will mollify an understandably skeptical Hawks fanbase, particularly those crowded out by fans in Bandwagon Blue and Gold at the Highlight Factory. But a “Where has this been all season?” reaction would trump any others that fans could offer up by game’s end. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  13. ~lw3