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  1. “Hey, John Vall, me and Huncho gonna get our offseason vorkout started early. Join us vhen you’re freed up in a couple veeks!” We’re almost done! Our 2017-18 Atlanta Hawks season nears its end as they visit the 2015-17 Atlanta Hawks. Pardon? Oh, actually it’s the Washington Wizards (7:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Washington) that will participate in the Hawks’ final intra-division fun-run. Maybe it’s the Friday Happy Hour beverage. But I do get the vibe that the Wizards’ course is currently charting our old one. Coach’s-pet All-Stars; veteran starters that seem increasingly beyond their sell-by date; high hopes, for a young talent, that are growing sour; patchwork bench contributors (including Mike Scott) that provide an occasional spark but not much consistency. Led by a former Coach of the Year award winner. A regular season record, and postseason outlook, that belie the players’ boundless expressions of self-confidence that THIS year will somehow be different. Current Pacers reporter and former Wizards correspondent J. Michael tweeted, after reviewing a lackluster effort in the clutch by John Wall and Bradley Beal, during last night’s 119-115 loss in LeBronopolis, “…when you demand more and crave more (attention) – and they got it this season – you’ve gotta make good on it. Otherwise it sets you back even more.” Now in their sixth season together, The Best Backcourt in the East has long had little trouble talking the talk, but it’s walking the full walk that has proven to be problematic for this duo. Fans of the Wizards will now wait an inexplicable 40 years for their team to reach 50 wins in any one particular season. It’s also likely that the wait for a trip to a Conference Finals will stretch into decade number five. This, despite the plethora of injuries befalling the Celtics, and the shifting sands in Cleveland. One would think that if any NBA team would know how to capitalize by now, it would be the one from the District of Columbia. Here they are, at 42-37, going through the motions, bearing a huge payroll for a probable first-round exit, with its top six salary recipients returning for 2018-19 and with Wall’s salary doubling the season after that. Following Hawks-fan parlance of yore, is it past time, perhaps, to begin blowing this roster up? Not if you’re Ernie Grunfeld, somehow still there in an executive capacity. They’re holding out hope that LeBron jumps out West this summer, and that the only comparable superstar that ever jumps East will come because the Wizards hired the player’s former lunchlady as the Director of Team Nutrition. I made that last part up. I think. If there is a single thing the Wizards accomplished in 2018, aside from maybe wresting the Southeast Division title away from Miami, it is putting to bed the notion that this cluster of Wizards is in some way “better” without Wall on the floor than otherwise. One of their pan-flashers, Tomas Satoransky, will fill in for Wall as he rests and remains in and injury-management mode. Post-surgery knee soreness has caused him to miss half the season. But there were times when fans, and at least one player (we see you, Marcin Gortat) felt like Wall’s absence made the rest of the team’s heart grow fonder. Of one another. The last two meetings with the Hawks (22-57) allow a glimpse at what Marcin, et al., were thinking. On December 27, Wall had 11 assists, but was otherwise non-existent over the course of 33 minutes and the host Hawks won it going away, 113-99 on the strength of the Not Best Backcourt in the East, Dennis Schröder and Marco Belinelli. A month later, with Satoransky in for the re-injured Wall, a balanced effort (six players, including Scott’s 19 points, in double figures) led to a thrashing of the Hawks on the same Philips Arena floor, a 129-104 win for the Wizards. That sparked a five-game streak, but in the middle of it, Gortat flubbed an attempt at damning with faint praise, a tweet that had Wall telling his center to shut his pierogi hole. All told, Washington with Wall was 25-17 before his latest return last week, 16-17 without him. But even with him back on the floor, the Wizards aren’t showing signs of an uptick in winning play. After dusting off Charlotte at home one night before, losing by 19 in Chicago (Wall DNP’d for rest) had to be the day’s biggest April Fool’s joke. The Wiz were no match for the Rockets, losing by 16 in Houston two days later. Then last night, in what Wall hoped would be a statement game in Cleveland, Washington allowed 39 opening-quarter points. They surged ahead of the Cavs by 17 midway through the fourth, thanks to some nifty passing by Beal and Satoransky, and a scoring spree by Scott. But, much like the season, or their recent history, once Washington gets something going, they can’t sustain it when it counts. That 17-point lead was gone in the space of six critical minutes. Wall finally found his scoring touch last night, but his habit of wild circus shots and wilder passes (leading to turnovers, 18 in his past 3 games) off his frantic drives to the hoop must cease before the first-round opponent gets here. Fortunately, the Wizards won’t have to deal with a Kyle Lowry tonight. And the only Cleveland that matters today is Antonius (available to play), coming off the bench behind Hawks backcourt starters Damion Lee and Isaiah Taylor. Taurean Prince (sore back) will also be around to make things interesting for Atlanta. Like the Wizards, Grunfeld is probably not going anywhere, yet again. If he is seeking my advice about the way forward going into 2018-19, I’ve got just one word for him. It’s four letters, beginning with a T and ending in K. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  2. Satoransky got Portis'd last night as well, but he says he'll be alright. ~lw3
  3. Black-and-Volt-Green-Black-and-Volt-Green-Black-and-Volt-Green-Black-and-Volt-Green… Sure, the Atlanta Hawks laid an egg in the final minutes of last night’s loss in Charlotte, after its revved-up Competitank finally ran out of gas. But as they return home for a quick run with the Washington Wizards tonight (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, NBC Sports Washington), there’s a different egg-laying bird I’m concerned about. There’s a strong likelihood that whoever’s name follows the words, “THE ATLANTA HAWKS SELECT…” this summer, will be our Goose for the foreseeable future. He’ll have his share of flaws and setbacks and disappointments. But just like the Wizards’ John Wall and Bradley Beal, just like DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento’s former hope now residing in New Orleans, our Goose will be counted on to periodically lay some Golden Eggs. It’s going to be on our Hawks, to make sure we don’t succumb to our rapacity, that we don’t kill the Goose. Alvin Thibodeau Gentry is having a sobering egg-free breakfast this morning. His Pelicans were midway through their first full season with Cousins playing alongside Anthony Davis, another unique frontcourt talent, albeit one with a tenuous injury history. And here they were, with the playoffs in their sights, knowing they cannot win games without one of the two All-Stars on the floor, if not both. Monty Williams – Monty! Williams! – Gentry’s predecessor, got canned in New Orleans, after following the owner’s directive and reaching the playoffs for the first time in four years with 45 wins, only to get swept by the one of the greatest teams of all time in the opening round. That championship team’s lead assistant, Gentry, was wooed to The Big Easy, and has failed to get more than 35 wins in the past two seasons. Even in 2016-17, with Cousins in tow for the back half of the season, and the oft-injured Davis playing over 70 games for the first time, the Pels finished at 34-48, seven games behind the 8-seed. Out of desperation, Gentry had both the 24-year-old Davis (36.3 MPG; 41.0 in last eight games) and the 27-year-old Cousins (36.2 MPG; 39.0 in last 10 games) logging career-high amounts of playing time, his Pelicans cranking out some of the shiniest Golden game-orbs the NBA world has ever seen. No rest days for Cuz, no, as it’s the game he DNP-CD’s that might cost this team a playoff spot. Pels GM Dell Demps wasn’t helping either – which one of Omer Asik, Asik Ajinca, Cheick Diallo or Solomon Hill are you resting these two stars to play? Now, Gentry is down one Goose. He’ll be inclined to ramp up the Golden Egg production of Davis to help compensate for the Achilles-tearing loss of Cousins. And while we don’t know when, we will know how that will turn out. Cousins’ fellow collegiate Wildcat, Wall had his own durability issues in his early career, but as he started cranking out All-Star bids, and after his team added lottery talent like Beal and Otto Porter, his long-dormant Wizards finally began to peak. Now at 27 years-old, Wall’s third head coach, Scott Brooks, wants to keep his All-Star point guard fresh for the postseason. But as Washington’s bad road losses continue to pile up – by 23 in Dallas, by 24 in Charlotte, by 35 in Brooklyn, by 14 at Philips Arena, all since mid-December – and as the value of playoff seeding becomes clearer, Brooks is starting to ramp up Wall’s floor time. Wall’s 34.1 MPG is his lowest average since 2012-13, but it’s up to 36.7 in the games since Atlanta tripped up the Wiz 113-99 back on December 27. His per-minute production hasn’t improved (20.3 points, 9.7 assists, 1.4 steals) since last season, but Brooks isn’t about to squander a first-round upper-seed – a place where Washington (26-22), not Miami, should be – by leaning on the likes of Tim Frazier, Jodie Meeks and Tomas Satoransky. Beal hasn’t managed a full slate in his five prior NBA seasons, but Brooks is relying on BB-gun to play a career-high 36.1 MPG (39.2 in his past 12 contests). His ramped-up production was good enough to earn him his first All-Star appearance next month. But what happens to Washington’s chances in the East if either of Wall or Beal blows a gasket from overuse? I’m often right there with critics of Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer for metering out his newest Goose. Crank up the playing time and start John Collins (20.3 MPG, 2.4 personal fouls/game in last 21 games; down from 23.0 MPG and 3.7 fouls/game in first 21 appearances), and Johnny Bap’s First-Team All-Rookie and ROY award-nominee credentials would become much clearer to a national audience. But Coach Bud and the Hawks have grander schemes in mind than just wowing Hawks fans from one game to the next amid a season of recession. Sure, you might be tempted to insert a struggling Dennis Schröder late in last night’s game in hopes of sewing up a victory, just as Cousins was in late, fighting for rebounds to save the Pelicans from yet another crushing loss in the waning moments on national TV. But in winning those kinds of battles, what wars do you risk losing? If our Hawks (14-34) play their cards right with this year’s and the next year’s batch of rooks, with a focus on proper conditioning, treatment, and carefully-monitored development, then we could be setting ourselves up for something truly Golden down the road. Alternatively, the way Washington and New Orleans have been handling their Geese, chances are the eventual results won’t be everything it’s cracked up to be. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  4. “Need directions to your hotel? Follow me!” Back at it! We’ll get to see how a weekend full of eggnog and hot toddy will affect our Atlanta Hawks Basketball Club, as they suit up to face a Washington Wizards team (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, CSN Mid-Atlantic) that’s hoping they’re finally hitting their stride. Essentially the same lineup – minus ex-Hawk Mike Scott – that ousted Atlanta from the 2017 playoffs and set the Hawks’ CTRL+ALT+DEL in motion, the Wizards are clearly the head of the class in the Southeast Division… or, at least, they should be. With the Hawks, Magic, and Hornets slipping around in oil, and the heat dealing with injuries to Hassan Whiteside and other starters, this division is dressed up for Washington to seize. But for some reason, coach Scott Brooks’ charges cannot seem to sustain a winning run. When last these two teams met, in D.C. back on November 11, the Wizards had merely a 6-5 record, even after kicking off 2017-18 with three straight wins. The lowly Hawks helped the Wiz kickstart a four-game streak with a 111-94 defeat at Capital One Center, thanks to a 37-point fourth quarter for the home squad. But here we are, over a month-and-a-half later, and the Wizards (19-15, 9-8 vs. East) have no more win streaks of three-or-more games to show for themselves. Yes, they come into Philips Arena feeling sky-high after a 111-103 marquee victory in Boston over the Celtics on Christmas Day. But just last week, they topped New Orleans at home, got two full days off, then traveled to Brooklyn and got spanked, 119-84, the second loss to the Nets this month. They began the month decisively beating once-hot Detroit (without John Wall), got two full days off, and then found themselves getting tuned up by the Jazz, 116-69 in SLC, the second-worst beatdown (worst since a loss to Kareem and Oscar’s Bucks in 1970-71) in franchise history. Prior to that, the Wiz suffered losses at the hands of the Lakers, Suns, and Mavericks, none on the back end of a back-to-back, the latter two at home. Sure, they’ve had their share of short-term injuries, most significantly 11 games missed by Wall. But their experienced “Death Lineup” of starters Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Markieff Morris, and Marcin Gortat are a tepid 8-5 on the season. With that record, there’s little wonder why overachieving Miami (18-16) is nipping at their heels. Division banners barely amount to a hill of beans these days, too, and defending Southeast champs find themselves mired in a middling tier of seven Eastern Conference playoff contenders, two of whom could be left standing once the musical chairs of the regular season stop in mid-April. If they’re going to catch up with conference stalwarts Boston (ahead by 6.5 games) or Toronto and Cleveland (ahead by 5 games), now is the time for Washington to build some consistency and string victories together. After Atlanta, nine of the Wizards’ next ten games are back home. When they’re at their best, the Wizards present a stifling perimeter defense (NBA-best 34.1 opponent 3FG%), shut down dribble penetration scorers (Dennis Schröder 2-for-16 FGs @ WAS on Nov. 11) and force an advantageous number of turnovers (season-high 14 steals vs. ATL on Nov. 11; two steals by BOS on Dec. 25). They turn live-ball rebounds and steals into downcourt opportunities for the speedy Wall (20.3 points and 9.6 assists and 1.2 steals per-36, down from 22.9, 10.5, and 2.0 respectively). Where it gets problematic for the Wiz is when they do few of those things, or when Gortat and a healthy Ian Mahinmi cannot produce enough second-chances whenever Wall, Beal, Porter, or Morris are having off shooting nights. The 20.1 PPG Washington produces off turnovers in victories (4th in NBA) drops to 14.9 (a pedestrian 17th in NBA) in defeats. They’re 8th in O-Reb% when they win, but just 25th when they’re catching Ls. As far as ex-Hawks go, you must give it up for Scott. His contributions were marginalized in his final season under coach Mike Budenholzer in Atlanta, burdened by the crushing weight of uncertain legal proceedings. Much like Coach Bud, though, Money Mike beat the rap, and his new team now needs his help to beat the Raps, the Celts, the Cavs and the like. The Virginia native’s contributions in D.C. (career-highs of 9.7 PPG, 57.9 FG%, 42.3 3FG%), best since at least a 2013-14 campaign that gave him postseason renown, have not only made a longtime dormant Wizard reserve unit (also featuring momentary Hawks draftee Kelly Oubre, and ATLien Jodie Meeks) reasonably functional, they have helped the Wizards to hold things down until starting forwards like the rap-beating Markieff Morris (46.2 3FG% in last 12 games) and Otto Porter (45.8 3FG%, 5th in NBA) found their sea legs. How do we know the Hawks (2-3 in last five games, all within 10-point margin) are well along the way to becoming one of the “Best Worst” Teams in NBA History? Atlanta (8-25) doesn’t prevail very often, but when teams lose, their net rating (minus-9.9 points per 100 possessions) is among the league’s ten best. Further, on the rare occasions the Hawks have won (usually, due to better team rebounding and ball-control), their plus-12.7 net rating as a winner is currently 8th-best in the NBA, tied with a Wizards team that desperately wants to fashion themselves as a Finals contender. Tonight, the Hawks should be able to pull together a more complete, 48-minute effort, compared to last month’s second-half collapse in The District, thanks to the return of Ersan Ilyasova (21 points, 7-for-9 FGs vs. DAL last Saturday, career-high 58.5 TS%) in the starting lineup. An improving array of perimeter shooters, plus potentially steadier backup point guard play for Atlanta, ought to make it tougher for Brooks’ Bruthas to simply suit up and tie down Schröder (career-high-tying 33 points, 13-for-22 FGs, 7 assists, 2 TOs in the win over the Mavs) as the essential part of a winning gameplan. With a healthy roster and a favorable schedule on the docket, it’s time for Washington to strike. But is the Wizards’ iron truly hot? Or will yet another sub-.500 squad take the starch out of them? Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  5. “Gahhh… not this Dennis kid, again!” The second of five road back-to-backs for the Atlanta Hawks concludes today as they visit the Washington Wizards (7:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast in ATL, NBC Sports Washington) at the newly renamed Capital One Arena. So let’s take a glance, and see what’s in owner Ted Leonsis’ wallet. After reaching the Conference Semifinals for the third time in four seasons last season, courtesy of a Hawks team that wasn’t entirely up to the task, Washington entered 2017-18 with the league’s fifth-largest salary load. As it stands, Wizard contracts rack up as the fifth-highest in the NBA for next season, third-largest in 2019-20, highest in 2020-21, and second-most in 2021-22. They’re led by John Wall (listed as probable, despite an illness), a white shark in a point guard’s body who is still seeking his just due as one of the league’s upper-echelon great players. Wall’s $18 million salary more than doubles two seasons from now, allowing him to surpass fellow starters Bradley Beal ($24 million) and Otto Porter ($25 million), who each received new deals over the past two summers. By then, Washington can get out from under Marcin Gortat’s $13 million take-home pay, but probably not that of Gortat’s backup, Ian Mahinmi, who virtually pulls in Kent Bazemore money ($16 million) through 2019-20 while playing just over 12 minutes per game. The team also bolstered their long-woeful bench with former Hawk Mike Scott (18.3 minutes/game, most since 2013-14; career-high 46.7 3FG%) and guards Jodie Meeks and Tim Frazier. Leonsis opined in the Washington Post just yesterday about the need for “The DMV” to become America’s next great “supercity”, and Ted is putting supercity money where his mouth is when it comes to his Capitals, his Mystics, and certainly his NBA team. Wall and the Wizards know they’re in this together for the long-haul, one of the only starting-five units carried over from last season. But the time is now, not later, to establish themselves as a stalwart in the Eastern Conference. While most prognosticators pegged Cleveland and Boston as Washington’s superiors, the sense of urgency around The District heightened further as the Celtics’ injuries stack up and the Cavaliers continue to flounder. The coast is clear to seize the day and surge to the top of the NBA East. The Wizards, therefore, have no business losing games to Lonzo “can’t throw it in the Potomac” Ball and the Lakers, as was the case last month. They can’t be blowing 18-point leads in the space of 12 minutes, even at Golden State. They cannot afford to give up 122 points and lose home games to teams in turmoil that halfway don’t wanna be here, like Phoenix. They can’t let LeBron waltz into Capital One and discredit them with 57 points before a national audience. Washington (6-5) did bounce back last weekend with a road win at Toronto (where have you gone, Kyle Lowry?) without a shoulder-sprained Wall. But then their star returned to the floor, on Tuesday, just in time to watch Dallas stroll out of D.C. with a 113-99 victory. They got a measure of revenge by coasting to a win against the Lakers on Thursday night. But wins like that, and the one they desperately want today, are supposed to be the norm, not just a hope. The fun part of following the Atlanta Hawks (2-10) this season is the knowledge that every game is an absolute-must-win for their opponents. Knowing their role, Atlanta is either establishing the depths of their floor, or breaking their slide. Whether you’re Lauri Markkanen or Nikola Jokic, Reggie Jackson or Kyrie Irving, the Hawks are allowing the ball to fall into your hands and daring you to beat them with big-time shots when it counts. It may come down to another big play in the final frame, but coach Scott Brooks is going to need greater perimeter volume and better accuracy out of guards Wall (1.0 3FGs/game, 27.0 3FG%) and Beal (2.0 3FGs/game, 36.7 3FG%). Brooks also needs his All-Stars, and his handsomely-paid big men, to take duties on the defensive side of the floor seriously if the Wizards (104.6 D-Rating, 19th in NBA) are to be taken seriously as an NBA Finals contender. In the six games where Washington has been “in the clutch” (as per stats, within five points of the lead with under five minutes to play in regulation/overtime), they’ve allowed 12.3 PPG, second-most in the league (Atlanta’s 10.0 opponent PPG in 7 games ranks 6th-highest) behind only Oklahoma City. Only Dallas’ foes have had fewer problems getting restricted-area shots (67.6 opponent 2FG%, 2nd-highest in NBA) to fall softly into the net. Gortat and Markieff Morris (probable, with a gimpy ankle) like to fashion themselves as intimidators. Wall and Beal occasionally wish to remind you what poses and jibber-jabber they’ve learned from their respective hardscrabble upbringings, while sub forward Kelly Oubre (career-high 11.0 PPG; 38.3 2FG%, 44.4 3FG%) has the whole ready-punch-aim gameplan down to a science. But none of that wannabe-toughness has been demonstrated around the defensive rim (36.1 opponent paint points per-48, 6th-most in NBA; 75.5 D-Reb%, 24th in NBA). Washington wants to play bully-ball themselves in and around the paint (66.4 restricted-area FG%, 6th in NBA). But that often comes at the expense of failing to get back in transition, and a John Wall-led team should not be getting outscored on the regular (12.5-10.6 PPG) when it comes to fastbreak offense. Dennis Schröder, Taurean Prince and Kent Bazemore (combined 6 of Atlanta’s 11 steals on Friday) should continue not only getting stops but pushing the ball in transition, forcing Wall and Beal to make a greater share of plays on the defensive end. In last night’s 111-104 loss to Detroit that was a surprising toss-up until the final minute of action, Mike Budenholzer did a sound job of preserving John Collins (16 points and 8 rebounds in 27 minutes; 20.4 player efficiency rating, 1st among rookies w/ 10+ minutes/game) for the second half, where he could wreck shop around the rim and beat his man consistently down the floor. Proper tag-teaming of Collins, the only legit Hawk big-man coming off the bench, with Dewayne Dedmon and Luke Babbitt can keep the Atlanta offense diversified and confound the Wizards’ frontline. Atlanta holding serve up front for three-and-a-half quarters will require Wall (if available), Beal, and Porter (career-highs of 17.9 PPG, 51.1 3FG%) to make the Wizards the best single-digit conqueror of the Hawks that $125 million in team salary can buy. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  6. “If we HURRY… we can still make it to Fyre Festival after the game!” Up a game in an Eastern Conference Playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks? The Washington Wizards’ John Wall, ahead of Game 6 at the Highlight Factory (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, CSN Mid-Atlantic in D.C., NBATV or ESPNU elsewhere), knows this is no time to get complacent. Or, at least, he should know. Same deal for Bradley Beal, Otto Porter and Marcin Gortat. All three (with Kris Humphries in tow) recall winning the conference semifinals opener in Atlanta back in 2015, then winning Game 3 in D.C. despite Wall sitting out with an injured wrist. Up 2-1, with Game 4 in their house, Paul Pierce trolling to perfection and Wall returning by Game 5… game, set, match. Conference Finals, here we come! Well, don’t call “series” just quite yet, Zards. The Hawks eked past the Wizards in three straight games, including twice at the Verizon Center, to steal Wall and the Wizards’ joy right out from under them. Bojan Bogdanovic doesn’t need to hear about any of that. His Nets had tied up the prior series against the Hawks in Brooklyn, and had all the momentum (and media spotlight) swinging their way. Unfortunately for BoBo and company, Paul Millsap and Dennis Schröder (coming off the bench in his second NBA season) had other plans. Don’t trouble Brandon Jennings with current events. He had the Hawks dead-to-rights in 2010, after his Bucks took three straight games, granting the emerging star an opportunity to clinch his first-ever playoff series in front of a raucous Game 6 Milwaukee crowd. The Bucks never got to 75 points the rest of the way, and Jennings never won another playoff game until last week. The lesson? The moment you’re sure you have a playoff game, or series, in hand, the Hawks have you right where they want you. The question as Game 6 approaches is, have these Wizards learned this lesson? Hopefully, the only decent shots fired anywhere around downtown Atlanta this busy weekend come off the hands of Tim Hardaway, Jr. (34.4 FG%) and Ersan Ilyasova (34.8 FG%). Along with Kent Bazemore (36.2 FG%), their collective struggles to find the bottom interior of the net have caused Atlanta to fail to take advantage of a wayward outside shooting by Beal (24.0 3FG%), Porter (35.7 3FG%), Bogdanovic (29.4 3FG%) and Markieff Morris (25.0 3FG%, playoff-high 24 personal fouls). Beal even found time to stray away from Hawk shooters to defend Millsap, as was the case in crunch time of Washington’s 103-99 Game 5 victory. The Wiz were merely shooting 29.2 percent on threes in their home gym, so it would have made an immense difference had the Hawks shot better than 29.0 percent themselves. Millsap (23.0 PPG, 9.2 RPG this series) found himself doing too much of a J-Smoovian impression before the Game 5 refs, forcing shots in anticipation of whistles and then griping when the tweets didn’t come. Sap finished off Game 4 falling away like a Mad Men silhouette while making buckets, and Atlanta will need that same intensity and focus around the paint from him to force a Game 7 on Sunday. More important than the potential suppression of their free agent values, another disappointing display by the Hawks perimeter shooters also risks spoiling a pleasantly surprising performance from Hawks point guard Dennis Schröder (24.4 PPG). No one would have guessed that Schröder would lead NBA playoff starters (min. 3 starts) in assist-turnover ratio (7.2 APG, 1.6 TOs/game; 7.1 TO%, 4th lowest in Playoffs), especially with Wall hovering around. Few would have expected Atlanta to have to rely on Dennis’ three-point shooting, either (43.8 3FG%), to stay in games. Yet, here we are. Free throw makes were, and are, another factor that can swing the outcome in one team’s favor, and that’s not to put Dwight Howard, who himself knows a thing or two about bouncing back after being down in a series, on Front Street. More post touches for Howard today can help Atlanta thin out a Wizards frontline that may be even thinner without Jason Smith (knee sprain, game time decision) available. Howard was 1-for-4 from the line on Wednesday evening, but his teammates also missed four freebies versus a Washington team that wasn’t going to miss many, not with Game 5 being a potential home finale. Especially for as long as the Hawks are cold from outside, they cannot afford to leave points from undefended shots on the table. Atlanta has a chance to do today what neither Milwaukee nor Memphis could do last night: win an elimination game on its home floor. Motion and ball movement remains an offensive priority for the Hawks. But if there is a lull in the outside shooting, Schröder’s teammates need to cut to the rim and help re-establish the paint-points advantage that was lost to the Wizards (40-36) in Game 5, rather than leaving it Schröder and Millsap to play iso-hero-ball with Wall and Beal. This playoff series will go not to a team that is satisfied with resting on their laurels, but to one that is instead intent on crafting new ones. Which team that is depends on whether Game 6 or Game 7 in the final contest in this series. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  7. “I Know Who You’re Working Out With This Summer.” Which Atlanta Hawk player declared that Washington’s basketball team is a bunch of “…crybabies. They b*tch and moan all game. They have no class,” then added, “They've got nobody who can stop me. I am going to dominate their guards physically and psychologically”? What if, throughout this whole Eastern Conference quarterfinal series between the Hawks and Wizards, now reaching a pivotal Game 5 in the District (6:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, CSN Mid-Atlantic in D.C., TNT), Markieff Morris is merely being a basketball historian, trying to stay in touch with his spirit animal… the late, coulda-been-great, Terry Furlow? Not long after wearing high school star Magic Johnson ragged on the blacktops of Lansing, the ex-Spartan Furlow was in his third NBA season in 1979, when he fell out with coach/GM Bill Fitch in Cleveland and was traded to Atlanta in mid-season, for Butch Lee and a future 1st-rounder. The newest Hawk arrived just in time to spark a mad dash by coach Hubie Brown’s team into the playoffs. And it was against the defending World Champion Bullets, in the conference semis, that Furlow, a backup guard, took the initiative to become the self-styled Mouth of the South. A sampling: “(Elvin) Hayes is a cheap-shot artist. Write that.” “(Wes) Unseld is a bully. He has bullied his way through this league all his life.” (To top-scoring Bullet guard Kevin Grevey, during a game, as reported by Sports Illustrated): “Hello? You're in trouble now. Every time I get it, I'm looking for you. It's gonna be in your face.” “The Bullet guards haven't done a thing, except (Larry) Wright - and he can be handled. We just haven't seen him enough yet. (Tom) Henderson can do only so much, and Grevey is lucky to be playing on this team. All he can do is shoot. He can't assist and rebound. When he's cold, he's no good to anybody.” Ouch! Almost exactly 28 years ago to this day, it was Washington’s calm, cool, collected, and playoff battle-tested team who were getting increasingly unnerved by the “cheap shots and unnecessary on-court celebrations” (quote attributed to an unnamed Bullet player by the Washington Post) by the upstarts with upside from Down South, led by their carnival barker off the bench. Furlow not only sold the 1979 series to capacity crowds in both Landover and Atlanta (invited by Abe Pollin, even President Carter made it to the decisive Game 7), he was backing up his incessant yap with his offensive play as well. Terry tag-teamed with Eddie Johnson and Armond Hill to dominate the backcourt matchups versus Grevey and ex-Hawk assist-man Henderson, helping to offset powerful performances by Bullet stars Bobby Dandridge and Hayes and turning that series into a toss-up with the top-seeded reigning champs. Washington thought they had the series in hand after besting the Hawks in Atlanta, in Games 3 and 4, to go up 3-1 in the series. But unlike the Capital Centre clocks, which began malfunctioning just as the Bullets began to race away at the outset of Game 5, it was Furlow, an already gray-haired Tom McMillen, and Johnson who proved unstoppable, their 59 combined points pacing the Hawks to a 107-103 victory. A resounding Game 6 win by the Hawks in front of an enlivened Omni crowd suddenly had the Bullets, who spent way too much time wrangling with the refs, on the ropes, and Atlanta as close as ever before to chasing championship dreams. “The team that (wins Game 7) is prepared for anything,” suggested Bullets coach (Richard) Motta. “It’s ready to go all the way.” Even after escaping with a 100-94 win back home in Game 7, despite 21 points by Furlow in what turned out to be the villain’s final NBA playoff contest, a triumphant Hayes remarked that Atlanta, “would have beaten any other team in the league today, except for us.” In 2017, it’s the Hawks that are the calmer, cooler team, its veterans better steeled by playoff series victories than Washington’s. It’s the favored Wizards’ backcourt, led by John Wall and Bradley Beal, that has the superior edge but now finds themselves struggling to offset a frontline beleaguered by Atlanta’s Paul Millsap (team-high 23.5 PPG and 1.3 SPG) and Dwight Howard. And in 2017, it is playoff-virgin Morris who is trying to infuse some Furlow-style swagger into this postseason matchup with the Hawks. As a distinction, though, Washington’s 2017 team pales in comparison to the ’79 Bullets, and the current-day Hawks are tied in this series rather than playing games with their season on the line. Also, Markieff, unlike Furlow, is earning DJ Khaled-style congratulations, for playing himself right out of this series. Aside from the early-arriving Verizon Center crowd, it will be Wall who will do all he can to reinvigorate Morris and Marcin Gortat from the outset of Game 5. Morris knows he must stay scrappy but steer clear of foul trouble, which plagued him during the games in Atlanta. Gortat (27 boards in past two games, but just eight FGAs), back in front of his home crowd, must demonstrate he can rediscover his offensive gear. To steer this series back in the Wizards’ favor, Wall must be more respectful of Dennis Schröder, at least on the court. Schröder has done about everything Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer has asked of him in this series, and the best defense Wall (1.3 SPG this series) has put up against him is to try to coax the young point guard into early foul problems himself. Wall has gone under screens repeatedly, and Dennis has been making the Wizards pay for their All-Star’s insouciance. To this point in the series, Schröder is benefitting from better-balanced contributions by his teammates than Wall. While Morris (10.5 PPG, 34.8 FG%) is the only Wizard not named Wall or Beal averaging double-figures, Atlanta is now up to five double-figure scorers, a number which could rise to six with more dump-ins directed Howard’s way. The Hawks can certainly steal this series so long as Schröder is not expected to out-John-Wall John Wall. Aside from Wall (10.0 APG), only Brandon Jennings in limited minutes is averaging at least three assists per game for coach Brooks’ club. By comparison, Schröder (6.3 APG) is joined by Millsap (4.3 APG), and Kent Bazemore, and that doesn’t count the mastery exhibited by Jose Calderon in Game 4 with Schröder riding the pine due to early foul issues. While Gortat matches Dwight’s 11.8 RPG, the only other players averaging more than five rebounds are all Hawks, including Millsap, Ersan Ilyasova, and Taurean Prince. The latter would be in the lead for the Playoffs Rookie of the Year award if there were such a thing. Both the Hawks and Wizards are awaiting big games from players who were integral to many successes the teams had during the regular season. For Otto Porter (27.3 3FG% this series; 4th in NBA for 3FG% during regular season), his jumpshot thawed in Game 4 (5-for-10 3FGs), but he has yet to sort out Prince’s defensive riddles and put together a complete effort. After being elevated to the starting lineup as the playoffs neared, Tim Hardaway, Jr. (34.8 FG% this series) is only beginning to come around (3-for-5 3FGs and two steals in Game 4). A pair of solid two-way efforts from either player could tilt this series decisively in their team’s favor. A Game 5 win on the road in 1979 significantly altered Atlanta’s series-winning and title-contending prospects. In 2017, Coach Bud, 4-0 in Game 5s of playoff series as a Hawks coach, is drawing up the plays in hopes of a similar impact. One difference from the Hawks team that entered Game 1 is that Atlanta enters today’s action with the echoes of rabid fans back home still in their ears. From this point forward, the Hawks, unlike the Wizards, need no rabble-rousing teammates to motivate them to victory. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  8. “John! John! I got the license number of that truck! It said, ‘BE GR8’…” The Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau would like some assistance, please. Markieff Morris has been having a splendid stay in the A. This, after being directed to some of our town’s finest accommodations by the Atlanta Hawks’ Paul Millsap, who has become quite the pain in the A for Morris during this Eastern Conference quarterfinal series. To ensure Keef and his Washington Wizards earn one more free continental breakfast in our fair city, the Bureau needs its Hawks fans to cheer the home team on to victory once again, tonight in Game 4 at the Highlight Factory (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, CSN Mid-Atlantic in DC, TNT if you dare). If Millsap did any “crying” in Game 3, it was with tears of joy. Sap wasn’t crying out loud, but was instead flying high and proud after not only beasting in the boxscore (29 points, 14 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 blocks), but pairing with Dwight Howard (25 combined rebounds, five offensive) to bedevil Morris and Marcin Gortat (two of Washington’s six O-Rebs, 5-for-18 combined FGs in 58 combined minutes) on the boards for the first time in the best-of-7 series. While Howard continues to etch out his role in the Atlanta offense, this time around it was Gortat who got to enjoy the fourth-quarter proceedings from the bench. That is largely due to Dennis Schröder pacing the Hawks in his stellar home debut as a playoff starter (27 points, 7-for-15 2FGs, 3-for-7 3FGs, 9 assists, 3 TOs), and Howard staying home around the rim to limit Gortat’s touches. Washington is likely to set up more post play in Game 4, attempting to soften up Atlanta’s frontcourt tandem. You can’t spell “unconventional” without “ATL”, and Atlanta continues to find ways, good or bad, to introduce a different wrinkle to the series. This time, there was ball control, with Hawks players committing just 11 turnovers. That was the lowest number of player turnovers since the series-opener against the Celtics last season. There was also suffocating perimeter defense, causing even the easiest of three-point looks to rim out for Washington (7-for-29 3FGs in Game 3). Atlanta had not held a playoff opponent to sub-25% shooting since the series-ender in Boston last year. Even without Thabo Sefolosha on the court for meaningful minutes, the wing trio of Tim Hardaway, Jr., Taurean Prince, and Kent Bazemore did an imperfect yet adequate job of limiting kickout passes from reaching their intended targets. Morris (36.1 series FG%) has fully embraced Paul Pierce’s wannabe-tough-guy role, and has conducted himself exactly as you’d expect for an overbearing 27-year-old in just his third career playoff contest. One can expect Morris (career-high 36.2 3FG% in 2016-17) to continue looking for outside shots to help liven up the Wizards’ offense in Game 4. The commitment to sealing Wiz forwards out of plays in the paint and keeping passes to shooters out of reach often came at the expense of highlight-worthy buckets from the sensational John Wall (10-for-12 FGs, 8-for-10 FTs, 7 assists, 3 TOs), who continues to light up the rim in transition. The lack of Hawks’ live-ball turnovers, though, meant many Wizards’ fastbreaks had to begin by collecting the ball out from their own net. As was the case for Schröder in D.C., this time it was Wall who had little help from his Wizard mates, most notably Bradley Beal (6-for-20 FGs, 0-for-6 on threes), Otto Porter, and bench man Bojan Bogdanovic (3-for-9 FGs, 0-for-4 on threes). Porter strained his neck while catching a cross-court screen from Hardaway in the second half, but he is healed up in advance of today’s game. Saturday’s 116-98 blowout win could have been even more decisive had Atlanta taken care of business at the free throw line. Although the Hawks organization is donating to the Atlanta Community Food Bank for every missed Wizards free throw in this series, it was the Hawks on the floor (19-for-32 FTs in Game 3) who were giving the charity stripe its name. Both teams are preferring to forgo three-point attempts, in the Wizards’ case settling for long-twos in their comfort zone (17.2 percent of FGAs two-pointers beyond 15-feet, highest in East) while the Hawks are chipping away inside (39.5 percent of FGAs at-rim, highest in East). But the Hawks could afford to set up shooters more in the corners. Atlanta’s 28.6 3FG% is now ahead of only the Wizards’ 27.8 percent, but that accuracy has risen to a respectable 42.9 3FG% in the corners, best exploited by the Hawks during the series opener (3-for-6 corner 3FGs in Game 1). A healthy serving of pin-down screens by Millsap, Ersan Ilyasova (probable, despite a bruised calf) or Howard should not only help continue to spring Schröder free, but also open up options in the corners for Hardaway (1-for-6 3FGs in Game 3) and Prince, both of whom are also dangerous drivers from the baselines, Ilyasova and Mike Dunleavy, Jr. The aforementioned, aside from the rookie Prince (7-for-10 FGs, 2-for-2 3FGs in Game 3), are past due for impactful performances at the offensive end of the floor. Atlanta is the capital of Southern Hospitality, and Millsap has represented the City Too Busy To Hate just fine. Still, we would love to have only the finest duvet covers awaiting Morris and the Wizards’ return, specifically by making Friday’s “if-necessary” Game 6 very necessary. Yes, the Wiz might need to find some new luxury lodging options, after Jason Smith reportedly fouled the bellhop during their latest stay. But no matter which 4-star inn they choose, our visitors can count on a full tissue box in every room, plus an array of on-demand flicks available to help Markieff avoid our SportsCenter highlights. Bless his heart. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  9. #SquadGoals (Premature Offseason Edition) This series ain’t a series until somebody wins a game on the road. For the Atlanta Hawks and their fans, they’re hoping there won’t be a series until after Game 5 or Game 7. If so, that means the Hawks took care of business here at The Highlight Factory, beginning today against those oh-so-offended Washington Wizards (5:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL; CSN Mid-Atlantic in DC; TNT if you can stomach it). The True To Atlanta bill has come due. A regular season flavored with banging hip hop concerts, boisterous “ATL” chants, playground remodels, community outreach events, Tinder Nights, all that stuff were mere appetizers setting up the main course, to be served to us fans by our boys in Torch Red. No one is here to watch the Hawks lay down like they did on way too many occasions this season at Philips Arena. But to be True To ATL and pull off a pair of resounding victories at Philips Arena over the next few days, these Hawks have to show they can be true to one another. You’d be hard-pressed to find, in the history of American sports consciousness, a time when an Atlanta team or player was granted the upper hand in a national media-fueled war of words. Whether it’s all this talmbout “MMA”, or the suggestion that the Wizards played the best ball of their natural lives (they hadn’t) yet could only win by single digits, or that our small-ball lineups are clearly superior (it’s not), virtually everything is bulletin board material for the pearl clutchers from the District of Columbia. Every unnecessary utterance of self-praise, or of silver linings, by the Hawks has been served up like a T-ball and hit out the park by the Wizards. So, please, don’t nobody remind them of this Instagram post, back when Dennis Schröder was trying to make nice with Dwight Howard, in the aftermath of I-Thought-You-Had-Steph-Gate. “We the best DUO in the Pick & Roll !!! Nobody can stop us .. when we both play on the highest level !!!” The best duo, Dennis? O rly? Well, John Wall and his furrowed brow would like to have a word with… whoa, whoa, careful with all that gang signage there, Johnny! You wouldn’t want to re-injure your precious wrist, right? This is not merely about the former #1 pick in the league getting his gander up about every perceived slight. Wall has built up his rep over seven seasons as the fastest point guard, the most athletic point guard, the best-passing point guard, and now, the highest-scoring point guard in the East… who hasn’t won jack. Despite fits and starts, the four-time All-Star has guided his franchise to its best season in over a generation, and the teams seeded above Washington in the playoffs are looking quite shaky. He’s had to wait for LeBron to sail out of South Beach, and for whatever that was Atlanta was doing in 2015, before his Wizards could lay claim to being the class of the Southeast Division. After years of disrespect and disappointment, the path to the NBA Finals and global acclaim is finally Wall’s to blaze. And yet… who is THIS kid, standing in the way of his manifest destiny? Established contemporaries like Kemba Walker, Jeff Teague, or Goran Dragic were one thing. But this… this… BOY (pronounced “BWOAHH”, in Raleigh-speak)? This “ute” over here, with the poor-man’s Kwame hairdo? This youngster, three inches smaller, 25 pounds lighter, three years his junior, is Wall’s biggest threat to staking his claim? Oh, no, this shall not stand! Fortunately, Schröder has no designs on just going and sitting down somewhere. He remembers last year, when the 4-seed Hawks won its first two opening-round games at home, and things seemed dire for the 5-seed at the time. Then the series shifted to Boston, and by the time Game 4 came to an overtime close, the Celtics had evened the series, and fans and media alike were crafting love ballads for small-wonder Isaiah Thomas. Schröder could benefit from a little of that action, and a pair of upstaging wins could do the trick. Nevermind that the next Boston playoff victory didn’t come until last night. From the looks of things, you’d have thought the Celtics won that series. Just like, if you queried the average fan, Paul Pierce’s Wizards “won” that conference semifinal series against the Hawks in 2015. Wall has been selling, “See, the way my wrist was set up…”, to anyone who’ll listen ever since. He’s not just out to win this series, but to redeem his failures during the 2015 matchup as well. Schröder (24.0 PPG, 7.5 APG, 3.5 RPG, 1.5 TOs/game) knows this, and when Wall starts selling wolf tickets and staredowns just for doing his job, Dennis recognizes it for what it really is: desperation. When these point guards go head-to-head, there is only one Third Round Virgin on the floor. Dennis is perfectly fine playing the role of the fly in Wall’s ointment, as Wall’s endless swatting at Schröder serves to distract him from the true tasks at hand. Dennis would like to accomplish more than just getting under the All-Star guard’s skin from game to game, but he needs a lot more help than he has received thus far in this series. Hawks fans don’t need to see the “best duo” at the pick-and-roll performing today, they merely need to see a 1-5 combo for the Hawks that is at least functional on the offensive end. Howard (6.5 PPG, 5-for-11 FGs) has had his lunch eaten to this point by former understudy Marcin Gortat (14.0 PPG, 66.7 FG%, 6.0 offensive RPG, 3.5 BPG). It’s part of the reason coach Mike Budenholzer has been leaving his $25 million free agent prize to sit on his hands in the clutch. But even when the Hawks go “small”, they have been mere witnesses to Wall’s paint dimes to Gortat, the true “best duo” that is far more experienced than anything Atlanta can field. Howard was on the floor in the third quarter, when Atlanta’s starting unit gained the upper hand for the first time in this series. His presence around the offensive post in the fourth-quarter of Game 2, were he fed the ball, could have prematurely ended the day for Washington’s key healthy bigs. Dwight’s absence on the other end resulted in productive second-chance buckets for the Wizards. Whether Howard struggles for stretches or not, if he’s getting less floor time than Bazemore, the Hawks are not winning playoff games versus the Wizards or anyone else. With Tim Hardaway, Jr. at his side, with Kent Bazemore getting floor time beyond anyone’s comfort level, with Ersan Ilyasova and Mike Dunleavy, Jr. at his occasional disposal, there is no reason why Dennis (4-for-13 3FGs; 8 teammates a combined 11-for-32 3FGs) should be leading the team in three-pointers made. Inside and out, the ball has been moving better for Atlanta, allowing them to stay within shouting distance of the Wizards in the second halves. But to gain and sustain leads, it is imperative for Schröder’s shooters to produce from the perimeter. The Hawks made hay as one of the NBA’s best at forcing turnovers (15.6 opponent TOs per possession, 2nd in NBA regular season, tied with Washington). But whether it has been the starters or the reserves, Atlanta has sat back and allowed the Wizards (10.0 TO%, tied with Milwaukee as best among East playoff teams) to dissect them. Meanwhile, the Hawks have stayed true to their sloppy selves (17.0 TO%, by far the worst in the playoffs), even as Schröder has been uncharacteristically careful. Dennis will make his fair share of mistakes, as the first-year starter is apt to do. But he cannot be left hanging out to dry by his teammates while the Wizards spark Wall on fastbreaks. For all the praise he has heaped upon Malcolm Delaney this season, Coach Bud needs to show Atlanta why it was worth the trouble to stay true to him. Delaney and Thabo Sefolosha (4 combined minutes to date, all by Sefolosha) need to devour some of the playing time bestowed upon Bazemore, who was atrocious at the close of Game 2. Delaney (and perhaps you, reading this) are better on-ball defensive options than Jose Calderon versus Brandon Jennings, the backup point whose late dash helped the Wizards turn the tide early in the final quarter of Game 2’s 109-101 win. Sefolosha is purportedly healthy, and should have a vital role in evening out the turnover margin in this series. He could also do a better job defensively than Hardaway did in containing Bradley Beal, whose 16 fourth-quarter points eclipsed Millsap’s 14 third-quarter points in Game 2. Game 3 and Game 4 are prime opportunities for the Hawks to show the NBA world what being True To Atlanta is all about, and for Dennis to show why he is truly a Menace. Meanwhile, John Wall won’t make it easy to be Schröder’s Instagram foil anymore. Ain’t that right, John? High-five, up top… no, John, with your shooting hand… Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  10. “I hear you, Melo, but she’s a Honey of an O, tho!” Happy 4/19! Sure, 4/20 is right around the corner, but you’re just going to have to forgive Atlanta Hawks fans for jumping the gun, what with our short attention spans and perpetual hunger pangs. Atlanta likes our Hawks, sure. But we crave what truly gets us our high: good, intense, entertaining, compelling pro basketball. Especially whenever the NBA Playoffs roll around, we’re on the hunt for that good kush. If the Hawks put out more of that chronically synthetic crap in Game 2 (7:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, CSN Mid-Atlantic in DC, NBATV) like they did through much of Game 1 against the Washington Wizards, then don’t blame us hoop stoners if our eyes begin wandering off in search of Sour Diesel – not the Squawker variety, mind you, the NBA strain. To be, well, blunt about it, just watching ex-Hawks awash on other teams right now makes for some pretty good munchies. The Son of Tito hemming and hawing his way through press conferences after an 0-2 start, struggling to avoid becoming the common denominator for the last two #1 seeds that got swept out of the playoffs? Coach Fizdale flipping that spot where his wig should be, over the refs’ oddly-swallowed whistles? Jeff holding serve versus Kyrie, while Kyle mostly spectates alongside Edy and Dahntay from the bench? This is some quality ganja right here. DeMarre, with the hopes of a whole nation on his back, tilting at the beast named Giannis? Jamal once again shooting and dribbling madly to try and save his playoff team’s bacon, only this time for Coach Doc against Joe Clutch (and Shelvin, and Boris, and Coach Quin)? Zaza simply doing what he can to stay the heck out of his star teammates’ way? Don’t get greedy with that; puff, puff, pass! Our present-day Hawks, down just 0-1, have plenty of time to become Atlanta’s focal point again. But tonight, it is going to take a lot more than the first-half ATLchemy stirred up by Coach Bud ((cough, cough… sorry!)) and his crew in the series opener. During Game 1, Dennis Schröder found his second gear on offense, serving up 25 points (3-for-5 3FGs), 9 assists and just 2 turnovers. Alas, he and Paul Millsap (19 points, 5-for-7 2FGs, 9-for-11 FTs) seemed to forget there was another end of the floor, one on which John Wall (playoff career-high 32 points, 14 assists) can thrive. And aside from Kent Bazemore (4 assists, one turnover in 28 bench minutes), hardly any Hawks helped Schröder move the ball, making it easy on Washington defenders to hone in on Atlanta shooters (7-for-25 3FGs). Schröder’s starting backcourt mate, Tim Hardaway, Jr. (2-for-11 FGs, 0-for-6 3FGs) had the Wizards feeling like they won the trade deal with Kelly Oubre (11 points, 2 steals in 19 bench minutes). Hardaway’s opponent, Bradley Beal, was 2-for-11 on three-pointers alone, and got just three shots at the free throw line. Yet Beal made a difference in Washington’s 114-107 victory by contributing with other competitive facets (7-for-10 2FGs, 3 assists, 3 steals) in ways Hardaway did not. Sap (2 paltry rebounds, 1 assist, no steals) continues to seek out a decent Playoff Paul version of himself, when Regular Season Paul would do just fine. He and Dwight Howard (minus-25 plus/minus through the first three quarters) found themselves outclassed on the Verizon Center floor by Markieff Morris (21 points, 7-for-13 2FGs, 4 blocks in his playoff debut) and Marcin Gortat (7-for-11 FGs, 10 rebounds). The Wizard duo’s eight offensive rebounds effectively neutralized any chance the Hawks had to effect the outcome via the glass. Atlanta shot just 33.3 percent from the field in a low-scoring opening half, including 3-for-11 on threes. Yet the Hawks clung to a three-point halftime lead, thanks to drawing (according to Millsap) MMA-quality fouls from the Wizards and eventually sinking their free throws. Atlanta finished with 32 makes on their final 36 attempts in Game 1, including 19 in a row in the first half, after missing their first three shots. That Hawks lead could have been more impressive had Millsap not gifted Morris with three free throw gifts as the half came to a close, followed by an exchange that only worked to enliven Morris and the Wizards going into the locker room. Washington was the only team that seemed to make strategic defensive adjustments in Game 1 during the break. The hacking from Coach Scott Brooks’ squad slowed, allowing the Wizards’ starters to remain on the floor. Experiencing little pressure on the ball from Hawks defenders, Wall (15 points and 4 assists in the third quarter) and Beal (12 fourth-quarter points) began to find their flow. The Wizards over-rely on their starting five (inclusive of Otto Porter), whose 1347 floor minutes in the regular season exceeded the next-highest 5-man NBA lineup by 467 minutes. True to form, this unit’s 25.4 minutes in Game 1 is the most by any 5-man lineup so far. Yet their second-half mastery of the Hawks’ top line rendered Atlanta’s 35-15 edge in bench points (11 of those 15 by Oubre alone) meaningless. The Hawks were only able to turn the tide, down double-digits, in the first quarter when Bud and then Brooks (inexplicably) turned to their reserves. If there is one person on the Hawks’ end of the floor who is capable of decoding Coach Scotty’s offensive game plans, it’s the guy who was his small forward for six seasons in OKC. Yet Thabo Sefolosha found himself classified as DNP-WTF, even as the Wizards offense (69 second-half points) began freely picking the Hawks apart. Atlanta could coax just 12 turnovers (five off steals) out of Washington, whose players committed at least 18 turnovers in each regular-season matchup with the Hawks. Atlanta was 5-11 when they produced five or fewer steals in the regular season, 10-17 when their opponents committed 12 turnovers or less. In Atlanta’s sole victory over Washington this season, the season-opener, the Hawks gathered 13 steals, including five thefts from Sefolosha in 22 bench minutes. Rookie Taurean Prince was spirited but perhaps overutilized in his debut as a playoff starter (4-for-7 2FGs, 2-for-4 3FGs, 6 rebounds in 32 minutes). Despite his struggles throughout the back half of this season, Thabo (team-high 1.5 SPG; just behind Millsap with 2.9 deflections per game) will be needed in this series for more than just sideline pep talks. The Hawks must make their man defense and motion offense look edible to their feening fanbase in Game 2. True Believers are true believers, but if we have to wait until Game 3 in Atlanta to see sound efforts at both ends from these Hawks fresh from the locker room, we’ll be tempted to draw our NBA toke from somewhere else tonight. Our channel-changing fingers will quiver, and they know why. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  11. He finally got himself a bobblehead. So happy for Nipsey Russell! ((Ongoing computer issues, so here’s a condensed version. Happy Easter and Happy Passover to all enjoying the holidays!)) Offense Wins Championships! You know the not-so-old adage by now. It’s kind of a shame for our Atlanta Hawks that they come into the NBA Playoffs with the Eastern Conference’s best defensive efficiency at the worst possible time. For their trouble, Mike Budenholzer’s interior-defensive-minded crew gets to wrangle in the opening round with the favored Washington Wizards (Game 1: 1:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, TNT), who have finally embraced the magic of the three-point jumpshot as a team. There’s little surprise that the Wizards’ greatest-ever offensive efficiency coincides with their first division title and most regular-season wins (still not 50? Geez!) since d*ck Motta’s NBA Finalists back in 1979. Dwight Howard enters this series with all the look and countenance of Barney the Dinosaur, albeit a lot less tubby. Tall in stature, grinning from ear-to-ear, playful, lots of equally playful friends around him. He loves ATL, ATL loves him, and he bears no earthly idea just how close his game is hurtling toward extinction. But why should Dwight care about how the times are a changin’, anyway? Besides, the happy-go-lucky Howard was one of a handful of players who were on the floor in each of the past two seasons to help beat the Golden State Warriors in a conference playoff game. Two seasons ago, he tag-teamed with James Harden and carried a starting unit that featured Josh Smith AND Jason Terry back from 3-1 down to reach a Conference Finals. He was on the floor during one of the last two times LeBron James tried, and failed, to reach the NBA Finals. The Hawks are in the playoffs for the tenth consecutive season, but the crushing weight of blowout postseason losses have been a drain over the years for its fans. The common denominator throughout almost all of those years of pummeling playoff exits now dons clover green for the East’s top seed. Howard is quite familiar with those beatdowns of the past. Back when NBA fans used to seek out his jerseys, back when he could pose as Superman with barely a snicker uttered from the stands, his Magic was in Atlanta setting the NBA record for the largest margin of victory in a four-game sweep. Orlando’s 101 extra points in the 2010 conference semis eclipsed the 72-point margin LeBron’s Cavs enjoyed versus the Hawks just one season prior. Dwight was also front-and-center in 2011, when the Hawks finally pulled it together and toppled the higher-seeded Magic, then the defending conference champs, in front of a rabid Philips Arena crowd. Perhaps it was here where Howard came to discover just how True To Atlanta Hawks fans can be. He would love to feel that same unwavering support now that he wears his NBA hometown across his chest for a playoff run. Leading the NBA Playoffs in per-game rebounding, as Dwight has done in two of the last three seasons (NBA-high 13.9 RPG since 2013-14), doesn’t carry the same cachet it once did, when guys named Shaq, Ben Wallace and Tyson Chandler were in their championship heydays. But this is Playoff Dwight, and Playoff Dwight is what Atlanta has committed itself to pay for. There will be no more Hawks starting centers biding time until the closing seconds of pivotal games to make impactful rebounds. There’s one man standing in the way of Dwight Howard’s domination of the glass in this series, and that man is Dwight’s former understudy in Orlando. Similarly on the right side of 40, Marcin Gortat isn’t likely to stand in Dwight’s way the whole time. He’ll spend a lot of the time out of the paint on offense, setting screens to spring free his backcourt stars, John Wall and Bradley Beal, and occasionally popping jumpers (35.8 jumpshot FG%). Gortat will go inside to loft his nifty hook shot (61.2 FG% on hooks), or wherever the opportunity to draw fouls on Howard is greatest. Besides avoiding foul trouble, Howard’s challenges in this series include trusting his teammates, including All-Defensive Team candidate Paul Millsap, to cover the rim and avoid the urge to sag on opponents’ screens. He and Schröder will keep the Hawks competitive in this series if they keep the ball from sticking, setting sound picks, involving teammates, and making decisive plays in the flow of the offense, before Wall and the Wizards (8.5 team SPG, 2nd in NBA) can sink their teeth in defensively and spark their own transition plays (17.7 PPG off TOs, most in East). The Hawks can make an even stronger run if the resurgent bench performers, including Ersan Ilyasova, Kris Humphries (on our side, this time around) and Jose Calderon, don’t compound whatever offensive mistakes their starters make with their own. While Atlanta fields one of the older and playoff-seasoned rosters in the Eastern Conference, this postseason run for Dwight and the Hawks needs not be a Last Hurrah. The pressure is on Wall, Beal, Gortat and the Wizards, not the Hawks, to demonstrate they’re finally ready to turn the corner by overcoming the franchise that last dispatched them in their last playoff game in 2015. This series will remain intriguing so long as the Hawks treat this Hurrah as if it’s merely the first one. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  12. “Miss Me Yet?” Our Atlanta Hawks veer into Verizon Center for a final regular-season tilt with the Washington Wizards (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL; ESPN everywhere else). They’ll fall behind by 15 early. Then, they’ll pretend to make a comeback, get the deficit down to single digits, then fall behind by 20, abandoning sound shot mechanics, turning the ball over and giving up copious three-point buckets, as the ESPN crew fills the time debating Dwight Howard’s Hall of Fame prospects. Let’s Go Hawks! What? You’re still here? You really need to hear about these Wizards (42-28) seeking to reduce their magic number, to five, for their first NBA division title since 1979? How they need this victory to secure the head-to-head series, in the unlikely event of a tiebreaker? About how they, like Atlanta, have managed to lose four of their last five games? Most recently, shooting 22.9 percent on threes, and dominated on the defensive boards, in a home loss to Al Horford’s Celtics? Do you need to know that as easily a time as Hawks opponents have had from the perimeter (36.5 opponent 3FG%, 9th-highest in NBA) this season, foes of the Wizards (36.4 opponent 3FG%) and Cavs (36.5 opponent 3FG%) have had it just as easy? That it will help for Dennis Schröder to be in pass-first mode from the jump, finding ready-and-willing shooters among an Atlanta corps that’s likely to include Junior Dunleavy (ankle) for the first time in a while? Must it be stated that we’re likely to see a slopfest pitting the two teams that induce the most turnovers (15.5 opponent TOs per-48) in the East? That the Hawks can only get the upper hand tonight if they can keep John Wall (2.0 SPG and 5.8 fastbreak PPG, tops in East) from gaining a head of steam toward the basket with the ball in transition? Need anyone note that the Wizards’ top scorer is not Wall (22.9 PPG), but Bradley Beal (23.1 PPG)? Or, that Otto Porter (5-for-7 3FGs in Washington’s crossroads 112-86 win @ ATL on Jan. 27; 44.5 3FG%, now down to 2nd in NBA, behind KYLE FREAKING KORVER) shoots the triple just as well these days? That sealing off these shooters, plus hired gun Bojan Bogdanovic (42.9 3FG% w/ WAS) off the bench, could render Wall (31.4 3FG%, same as Paul Millsap) a high-volume but benign halfcourt circus shot-taker around the paint? Is it that important to know that Washington’s fast-food-incentivized fans have helped keep opponents’ free throws off-kilter (NBA-low 74.8 opponent FT%; 74.0% at home)? That, with Washington as heavy-handed as they are (21.3 personal fouls per-48, 3rd-most in East), every Hawk not surnamed Howard (non-Dwights 3-for-8 FTs @ CHA on Monday) needs to focus when they’re sent to the line, and not leave precious points on the table? Is it essential to be aware that the frontcourt tandem of Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat (11 combined O-Rebs @ ATL Jan. 27) are chomping at the bit to give Howard (minus-53 plus/minus in last 3 games) a hard time tonight, especially without Millsap around? That Atlanta (37-33) will have more than a puncher’s chance tonight, so long as Taurean Prince and the bench corps come off the bench with a focus on defensive rebounding and ball movement, to help take some weight off Howard and the starting five? Well, fat chance! No way am I wasting my time getting into all that… oh, wait… ~lw3 View full record
  13. #InBrotherhood heat, heat, heat, Magic, Magic, Magic, heat, heat, heat, heat, Hawks, heat. The NBA’s Southeast Division banner has escaped the Sunshine State just one time since its 2004 inception. But meeting tonight, both the Atlanta Hawks and the Washington Wizards (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, CSN Mid-Atlantic in DC) are eager to double that number of instances. That’s especially true of the visitors to the Highlight Factory. As you’ve read here plenty of times before, Washington (25-20) has gone the longest of any NBA franchise without being able to say they’ve ended their regular season at the tippy-top of their division. Their last team banner of any kind was raised after the 1978-79 season, when the then-Bullets, defending league champs, were shot from the Central to the Atlantic Division and went 54-28. Somewhere along the way, having been treated to Moses Malone, Bernard King, Chris Webber, Rod Strickland, Michael Jordan, Gil Arenas and, now, four-time All-Star John Wall, Wizards fans would like to at least have something rafter-worthy to put on display. Things weren’t looking too hot in The District when this season started. The Hawks and Wizards each gained their first wins of the season from one another, Atlanta prevailing 114-99 at home in the season opener, Washington eight days later coming out on top in a wayward-shooting 95-92 affair at the Verizon Center. But the Wizards, under the watchful eye of new head coach Scott Brooks, could only win two of their first ten games. Wall was limited by a minutes restriction after off-season double knee surgery, while Beal missed a few November games, causing fans to question the sagacity of giving Wall’s oft-injured sidekick a five-year max deal last summer. “The Wizards are Dead, and Ernie Grunfeld Has Killed Them,” screeched the pall-bearing Deadspin back in December, when Wall’s career-high 52 points were not enough to keep his team from losing at home to Orlando and dropping to 7-13 on the year (12th in the East). Yet both stars returned and are, to hear them tell it, in a good condition as ever. They also got a long-awaited boost from fourth-year forward Otto Porter, whose career breakout comes complete with an NBA-best 45.6 3FG%. These days, not much more is asked of Porter when he gets the ball on offense, besides shoot it through the net. Otto’s 6.2 TO% ranks sixth-lowest in the league, his 58.6 2FG% ranks 9th, and his 64.2 true shooting percentage ranks second in the East, behind Bebe Nogueira’s 69.9% and just ahead of dunk-master Dwight Howard’s 63.6% (4th in NBA). After years of failed development by Wizard draft picks and prospects, Porter has all of D.C. feeling like the cherry blossoms are out early. By most accounts, Wall (career-highs of 23.1 PPG, 82.4 FT%, 49.8 2FG%; NBA-high 2.2 SPG) is enjoying a career year. So, for that matter, is Beal (career-highs of 21.9 PPG, 2.7 3FGs per game, 3.6 APG, 81.6 FT%), shaking out of a recent shooting slump with 31 points to help beat the Celtics on Tuesday. Fellow starters Markieff Morris (January: 4 double-doubles, 16.6 PPG, 48.8 FG%, 37.0 3FG%) and Marcin Gortat (8 double-doubles in last 15 games; 11.4 RPG, 9th in NBA) have been rejuvenated. Now the Wizards sit just 1.5 games behind Atlanta, and would love to overtake the Hawks (27-19) in the division and conference standings before the All-Star Break arrives. “The opera ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings.” That was the rallying cry for the middle-of-the-pack Bullets during their 1978 run to the NBA Championship, granting the District their first pro sports title in 36 years. It could just as well have been articulated by Bob Rathbun in the minutes before Atlanta’s improbable 119-114 comeback win in the Windysfunctional City. The closing moments of Wednesday’s contest was much like the climaxing tropes of action flicks, where miraculously triumphant heroes coolly drift away from the scene, unflinching as the carnage left behind explodes into the sky. Jimmy Butler said, quite reductively, “When you win, there’s no problem,” in the aftermath of the nuclear Bulls’ team meeting today. By contrast, credit should go out to Brooks and Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer, and both of their teams’ veteran players, for finding ways to hold steady through the downturns in the season, even after the occasional disappointing performances and finishes pop up. At least in the Hawks’ case, any misgivings uttered to the media, social or otherwise, about players have been thoroughly aired out in the locker room and are understood to be applied collectively and inclusively. There is plenty of “we”, and not much “they”, when things aren’t going as planned. While the Wizards had to collapse and tank for a couple seasons just to get their hands on a four-time All-Star, the Hawks simply needed a general manager willing to find Paul Millsap’s doorbell. Atlanta’s stalwart power forward brings not only the production on the floor (career-best 18.0 PPG and 3.8 APG), but the ideal demeanor and candor off it. Want to know his personal gripes about Dwight, or Al Horford, or Kent Bazemore, or Dennis Schröder? You’ll never find them on Snapchat. “He’s still Paul,” Budenholzer told the AJC pregame when asked about his leadership, “It’s all relative. But I would say he’s significantly more vocal.” Wall and Beal, meanwhile, have patched up their behind-the-scenes beefs, and are even back to crowing about Best Backcourts in the East again. With their starting unit rock-solid, all the Wizards need, now, is some sense of a pulse from the reserves. Washington’s bench remains the second-worst in the league (-6.9 Net Rating), ahead only of Bitterdelphia’s. Wizard reserves turn the ball over a ton (15.6 TO%, 3rd-highest in NBA), while they struggle on the glass (74.7 D-Reb%, 24th in NBA, improving only as Brooks uses Morris at the 5-spot in the second unit) and from outside (33.3 3FG%, 25th in NBA). While Atlanta has just two starters averaging over 30 minutes per game (Schröder barely over that line at 30.7 MPG), the Wizards rely on all five starters (Morris the lowest, with 31.9 MPG), to long-haul it every night. That includes 32-year-old Gortat at 34.8 MPG, the second-highest per-game stint among non-All-Stars above age 30 (Dwight’s 29.4 minutes rank 14th). Brooks would love to rely more upon Marcus Thornton and Jason Smith, but they’re unsteady, or on youngsters Kelly Oubre (5-for-9 3FGs in past two games) and Tomas Satoransky, but they’re not quite ready. Hawks fans rightfully grumble about the perpetual unavailability of Tiago Splitter, or the under-utility of Mike Scott and the rookie wings. Yet you, reading this, have logged only 14 fewer NBA minutes than Ian Mahinmi, Washington’s four-year, $64 million free agent prize. Mahinmi got into one game back in November before going back on the shelf with knee soreness. (Double-checks… yes, Grunfeld is still punching in). Despite all of that, there is one backup guard from last season the Wizards are likely to never ask back. “I Was The Leading Scorer of The Bench (40) Games and The Best 3PT Shooter On The Washington Wizards And The Contracts My Fellow 2nd Unit Members Received…” Such began the Facebook post of one Gary Neal this past July, as he and other free agents were scoping out new deals with NBA teams, before rattling off annual-value offers he felt he deserved, too. Neal (9.8 PPG, 41 3FG% in WAS) seemed to have built up an adversarial relationship with several Wizards, past and present. CSN Mid-Atlantic cited “selfish” accusations directed his way, from players and coaches alike, for allegedly stat-padding at the expense of the team. One unnamed Wizard felt, “I should have punched him out,” after feeling shown up by Neal during the season, while another responded, when asked about the Facebook post: “Terrible teammate. All about himself.” Neal, coincidentally, is on day #10 of his 10-day contract with a Hawks team (62.5 assist%, 6th in NBA) that is very rarely all about themselves. It’s tough to glean from 18 minutes of action (0-for-7 FGs, 4-for-4 FTs in two games) whether he’ll gain another 10-day stay, or if the Hawks will look another way (Lamar Patterson, anyone?). Perhaps Neal has improved his teammate persona, or maybe the Hawks just want to deny Cleveland access to another “playmaker” for a couple more weeks. In any case, Neal’s presence tonight is likely to engender some animosity. Along the Wizard sideline, the reception could get cold like Minnesota. Perhaps inspired by tonight’s halftime performer, Hawks wings Thabo Sefolosha and Kent Bazemore will hope to help Dennis Schröder (team-high 24 points and 9 dimes @ CHI on Wednesday) get Wall repeatedly stuck in a bubblegum trap. Neutralizing Wall’s impact not only involves forcing the ball to other Wizards to make plays, but keeping maybe the speediest All-Star baller alive from piling up points in transition (5.8 fastbreak PPG, 5th in NBA). Whether it’s in transition or in the halfcourt, Atlanta defenders cannot afford to get stagnant. Without proper rotations while double-teamng the ballhandler, outlets to Beal, Morris, and Porter could have the Hawks playing from behind once again, as was the case here versus the Clippers and in Chicago. If the Hawks’ starting guards and wings prove up to the task, and if Howard and Millsap can give Morris and Gortat fits around the rim, then it will be up to Atlanta’s deeper bench to be the difference-maker in tonight’s game. Junior Hardaway kicked off his 2016-17 campaign with 21 points to topple the Wizards back on October 27, and it would be good to get him going early and often, after recent subpar offensive performances at Philips (last 4 home games: 7.5 PPG, combined 13-for-37 FGs, 3-for-17 on 3FGs). An early spark could be critical for a Hawks team that has enjoyed a first-quarter lead just once in its last ten home games (before last Saturday versus Chicago, go back to December 7 versus Miami). Hardaway want 6-for-11 in Chicago, subbing for Sefolosha and making key plays during the Hawks’ 41-point fourth-quarter flourish. Offensively, the Hawks could use more than Wednesday’s combined 3-for-11 shooting from reserves Malcolm Delaney, Kris Humphries and Junior Dunleavy. Even against Washington’s shaky subs, Coach Bud is unlikely to deploy Scott or the rooks unless he has a decent lead, so Kris and the Force MD’s will need to hold serve if they want to help keep the starters rested. Mike Muscala (ankle) remains questionable. Atlanta’s 13-9 home record is the worst among the Top 7 teams in the Eastern Conference; Washington’s 6-14 away-game mark is the worst among the East’s Top 14. Whichever of these two teams turn those records around, starting tonight and continuing through the balance of the season, is likely to be the standard-bearer in the Southeast Division moving forward. Sorry, Florida. I know you want this title for life… Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  14. I'm just here so I don't get... actually I'm just here because I like any excuse for typing the name Kiki VanDeWeghe! ~lw3
  15. “WE DON’T NEED NO EDUCATION…” With all deference due to Aaron Rodgers, five letters here, from fans of everybody out there in the lands of the Atlanta Hawks and their hosts today, the Washington Wizards (7:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast in ATL, CSN Mid-Atlantic in the DMV). A. N. G. S. T! Early yesterday morning, the Chicago Cubs scratched their names off the list of the most championship-starved franchises in American professional sports. That event, 108 years in the making, scooches the Hawks (3-1) up the ladder one rung, into the top-five among the title-thirsty queue. Their last NBA championship, achieved while in St. Louis back in The Year of Our Pettit, 1958, was preceded by league titles for the Detroit Lions (1957), the then-Rochester Royals (now Sacramento Kings, 1951), the Cleveland Thigamajigs baseball club (1948, but thanks for 1995), and the (Chicago, ha) Cardinals (1947), situated today in some gawdforsaken Arizona burb. As an obnoxious Flyers fan back in the 1980s and 1990s, I could always resort to this joyful taunt: “1940!” That was the tried-and-true go-to comeback for those unbearable Rangers fans that dared to bring their Broadway Blue to Broad Street and try to talk smack about our lovable Bullies. “Yeah, and when was YOUR last title, exactly?”, we’d retort. “Was that back when World War I was just The World War? What did they use without a Zamboni back then, squeegees? 1940! Was that B.C.? Ha ha ha!” Well, Philly’s last NHL title in 1975 still smelled like current events at the time. And all the knee-slapping came to a halt after the Rangers dealt for Mark Messier and, a couple seasons late, got the proverbial monkey off their backs in 1994. Now, the joke’s on fans rocking the orange-and-black. “1975? Was K.C. even with the Sunshine Band yet? Hardy-har-har!” Hawks fans don’t need anybody asking them whether Alaska was even a state, or whether The Beatles were still The Quarrymen, back when their team last won it all. That’s one reason why, suddenly, we’re hearing all this talk about real championship goals, from the top on down. Tony Ressler wants a bleeping parade. Steve Koonin plans on renovating Thrillips only after the Hawks win the NBA title next summer. And Dwight Howard tells everyone within earshot about his yearning to bring a championship home. No interview is complete without D8 dropping The C-Word on people. No, that word isn’t “Contention.” They all know that just the fading memories of NBA championship pasts is enough to fill up Philips on the regular, as ably demonstrated by P.K. (post-Kobe) Laker fans during the Hawks’ 123-116 flop on Wednesday. So, no more of this “in the running”, “chance to do something special,” “putting ourselves in position” claptrap that we’re grown inured to over the decades. In the ATL, it’s all about the ‘chip now! Building up a Bandwagon of True Believers is always tough to do when your squad just gave up a metric ton of points to a veritable conga line of LOLaker guards. To continue backing up the championship promises they’re selling, the Hawks need perimeter players willing to read their scouting reports, willfully taking away opponents’ strengths and not just anticipating their foes will have off-nights. Atlanta also needs Dennis Schröder to play like a steady veteran point guard for more than the occasional quarter per night, even if he’s not one, so they won’t have to go out and find one. It will take the Hawks and a bunch of other teams going all the way before Wizards fans ever hear about “1978” from the garden-variety social media trolls. But there’s a much simpler bar that Washington, somehow, consistently fails to clear. The Warriors of their day, what was then the Washington Bullets (managed by Danny Ferry’s award-winning dad, Bob, and featuring current Laker GM Mitch Kupchak backing up Elvin Hayes), were the defending NBA champs in 1979. They won the Atlantic Division in their first year among that grouping, and sneaked past the Hawks and Spurs to come out of the Eastern bracket (San Antonio, yeah, the 70s were weird), but they blew a 1-0 lead to Seattle in the Finals rematch. A full quarter-century passed, and the Bullets changed their name (a novel concept, Washington!) but not their regular-season results. A charter member of the Southeast since the division’s inaugural 2004-05 season, the Wizards franchise has now gone an NBA-high 37 years, and counting, without ever being able to at least say they were the best in their division. Having two cracks at the #1-overall pick in the NBA Draft (Kwame Brown, John Wall) hasn’t changed the annual outcome. Remember the late Abe Pollin’s canary-suited wife making that O-Face back on Draft Night 2010? That’s the reaction you give when you suddenly expect your fortunes are about to change for the better, very soon, not seven-plus years down the road. The Wizards aren’t likely to snag the Southeast banner in 2017, either, certainly not if they continue to be the only team in their division with a single circular number in the ‘W’ column. That notion certainly must frustrate Wizards fans to no end. While the Hawks, Hornets, heat, and Magic are all recalibrating on the floor, the Wiz were supposed to be benefitting from a revamped coaching staff and a stable roster built (however poorly) around Wall. An All-Star and Top-3 assist-maker three years running, a Rookie Challenge MVP, and a 2015 All-Defense second-teamer, Optimus Dime is not even three years removed from a Slam Dunk contest championship. The immensely athletic Wall has built a rep as being among the league’s premier guards when it comes to top-end speed. And yet, with all those accolades, when the NBA’s 30 general managers were polled to identify the game’s “best passer”, Wall (career-bests of 22.3 PPG, 11.3 APG, 45.3 FG%, 2.7 SPG, and 1.0 BPG so far) got nary a mention… while future rookie Ben Simmons did. Wall hasn’t received a single vote in this preseason-poll category from any GM since he entered the league as a Dougie-dancing dynamo in 2010. He’s also still awaiting a single spot on any All-NBA team, despite career-bests of 19.9 PPG, 10.2 APG, 1.9 SPG, 1.5 3FGs per game, and 4.4 RPG last season. Wall wants some respeck applied to his name, and deservedly so. But to get the acclaim that he deserves, he must at least show that his perceived superiority to division rivals Kemba Walker, Goran Dragic, Schröder and Elfrid Payton can translate to the standings. “They don’t respect me,” Wall tole Sports Illustrated this past week, but followed that gripe with, “You’re not getting any recognition as a point guard if you ain’t winning.” It’s a paradox of sorts for Wall, whose Wizards had to watch the 2016 playoff proceedings from home, that for his club to do more, he needs to do less. Even with Wall, Washington is middle-of-the-pack thus far in assist percentage. Opponents are clamping down on his mistakes (9 TOs in Wednesday’s home-opening loss to Toronto, despite 33-and-11), causing Washington to surpass those suddenly-revived Lakers with a league-worst 17.4 TOs per 100 possessions. No team has turned over the ball more frequently on a per-game basis than the Wizards (18.0, tied with OKC, Lakers, and Nuggets). “Wall’s been ball-dominant since he’s been in the league,” astutely observed another former #1-overall, Atlanta’s Dwight Howard, to CSN Mid-Atlantic prior to the Hawks’ season-opening 114-99 home win. “He’s always made plays for other people. But now, with moving around, his speed and quickness, he’ll be able to get easier buckets.” The idea was that, under Brooks, players like Bradley Beal (career-low 2.3 APG), Markieff Morris, and Otto Porter (75.0 2FG%, but one assist in 100 minutes) would become more than mere supporting cast members when it came to setting up the offense. Yes, this is the same Brooks that coached Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and James Harden in his prior coaching locale. Well, that delegation hasn’t transpired yet, with 12 teammates totaling 31 assists to Wall’s 34, and by result Washington’s O-Rating currently ranks 4th-worst in the East, its Net Rating worsened only by the Simmons-less 76ers. Wall (34.9 usage%, 6th in NBA) has gotten his share of baskets, but to avoid yet another All-NBA T.K.O., I think he’d better let it go. After getting dragged by his former Magic mentor for much of the season-opener, Marcin Gortat (4 points on 2-for-6 shooting, 11 rebounds @ ATL) now has Howard (11 points, 4-for-9 FGs, 19 rebounds vs. WAS) in his house. The Wizards’ frontline options will improve significantly once free agent acquisition Ian Mahinmi returns in a few weeks from torn meniscus surgery. But for now, Gortat (10-for-10 FTs vs. MEM on Oct. 30) needs to demand more post touches and work to get Howard in early foul trouble. After a missed shot, there was a time you could count on Al Horford for two things: (1) a sturdy clap, and (2) hustle down the floor to help his Hawks guard against quick transition buckets by the opposing offense. It’s this one aspect that Atlanta (16.6 opponent fastbreak PPG, 6th-most in NBA; 4th-fewest in 2014-15, 9th-fewest in 2015-16) has missed the most so far with Horford in Beantown. You can be sure the zippy Wall and his Wizards (18.7 fastbreak PPG, 4th in NBA) will seek to exploit opportunities that catch the Hawks flat-taloned. Howard and Paul Millsap will want to split offensive rebounding tasks, with the understanding that the other big is committed to running the floor in transition, helping take pressure off Schröder, Kyle Korver and the Hawks’ backcourt whenever opponents push the rock past the halfcourt line quickly. Dwight (1.0 APG) can also build up his assists, of the direct and hockey variety, and improve the team’s offensive flow by kicking the ball out when the inevitable double-team comes. That will prove to be a better option for Howard than accumulating shooting fouls (52.9 FT%) and routinely stopping the game clock, one which hopefully works at Verizon Center. Howard contributing to better ball movement in the halfcourt sets will open up better looks for struggling shooters like Kent Bazemore (17.6 3FG%, 43.5 2FG%) and Millsap (43.1 FG%, 30.8 3FG%). For many NBA clubs, the operative five-letter word in November isn’t A.N.G.S.T. -- it’s E.A.R.L.Y! But these teams with underwhelming histories (Washington has no 50-win seasons since 1979) know they cannot afford extended downward trajectories at the outset of the season. Both teams will have another game tomorrow, the relatively rested Wizards (only team with just 3 games under its belt) traveling down to division-rival Orlando, while the Hawks return home, where James Harden’s Rockets await after three days of scouting and rest. The elusive thing called respect won’t be gained tonight; that gets earned in the springtime. But the loser of this game between the Hawks and Wizards is certainly going to need some antacids handy. Never mind Respect. How do you spell Relief? Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  16. “Wow! All that offseason conditioning worked wonders for you, Shelvin!” ATLANTA! The New Atlanta! Real Housewives of… Atlanta! Preachers of… Atlanta! Love and Hip Hop… Atlanta! Say Yes to the Dress… Atlanta! Atlanta Exes! Atlanta Plastic! Big Rich Atlanta! R&B Divas: Atlanta! Little Women… of Atlanta! Take a sampling of the world’s most exquisite, cattiest, most loquacious, and most wannabe-popular women. Mix in a few of the world’s most trifling, most conceited, most wannabe-respected men, mostly of similar age. Place them together in lavish estates, three-plus-star eateries, and hotspot ultra-lounges. Then, manufacture some of the tawdriest, most outlandish, most superfluous interpersonal dramas among them, for the world to see. By all means, be sure to include input from their most psychologically challenged relatives! Take all of that, set it in a backdrop of… oh, say, Cleveland… and count the number of people who care using Jason Pierre Paul’s digits. Real Housewives of Toronto? Yawn. R&B Divas of Detroit? What is this, the 60’s? Boston Exes? I mean, aren’t they all by now, really? Scrap that. Instead, change your settings to the bright lights and warm, southern charms of The ATL. Now, sit back and watch as the eyeballs pop, watch social media platforms get set ablaze as viewers take sides with your characters, watch bloggers cover their mortgage payments by reviewing each salacious plotline of every episode, and watch ad revenues show up to your house in briefcases. Throw in fully-scripted shows like The Walking Dead (nice try, Fear The Walking Dead, but Hollywood zombies are a bore), feature a T.I. here, and a Tamar there, and you’ve got yourself a honeypot of diehard viewer demand. Taking just about anything remotely entertaining, and slapping “Atlanta” on the title, or placing Atlanta in the background, draws attention like no other city does these days. Not NYC, not Chicago, not even L.A. has drama for your mama quite like Atlanta does. On-air since 1968, the Real Hawks of Atlanta are kicking off the 2016-17 NBA campaign with a visit by the division rival Washington Wizards (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, 92.9 FM). Nearly five full decades in, the team has yet to find a recipe that best profits from their host market’s insatiable appetite for pro basketball. Back in the Hawks’ early days, this sleepy burg was merely the place where they filmed B-flicks like Sharky’s Machine: where else could you blast people out of skyscrapers and not trouble anybody below? But today, Atlanta has transformed into a truly glitzy, sprawling metropolis, and wherever the “Action!” is, it’s sure to draw the “Lights!” and the “Camera!” With the help of one media-savvy exec, the Hawks are beginning to understand how to surf the small-screen-media wave. Being victorious in the NBA remains the overriding objective. But if you’re not winning the whole shebang, at least figure out how to be entertaining. “Pokemon Go!” was the superheated craze of this summer. But the practice of capturing odd, random creatures from out of virtually anywhere and prepping them for titanic battles had already taken up new roots in Atlanta a few years before. For small-w wizard Mike Budenholzer to be pried away from his coaching incubator in the Alamo City, he needed to entrust two individuals. First, a general manager buddy who understood intricately how he operated and the type of hoop talents he desired. Second, on the court, Bud needed a monster. One that was tall, rangy, team-oriented, and athletic. And, as was the case for his boss in Texas, one young enough that they could conceivably, together, achieve their pinnacles of success and eventually ride off into the NBA sunset. The one he found in Atlanta already had a torn pec, and then tore another one, but eventually was refashioned into an annual All-Star, one that helped lug the Hawks kicking and screaming into the Eastern Conference finals for the first time ever. PLOT TWIST: What happens when said monster raises up and sulks off into the New England hinterlands, never to return? This was never something Budenholzer anticipated. Of course, The Notorious B.U.D. wasn’t expecting the GM pal tied to his hip to read The Best of Blanche Knott in a conference call with their bosses and get run out of town on a rail. And yet, he made the best of that situation, getting named Coach of the Year in the process, and now gets to call the shots as an executive himself. Bud never imagined that, in 2016, he’d be in front of a jury dealing with some BSDUI charge, thanks to a busted taillight from three years ago. But he came away from that trial smelling like a rose, and not just the Derrick variety. This coach has already demonstrated he knows how to bounce back when fate lobs a curveball. So, losing the two connections that made him want to leave a stable NBA environment and come to Atlanta isn’t going to deter him from his goals, now that he’s entrenched here. Manning the pivot throughout the Modern Playoffs Era of Hawks basketball was Al Horford, a name which roughly translates from Dominican to NBA-speak as “vapid, at best”. The All-Star center elected to depart from Atlanta and make himself appear interesting to the otherwise uninformed by donning Celtics green. Speaking of green, Horford’s longtime point guard, Jeff Teague, has long been more Bill Bixby and less Lou Ferrigno, and was shipped off to Indiana this summer for a first-round draftee. However, the exodus of these two postseason pillars has introduced new opportunities for the Hawks to widen their mass appeal. A homegrown big man who is as renowned for his defensive imprint and vertical leap as he is his teased for his atrocious free throw shooting? You’ll excuse Atlanta fans if they feel like they’ve maybe been down this path before. But Dwight Howard is a different beast. Especially this particular edition of Dwight Howard. He’s no longer deliberately chasing promises of rings, rigged slam-dunk contest titles, or MVP trophies, nor is he striving to live up to Superman-style expectations. As he approaches 31 years of age, his ticket to Springfield is just about printed and punched. But the Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy product has rekindled an affinity for his hometown in recent years, even if said town hasn’t returned the sentiments in kind. Howard recognizes the chance to win over Atlanta, and the larger NBA universe, lifting his Q-Score to levels not seen since he began charting Shaq’s path to NBA glory by guiding Orlando to The Finals. It was certainly a glorious time in the Magic Kingdom for Howard, in the days before his ill-fated insistence on joining forces with Kobe in Tinseltown derailed him and ushered the term “Dwightmare” into the public consciousness. It will take more than his notoriously saccharine smile to turn perceptions around, something Dwight recognizes. He’s out to prove he hasn’t lost a significant step, is willing to run the floor, is unselfish, and remains willing to work on his game for his team’s betterment. Escaping from L.A., Dwight met privately with Budenholzer, then the new Hawks coach in the summer of 2013, before settling on H-Town. Howard came away impressed, but unenthused. Since then, he has witnessed firsthand what talent whisperer Budenholzer and the Hawks’ capable staff has done in recent years with not just Horford, but also once-lukewarm prospects like Paul Millsap, DeMarre Carroll, Teague, Dennis Schröder, and Kent Bazemore, as well as glue-factory-bound vets like Kyle Korver and Thabo Sefolosha. Suffice to say, he likes what he sees. Once Dwight brings his motivated, inspired play to the game, it will show up on the floor. Fans should grow to appreciate a defensive team effort that doesn’t get Al-ligator-armed once it’s time to secure the defensive rebound and terminate opposing possessions. Despite the natural downturn to his formerly annual All-NBA career, Howard enters this season ranking first among all active players with a 29.1 D-Reb%., tops in total rebounds per game, and second in blocks per game. Last season, in Houston, there was a virtual black hole situated where the power forward spot was supposed to be, next to Howard. This season, he has Millsap, an Eastern Conference All-Star in the past three seasons whose own defensive efficiency peaked after he surpassed age 30. Together, a well-conditioned tandem of Millsap and Howard can take “one-and-done” defensive basketball to unforeseen heights. In both L.A. and Houston, Howard found himself overcompensating for a high-scoring star teammate that was too often spaced out (and not in a good way) when it was their defensive responsibility to keep opponents in check. Here, Dwight has players in the backcourt, and on the wings, that aren’t dropping 30 PPG anytime soon, but are willing to put in the effort to D-up their assignments. Especially in L.A., he had to deal with coaches that didn’t have his best interests at heart, save for big-man assistant Darvin Ham. Now in Atlanta, Ham sits right beside Budenholzer in that Torch Red-hot lead-assistant’s chair. In Atlanta, Howard won’t be left feeling like a Beaver where everyone seems willing to Leave It to him. Here, he can again be that toothy franchise face, but without having to carry undue weight and excess baggage. Coach Bud will see to that. “The factor was the coach, and the city,” Howard explained to Sekou Smith, Lang Whitaker and the intown NBATV guys a couple weeks ago while munching together at Mrs. Winner’s (yay, it’s back!) in nearby hood-burb East Point. “This is the guy I want coaching me.” Much further north, the lamestream national media is suddenly chomping at the bit to lionize Horford in the same way they fall all over one another for the exploits and soundbytes of diminutive over-achiever Isaiah Thomas. The ability to be transformed in the public eye from NBA afterthought to The Chief ver. 2.0 was certainly appealing to the Son of Tito. Still, the heat of the summer might have caused Al’s memory to melt, forgetting his 2015 playoff series against his new team. Because it was Dennis Schröder who came off the bench to serve Thomas a taste of his own trolling, who made the crucial plays on both ends of the floor to finish off the series, who spoiled what was touted as Losing Isaiah’s coming-out party, who left Boston’s self-made star feeling some kind of way after the final buzzer sounded on the mediocre season of the Sell-Tix. Instead of selling more playoff tickets at the Gahden, Thomas found himself selling wolf tickets, to Schröder. Have fun with that, Alfredo! Schröder’s late-season emergence allowed Hawks fans to reminisce over the days when Teague rose from the end of the bench to dance toe-to-toe in the playoffs with former wonderboy Rose. Now, it’s Dennis, bursting at the seams with promise as-yet-unfulfilled, who enters this season as the top-dog among Atlanta’s ballhandlers. Even better, he knows he’s about to get paid handsomely to come up like Paper Boi, right here and nowhere else. Schröder’s gung-ho attitude is best displayed by his maddening forays into the paint, where he can exploit his quickness to occasionally devastating effect. Teague certainly earned his All-Star mettle here in Atlanta. But whereas Jeff’s lasting image as a Hawk is The Blown Uncontested Layup, Dennis is known around town by a singular catchphrase: “GOT HEEM!”. His preseason connections on lob plays with Howard (I have dibs on the phrase “Dunke Schoen”) have certainly borne promise, and we’re likely to see this play more routinely than we did ever from the Teague-Horford combo. As was the case for Teague, the acclimation to the gold-coiffed 22-year-old Schröder starting full-time is bound to have its share of missteps along the way. More turnovers under higher-quality defensive pressure, misfired passes out of the paint, occasionally lackluster defensive effort. But as Teague exemplified in his latter seasons, to reach full Potential, you have to endure the Po’ part. Nothing says, “through the slings and arrows, we trust you”, quite like, “Guess what? Malcolm Delaney is your backup.” Coach Bud and the Hawks are convinced it will be worth going through more growing pains with Schröder, whose 36.1 assist percentage last season ranked 10th in the league and eclipsed Teague’s 34.4. Dennis is a privateer who is learning how to become Budenholzer’s main floor general. There will be no training wheels, though, to start this season. Schröder will get to go eye-to-eye tonight with The Best Point Guard in the East, a player who new Wizards coach Scott Brooks suggests is “as fast as anybody in this league, probably in the history (of the NBA).” While working through offseason rehab, All-Star point guard John Wall has had to tapdance around the perceptions of strained relationships between he and shooting guard Bradley Beal. Once touted collectively, including by themselves, as The Best Backcourt in the East, Wall & Beal have had to watch from afar as tandems like Teague & Korver, Irving & Shumpert, Hill & Stephenson, and Lowry & DeRozan, earned trips to the Eastern Conference Finals. They’ve had to watch up close as other teams won the Southeast Division, and as rival teams like the Hawks and Pacers rolled through D.C. while advancing in the playoffs. Somehow, the team with the world’s fastest baller always winds up a split-second too late, one productive play short, a few wins behind when it counts. Injuries have long hampered this pair’s development, but so, perhaps, has their coaching staff, and their headstrong interpersonal relationship. To turn things around and make NBA fans believe again, they must find each other more often on the floor to complete plays (Beal insists passing is a part of his arsenal now), and find some sort of kinship after the buzzer. Mutual disappointment could become a bonding factor. You want to build a team around lottery picks? Tonight, we present to you mid-tiered first-rounder Schröder, and second-rounders Korver, Kent Bazemore, and Millsap, tipping off versus Wall, Beal, and Otto Porter. The latter three were all plucked by the Wizards among the first three selections in their respective NBA Drafts. Three seasons now under their collective belts, the lotto trio has yet to surpass 46 wins, or reach the NBA’s Final Four. Washington GM (still!) Ernie Grunfeld cashed in mid-level first-round picks to round out the starting unit with center Marcin Gortat in 2013, and power forward Markieff Morris this past winter. Yet even that constellation was insufficient to return to the playoffs. Washington faced the sobering reality this summer that, no, hiring Kevin Durant’s high school towel boy plus his former coach in OKC was not going to endear him any more to his home-area NBA team. But at least they got free agent big man and former Pacer Ian Mahinmi, who is ready to… oh, wait, he’s out for another month with a meniscus tear. The Hawks have benefitted from players who make “turning the corner” look as easy as traversing around the Washington Monument. Meanwhile, the Zards have been, and remain, loaded with youngsters who have yet to fulfill their once-hyped promise (add in momentary Hawk Kelly Oubre, and Tim Hardaway’s former collegiate co-star Trey Burke to that mix), with a few reclamation projects sprinkled in for good measure (Morris, Andrew Nicholson, Jason Smith). Even without the KD2DC gamble paying off, they’re a bit hamstrung financially, already top 10 in salaries and primed to pay their current core even more guaranteed salary in the coming year. They’re relying heavily on stability and organic, internal growth to save the day, and they hope that Brooks is the taskmaster who can help them pull through. Until they start winning games, consistently, they have one division rival to emulate. A winning brand (regular season, anyway) through internal development, without blockbuster deals or big-splash free agent hires, has been the theme in this town for quite some time. The official brand for the franchise, though, is “True to Atlanta.” Hawk draftees Horford and Teague stayed True to Atlanta in every game, right up until the moment it was time to shed their jerseys and head home. As for the players that remain? Schröder, an enterprising fellow, opened a hookah lounge in Buckhead. Sefolosha followed suit this summer with a luxury sneaker shop up the street. Bazemore rebuffed offers from desperate middling teams and stayed put, making a nonprofit bonanza out of his summer hanging around town. Korver (with K-baby #3 on the way in another week or two) and Millsap understand as professionals that nothing’s guaranteed, especially in this brave new NBA world of free-flowing cash. But these veterans have repeatedly expressed appreciation for the Hawks staff and a desire to grow DNP-OLD and maybe even retire here. Add to that group ATLien Dwight, who has had as much of an offseason presence in his hometown as any player that was paid to be here during his time in the league. Hawks fans have never had an assemblage of players who could hold up a “True To Atlanta” banner, and genuinely mean it. This is a daffier collection of players than we’ve seen in seasons past as well. With the Jolly Brown Giant now in the fold, the Funny Farm will be on display quite a bit. Bazemore, emoji pioneer Mike Scott, and Schröder are all-in on the Baze Gaze stuff. Mike Muscala is always ready for a good beatbox battle, while I think Howard has finally given up on planking. It will be fun to watch this cast of characters engage their dour-faced coach, and deadpan guys like Millsap and jack-in-the-box rookie Taurean Prince. Need a big foreign dude still sorting out American culture for comic relief? Edy Tavares is your guy. Further, no one on earth loves the Hairdo Game more than Atlantans, and no team in the league brings more to that table than the Hawks. Fros, dyes, braids, man-buns: what’ll ya have? A caveat, though: all the fun, frolicking, and pageantry works best when you’re winning games. Millsap, Korver, Kris Humphries and Sefolosha are the Fun Police, around to help keep the comics in-check when needed. But there’s always the possibility that bad strings of losses will turn the goofy laugh track into “womp-womp” around the locker room. If you’ve watched any kind of show with “Atlanta” on the name, even that’s good news. Comedy can be fun, but Drama sells! Which way this thing goes will depend a lot on Atlanta’s perimeter production. No team in the NBA came close to the 2015-16 Hawks in terms of creating open perimeter jumpshots. Well over a quarter of their overall shots were wide-open (no defender within six feet at the time of the shot), a league-high and a testament to the quality strategizing of the coaching staff. Problem was, much like k.d. lang, the Hawks on the floor rarely capitalized. They created nearly four more wide-open three-point attempts per game than the mighty Warriors. Yet, by hitting them at a pitiful 35.3 3FG% clip (26th in NBA), they wound up selling themselves short, making just 0.2 more baskets per game from downtown than Golden State. The departed Teague led the team in overall three-point accuracy with a career-best 40.0% mark, while Horford just began extending his own range before bailing for the exits. While he was no J-Smoove, converting leading scorer Millsap into more of a stretch-four was often a stretch of the imagination (31.9 3FG%). The Hawks occasionally turned last season to Scott, whose on-ball defensive acumen and perimeter shooting (career-high 39.2 3FG%) improved at the right time. Alas, Scott (out today, anyway, with mild knee soreness) has one external fire to stamp out before he can be relied upon as a steady rotation member. The good news is, Korver (6th among active NBAers in eFG%, while Howard ranks 3rd; 39.8 3FG%, lowest since 2008-09) has enjoyed a full summer regimen to get his conditioning back up to speed, after the 2015 playoff injury by Dellavedoveonya slowed Kyle’s roll. It’s a similar deal for Sefolosha as well. As for Schröder, Bazemore, Millsap, and Hardaway, when it comes to perimeter shooting accuracy, there’s hardly any way to go but up. The early preseason returns were not promising (team 31.4 3FG%, 24th in NBA) in this regard. But while sorting out the whole iron-unkind thing from three-point territory, the team is building its early offensive identity as one that will pound away at their opponent’s interior (NBA-high 42.3 preseason paint PPG), on the strength of sound passing (NBA-highs of 19.2 preseason assists per 100 possessions, 70.5% of baskets assisted). Meanwhile, Atlanta aims to make life miserable for their foes not only inside (NBA-low 34.9 preseason opponent paint PPG), but also around the arc (NBA-low preseason 27.4 opponent 3FG%). Backup shooting guard Marcus Thornton was the last regular season opponent to nail 5 triples in a game versus the Hawks, matching Korver’s 5-for-10 output in a losing effort back in March. Thornton will try to help Beal boost the Wizards offense tonight from the outside... if he can get good looks. Preseason opponents managed just a 19.6 offensive rebounding percentage (4th-lowest in NBA), a far cry from the 25.4 O-Reb% (5th-highest in NBA) Hawks opponents enjoyed in 2015-16. Illustrating how little help Dwight had around him, the Rockets were the worst in this category last season (27.2 opponent O-Reb%). Howard and the Hawks can make each other measurably better. For what it’s worth, the Wizards were dead-last in the league in second-chance points in 2015-16 (10.2 PPG, eight fewer total points than Atlanta), and there’s little reason to suspect that should change tonight. Howard is not as nimble running the floor as his Atlanta predecessor, and is much more likely to diverge from Budball by going after a few easy putbacks. That means it’s incumbent upon Atlanta’s wings and forwards to get back in transition and help the guards stem opponent runouts. The speedy Wall, pushing the ball up the floor for the Wizards, should provide a good test for the Hawks’ transition defense. Like the Hawks, the Wizards are also going the Euro-ball route to secure a backup point guard. A 2012 Draft-and-stash Czech, Tomas Satoransky is getting his first taste of full-time NBA ball, and Brooks is fascinated by the 6-foot-7 guard’s ability to play three positions. As with the intrigue of the season-opening Wall-Schröder matchup, Satoransky against his fellow Euroleague standout Delaney should be worth watching. There’s not exactly a Murderers’ Row of NBA opponents leading up to the Hawks’ November 8 tilt in Cleveland, home of the reigning NBA champions. Treat it more like an Aggravated Assailants’ Row. After these Wizards, there’s an afternoon affair in Philly this weekend. Then it’s Boogie and the Cousinnaires and the Lakers back here, followed by a trip to D.C. and a quick return home to face those Rockets on back-to-back nights. After the Cavs, it’s Bulls, Sixers, heat, Bucks, Hornets, Knicks, Pelicans. A few back-to-backs are in this early mix, but it’s a schedule versus moderate competition that the Hawks can use to either find their bearings early, or alternatively stumble out of the gate. Despite a modest 48 victories, we watched in horror last season as fully capable Hawks teams blew far too many contests to teams competing without their star players, without their head coaches, without much of anything worth speaking of. The coup de grace arrived in the regular season finale, when our Fine Feathered Friends punted away the opportunity to maintain its clutch on the Southeast Division banner and claim an infinitely more valuable higher playoff seed. They did that in Washington, against the Wizards’ B-Team and C-Team, against the likes of Ramon Sessions, Jared Dudley, Nene, and Garrett Temple, all of whom are now scattered about in new basketball locales. That victory granted the Wizards left behind renewed hope for the future that lay ahead. Especially with Teague, Horford, and their nonchalant dispositions out of town, these 2016-17 Hawks won’t be in such a gifting mood. This roster may not win more games or advance further than their predecessors have. But leave no doubt, this group cares about winning, for this organization and this city, as much as any we’ve seen since at least the days of the Atlanta Air Force. That collective “True to Atlanta” consciousness, with winning basketball, would create great storylines as the season wears on. Even on the other hand, with more losing than we’ve grown accustomed to, the emotional effect would create fascinating sideline drama. Whichever way things blow, there’s a new reality dawning in the ATL, and these Real Hawks of Atlanta are destined to create Must See TV. Even better yet… Must See Live! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  17. Sorry... architecture jokes NEVER land well. ~lw3
  18. He certainly stops after the second puff. 'Cuz we know he don't like to pass... ~lw3
  19. “OMG… Playing time!" One more dress rehearsal to go before the playoffs! Our Atlanta Hawks get one more crack at the Washington Wizards in Our Nation’s Capital (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, CSN Mid-Atlantic) before sending them packing for an early summer. But any notions that the Wiz that do show up are merely going to lay down and die and have nothing left to play for are, at best, premature. Randy Wittman could probably be seen checking out the card stock options at FedEx Kinko’s in the middle of the night. The coach is in his fifth and likely final season at the helm in D.C., and he’ll be hoping not only to avoid his 200th loss as Wizards coach (alongside 177 wins), he’ll want to go out at least saying he lugged this team (40-41) to a .500-or-better record for the third-consecutive season. For Wittman, the writing in on his star point guard: John Wall, who isn’t likely to be giving him a warm sendoff anytime soon. Wall reportedly clashed with, and cussed at, Wittman and his teammates prior to the team’s postseason-eliminating loss last week in Detroit. While the report was from Peter Vecsey, thereby grain-of-salt rules applying, and the Washington Post got a denial of the report directly from Wall (“I’ve never cussed my teammates out.”), there was some admission-by-omission going on as it pertains to the coaching staff. Wall will sit out for a fifth straight game tonight with knee soreness. Bradley Beal sat out the Wizards’ last win on Monday in Brooklyn with a pelvis injury, and the future max-contract target is doubtful to appear on the Verizon Center floor as well. The team went ahead and saved them both (and perhaps Wittman) the trouble, by shifting exit interviews for the season to tonight, postgame, rather than tomorrow. Ted Leonsis, what’s the hurry? The absence of the Wizards’s top two scorers for the season denouement means it’ll be peanut-butter-jelly-time for a host of underutilized young players and upcoming free agents, all hopeful to give NBA employers reasons to suit them up next fall. Marcus Thornton (23 points in 23 mins., 5-for-10 3FGs vs. ATL on Mar. 23), we know what you’re up to. Cut it out! Alan Anderson (questionable with an ankle issue), you already had your fun last year against us with the Nyets. Nene, Jared Dudley, J.J. Hickson, and Drew Gooden? Stop clowning. Ramon Sessions (21 points, 12 assists in place of Wall vs. BRK on Monday), momentary Hawk Jarell Eddie, and Garrett Temple? Don’t y’all even start! By way of Mr. McMillen Going to Washington, Wittman came to Atlanta as a fresh-faced Hoosier back in 1983, barely a week after being drafted by the Bullets in the draft, and provided five solid seasons as a two-guard during the Hawks’ rise back to relevancy. For that reason, Atlanta is likely to be among the first places he’ll look to for a bounce-back gig, whether it’s in media or the front office. He’s not the only person subject to a draft-time deal between these two clubs. It’s not you, Kelly Oubre, Jr., it’s us. In our effort to get a more seasoned wing prospect, we sent you to D.C. and passed up on a fellow rookie, Jerian Grant as well. Game 82 is always that time for a Jared Cunningham or two to go off. But Tim Hardaway (15.0 PPG, 57.9 FG%, 46.2 3FG% during March back-to-backs vs. WAS) is the Junior we need playing eye-popping minutes from tonight, not you. After getting doghoused for much of the year by Wittman, and going 6-for-10 shooting against the Nets, we know there’s a breakout game left in you, Kelly. Would you mind saving that for Summer League? kthx… Markieff Morris (16.9 points per-36, same as in Phoenix; 46.7 FG%, 31.6 3FG% in WAS) fell short in his bid to Prove People Wrong. But before he kicks back to watch his twin balling out in the playoffs for Detroit, Keef (rested against the Nets on Monday) plans to showcase himself as an incumbent starter for next season, at least providing a reminder as to why it was worth the risk of passing up a first-rounder this summer. Center Marcin Gortat and Oubre will join Morris, Beal and Wall as the likely returnees laying out the welcome mat for an inspired new head coach… and at least one, still-hopefully-motivated, new free agent. Kevin Durant, all of this could be yours! The Hawks will spend much of the night playing Whack-a-Mole with whatever lineups Wittman casually throws out on the court during his probable going-away party. While the Wizards individually strive to Get Mine on every possession, Atlanta (48-33) needs to remain true to their fundamentals. Forcing turnovers and converting on transition opportunities, open three-point jumpers (3-for-22 3FGs by the non-Bazemores), and free throws (8-for-15 FTs) were elements sorely missing during their rout at the hands of the Cavs’ Big Three on Monday. In Cleveland, Kent Bazemore looked like the prank victim that runs out on the floor unaware that his teammates were hiding back in the tunnel. The less wear-and-tear he has to put on his sore knee, the better equipped he’ll be for Game 1 of the playoffs, so major production out of Hardaway, Mike Scott, along with Kyle Korver and Thabo Sefolosha in short stints, will be critical tonight. A second consecutive “division” title for the franchise, for the first time since 1961, is not outside the realm of possibility, and the Hawks could fall prey to scoreboard-watching as the game goes on. But these Hawks have to show maturity, focusing on the task at hand, rather than the tasks that await. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record