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  1. “NOTHING EASY!!!” “You adapt! You overcome! You improvise!” Marines who survived basic training were already quite familiar with those verbs before the fictional Gunny Highway barked them out at his new platoon in the ’86 film Heartbreak Ridge. The day after the movie premiered, a second-round rookie in the NBA, a world away from his North Carolina roots, had his first breakout game off the bench, with 7 assists, 4 steals and 10 rebounds in a blowout win for his Seattle SuperSonics. Growing up, Nate McMillan never had to spend much time around Camp LeJeune. Still, as an NBA pro, he improvised, adapted, and overcame to make himself into an indispensable, instrumental contributor for what would become a proud championship contender. Almost 35 years removed from his NBA-playing debut, Coach McMillan is strategizing to get a mostly young, dangerously self-satisfied set of charges in tip-top shape for regular-season NBA battles and, if all goes well, title contention, too. His Atlanta Hawks return home to State Farm Arena, seeking to bounce back from a listless pair of weekend games that, around the ATL, leave few proud. Today’s hill to charge: can you defeat a team that has adapted and adjusted after already, recently, playing you? Tonight’s visitors, the Washington Wizards (7:30 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Washington) have already proven themselves fighting fit. A day before blasting the Hawks, 122-111, last week, the Wiz handled their business in Boston, pulling away in the fourth quarter to topple the Celtics 116-107. Boston had the luxury of getting two days’ rest to lick their wounds, and they stormed into D.C. on Saturday afternoon seeking some payback. A flurry of free throws (whatever those are) and field goals from Jaylen Brown had the Celtics up a point late. But Al Horford and friends didn’t box out, allowing Spencer Dinwiddie to grab his own miss and get fouled, ushering in the first of two overtimes. The Celts went cold in the final 3.5 minutes of the first OT, permitting the Wizards to tie the game on a Brad Beal layup and force a successful sixth stanza. If you thought the Hawks didn’t have their act together on Thursday, after sinking just 6 of 21 three-point attempts, consider the Celtics, who finished Saturday with as many made triples as they had overtimes (2-for-26 3FGs), the first make coming with only nine minutes left in the contest. Yet Boston found ways to protect the rim (Horford’s six blocks and ten D-Rebs, though he wished he got #11), force turnovers and create assisted baskets inside the perimeter (Dennis Schröder’s 9 dimes and 3 steals belying his 1-for-7 shooting from the field). The Celtics committed themselves to a mutual clunkfest, their defenders holding Washington to 41.1 2FG% and 27.8 3FG%, and nearly stole the hosts’ thunder. Still, the double-OT victory has Washington at 5-1 for the first time since the No Chill Gil era of 2005, when new coach Wes Unseld, Jr. was just starting out as an assistant under the dapper Eddie Jordan. Will the Hawks show their fans that they’ve spent the intervening hours learning from game tape and adapting to the Wizards’ schemes, or will they look like a(nother) distracted Atlanta sports team, caught up in all the World Series revelry? If it’s the former, it will show up in the form of a grand-slam, full-court night from Clint Capela (last 4 games: 7.8 PPG, 44.8 FG%). The Wizards’ limited frontcourt, absent Thomas Bryant, Rui Hachimura and Daniel Gafford (available, bruised quad) were hammered repeatedly around the rim during regulation by Boston’s star wings, plus Horford and Grant Williams. Capela took the fewest shots among Atlanta starters on Thursday in D.C. (5-for-7 FGs), and he could stand more post touches (not just lobs) to help John Collins (14-for-16 2FGs, 12 rebounds @ WAS), Gorgui Dieng and Danilo Gallinari wreck shop from inside and out. For once, the Hawks have a health advantage, and they’ll need to exploit that. One silver lining from the Hawks getting braised in Philadelphia, 122-94 on Saturday night, is that they no longer have to be asked to dwell on the greatness of last year’s seven-game Sixer series, nor on the Phallout that ensued. Where they should ponder instead is on having dropped a turnover battle to opponents for the third consecutive game. A season-worst 19 team turnovers led to a 28-11 points-off-differential that allowed the Sixers to keep Atlanta satisfyingly beyond reach. As one would come to expect of a McMillan-coached club, the Hawks remain top-ten in terms of executing plays in an orderly, proficient manner (13.5 TO%, 8th in NBA). But the paltry returns of 31 forced TOs over the past three games (9 @ WAS) is a telling sign of a Hawks crew (11.7 opp. TO%, 2nd-lowest in NBA) that, defensively, is acting too cool for school. As it pertains to my desire to see the Southeast Division someday become the NBA’s SEC, Montrezl Harrell is quickly becoming my spirit animal. Harrell fouled out of Saturday night’s win over the visiting Celtics, the Washington Wizards’ third-straight win and second of the week over Boston, during the double-overtime frame. It would not take long before he offered something much more foul – language, directed at a not-so-gentleman daring to sit a few rows behind the home team’s bench in a Larry Bird jersey. That poor man was a dimestore Robin Ficker, jeering the wrong team, cheering a team from the wrong decade, from the wrong end of the floor, in the wrong part of the country, and Harrell was there to let him know he was messing with The Wrong One. Cleaning up Trezz’s commentary: Get your bean-eating boorish butt back over the Mason Dixon Line! You’re in the Dirty South Division now! “I didn’t even get back and forth jawing,” Harrell told NBC Sports Washington. “I said my piece, and once I saw he wasn’t gonna stop? Get him outta here, man… Go sit behind Boston’s bench if you wanna do that. This is our home arena, not Boston’s arena.” As one prominent Republic-of-Georgian demonstrated, sometimes, you have to go head-to-head in confrontation, and let these Northeasterners know, in no uncertain terms, this is not their snowbird palace. “I’m from North Carolina. It’s only like three hours from here (D.C.), so I feel like I’m kind of in my backyard,” Harrell shared a couple days before. The former NBA Sixth Man of the Year thrust into a starting role due to the Wizards’ diminished frontcourt situation, Trezz hails specifically from Tarboro, the small town near Rocky Mount that brought you Todd Gurley and Cooter from The Dukes of Hazzard. The Hornets were just starting to get good at the time he was born, so you can be sure he grew up around plenty of mature Bullets and Dominique-Wilkins Hawks fans. Also, plenty of folks with a rugged work ethic. “This is Down South, homegrown people that love the hard work, the grittiness, the toughness, the coming in and putting on your hard hat every day just ready to work,” said Harrell, after the Wizards thrashed the visiting Hawks last Thursday, behind his 25 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals. Unlike the stuffy TV family that runs Succession’s Waystar Royco, he Gets It. “You’re not really coming in and thinking you’re better than someone or just going off your name. You’re coming in ready to work and they’re gonna get behind that.” Not used to having a name in this league, the reigning division champion Hawks are challenged, not simply with the rule changes affecting Trae Young’s scoring output, but also the excessively cozy mindset that they are superior to everyone, aside from Miami, in the NBA Southeast. Everyone knows what they did last summer, and division and conference rivals come into games like this determined to blow the NBA Final Four participants over like freshly fallen autumn leaves. Overcoming those obstacles will require donning the hard-hat spirit that propelled Atlanta through the close of last season and inspired fans near and far to Believe. Reminiscing about what they accomplished, months ago, is not going to get the job done now. What matters is recollecting not *what* they’ve Overcome to this point as a group, but *how.* Anytime that process stops working? Adapt! Improvise! Just Once More, With Feeling… Go Bravos! Get Your Vote On! And Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  2. “Whoa… where did all my KUUUUUZZZZ chants go?” Escape From New Orleans! Tidbits, or maybe big ol’ pineapple chunks, ahead of this road back-to-back in our nation’s capital versus those wascally Washington Wizards (7 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Washington). First things first, condolences to Danny Ferry and his family. His father Bob passed away at age 84, following a career where he ran the then-Bullets for the better part of two decades, including the 1978-1979 championship season. Moving on, as many of you are aware, I’m the keeper of a petting zoo loaded with peeves. In this particular cage is the awareness that our Hawks are not getting the national-media respect they should as a Must See TV NBA competitor. That’s not new, of course. Only now, they’ve got company. Frankly, last night’s 102-99 victory down in The Big Easy wasn’t the game in this back-to-back schedule that should have been a primetime network matchup (apologies to Bawb ‘n Nique, btw, as I forgot to note Bally Sports was airing the ESPN game, too). In any calendar year, I never have to wonder if there’s a Knicks-Celtics, or Sixers-Nets, or even Raptors-Celtics game baked into the national TV schedule (NBATV included). The Atlantic Division, with their mega-money TV markets, gets the benefit of the doubt, even though, as this season unveils itself, the Southeast is where it’s at. The reigning champions of said division, Atlanta was bestowed 19 national broadcasts in their hopefully-82-game schedule. None of them include Charlotte, nor Washington (3-1), nor even Miami. Only one divisional matchup allows the continent to tune in without League Pass. That exception? A Wednesday night game at The Farm during holiday shopping season, on NBATV, against Orlando of all people. The Wiz will at least get a trip to Miami on NBATV a few days later, but that’s it as far as Southeast battles go before a national audience. Yes, it’s way too early. But so far, the Hawks, Wizards, heat, and Hornets are not only among the East’s Top 8, but among The Association’s most fascinating clubs. The schedule-makers feel the public is far more tantalized by the theoretical scoring matchup of Trae Young (51.6 2FG%, 9.3 APG) versus stars who rarely have the unenviable task of guarding him straight-up. Instead of the stale regional face-offs between the Knicks and Nets, the Lakers and Clippers, the Southeast is building fresh rivalries worthy of SEC and NASCAR-level attention, as these teams trade paint in the fight for favorable Eastern playoff seeds. That would have drawn new eyeballs, that aren’t rolling, to the small screen. Alas, around these parts, we just get to kick back and have these intra-division scrimmages all to ourselves. The late and legendary Wes Unseld, Sr. now has a bust, in front of Section 111 at Capital One Arena. His namesake doesn’t plan on being deemed a bust anytime soon. Wes, Jr. took over head coaching duties from Scott Brooks after the ‘Zards, with a late surge, finished last season at 34-38 and got bounced by Philly in five playoff games. Unseld and third-season team exec Tommy Sheppard seek to represent a new scale of competency toiling under majority owner Ted Leonsis, and the early returns are promising. How do we know the Wizards are turning over new leaves? Last night, All-Star Bradley Beal went 0-for-6 from outside, 7-for-19 from inside and, in a theme you’re familiar with as Hawks fans, got three shots up from the charity stripe. Beal blew open layups closing out the first half in a Shaqtin-worthy display that likely made even Clint Capela giggle. Neither Beal, nor any teammates, registered more than three assists. Defensive revelation Daniel Gafford went down early in the second quarter with a bruised quad, Thomas Bryant (ACL recovery) remains out through at least next month, and don’t nobody ask the team what the status is for Rui Hachimura (returning, slowly, from health ‘n safety protocols). Yet they still won, on the road. The Wizards escaped Nor’easter Country after fending off the Celtics in Beantown, pulling together after the hosts evaporated Washington’s 15-point lead in under six third-quarter minutes. Similar to McMillan’s influence on Young, Unseld wants Beal to focus not on the refs’ whistles residing where their Adam’s apples used to be, but on tightening up his notoriously poor defensive activity. That bore fruit as Beal, with assistance from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Deni Avdija, flustered Boston’s Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown (14-for-38 FGs, incl. 2-for-12 on threes) into uncomfortable shooting nights. BetMGM Wizards insider Quinton Mayo wasn’t intending to subtweet shade, not at the presently mothballed former Wizard star John Wall, nor his effective replacement last season, in the form of triple-double hunter Russell Westbrook. But Mayo astutely noted, following the 116-107 victory, that “This is a game that Washington would’ve lost last year, and the year before that, and the year…” “Thank the effing lord for the five guys,” followed SB Nation’s Mike Prada on The Bird, referring not to the grease-dripping burger joint with bland fries, “from the Russ trade. They carried the Wizards tonight. Now, let us never speak of this game again.” Folding the Spencer Dinwiddie deal from Brooklyn into the Westbrook swap with the Lakers, the quintet Sheppard yielded included Dinwiddie, Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell, Kyle Kuzma and Aaron Holiday. Speaking of this game again, Trezz came off the bench and led the way with 25 points and 11 rebounds, a team-best plus-21 on the night. He, KCP, and Kuzma have new leases on life in their new NBA locale, after melting frequently under the purple ‘n gold glare of expectations in LeBrongeles. Washington will need a similar rim-wrecking performance tonight out of Harrell (18-for-22 FGs last season w/ LAL in two games vs. ATL) if Gafford (MRI results coming later) cannot play. Illustrative of the Wizards’ new-car smell, Kuzma (11.8 RPG, tied w/ Capela for 7th in NBA), Harrell, KCP (41.2 3FG%), and Dinwiddie are the top recipients of floor time after Beal. With Raul Neto (sore shoulder) out, the former Pacer Holiday is the first guard off Unseld’s bench. Harrell can get under everyone’s skin, including teammates, but leadership from him and the newcomers are being cited as part of the ascension. “No arguments,” Caldwell-Pope cited as a contributing factor, after Washington bounced back last night from Monday’s 104-90 road loss in Brooklyn. “All positive, no negative.” The new Wizards regime is figuring out that it’s not essential to have two players of All-NBA caliber sharing the ball, that it may be better, as Atlanta (3-1) has shown, having one All-Star-level performer getting help in a multitude of aspects from a deeper, more cohesive roster. That All-Star for Washington this year might not turn out to be Beal (33.3 FG%, 3.3 APG, 4.7 TOs/game), but Dinwiddie (19.8 PPG, 50.0 3FG% on five attempts per game, 6.0 APG, 1.5 TOs/game), who absolutely would have made a difference for Brooklyn in 2020-21 if he were healthy, during the season and at playoff time. The Wizards have shown signs of being a good team, with hints of being better, if Beal can find ways to escape his early funk, if 2020 top-ten pick Avdija makes strides, and if Hachimura and Bryant can get re-acclimated upon their returns to the rotation. Last year’s high-paced edition, featuring Russ and Brad, piled on 116.6 PPG (3rd in NBA) but were outscored on most nights (league-worst 118.5 opp. PPG). This season, better on-ball defense (42.6 opp. FG%, 7th in NBA), rim protection (6th in BPG, third-from-last in 2020-21) and defensive rebounding keeps them in the ballpark for victories. Washington can still score in bunches, as they showed in their only home game to date, last weekend’s 135-134 overtime fiesta with Indiana. But they have better chances of winning them, and those of the slower, grind-it-out variety, because they are infinitely more capable of putting the clamps on people. In the interest of Washington directing said clamps to Trae (probable, sore shin), his supporting cast (27-for-69 FGs @ NOP, incl. 6-for-24 on threes) needs to be more on-point, and on-target, tonight if the Hawks (3-1) are to notch a second-straight win away from The Farm. Bogdan Bogdanovic (questionable), Lou Williams (questionable) and Kevin Huerter (probable) enter today’s contest with a matching trio of sore right ankles. Now averaging a double-double (15.0 PPG, 10.0 RPG), John Collins has to continue aiding Capela, in the defensive rebounding department, and softening the Wizards’ interior by attacking the rim and forcing Kuzma and Harrell into early foul problems. It’s a similar deal for De’Andre Hunter, compelling Davis Bertans to put his feet to work defensively at half of Hunter’s capacity, at minimum. Dinwiddie, Beal and the Wizard wings are bound to help inside with double teams, so whoever is available around the perimeter for the Hawks, be it Huerter (0-for-5 3FGs @ NOP), Cam Reddish or Danilo Gallinari (1-for-4 each last night), needs to make the Wizards pay for constricting around the paint. The schedule gets more treacherous for Atlanta, starting right about now. Tonight represents the first back-to-back in Atlanta’s season, along with the first 3rd-game-in-4-nights, and the first 4th-game-in-6. By the time the Hawks tip off in their twelfth game, on November 9 at Utah, the Hawks will have participated in their 5th 3-in-4 game (out of 21 this season), and their 7th 4-in-6 (out of 26). That rematch with the Jazz will also be the team’s sole 5th-game-in-7. All of that mostly ignores the caliber of opponents coming up. Philly and their lively, not lovely, crowd is sandwiched between tonight’s game and the rematch with the Wiz in Atlanta next Monday. After that, there’s a trip to Brooklyn, a game the next night back home versus Utah, then Golden State, Utah and Denver on the road. Then, Milwaukee, on the front end of a home back-to-back that concludes, mercifully, with Orlando. Atlanta may feel a tad road weary and banged-up coming into today, but so should their opponent, after each gutted out an essential road win last night. Contending teams know they need to win the games they have to, but also half the games that are toss-ups, and most of their division run-ins. If any active Hawks sense they’re too tired to excel now, they dare not peer ahead at the weeks to come. For a decent and emerging team like Atlanta, these are no longer automatic “schedule losses” at tip-off. Go Bravos! And Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  3. “I promise, I can’t catch your Per-Game Assists lead. Have you thought about taking off a day to rest your hamstrings?” Hump Day Tidbits! The Atlanta Hawks could win out and, by virtue of a theoretical three-way tie with the Knicks and heat at season’s end (“Division leader wins tie from team not leading a division,” sayeth the league office), secure homecourt advantage in the opening round of the NBA Playoffs. At State Farm Arena, they’ll again host a Washington Wizards team practicing the spoiler role this evening (7 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Washington, ESPN) and, the Wizards hope, beyond. Banner Szn! The division-winner thingie takes precedence as a three-way tiebreaker over head-to-head winning percentage (it’s the reverse when dealing with two-way tiebreakers). Because of it, Atlanta is in the odd position of hoping, if the Knicks get back on the horse after falling in OT last night to the Lakers and go 3-0, that the heat go 3-0 as well. Of course, none of this is likely to matter if the Hawks (38-31) don’t address their ballhandling and defensive flaws versus Washington, or if they slip up when Orlando and Houston pay visits to The Farm tomorrow and on Sunday, respectively. Monday’s 125-124 win over the visiting Wizards was a bit too close for comfort, but our Hawks could use just a little more last-minute tension. Only Utah (3-2), Cleveland (4-2), and Houston (3-3) have closed out as few games with a margin of three points or less as Atlanta (3-3). Comparatively, the Wizards (11-8) hold the NBA’s Cardiac Kids crown, with well over one-fourth of their contests and five of their last six games ending within a long-distance bucket one way or the other. It’s why the white-knuckle conclusion to Monday’s action served as a great learning opportunity for the Hawks. In addition to “winning-home-games” practice, tonight is “series-sweep” practice for Atlanta. The Wizards have seized at least one win from the Hawks in every season since 2011-12, a time when Jordan Crawford was arguably John Wall’s most talented teammate. Historically, Washington has never beaten any team more than Atlanta, but they still have a losing record all-time against the Hawks. According to the team’s Game Notes, the Wizards’ next victory over Atlanta would be their 150th, but the Hawks have won 158 in this decades-long rivalry. A harried Russell Westbrook’s inability to finish off Monday’s historic night with a likely game-clinching three-pointer made the Wizards’ race to Win #150 have to last at least a couple days longer. I’m going to use this space to praise The Commish for the Play-In concept, particularly now that the Hawks’ chance of appearing in it is virtually zero. The only people whining loudly about it are owners, players, and fans of teams that might have to win-to-get-in to reach the Playoffs, particularly those that never, in their wildest nightmares, imagined their teams being in this situation. Even the high-profile whiners make for good publicity. The Play-In prospect (or, specter, depending on one’s perspective) has given fans of subpar teams much more reason to watch end-of-season games, in the event their team’s seasons may not actually be ending. You think you can take out a top-two seed, subpar team? Prove your worth, first, by eliminating another subpar team or two. Brilliance. No one around the DMV is wringing their hands over the dwindling chances of getting Rui Hachimura and the injured Deni Avdija another low-lottery playmate. The Wizards (32-37, 1.0 games behind 8-seed Charlotte) still have little reason to shift to cruise-control through the remainder of their schedule (after tonight, they go home to host the Cavs and the Hornets). Their next win formally clinches the Play-In appearance, although the 11-seed Bulls are highly likely to lose a game so long as their final two opponents, Brooklyn and Milwaukee, bother to show up. Washington can neither edge Boston (35-34) in a two-way tiebreak scenario, having lost two of three against the free-falling Celts, nor in a multi-team scenario due to its poor in-conference record (14-25 vs. NBA East), and thus can no longer finish any higher than 8th. But any Play-In seed is better than #10, so the Wizards will want to win out, too, and enter next week’s extra game(s) hot with Bradley Beal (out again tonight, strained hammy) on the mend. The Hawks will go back to resting De’Andre Hunter (injury-return management) in hopes he’ll be able to build up his performances against the Magic and/or Rockets (as playoff practice, I’d have rather Dre face the Wiz again, then sit out tomorrow, but that’s why they pay the training staff the big bucks). As of this afternoon, Tony Snell is listed as available after being a late scratch on Monday due to a sore Achilles, while Kevin Huerter is available after being previously listed probable because of a sore hip. Tightening up the defensive effort, particularly in the second half (45 4th-quarter points by WAS on Monday), would make tonight’s proceedings easier on the Hawks, but it’s not like a lot of teams have figured out how to cool off the Wizards lately. Since getting throttled in Phoenix without the services of Beal on April 10, Washington has exceeded 115 regulation points in 16 of their past 17 games, the exception being a 117-115 OT win over New Orleans last month. As fantastic and worthy of flowery ink as Westbrook has been, he is shooting at a 38.8 FG% clip over the past three Wizards games, 32.2 3FG% and 73.3 FT% over those past 17 contests. Opponents are getting suckered into dragging extra defenders onto Russ (21 assists, incl. 10 in the final quarter; 3 TOs @ ATL on Monday), particularly on his drives and coming off screens, under the guise that his acrobatic finishes and off-bounce perimeter attempts are more damaging than anything Davis Bertans (5-for-9 3FGs, 4-for-5 in the tide-shifting 4th quarter when Russ’ teammates made 6 of 7 threes) or Ish Smith could provide. His Atlanta counterpart, Trae Young (1-for-7 3FGs, 0 steals, 6 TOs vs. WAS) led the Hawks with 36 points and 9 assists, and finished at +18 alongside Atlanta’s superior starters, but the superstar guard could stand to do more to keep Westbrook’s Wizards at bay. Bearing less of the burden to chase around Westbrook, Young must be more anticipatory of where the Wizard guard’s passes are headed. A combination of improved weakside communication and strong-side deflections or steals to induce turnovers should help Trae (3 steals in past 6 games, 2 of those vs. CHI eleven days ago) keep Washington’s revved-up offense from firing at all available cylinders. Gleaning from Russ that the threat of his long-ball three is currently eclipsing the reality (27.8 3FG% in 6 games for Trae since his return from injury), Young needs to exploit shot-fakes to his advantage, avoid the hero-shot mentality when more efficient plays are available, and be more decisive with his handle and his passes in the early going. After a balanced effort sunk the Suns last week, Atlanta’s bench brigade climbed back into its shell over the past two games, going a modest 5-for-14 on threes in Indiana last week before Monday’s droll showing (0-for-4 bench 3FGs vs. WAS, 9-for-21 FGs overall incl. 3-for-7 from Hunter). Lou Williams and Danilo Gallinari are too ineffective with their defensive play to be inert for full games at the other end. Hawks head coach Nate McMillan hasn’t tinkered much with a defensive-oriented backcourt tandem of Kevin Huerter and Kris Dunn (Sample Size Theater: +20.2 points per 100 possessions in their less-than-ten minutes sharing the floor). Tonight would be a good time to pair them together with some sweet-shooting forwards, including Gallo, Snell and the re-emerging John Collins (26.5 PPG, 69.0 FG% in last 2 games). With or without Beal, the Wizards are going to get buckets, but just a little more defensive pressure and possession control, consistently applied, while keeping Westbrook off the free throw line and continuing to dominate the glass, is what it will take for Washington to relent. DAYS SINCE A BEAL GOT PEEVED ABOUT A CURRENT OR FORMER HAWK: 1 Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  4. “Hey, Russ! Rook here says he made way more Triple Doubles than you, back in his day!” The time has come. It’s Banner Szn! There is no such thing as a FACE Banner (“Finished Ahead of Consensus Expectations 2020-21”). You don’t chase after a “See? Told Ya We’d Make the Playoffs!” Banner. There’s no, “Beat the Odds Despite a Crap-ton of Injuries”, no “Hey, At Least We’re Not Like Cleveland This Year, Huh?” Banners. Travis Schlenk and Nate McMillan can’t ascend a “Phew! Avoided That Pesky Play-In” Banner to the State Farm Arena rafters. The one tangible, non-fungible token that the coach and his team can offer Tony Ressler and Company is a red-black-and-yellow Banner that reads, “Southeast Division Champions 2020-21”. For all their “Not One, Not Two, Not Three” bluster, the Miami heat would like one made-to-order in those colors, too. With mere days to go in this goofy NBA season, our refabricated Atlanta Hawks find themselves in the same predicament Pawl, Al, Kowl, and Jeff put themselves in during the waning days of 2015-16’s. Win the week, and you can beat the heat for the Southeast Division crown. Standing in the way, then, and now (7:30 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Washington, NBATV)? A Washington Wizards team that’s missing key players, a crew with not a whole heckuva lot left to play for, other than being a spoiler to a division rival. Since the NBA Finalist Hawks of St. Louis captured the Western “Division” title in 1961, this franchise’s history of hurdling a relatively low bar with any measure of frequency or consistency has been, well, a trip. There was 1970, the team’s second season in Atlanta, 1980, 1987, the MJ’s-Not-Here-Anymore-But-Let’s-Never-Speak-of-This-Season-Again year of 1994, and Mike Budenholzer’s Peaklanta season of 2015. Heavy B and the Boyz, the following season, had the opportunity to leave an indelible imprint, as the clear-cut most accomplished collective of Hawks in the team’s spotty five-decades-long Atlanta history. Unlike a certain baseball team, this Atlanta club had never experienced winning division titles in consecutive years. All they needed to do was to edge, in the standings, a Miami outfit that was, by then, sustaining themselves purely off the fumes of LeGone. As you all know how much it sticks in my craw ‘til this day (where’s Deontay Wilder, when I need him?), Our Fine Feathered Friends fumbled the flag. They couldn’t pass muster in the penultimate game of the season in Cleveland against LeBron’s reigning and future conference champs. But the make-up date came two days later in the District of Columbia, where the core of the prior year’s 60-game winners were tasked with closing out the season of Coach Randy Wittman, Jared Dudley, Ramon Sessions, Tsunami Papi, Jarell Eddie, J.J. Hickson, Marcus Thornton, Nene, Garrett Temple, Drew Gooden, and I need not go on. Just win that game by a point, Atlanta, and we are back-to-back Southeast Division champions, my friends. There’s no other way to put it, but in his final regular season game as a Hawk, Al Horford and the crew blew it. He could have at least left us with another Banner, like ‘94’s, to sneer at. Instead, in the space of just a few games, Joe Johnson was able to leave his Miami heat – yes, you read that right – with a commendation he and Al could not earn for Atlanta during any of their All-Star-studded years here together. While it’s now likely relegated alongside Marc Anthony’s Banner for some record number of sold-out shows, Miami was able to dangle the 19th division banner in its relatively short 28-year history from an arena beam. All Hawks fans were left with was the blissful memory of shutting up Isaiah Thomas and the 5-seed Celtics in the first-round. I can hear the mantra through the screen: Division Titles Mean Nothing. And in the grand sense, that’s correct, particularly to us old grumpycats, and especially in an era where Divisions themselves don’t amount to hills of beans, in terms of competitive stature, anymore. As a counterargument, for one-title-from-long-ago franchises like the Hawks, who have since changed cities, and the Wizards, who moved out of the ‘burbs and changed names, they still matter. Down on The Farm, while gnawing on a cricket taco, some kid that just learned multi-digit subtraction looks up from their seat, at “1993-94 Central Champs!” and “2014-15 Southeast Champs!” and wonders what on Earth happened in the intervening decades (Pro Tip: if you dare to try answering the question, be sure to start during the first quarter). The biggest kid in the stands is Ressler, and he would rather not be here when the 2036-37 Banner goes up, and some wisecrack smart-aleck shouts, “Yo, where are all the Banners since 2015?” When John Wall and Bradley Beal were waging their annual charge to overtake the Southeast Division, it mattered a lot. For one, there’s no “Look, Ma! We Finally Won 50 Games” Banner to pursue. In a town that spent an inordinate amount of fan energy chasing LeBron, in the standings, then wooing LeBron or a similar superstar, in free agency, the inference that your NBA team is the best that the warmer climes of the Eastern seaboard have to offer goes a long way; having something to point to as proof certainly helps make the case. It feels like eons ago, but there was a time when four NBA Division titles and a Celine Dion concert attendance record were all Miami had to offer. When Tim Hardaway, Sr., Alonzo Mourning and Coach Pat Riley won their first of four straight division championships, in 1997, it was like Carnival in the streets. It served as a pivotal sign of a dormant sports team in a town with a lot of distractions finally gaining some footing and establishing themselves as a club not to be trifled with. "Watch out, Orlando, here we come!" That’s about where the Hawks could find themselves in 2021. Five years before, a consecutive Division Banner could have been the signal to Al… and Bud… that they’re still moving in a direction worth sticking around and building around long enough to see through, together. Instead, on the night it should have mattered the most, we got toasted by Razor Ramon Sessions, and thus formally began the search for the exits. As was the case in 2016’s season-ender for the Wizards, Beal (out today and Wednesday, strained hammy) won’t be an impediment to any lofty divisional dreams we might have here in The ATL. But Wall’s functional replacement, with any due respect, is no Ramon Sessions. On that note, let’s all check in on The Notorious K.A.B., shall we? The cherry blossoms around our nation’s Capitol have bloomed just twice since Kamiah Adams-Beal was goaded into grousing about how second-year guard and People’s Choice All-Star Trae Young was “playing cherry-picking basketball.” She apologized, appropriately, but Kamiah’s consternation with guys on non-playoff teams, stuffing stat-sheets and currying favor with fantasy managers to get voted into midseason extravaganzas, ahead of Her Main Man, remained a soapbox worth standing on in 2020. That was, until 2021! We’re all allowed to evolve in our steadfast positions on matters big and small. (Noting here that Kamiah’s crankiness extended into the Bubble season, with Brad being an All-NBA “snub”… “Put some respect on his name!”, she tweeted). But that transition is eased when, in lieu of a creaky-kneed 30-year-old co-star whose prominence historically depended on his top-flight end-to-end speed, team president Tommy Sheppard and Wizards management paired Beal with a strong, quick, 32-year-old former league MVP whose stat-accumulating prominence, in the present day, remains historic. If you’re like me, you applauded heartily as Russell Westbrook tied The Real Big O’s all-time Triple Doubles mark (33 points, 19 rebounds, 15 assists for #181) in Washington’s 133-132 OT victory Saturday, in the fieldhouse of the re-enlivened Pacers. All that meant, for me, was that Hawks fans would not have to endure both the pursuit of tying Oscar Robertson’s once-seemingly untouchable record, on a Monday, and surmounting it, on a Wednesday (the Hump Day game is now at 7 PM on ESPN, because we know the nation can’t wait to celebrate De’Andre Hunter’s regal return). The old saw was how Westbrook’s play was detrimental to ultimate team success. That take’s dead-and-buried, now that the Thunder and Wizards teams Russ played for have now won over 75 percent of games where he messed around, trailing only Magic (78.3 percent) and LeBron (76.8 percent) according to Westbrook hasn’t been cleaning the glass and dishing purely to ham-and-eggers, but neither was Magic, and at least after around, oh, 2008, neither was James. Brad’s better half was not in a good mood, back on January 31, and neither was her hubby. Two nights after Trae Young dropped 41 on the Wizards in D.C., in a resounding 116-100 Hawks win that seemed to have righted Atlanta’s sails, season-leading scorer Beal was acting Kevin Love-glum throughout the first half, as the next club in town, the superteam Nets, were about to drop Washington to 3-13 on the season. Braddie and The Brodie had yet to gel on the floor, Davis Bertans and the supporting cast looked lost, and the season already seemed to be getting away from them all. Then came the spark they had been waiting for. Westbrook and Beal combined for 37 fourth-quarter points, a corner three from Russ capping a stunning and victorious comeback to win. The new Mrs. Beal could not contain her venom, sniping at NBA Twitter for clowning her and her husband’s non-playoff-bound team on The Interwebs. When one follower suggested that some owed her a personal apology after the final horn, she bristled, “They can keep it and shove it up their (Dellavedovas).” Ouch! Thankfully, time, and a horde of sympathetic fan, player and media votes for an NBA All-Star starter spot despite a sub-.500 record, has healed all wounds. Spurred on by the All-Star love, Beal joined Westbrook in lifting Washington out of a 6-17 hole to reach the Break at 14-20. The post-Break drop from Beal’s sugar high took some time to overcome, the Wizards lapsing back into irrelevance at 17-32. But their 15-4 closing run, to date, has the dynamic duo looking like they won’t be an easy out at Play-In time, or perhaps any time after. Going forward, Russ can focus solely on padding his career record from the next young upstart who dares to take a Luka his lead and make a run after it. His coach, Scott Brooks, whose job at the helm has likely been saved by Westbrook’s recent brilliance and collaboration with Beal (31.4 PPG, 2nd in NBA), and the rest of the Wizards still have other things worthy of chasing. Washington (32-36) is all-but assured of moving on from State Farm Arena, this week, to the State Farm NBA Play-In Tournament (“Like a good sponsor…”) next week. Yet it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that it’s the Wizards greeting Brad Stevens’ backsliding Celtics in Boston for the East’s opening 7-8 game. For teams doomed, if you will, to the Play-In, the objective now is to be in position of needing to play in just one game, not two, to determine their postseason fates. The 9-seed Wizards need only to slip ahead of Charlotte (1.0 games ahead w/ the tiebreaker) to accomplish that. Failing that, it ought to be helpful to play a 9-10 elimination game in front of your own adoring fans. Before Beal exited with his injury at the close of regulation, Washington needed every one of his 50 points (19-for-31 FGs; rest of team incl. Russ 30-for-79) to claw back into a draw with the Pacers. The win leapfrogged Washington (0.5 game ahead of IND) over their Hoosier hosts, and they will not want to return there anytime soon. Beal’s absence puts the onus on Ish Smith (7 rebounds, 4 assists in 19 minutes), and two-way gunner Garrison Mathews, to provide some spoiler spark. Raul Neto (2.3 SPG) was plugged into the starting unit in mid-April with rookie Deni Avdija (fibula hairline fracture) likely sidelined for the season, and he’ll be needed to offer his best T.J. McConnell impression versus in disrupting Young and the Hawks’ ballhandlers, who were decidedly listless and sloppy until the turnaround proved to be too late when the Hawks blew yet another SCRAP game, on Thursday evening in Indy. John Collins (25 points, 7 rebounds @ IND) must make concerted efforts to box out his old chum, as former Hawk Alex Len, a starter at the pivot due to the early-season exit of Thomas Bryant, and former Bulls forward Daniel Gafford will try to keep the second-chance opportunities alive. At the other end, with Westbrook hunting around the paint for defensive rebounds, the Hawks have to make quick shots off smart passes, providing Russ precious few stat-padding caroms to secure. There’s no Rondo around to get under Westbrook’s cuticles this time around. And while there may not be a Hunter, whose injury absences due to knee problems began with that January 29 game in D.C., there wasn’t a Bogdan Bogdanovic, a regular-rotation Tony Snell, or a Lou Williams available either. They should be able to beat Neto, Bertans, and Chandler Hutchison off the dribble to create whatever shots they desire. Russ’ acrobatic shots and needle-threading passes, when they lead to scores, are cap-tippable. But a four-quarter effort, today and Wednesday, to win the turnover and rebounding margins will render his Wizards capsize-able. This is effectively playoff homestand practice for the Hawks (37-31, seeking a season-high 8-game home win streak) as well. Advancing, or at least appearing as a threat to advance, entails taking the consecutive home dates you're given with a singular opponent and making sure they’re winning ones. If all goes well this week, this pair of games will be a warmup for Games 1 and 2, or 3 and 4, in a couple weeks. If things go disastrously bad, this confident Wizards team, with Beal back in tow, could become Atlanta’s (first) Play-In opponent this time next week. But the Hawks won’t play well if they get preoccupied with the hot coals beneath them. They have a prize, up high, to keep their eyes on. Unlike Medina Spirit’s laurels, a Banner for an NBA Division Title can never get snatched away. It’s time to run for the roses. Alright, Atlanta. The objective is clear, and in sight. You’ve worked hard just to get to this stage. Now, get out there, before your home fans, and have yourself a Banner week. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  5. “So y’all was just gonna keep the GameStop news to yourselves, huh?” Purgatory Week’s Game #3 is here! And I bet you can guess what one young lady named Kamiah has been up to since yesterday. Do you know, do you know, do you know? That’s right! NBA All-Star team voting is well into its second day, and just like people all around the great District of Columbia, Kamiah Adams-Beal is occupied with people other than herself quietly stuffing the ballot box for their favorite candidates. Maybe even legally. “RT fa me one timeeee !”, The Bride of Bradley Beal exclaimed yesterday while strategically hash-tagging #NBAAllStar on her IG. And who can blame her? Her big-baller beau is carrying the Washington Wizards, or at least as many as can reasonably suit up for the Wizards, as much as ever before. Somebody has to step up on behalf of the NBA’s leading per-game scorer (35.4 PPG), who is also hitting his freebies (88.5 FT% on 8.7 tries/game) and rebounding (5.3 RPG) at career-high levels. It’s a shame he’s had to do it, on a nightly basis, in losing fashion. The good news is, Beal cannot break the record for most consecutive losses where an NBA player scores 40 points, not tonight against the visiting Atlanta Hawks (7 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Washington). The bad news is, sadly, he has already shattered former Hawks legend Walt Bellamy’s nine-game mark (as a rookie, with Slick Leonard and the 1961-62 Chicago Packers). Beal’s tenth-straight 40-burger defeat came at the hands of Zion and the Pelicans on Thursday. 47 points by Beal, and the Wiz lose by 18. 60 points on January 6, both a personal career-high and a franchise record, all in regulation, and his team falls short in Philly by 5. You hate to see it. I hear you snickering over there, you heartless Hawks fan, you. Cut that noise out. This is not a joking matter! “It’s politics and it’s a joke,” Kamiah shared on the Wizards Radio Network at about this time, exactly one year ago tomorrow. This was after last season’s NBA All-Star Game reserves were revealed on TNT and her new fiancé was left wanting, in both the popular voting and the electoral college. This was upsetting Kamiah, and her homegirls. “It’s a popularity contest. It’s about who has the most followers on Instagram, who has the most likes,” the then-Ms. Adams argued last January, with nary a hint of irony, “and it’s a joke to me… you can’t name five people that were selected for reserves on either the East or the West who are outplaying Bradley Beal right now.” To be real, Kamiah wasn’t wrong. Not until Brad-caster Glenn Consor steered Adams off course by summoning the name of someone not a reserve, voted in by 30 NBA coaches who are supposed to see The Game up close and know better, but a young All-Star starter, one already selected daily by the fans, players, and media members just like Consor, weeks beforehand, on more than just Instagram. “It’s a joke to me,” Beal’s fiancée reiterated, confiding with Consor on the public airwaves when asked, curiously, about Atlanta’s sophomore sensation Trae Young. “Not taking away from his game,” she opined, with no bias whatsoever, “He’s playing cherry-picking basketball.” Har-dee-har-har. In both Consor’s and Adams’ cherry-picking minds, sure, Young was racking up the assists, producing highlight-worthy plays, making people go wow-zers on the Interwebs. Whirling behind backs and between legs to deliver one fancy dish after another into the ever-so-talented paws of Jabari Parker and Alex Len for layup attempts at the rim. But Trae’s team wasn’t winning games, you see. Nothing like their darling Wizards, who were climbing uphill without franchise face John Wall and were at least, by that time, a gaudy 16-31 thanks to Beal. Atlanta, a full 4.0 games behind Washington at 13-36, couldn’t hold a candle. Yet, the Wizards fans colluded to complain, it’s Young who gets to pal around and play reindeer games in Chicago with Beal’s former All-Star buddies, while Kamiah’s future lesser half is stuck at home, cleaning gutters or something. Shouldn’t the standings count for something? This is about ethics in All-Star Game voting! Fast forward one year, and it’s Atlanta (9-9) sitting comfortably at .500, arriving in D.C. merely two days after a moral loss in overtime at home to the surefire All-Stars on the Brooklyn Nets. The Hawks have been missing newcomers, like Kris Dunn (out at least two more weeks post-ankle surgery), Rajon Rondo (questionable, sprained ankle), Onyeka Okongwu (available, sore Achilles) and Bogdan Bogdanovic, who may have been enough to pull out some of their close-shave defeats (five L’s by six points or fewer). But they, at least, have the look of a play-in team, one that has time to get healthy and gel while they weather through any Purgatory Week and Hell Week setbacks. Meanwhile, Washington (3-11) tired of waiting to see if John Wall, returning this season after an extended injury period, would ever return to All-Star levels alongside Beal. They replaced him in the offseason with former league MVP Russell Westbrook. Despite slinging the ball around at Trae Young levels (10.2 APG, 5.2 TOs/game), Westbrook (37.4 FG%, 61.7 FT%) has struggled with his durability, his shot mechanics, and his defense (1-8 in games appeared, the sole win at Harden-less Brooklyn) while meshing with Beal. Further complicating matters for hot-seat head coach Scott Brooks, a season-ending injury to big man Thomas Bryant three weeks ago had an already shallow roster reeling. Quickly buried on the bench in Tampa, Len was desperately picked up off waivers by the Wiz and is back to logging 20 minutes per night. And, put on for size, seven Wizard players catching Dat Rona, causing a weeks-long delay in the schedule while many continue to recover and quarantine. Washington last beat Phoenix soundly on January 11 before having their game shut down like the MLS lockout. They returned this calendar week and have since lost by 20, by 19 (to a vengeful Wall’s Houston Rockets), and by 18. I guess they’re getting better. So, yeah, 3-11 is 3-11. Dead-last in the NBA is dead-last. But making judgmental decisions about All-Star worthiness based on relative positions in the standings was so 2020. This year, the Beal household wants you all to understand, context matters! At least for the moment, the dollar-store version of Mike Conti, Consor, is wisely keeping his All-Star vote opinions, and his not-so-sneaky shade, to his darn self. Hopefully, by now, Glenn can discern screen-setters from screen-savers. Neither Hawks nor Wizards fans ought to worry their heads over which of their franchise guards is getting voted in by fans on Twitter this time around. There are only two available starting backcourt slots, and with Brooklyn having a physically sound Kyrie and the recently arriving Harden on the ballot, the Nets have those positions, as the cool kids of five years ago might say, on lock. The only competition that remains is decided upon by the thirty head coaches or their designates. With Young in town, Beal is determined to put on a show tonight and put coaches like Lloyd Pierce on notice: if Trae (44.3 2FG%, down from 50.1% last season) gets in, I want in, too. Westbrook, who joined the previous guy he was traded from OKC for, Chris Paul, atop the Western reserves list in 2020, wouldn’t mind getting a few Eastern promises of his own. Frankly, Brad can go for 70 on 70 shots, if he chooses, but he’s got to come away with some wins, too. The COVID-delayed games are getting packed back into the first-half of this season by the league’s schedule-makers, so a bunch of back-to-backs on short notice for Brooks’ crew awaits. The Zards face Brooklyn here at Capital One Arena on Sunday, and Portland on Tuesday, a day before flying down to Miami for a series with a division rival that may have Jimmy Butler back by next week. Narrowing the gap with the Hawks, and heat, would make Beal’s resume look much spiffier by the time the coaches submit their ballots to the league. “We want to win, and I want to win,” Beal shared with ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk after Wednesday’s 124-106 loss to N’Awlins. “This is why I stayed… I figured this is the place I can get it done.” “Last year was what it was,” was another Bradley bromide. “We had a lot of guys out. John was out,” Beal added, referring to Mr. Wall and not, coincidentally, to Atlanta’s months-long suspended Mr. Collins. “It was just a rotten year. COVID hit. This year, it’s the same thing. Like a mini-Bubble outside the Bubble. No fans, no nothing, no practice time. It’s been tough.” This is where free agent retainee Davis Bertans, second-year forward Rui Hachimura and Moe Wagner will come in handy. The frontcourt trio returns from their COVID hiatus just in time for tonight’s game. Mix in dashes of Len, and Jordan Bell on a 10-day deal, and Washington should have enough frontcourt rebounding to make up for the loss of Bryant, and enough shooting (if Bertans isn’t rusty) to help Westbrook and Beal better spread the offensive floor. Going forward, it’s just a matter of whether Washington (114.6 D-Rating, 29th in NBA, last in East) can produce enough stops to finally make Beal’s prolific offense matter. ESPN’s Real Plus/Minus data is in! As bad as Beal was at the defensive end last season (minus-4.79 DRPM), along with teammates Troy Brown and Ish Smith (both still out, along with rook Deni Avdija, on the health ‘n safety tip) and Bertans, Brad could usually take solace in looking down at Young (league-worst minus-6.17 DRPM). That holds true in 2020-21. But this time, both Beal (-1.68 DRPM, #434 of 451 NBA players) and Young (minus-2.25 DRPM, #446 of 451) can currently look down upon Beal’s teammate, Westbrook (minus-2.38, #447), to say nothing of star peers Zach LaVine, Kemba Walker and Harden. Of course, fans and data wonks go radio-silent about a player’s problematic defense once a Podoloff Trophy is collecting dust on the shelf. Beal (4 steals @ NOP, 1.4 SPG) is doing a little more in hopes of being disruptive and helping Russ and the Wizards stay in games by scoring off turnovers (19.6 points per-48 off TOs, 4th-most in NBA). But when Bradley’s doing badly at seizing the ball, opposing offenses find it easy to execute first-shots on most possessions (NBA-worst 55.3 opponent 2FG%; 56.0 opponent eFG%, second-worst in NBA). The Wizards’ frontline resistance, with all due respect to Wagner, doesn’t compare with Collins or Clint Capela (54.2 defended opponent FG%). Atlanta’s starting frontcourt duo sends back 3.5 shots per game, slightly more, by themselves, than the Wizards have produced so far (3.4 team BPG). One thing the Wiz will do, when they can’t stop you, they will hack you (NBA-high 23.4 personals per-48). Atlanta can keep Washington in the rear-view mirror by beating their man off the dribble, getting inside on cuts and drives, getting into the bonus quickly, and converting their free throws (4-2 with 25+ FTs/game, two close losses against the Nets; 1-5 with under 20 FTs/game, sole win @ BRK last month). The Hawks have watched opponents, like the Nets (17-for-20 FTs on Wednesday) hit an unlucky 81.5 FT% (highest in NBA), but the Wizards (74.4 team FT%, 23rd in NBA), aside from Beal, are prone to leaving crucial points on the table. Every team in the NBA has been tripped up for a disappointing loss or two. In the NBA East, though, the cream rising to the top is at least winning most of their in-conference games. None of the East’s Top 6 are doing worse than 8-6. Atlanta (5-7), for the next couple of weeks, will have a tough time extricating themselves from the eight Eastern conference teams beneath them. But that feat becomes unnecessarily tougher when the Hawks struggle to close out and put away (negative-2.4 fourth-quarter plus/minus, 27th in NBA), the Hornets, Pistons and Wizards across the league. Hawks fans would have reason to be disappointed, particularly if there is to be some midseason showcase hosted in The A, and Trae Young isn’t sharing center stage. Still, no matter how the final All-Star returns pan out, Atlanta fans won’t be storming NBA offices, kicking their feet up on Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum’s desk just because the official tallies didn’t go their favorite players’ way. I mean, that would be a “joke.” Right, Madame Beal? Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  6. Turns out, maybe it's not all that hard to talk somebody out of D.C. these days. ~lw3
  7. “OnlyFans, but with you and Beal guarding people. OléFans!” “It’s a masterstroke of heartache, brutality, and redemption.” “YOU DIDN’T READ THE BOOK, DID YOU?” I let out a hearty snorkle (snark and chortle? snort and chuckle?) every time that car ad comes on. We all know that guy, the one who comes to class, the book club, or the big meeting, and does his best attempt at Winging It, in hopes of not making it obvious he showed up wholly unprepared? Few creatures do a better job at Winging It than hawks. But under the unrelenting scrutiny of the National Basketball Association, Atlanta’s young Hawks have a hard time getting away with it, not without getting exposed on the regular. Such was the case on Monday night at The Funny Farm, as brave onlookers endured the Hawks shooting 32 percent from the field on the same nets they used over the weekend, while a visiting Grizzlies club had randos walking into the arena and piling up double-digit scores with ease. John Konchar, professional basketball player or State Farm Agent? Josh Jackson, redemptive lottery pick or lost member of New Edition? (text your uncles, if you don’t know who they were.) Tyus Jones, steady NBA backup or one-armed blues legend? Think fast, De’Andre Hunter, John Collins, Brandon Goodwin. Y’all didn’t read the playbook, did you? After a promising weekend, our Hawks took off from their homestand finale with a bad taste in their beaks. The palate cleanser as they hit the road? None other than our good friend Bradley Beal and the Washington Wizards (7 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Washington). I trust that Trae Young knows Brad’s lady friend’s name without prompting. Can we say the same about Shabazz Napier? Recent Wizard arrival, or the late Malcolm X’s pet cat? If you need to call a friend, Trae, check with former T’Wolf Jeff Teague. That sure might’ve helped the Hawks on Monday with Anthony Tolliver, who didn’t even have a jersey for Memphis’ shootaround that morning. “You can’t teach effort,” was about all a terse Lloyd Pierce would share with postgame reporters who, I can only assume, stayed awake for the entirety of Monday’s 127-88 flop. I can kind of disagree with the Hawks’ head honcho. NBA coaching and development staffs are charged with having their players adequately prepared to compete. How players prepare, as much as how they perform, is a reflection on the gentlemen in suit-and-tie on the sideline. They’ve got uber-talented kids who are inured to being up the night before playing Mario Go-Kart or whatever, then throwing on jerseys the next day to face some St. Ignatius Prep team that’s petrified of being on these guys’ Overtime and Ballislife highlight videos. If you’re not instilling into 22-year olds’ noggins the adequate level of discipline and preparedness for the highest level of this sport, then what are you instructing? I can’t forget that Lloyd Pierce is a newbie head coach as well, liable to be outwitted, hoodwinked, bamboozled (come on home, Spike) by even other neophytes on occasion. He’s learning what works and doesn’t work with his charges, even 145 NBA games into his tenure. He’s also fairly secure with his position for the next 145 games or so. It’s the rank and file below LL Cool P who should approach every game as if they’re walking with a panther. I’ve long been fond of Chairman Mel. While Melvin Hunt could use less bodily threatening tactics to snap Hawks players to attention, I can understand the desperation with which he resorts to a Bad Cop role. It’s not Pierce’s job that’s on the line in 2020 when the Hawks play poorly. It’s Hunt’s, Greg Foster’s, Matt Hill’s, Chris Jent’s, Marlon Garnett’s. Somebody within that quintet has to prove themselves capable of providing Pierce the feedback that keeps a 12-point deficit from careening to, say, 41. For example, what did Sidney Lowe, Chad Iske, and Maz Trakh once have in common? They were all assistants for Scotty Brooks on his 49-33 Wizards, the ones who paid back the Hawks in the 2017 playoffs’ first round before falling in seven games to the Celtics. That season’s run was the high-water mark of the Wizards’ history over the past four decades. Things have fallen apart a good deal for Washington (22-39, 2-6 since the All-Star Break, 9th-by-default in NBA East) since then, but Brooks is still standing strong, with the unwavering support of owner Ted Leonsis, as is lead assistant Tony Brown. A slide in the standings can be blamed on injuries and scheduling and stuff. But on teams that find it tough to woo top-notch talent in free agency, if people can’t point to players developing to become steady standouts, a recession in on-court performance can be Iske business. John Wall returning next season to hopefully recreate an offensively potent backcourt with Beal (NBA-high 38.0 post-Break PPG) is enticing. But Wizards fans have the right to wonder, with the emergence of division-rival bigs like Collins and Bam Adebayo, is it reasonable to expect a meaningful growth spurt from Thomas Bryant (last 3 games: 80.0 FG%, but 2.7 RPG)? Is Rui Hachimura (1st game vs. ATL) a core starter going forward, or will his lack of stretchiness (28.6 3FG%) and defensive chops hinder his development? A similar question can be asked regarding second-year pro Troy Brown (last 15 games: 1.4 SPG, but 41.7 FG% and 64.7 FT%), who has seen a subsidence in playing time from Brooks over the past month-plus. Taken a few spots before Atlanta selected Kevin Huerter, is Brown part of Washington’s starting core by this time next year, at the very least a valuable sixth-man waiting in the wings behind the backcourt stars? Speaking of underutilized mid-tier first-rounders, will the formerly stashed Clipper guard Jerome Robinson (5-for-7 3FGs vs. ATL on Nov. 16), starting in place of the injured Ish Smith, become the future answer behind Wall? Davis Bertans has provided some great offensive patchwork in Wall’s absence. Assuming he departs in free agency, who will pick up all those great perimeter looks in Bertans’ place? I said *great* looks, so surely, it’s not Wall. Will it be the mystery 2020 lottery pick? Is it someone the Wizards, who traded vets Isaiah Thomas and Jordan McRae away, are cultivating to be that guy? If so, is he hiding out on the Capital City Go-Go somewhere? The Hawks have at least enough viable young options, going forward, to start printing up Beatles-style T-shirts. If we look up at next year’s Wizards roster and see “John, Brad and ???”, the wannabe All-Star returnees will be screaming, “Help!”, at anyone who’ll listen. Even in the meantime, the Wiz cannot afford to be serving up one-fifty-burgers to opponents like the Hawks, who can hardly be bothered to know whether Moe Wagner is Wizards’ starting center tonight or the King of Pops guy in the State Farm Arena stands. When they visited Atlanta back on January 26, Beal scored 40 points (1-for-5 3FGs), only to be outdone by Trae’s cherry-picking 45 (6-for-11 3FGs), while a balanced home squad played more like a team that bothered to do its homework in Atlanta’s 152-133 win. Pierce will have Dewayne Dedmon (elbow) and Cam Reddish (probable, back pain) returning to the fold for the season’s penultimate road back-to-back series, which concludes tomorrow evening in the Grizzlies’ den. Trae is questionable with “just a flu”-like symptoms, as is DeAndre’ Bembry (abs pain). But if Young can tough it out, he can help Atlanta shake off the rust exhibited earlier in the week. One thing aiding Atlanta (19-44), heading toward the close of the season, is that they sauntered out of the loss to the Grizzlies with anywhere from 1 to 4 games in hand on their lottery-level competitors in the East. That was erased somewhat in the days that followed. But, as the Wizards return from a 125-104 loss, in Portland on Wednesday, to face their third opponent in four nights for the second-straight time, Atlanta had several days to go literally back to the drawing board in Brookhaven, even taking time out for a spades tournament in between (Kevin’s still on the hunt for the elusive Draw Four card). Atlanta is 3-2 when they’ve managed to have three or more preceding off-days, road losses at Milwaukee and Boston as Collins worked his way back into the swing of things being the setbacks. It’s in these interims where staff should be quick to remind the players that they have to gameplan for every possible opposing team, every opposing player. Atlanta would likely be 2-0 against the Wizards this season, entering today, if they had bothered to find out who McRae was (29-8-and-6 vs. ATL on Jan. 10) before he skipped town. Transition defense (7th-worst in NBA, based on points per possession; 2nd-most PPG allowed), exposed most recently in media reviews of plays ensuing Trae’s long-distance trey attempts, has to be an item of heightened focus for the Hawks. Young doing a better job hindering direct pathways to the rim is one challenge, but so it is for Young’s courtmates getting back, not only to help inside but to seal off the corners from dangerous-shooting personnel. Only James Harden’s Rockets and the Cavs are more subject to transition (17.5 percent of all opponent plays), successful or otherwise, by their foes. Washington, still somewhat new to this heightened pace of play under Brooks’ watch, is just about as bad (1.13 transition PPP allowed, to the Hawks’ 1.14), but they at least manage to stub runouts by forcing turnovers more effectively (14.1 opponent TO% on transition, 4th-most in NBA). A sloppy game that features the Hawks compounding unfortunate shooting with miscues, poor finishes, and lazy recoveries works well in Washington’s favor. After January’s embarrassing loss in Atlanta, the Wizards’ assistants will be eager to show what they’ve been working on in the intervening month. Rest assured, Brooks’ job won’t be on the line anytime soon, but their slots could be up-for-grabs, unless someone among the younger supporting cast steps it up soon. Similarly, the Hawks must begin demonstrating the more consistent composure and maturity that their coaching staff harps upon them, especially away from Atlanta, the city that hosted eight of their last nine victories. Coming off Monday’s loss, after nearly a full week of tutelage, the Hawks’ assistants are in no mood this weekend to field a team that looks like a dog ate their homework. The fans are right there with them. We want less heartache and brutality, and more redemption! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  8. “I’ll be re-evaluated in 4-to-6 weeks. Just glad it’s not my wand-waving hand!” The Guru of… Go-Go? For assistant coach Corey Gaines, watching his Washington Wizards on pace to become the first NBA team to allow 120 points per contest for a season since 1990-91 must feel familiar. Perhaps, it’s because he had a cup of tea on the last NBA team to allow more than 130. Gaines was a disciple of legendary coach Paul Westhead, who once called the point guard, as reported by the LA Times, “one of the fastest, quickest players,” he had seen. Westhead oversaw a lot of quick, and Gaines was the quickest. The California kid was also a quick study of “The System,” and soon quarterbacked Bo Kimble and the late Hank Gathers into stardom at once-unknown Loyola Marymount University, following Westhead’s principles of super-soaking, run-and-gun offense, at all costs to everything else. In the ensuing years, and decades, wherever Westhead popped up, Gaines would not be far behind. After a couple NBA stops, Gaines came to Denver as a free agent preseason pickup twice. He was cut one day before the 1989 season opener by their soon-departing GM Pete Babcock. He returned in 1990, just days after Westhead was hired in hopes of supercharging the low-altitude offense made famous by Doug Moe. Playing under his college coach, Corey was sure he would finally stick on an NBA roster, until a November game when Kevin Johnson’s Phoenix Suns scored 107 points on the Nuggets. In the first half! Yes, that’s still a record. The 173-143 loss that dropped Denver to 0-6 should not have been laid at Gaines’ feet; he wasn’t a starter, and you rely on ex-Hawk Blair Rasmussen and Todd Lichti to hold it down in the paint and see what that does for you. But Corey, averaging over nine assists per game, was the fall guy. Westhead’s run as an NBA head coach wouldn’t last much longer, either. After being waived, Gaines weaved in brief NBA stints with CBA, European and Asian leagues, ABA2000, and summer pro-am action until he retired. Westhead was about to coach Gaines (and Dennis Rodman and a young Matt Barnes) in 2003 with the latter-day ABA’s Long Beach Jam until the NBA Magic called him looking for an assistant. He and Gaines would re-connect in 2006, when Westhead got the lead job with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and asked Gaines, who took over for Tiny Archibald midway through the 2004 ABA season at Long Beach, to become his assistant there. The move paid off for Gaines as Westhead guided the Merc, running and gunning “Paul Ball” and leading the league in scoring behind Diana Taurasi, to the 2007 WNBA title. Westhead left for to be an assistant with the NBA Sonics, and Gaines took over. Two seasons later, another WNBA title, and Gaines would get promoted to GM two years after that. Jumping over to the men’s side of the pros for the first time, Gaines would work as a player development/assistant coach in ensuing seasons, with the Suns and the Knicks. He was a Pistons coaching consultant when the Wizards came calling. Ted Leonsis likes to tinker, but not in conventional ways. Loyal to a fault, the Wizards owner hung on to GM Ernie Grunfeld way too long, and continues to defy fan sentiment to cut loose head coach Scott Brooks. After star point guard John Wall was lost for the rest of the 2018-19 season and the Wizards missed the playoffs, Leonsis replaced Grunfeld with Tommy Sheppard. While he kept Brooks and promoted Tony Brown to a lead assistant role, Leonsis and Sheppard overhauled some of the assistant gigs. Longtime assistant Mike Longabardi joined the club, as did analytics guru Dean Oliver and Capital City Go-Go coach Jarell Christian, who nurtured Troy Brown and Thomas Bryant on development league assignments and helped Jordan McRae earn a spot on the 1st-Team All-G-League team. But the most impactful strategic addition to the bench is probably Gaines. A 103.5 pace (4th in NBA) and 110.8 O-Rating (8th in NBA) aren’t groundbreaking figures, not in this new-age league. But the offensive tempo resembles nothing Brooks has put out while coaching the star-studded Thunder or Wizards before, or anything this franchise has seen since the winning Washington/Baltimore Bullets clubs of the 1970s. Defense? Bah, Who cares about that right now? Worry about defensive personnel when it’s time to really win something. The Wiz haven’t won 50 games in any season since the 1979 NBA Finalists, and it’s a safe bet that they won’t this season (12-25), a well-established assumption with Wall (Achilles, out for season) and, lately, fellow All-Star Bradley Beal (27.8 PPG; questionable for tonight, lower leg soreness) on the mend. But fans at Capital One Arena, where the Wizards and Atlanta Hawks play tonight (7 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Washington), haven’t been this excited about the future in a while. Long recognized as the fastest end-to-end player in the NBA, Wall in his peak seasons would fly up the court in transition, hunting for layups, dunks, and foul-shot chances. Failing that, he’d have to wait several more seconds for the likes of Marcin Gortat and Nene to come lumbering into position, and then a couple more to pry Beal open along the perimeter. It was a formula that had grown stale. Now, Leonsis’ big bet is that Washington can implement a system better suited to the skillset of Wall (age 30 and a $40 millionaire for the first time next season, locked down on extension through probably 2022-23), and to the potential of his youthful teammates, including Brown and lotto-rookie Rui Hachimura, once Wall returns next season. In the meantime, they’ve got Isaiah Thomas (41.2 3FG%, best since his heralded Celtics years) and Ish Smith to help demonstrate Gaines’ version of “Paul Ball” while taking their predictable lumps on the defensive end. Nobody snookers the Spurs easily, but Sheppard’s Wizards pulled a fast one by relieving them of Davis Bertans this past summer, as San Antonio tried in vain to make room for Marcus Morris. Bertans (43.4 3FG%, 9th in NBA) has become part of a trio of Killer Bs (Beal and Bryant, with Brown and Isaac Bonga needing more time to join the hive) that makes it easier for Brooks to promote a free-wheeling yet egalitarian offense. Especially when they’re healthy together, which has been rare. Smith and Thomas can bring up the ball, look for a quick shot, then give it to Beal to create for the rest of the shot clock, Bertans, Hachimura (NBA-low 5.8 TO%, as per bball-ref), and Brown hardly have to touch the ball unless it’s time to get a shot off. Everyone is allowed to play to their offensive strengths, such as they are, so long as whatever you do as a Wizard, you do it fast (304.6 passes per game, 6th-most in NBA; 28.8 catch-and-shoot PPG, 8th in NBA). I’d be tempted to promote Brooks for honorable-mention Coach of the Year votes, but for the fact that running Wall (36+ MPG for four seasons, pre-injuries) and Beal (36.5 MPG, 5th in NBA) into the ground is a big part of the reason the Wizards find themselves in this holding-pattern situation. Beal has only been able to appear in one of Washington’s last seven games, while Bertans (quad), returning tonight, missed the past nine. Trade sharks are circling for Bertans, and Brooks will be obliged to keep him on the floor as much as possible to raise the value of the sharpshooter with an expiring contract. Injuries for Hachimura (groin), Bryant (foot), and Moe Wagner (ankle), has had the Wizards going deep in the grab bag of their depth chart, and with the way their offense is going, you never know who’s turn it is to go for 30. The player themselves may not know until they’re doing it. In comes Garrison Mathews, the two-way no-name guard who paired up with McRae off the bench (57 combined bench points vs. MIA) and left Jimmy Butler muttering to himself in a 123-105 win over the heat on December 30, without Bertans, Beal or Bryant. Out goes Mathews a few games later, victim of a bad ankle injury. In comes forward Johnathan Williams on an injury hardship, starting five games after Christmas and averaging 20 MPG through last week, including 12-and-8 in a 128-114 win over the Nuggets. Out goes Williams, on waivers the next day. The Wizards have finally been blowing gaskets offensively, including Wednesday’s 123-89 defeat in Orlando. But that hasn’t come without random contributors popping up like Whack-a-Moles off the bench. While the five default starters could muster only 28 points between them, the bench brigade against the Magic was led by Brown, portly second-rounder Admiral Schofield (18 points apiece) and Anzejs “Scrabble” Pasecniks (16 points). Getting at least one of the Triple Bs suited up will be sure to put the buzz back in Brooks’ new run-and-gun “system”. The Hawks (VIII-XXX) have plenty of their own defensive issues to work through, and it will be tougher tonight to identify and attend to the opposing player likely to take shots, as they tried to do during valiant comebacks against James Harden’s Rockets on Wednesday. But the Wizards hope, in turn, they can be as successful in nullifying Atlanta’s star scorer as they were all last season. As noted by NBC Sports Washington’s Mike DePrisco yesterday, no other team in the Eastern Conference held Trae Young below both 16 PPG and 30 FG% (12.0 PPG, 28.9 FG% in 4 games vs. WAS) during his rookie season. With or without Wall, Brooks deployed either of Tomas Satoransky, Austin Rivers or Chasson Randle to help cover Young while using a guy like Trevor Ariza as a free safety for incoming passes toward the paint. None of those personnel are in D.C. now. Perhaps saving his energies, Beal has the lowest Defensive Real Plus/Minus (-4.70) in the league, with Thomas (-4.11) and Hachimura (-3.85, below Trae’s -3.75) not all that far behind him. Coach Scotty will turn to The Mitten (Gary Payton II) and Brown to help limit Young’s penetration. In any case, Thomas or Smith will likely have to switch onto someone, and hopefully Kevin Huerter will have a big game exploiting that matchup. Having reached double figures in each of his last five games (50.0 FG%, 47.1 FG%, 19.0 PPG, 6.6 RPG and 3.8 APG), all single-margin outcomes for the Hawks, Huerter’s shooting splits are quickly approaching those from his All-Rookie season. Helping him bury notions of a sophomore slump will involve him attacking the paint more and getting to the free throw line, where he can show off his improving shot (85.0% on 1.5 FTAs/game, up from 73.2 and 0.7 last season). Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce wedded himself to two ideas early on in this season. Insisting Alex Len is ideal in every situation coming off the bench, for one, means John Collins is left to start at center for Atlanta, given the personal leave extended to rookie Bruno Fernando and the utility of Damian Jones as an occasional rim protector and foul sponge. The other idea is that De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish (minus -8.5 net points, and minus-3.0 assists per 100 possessions) can be at their best learning how to play together, and starting, rather than staggering the rooks in differing lineups. Collins at center and Jabari Parker (shoulder) remaining sidelined due to injury leaves Pierce little choice but to field De’Andre Hunter at power forward. Collins will find himself busy guarding the frontcourt positions at separate times, but the fast pace expected from tonight’s action may continue to be overwhelming for Hunter, who returns to the NBA outpost nearest to his reigning NCAA champion University of Virginia. De’Andre has been hitting his threes of late (38.7 3FG% in last seven games), but the expectations that he could also contribute as a rebounder, passer, on-ball and roving team defender, seems a bit outsized for his current skill level (last 7 games: 1.3 APG, 0.6 SPG, no blocks, 2.4 RPG). Unlike Cam, who has ample support around his position on the wing, Hunter could benefit from a downsizing of MPG, especially at the power forward spot once Parker and Fernando can return. Fans in The DMV aren’t exactly doin’ Da Butt in celebration of this new wrinkle of Wizards basketball, but they are pleased to discover a clear change in style with an eye toward the future, even with Brooks ostensibly still in charge. There may come for the Wizards a future time when, like the gentrifiers of many D.C. wards, somebody will file a petition for Leonsis to turn all this Go-Go gadgetry off. But that won’t happen until long after Wall and Beal get to run the newfound offense together. Until that time comes, Brooks is willing to listen to his staff, and when it comes to offensive ideas, he’s more than happy to let Corey Gaines clear his throat. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  9. “Y’all would really rather see Tacko Fall, huh?” Once the first All-Star ballot returns rolled in, and it became obvious Trae Young had a great shot of earning a People’s Choice Award, Atlanta Hawks fans went into overdrive, and for good reason. If Young was able to get into the Game on the fan vote, then he wouldn’t be among the many players in the Eastern Conference going for the Oscar, waging an uphill fight this month for one of seven precious reserve spots. Neither the Washington Wizards nor the Atlanta Hawks come into action today (6 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Washington) in the running for Best Ensemble. But some Best Supporting Actor trophies remain up for grabs. Players like the Wizards’ Bradley Beal intend to spend this week using Young and the restless Hawks (11-35) to bolster their merits. Some help from coaches won’t hurt. “Jimmy Butler should be a starter in the All-Star game,” asserted Erik Spoelstra, Miami’s coach and noted comedy connoisseur, who was also miffed in his Friday commentary that Butler’s candidacy was limited by his ballot classification as a forward. “It’s a joke that he’s not.” Assuming his ire isn’t directed at Kemba Walker or any of the East forwards, Young and the Hawks’ losing ways seem to be Coach Spo’s bone of contention. Even if the Hawks lose the next ten games, dropping to 11-45, Young won’t be the All-Star starter on a team with the worst-ever pre-Break record. As noted by Phil Watson of HoopsHabit, that ignominious honor would remain with Dwyane Wade, a flashy fifth-year pro and fourth-time All-Star whose team was 9-43 at the 2007-08 All-Star Break, 6-25 afterwards. Dang, Erik… who’d he play for? I’m just “joking”, you already know. Coincidentally, Butler was classified as a forward three years ago, on a losing team in Chicago. His Bulls, a team far more talented and experienced than Young has yet enjoyed, had just lost to Dennis Schröder’s Hawks to drop to 21-23. Even the fan vote had him in 5th place, on the outside looking in. But the newly installed “Zaza Rule,” allowing player and media input into the voting results, catapulted Butler over LeBron’s teammate Kevin Love for the East’s final frontcourt starting spot. Jimmy Buckets joined two other sub-.500 starters, Giannis and Anthony Davis, at the time 2017’s All-Star selections were announced. There was precious little consternation, no think pieces complaining about “antiquated” position voting, no homers banging their keyboards. Davis, of the 23-34 Pelicans, scored 52 points in The Big Game, and he was handed an MVP trophy for his troubles. Somehow, the world managed to continue spinning on its axis. No “joke,” Spo! Spoelstra and Butler will have to wait until the first game after the Break to sink their gnashing teeth into Atlanta. Say, didn’t you two have to get through most of the first third of the season without your ascendant frontcourt star, Bam Adebayo? Ah. I must have y’all confused with somebody else. Toronto hosts the Hawks on Tuesday, and Kyle Lowry will be waiting. The defending NBA champs lost their Finals MVP, yet they’re still tied with Miami for 2nd in the NBA East. Bidding for his 6th-straight appearance in the midseason classic, Lowry has bounced back from a broken thumb to log the second-most minutes per game and the third-highest scoring average of his career. If Ben Simmons cared what fans thought, he’d take more open threes, fix his free throw shooting, and dodge the Karkrashian Kurse like the coronavirus. Alas, the 2019 first-time All-Star found himself behind Derrick Rose, Zach LaVine, Lowry and Jaylen Brown in the fan balloting. Simmons does hope coaches will value all the things he does bring to the table, which will be on display when the 76ers visit Atlanta on Thursday, one day before the reserves get announced. NBA players made their minds up that, yes, a defensive liability who stars for a losing team can be worthy of an All-Star starting spot. Only more of those voters felt that star player should be Beal, who finished second to Walker in the internal player-vote tally and just ahead of Young. Even if that star, 11-26 on the floor with Washington (4-3 without him), is only now scrambling to make a season hampered by knee and shoulder ailments (career-high 27.8 PPG, career-low 31.6 3FG%; career-best 6.4 APG, career-worst 3.3 TOs/game), without John Wall (out for season, Achilles) by his side, one of his (offensive) best. Wiz coach Scott Brooks is trying as best he can to untangle himself from contradictions, squaring Beal’s once-lagging quantitative performances with the shooting guard’s qualitative leadership value. “He hasn’t shot the ball well, but he’s not going to end up being a 30-percent shooter. The guy is money,” Brooks sorta-explained to the Washington Post, after Beal’s ninth consecutive game of 35+ points and 5+ assists helped their Wizards overwhelm the Cavs in Cleveland on Thursday. “You’re an All-Star for a reason, and he keeps leading us… None of us expected this season to end up with the situation that we’ve had, but he’s led us and battled for us and puts us in positions to compete every night.” Brooks also backed Beal this month after his star guard frustratingly questioned the progress of the team purportedly “changing (their) culture” to a winning one. “He’s a part of our culture and he’s a big part of it,” Brooks said of Beal. “When you lose, everybody feels bad about it, and that’s a good thing.” The Wiz (15-29) fizzed in three straight games after defeating the Hawks on the 10th of January. They’ve beaten two lottery squads since, and nearly knocked off the heat in Miami before succumbing in overtime on Wednesday. Beal has been money, from the free throw line, where his career-highs of 7.1 FTAs/game and 84.0 FT% have kept his elevated usage from becoming an all-around efficiency disaster. He is the sole NBA player below Trae in Defensive RPM and PIPM rankings, best understood by his need to carry a roster loaded with spare parts and next-to-the-next-men-up on one side of the floor with limited defensive support to cover for him. The next-worst player above age 21 in those plus/minus categories is Beal’s Wizard teammate and former small-wonder All-Star, Isaiah Thomas (2-for-16 FGs vs. ATL on Jan. 10; 41.2 3FG%). I.T.’s persistent threat to hit jumpers from outside keeps him in Brooks’ starting unit as Beal (31.9 usage%, 6th in NBA, two places behind Young) dominates the ballhandling from the wing. There’s at least one other Wizard seeking to make it to Chi-town in a couple weeks. Rookie Rui Hachimura has been out since mid-December with a groin injury, but he has been cleared for basketball activities. The Rising Stars challenge will be an easier bar to clear this year if you’re on the World Team, but the Japanese forward must show he’s healthy and productive enough to make the cut. Rui could be joined by fellow Wizards Moe Wagner (out, ankle) and Anzejs Pasecniks, especially if last-minute injury replacements are needed. Making the USA Team is tougher, but it’s not too late for Atlanta’s Cam Reddish (9 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks @ WAS on Jan. 10) to grab an invite. Coming off the bench in the Hawks’ Friday night loss at OKC to score 20 points, Cam (last 7 games: 2.4 3FGs per game on 50.0% shooting, 1.9 SPG) is unearthing to demonstrate not only why he could be more than a one-way player, but also why a plurality of preseason-surveyed rookies felt he could eventually wind up with the best NBA career, Zion Williamson and current Marvin-Williams-warmed-over archetype DeAndre’ Hunter included. Up-and-down Troy Brown (18 points, 10 rebounds in 35 bench minutes vs. ATL on Jan. 10) wouldn’t mind a call, either, especially if he gets the chance to spend his All-Star Saturday Night on Trae and Zion’s USA Team. The eventual returns of Hachimura (out, groin) and Wagner (out, ankle sprain) will bring the high-scoring Wizards to nine players averaging double-digits, including Jordan McRae, who has cooled lately after dropping 29 points on the Hawks (4-for-5 3FGs), plus eight boards and six dimes, in the 111-101 win at Capital One Arena. To the All-Stars go the spoils. For Young, that means being granted a delayed return to Georgia from Oklahoma City, after taking his bows at a Sooners game on Saturday afternoon. He’ll return to action hoping to make amends for one of his worst games of the season in D.C. a couple weeks ago, going bagel-for-7 from downtown while offsetting his 7 assists with 6 turnovers. Hawks backup Brandon Goodwin keyed the near-erasure of a 13-point second-quarter deficit before halftime in Washington, then scored eight points and dished an assist to Reddish to forge a 91-86 lead with just over seven minutes to play. But his fourth-quarter pairing with Young was unable to thwart a series of layups by Ish Smith, followed by point-blank scores from McRae and Ian Mahinmi that put the game away for the Wizards, who were missing both Beal and big-man Thomas Bryant. Atlanta could have used forward Jabari Parker (out, shoulder rehab) to match the Wizards’ late-game firepower. Brooks will likely keep Beal at small forward and maintain a guard-heavy lineup that gave the Hawks fits in OKC, who used penetration and kickouts to bigs Danilo Gallinari and Mike Muscala to surge to a 36-21 fourth-quarter advantage on Friday. To keep yet another “too little, too late” fate from befalling Young and the Hawks, it will help to have Jeff Teague around to cool off Smith, his former Wake Forest teammate. Atlanta has Reddish and Kevin Huerter to spend their energies shielding Beal, but must avoid over-aggressive fouls that make scoring easy for the Wizards star. Hunter needs to be busy latching himself onto Washington’s stretchiest threat, the fully healthy Davis Bertans (42.6 3FG%), leaving John Collins to do the dirty work of showing on screens for guards and getting back in position to beat Wizard bigs to the glass. Amid all of that defensive activity, Young and the Atlanta point guards must be more effective in disrupting and intercepting Washington’s halfcourt passes. Every loss by the Hawks will be portrayed as a referendum on the value of Young’s first All-Star accolade by his de-Trae-ctors. Every victory will induce the converse effect from supporters. Neither Young himself, nor the Hawks, need to be caught up in all of that. The focus needs to be on becoming 48-minute fullcourt competitors, particularly at home versus Lottery peers. Hawks fans have no choice but to forgive the upcoming slate of opposing stars, when their minds are fixated on a Game other than the one they’re supposed to be playing. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  10. All these injuries don't make no (Common) sense! ~lw3
  11. “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
  12. Satoransky got Portis'd last night as well, but he says he'll be alright. ~lw3
  13. 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
  14. “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
  15. “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