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lethalweapon3

Official Game Thread: Hawks at Bulls

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Will the only person alive capable of stopping John Collins, please, raise your hand?

 

It is possible that the Chicago Bulls are the worst team in the NBA. It’s also possible that they could notch their first victory of the season, at the United Center tonight, while hosting the occasionally up, often down Atlanta Hawks (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast in ATL, WGN in CHI). Both things can be true.

We’re now in the ninth year of the Gar Forman-John Paxson axis in the Second City, the fifteenth year of the once-proud big-city club under Paxson’s thumb, the twentieth since MJ pushed off on Bryon Russell and left the team in the hands of Tim Floyd and Toni Kukoc. The passing of time has led Bulls fans to wonder, how awful would owner Jerry Reinsdorf’s club still be, if the 2007-08 team didn’t luck out in the lottery and land a healthy, bouncy Chicago native named Derrick Rose?

Reinsdorf has stuck with “Garpax” through thin and thinner. Now that the year-plus-long spigot holding back NBA coach-cannings has finally been turned on, there’s nothing to suggest that Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg won’t catch the blame, and the axe, over Garpax’s ever-accumulating management and player-development failures.

Former Bulls lead-scorer and passive-aggressive team captain Jimmy Butler got dealt on draft night to Minnesota, and the returning haul gave the Bulls two young guards that have yet to appear due to injuries (Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn), plus a lottery pick, Lauri Markkanen, that was likely to be stashed after a rough summer league stint.

Aside from Butler and Rose, the Bulls have had a decades’ worth of draft picks that have failed to pan out in Chicago, including first-rounders Bobby Portis and Denzel Valentine, still on the roster at least for now. Several picks in that span that have panned out did so, or are doing so, with other teams (Gary Harris, Jusuf Nurkic, James Johnson… to say nothing of 2006’s LaMarcus Aldridge). That list seems to now include 2017 second-rounder Jordan Bell, a flourishing rookie sub who Garpax shipped to Golden State for cash to line Reinsdorf’s pockets.

The Butler deal was probably not the worst of 2017 for Chicago. That would go to the trade-deadline deal of Doug McDermott (a 2014 lottery pick acquired for Harris and Nurkic) and team heart-and-soul forward Taj Gibson. Garpax exchanged them plus a second-rounder for three guys (Cameron Payne, Joffrey Lauvergne, Anthony Morrow) who hardly registered a blip, and only the injured Payne remains. Of Chicago’s draft-day selections and acquisitions over the past five years, only Paul Zipser (doubtful for tonight, bruised knee in practice) and Markannen are starting on Hoiberg’s roster, and even these situations are merely out of dire necessity.

One year before the Butler deal, the Rose trade with New York included guard Justin Holiday. Holiday (18.3 PPG, 35.3 FG%) is back on a free-agent deal, joining momentary ex-Hawks Jerian Grant (7.3 APG) and Kay Felder to further muddle the backcourt picture in advance of LaVine’s and Payne’s eventual returns.

I’m as big of a Lover-Not-A-Fighter pacifist as you’ll find. But a good practice scrap every now and then can turn out pretty good for a professional hoops team struggling to bond. Exhibit A: that time Zaza Pachulia and Solomon Jones swung for the fences at each other, during an April pregame shootaround at MSG, and emerged with nary a splinter back in 2008.

The Hawks won the ensuing game over the Knicks, moonwalked by that one game into the playoffs over the Pacers, got rewarded with Paul Pierce and the Celtics, and haven’t missed a postseason party since (okay, fine… they haven’t missed one yet).

Key to that pivotal altercation, though, is Solo never smashed Zaza’s grill, which I just assume is unsmashable to this point of his career, as retaliation for the backup center getting all up in his. No Zaza, no fateful date with KG’s mug, maybe no inspirational final playoff dash to begin with. There’s no telling how big the dream-deferred would have been for playoff-starved Hawks fans, had Atlanta been simply observing Boston’s march toward destiny from home.

The stakes weren’t remotely as high for the Bulls (0-3) on the day before the season-opener, when Portis chose to find out just what happens When Keeping It Real Goes Wrong. Portis had lost a preseason battle to stick in the rotation at power forward, and he took exception when would-be starter Nikola Mirotic started feelin’ froggy around him during a skirmish in practice.

Mirotic caught a two-piece, a biscuit, and a pepper from Portis. The whole malicious meal resulted in maxillary fractures that will surely have him looking like a stunt double from a horror film when he finally returns to an NBA floor in mid-November. The game-suspended Portis’ status with the team remains on shaky ground, and likely depends on whether he and Mirotic can break bread while they’re both on hiatus.

The good news for Bulls fans is the fateful fracas eliminated two excuses Coach Fred could’ve hid behind in stashing “The Finnisher”, the rookie Markkanen. The lottery pick out of Arizona has been hitting a trio of threes per game (45.5 3FG%) while also leading the Bulls with eight defensive boards per game, allowing center Robin Lopez to focus almost exclusively on cleanup putbacks and help-blocks. His career-high 19 points (5-for-8 3FGs) during the Bulls’ 119-112 loss in Cleveland on Wednesday, after he and Holiday (4-for-9 3FGs) guided their team to an early 38-28 lead in the first quarter, earned him postgame praise from Cavs default point guard LeBron James.

Until LaVine returns, Markkanen is the only guy capable of playing from the Jimmy Buckets trade, and the Bulls’ fans are pleased to see him get and take advantage of the opportunity. But the Bulls come into today’s contest ranking next-to-last in offensive efficiency, just a shave in front of Dallas for 28th on the defensive end.

Chicago’s 12.8 opponent TO% is next-to-lowest, and their opponents’ 26.3 assists per-48 are next-to-highest. Who knew that the best guard option for the Bulls in the clutch, given some quality developmental seasoning, would-be Spencer Dinwiddie, discarded prior to the 2016-17 season, now a hero with the Nyets?  Hoiberg has been dealt a lousy hand, and will either earn end-of-season honors for coaching this team into Eastern Conference parity, or a pink slip. He would love to be in the cartwheel-flipping Mike Budenholzer’s shoes right now.

Inspired by the on-goings in Chicago with Markkanen, many Hawks fans would quite enjoy the imagery of Ersan Ilyasova (team-low 30.6 eFG%, min. nine minutes played), Luke Babbitt (5.1 Rebound%, lowest among Atlanta’s non-guards), and Mike Muscala (team-low 88.7 O-Rating, min. three minutes played) wrangling with one another atop a combine harvester. However messy the outcome, it would leave no choice for Coach Bud to play in the NBA’s rookie leader in player efficiency rating.

John Collins also ranks second among rooks in per-48 Win Shares, behind Bell (sorry, Chicago), and third in the NBA’s Player Impact Estimate (min. 10 mins/game), behind the lauded Ben Simmons and De’Aaron Fox. Yet we can only speak in terms of efficiencies with Collins (13th in minutes-played among 2017 draftees), because Budenholzer sits the budding big-man at inopportune times for the Hawks (1-3).

It is true that Coach Bud wants to be careful in over-relying upon his rookies, as evidenced in prior seasons with Dennis Schröder and Taurean Prince (20 points but 7 TOs @ MIA on Monday). It is also correct to assume that Collins has to work on his strength and defensive awareness versus post players, as was demonstrated when he allowed his fellow Deacon alum, Johnson, to plunk down one basket after another in the third quarter of Atlanta’s 104-93 loss in Miami.

Yet Collins (14-and-11 in 18.5 minutes @ MIA; second-straight double-double) was instrumental in that quarter in dwindling Miami’s double-digit lead down to four points, his layup off a dime from Kent Bazemore drawing the Hawks to a 77-73 deficit after entering the second half down 62-44. If strength is such a concern, why is Muscala in the game in the clutch, allowing Justise Winslow to snatch the ball from him like candy from a baby? If defensive awareness is such a big deal, how did the heat go from 15 third-quarter points to 27 in the fourth, while Collins sat?

Moose’s third and final turnover of the second half led to a fastbreak layup that essentially put the game on ice for the heat, and he was promptly replaced not by Collins but another Budfave, Malcolm Delaney, as the heat lead continued to swell.

The Bulls’ defensively futile guard-play will allow another opportunity to see just how deep the abyss gets for Delaney (3-for-9 FGs @ MIA, raising his shooting to 29.2 FG%; 1 assist, 3 TOs in 33 minutes on Monday), who starts while Schröder is back home resting his sprained ankle in advance of tomorrow’s home-opener versus Denver. Budenholzer hinted he might give Isaiah Taylor and Josh Magette more minutes tonight. But that will largely be a function of how much of a hole Delaney digs, especially when getting lost on the defensive end and bricking open jumpers.

Whosoever is handling the rock (including Baze) has to distribute it better in the directions of Dewayne Dedmon, the starting center who was a ghost on offense on Monday (0-for-3 2FGs, 0-for-2 3FGS, no O-Rebs), and former Bull Marco Belinelli (47.4 3FG%).

Keeping that duo productive, cutting back on shot-clock usage for Muscala and Prince, and players other than Collins and Dedmon getting stops, would help Atlanta outpace Chicago, who might be just nine-deep, this evening. Let the Bulls get off the schneid at someone else’s expense.

Let’s Go Hawks!

~lw3

 

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1 hour ago, lethalweapon3 said:

Gar Forman-John Paxson axis

Imagine at this point Bulls fans think pretty poorly of that combination of names and word. Chicago's version of "axis of evil" towards its own fan base as I'm sure you already alluded to. Man oh man how times can rapidly change in the NBA. Once a team whose defense was actually feared and now....

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What a loaded ATL sports night, Hawks, united, and GA state at the former Turner field on ESPN U...as well as the NFL and a pack 12 game and the TNT double header... Geesh.

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6 minutes ago, StephenHawking said:

So far looking like the worst game of pro basketball I've ever witnessed

Remembering World B. Free vs. Mad Dog Carter myself. Can't match an NBA low like that ever. Uh...pretty sure.

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8 minutes ago, Peoriabird said:

Does Bud have 3 point guards in the game now?

One rebounder and four question marks. Over coaching with next to nothing to work with right there. Seems a bit blatant.

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If this was before the Olajuwon sweepstakes of yore at least we would know for sure it is Atlanta, Chicago and Phoenix after the first pick period. But these days the worst team can end up with a lotto pick than doesn't transcend into, well...  

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37 minutes ago, Peoriabird said:

Bud has in Magette, Taylor, Delaney, Babbit and Dedmon.  This dude is a strange coach!

Guessing you could out-coach our 5-ring, COTY, All-Star coach? 

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Delaney has to be the worst PG in the NBA. He nearly makes the game unwatchable when he is on the floor.

Edited by GameTime
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Geez...Baze is even worse in person.  Why does he ever bother to shoot?

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      “Braddy’s ALWAYS Happy!”
       
      Back on the road (Yours Truly, that is... not the Hawks... Safe travels, everyone!) So let’s keep this one short!
      Ahhh, sweet, sweet parity!
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      More news ‘n notes (including the fact you won’t have Al Horford to kick around!) in a bit.
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      ~lw3
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    • By lethalweapon3
      “Braddy’s ALWAYS Happy!”
       
      Back on the road. So let’s keep this one short!
      Ahhh, sweet, sweet parity!
      The Warriors, losers of four straight, are hobbled and squabbling. The Wizards are at each other’s throats. Teams like the Jazz and Nuggets, who had thought they had finally turned a corner, are now not quite so sure. Teams like the Lakers and Rockets, who thought an 8-seed playoff spot was a worst-case scenario, are having second thoughts.
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      Instead, they’re hoping they’ve found rock bottom with a win over the Atlanta Hawks (3-15), who lately have satisfied themselves with being the momentary salve for just about every struggling NBA outfit.
      More news ‘n notes (including the fact you won’t have Al Horford to kick around!) in a bit.
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      Happy Thanksgiving! Let’s Go Hawks!
      ~lw3
       
      View full record
       
    • By lethalweapon3
      “You think you can get more points? No No No… Nooooooo!”
       
      The first-place Toronto Raptors, visiting our Atlanta Hawks over on State Farm Drive (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, SportsNet One in TOR) this Thanksgiving Eve, come in with a simple, two-part objective.
      Part One: Do not, under any circumstances, allow franchise legend Vince Carter to reach 25,000 career points on the Raptors’ watch.
      Part Two: Failing Part One, try to look sincere in offering up congratulations.
      But for the risk of trading down, after selecting Antawn Jamison in Vancouver’s GM Place arena on Draft Night 1998, raptorus toronticius might well have followed grizzlius vancovueris on the professional franchise extinction list. An awful lot had to happen to bring the man who would soon be known as Air Canada to The Great White North in the first place.
      Although treated like a premium these days, first-round NBA picks used to get dispensed as easily as PEZ candy. Golden State decided to part with this pick and two more future-firsts, five years before, in Draft Night 1993’s fateful Penny Hardaway-for-Chris Webber deal with Orlando. Not even a year later, the Magic stapled Scotty Skiles to the 1998 pick in a multi-future-pick swap with the Bullets (the Bullets!) Then it was Washington’s turn to treat that pick like a hot potato.
      Five months after the summer 1994 Washington-Orlando deal, this pick was on the move again, and C-Webb was once again squarely in the middle of it. The Bullets wanted their go-round with the NBA’s reigning Rookie of the Year. They passed this first-rounder, plus two other future firsts, on to the Warriors.
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      You thought Saints-colored Atlanta jerseys were a tough sell, huh? Imagine a time where a purple jersey with clunky digits and Barney the Dinosaur on it – the tyrannosaurus dribbling while wearing a jersey ON the jersey -- was a cool item, to anybody above the age of 11.
      Just three seasons into their existence, with initially rabid attendance waning, a league-wide lockout looming, and yet to breach 30 wins in a season, the Raps were on the verge of being remembered, in passing, as that team that was cute for a minute, with mighty-mouse Damon Stoudamire tilting at windmills.
      Bringing a few windmills of his own, Vince’s highlight-reel play elevated the temperature at Air Canada Centre, from class-clown-cool to homecoming-king-hot. Burdened by the bellyaches from veterans and future rookies alike (“Snow! Taxes! Poutine! Snow!”), a nation that was already second-guessing the long-term viability of professional hoops was suddenly turned back on.
      Because the synergy was happening in the country’s largest metropolis, one that was growing increasingly diverse by the minute, Barney Jersey #15 emerged as the quintessential status symbol for all things Toronto, singularly representative of The Future of Canada sports. Anywhere just across the border to the south, and a young adult could saddle up to the Thanksgiving table with the purple jersey and get knowing nods of approval, not jeers, from all the crazy uncles.
      Vince not only firmed up a wobbly franchise, he established the hoophead firmament in Canada, one that would influence the global sports and cultural landscape for decades to come. For “Starters”, what are Canadians Tas Melas and J.E. Skeets doing these days, had they met in college without Vince’s Raptors around as a hot topic? They’re not in Atlanta hosting shows on NBA TV, that’s for sure.
      A Torontonian teenager named Aubrey got his big break on a Canadian high-school TV show, his notoriety coinciding with the Raptors’ rise in the early-2000s. Even so, who, back then, would have picked Aubrey as the headliner that would jam-pack this very State Farm Arena for THREE nights, just last weekend? With apologies to maybe the rock-band Rush, Toronto’s greatest gift to pop music, before Vince got there was Deborah Cox. Aubrey, How Did You Get Here?
      Who in Atlanta, or anywhere, would have cared to hear Aubrey, talkin’ boasy and gwanin’ wassy about tales from The Six, put to a synthesizer? Without the appeal of Vince’s Raptors, would Aubrey one day have been tapped to be anything more than a Global Ambassador for a wheelchair company?
      Besides hoops itself, Canada’s greatest gift to hoops pre-VC, was… Rick Fox? Bill Wennington? Leo Rautins? Now, we’ve got the likes of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander crossing Hawks up on the regular. Imagine Jamal Murray, Nik Stauskas, Dillon Brooks, Cory Joseph, all making their living as hockey goons. Whither would Kelly Olynyk, or Tristan Thompson go, absent the Half-Man, Half-Amazing phenomenon? Shoot, they’re Royal Canadian Mounties patrolling the border right this minute.
      Carter made Toronto basketball, and the GTA itself, chic in the way another Tar Heel did for Chicago. Unlike Mike, Vince did that without ever bringing the city an NBA title, much to many’s chagrin. And he did that in the space of just five NBA seasons, two of them riddled with ankle, knee and hamstring injuries that had him coarsely branded by a growing legion of critics as Wince. The final season with fans’ growing sense of dread that Carter wanted to move on.
      Unless they’re retiring, it has never been easy for an NBA All-Star and franchise face to plot a graceful exit. If you’re not con-Vinced, just tap Kawhi Leonard on the shoulder tonight to ask about that. Carter was wise to never trust a Babcock with GM duties, and in the summer of 2004, he put his agents to work to get Canada’s Worst Kept Secret in motion. The Raptors not getting a deal done in time had Carter getting the side-eye, from fans and coaches alike, when the 2004-05 season began.
      After a lot of bad press over the ordeal, Toronto did get a rental of Alonzo Mourning, plus two more of those dime-a-dozen first-rounders, in dealing Carter to New Jersey. But the sense that Vince was bailing out on one nation’s top metro, for the glitz and glam of another’s, burned a lot of Canadian bacon, to say nothing of bridges. Could he at least have stuck around long enough to celebrate 10,000 points?
      We’ve lived long enough to see spurned NBA team fans come around on their former stars. The “FUVC” tees once prevalent around Toronto are relics of the past. It took a decade after trading the future Hall of Famer away, but Raptors, Inc. finally did the whole video-tribute thing, even talking about jersey retirement soon, because, duh.
      Similarly, one can foresee the day when Kawhi returns to the Alamo City and finds people willing to remember his time there fondly. 2014 Finals MVP, two-time DPOY and 1st Team All-NBA, perennial MVP runner-up and, thanks to his flummoxing “injury” “rehab” last season, persona non grata in San Antonio, for now.
      That’s not the Raptors problem. In fact, they swung for the fences to nab Leonard, trading away the one All-Star who refused to demand a departure from Toronto in search of warmer pastures. DeMar DeRozan’s departure didn’t sit well with his co-star buddy Kyle Lowry. But the point guard, who helped Toronto climb out of the dregs when Chris Bosh set sail, knows the deal.
      With Lowry (NBA-high 10.2 APG, career-best 59.1 2FG%) buying in, Leonard returning to superstar form, and key role players, including Kawhi’s fellow ex-Spur Danny Green (game-winning FG last night; NBA-best +192 plus/minus), stepping up, the Raptors find themselves atop the East (14-4; NBA-best 7-2 in away games). In the aftermath of the LeBronference coming to an end, Toronto is eyeing a successful return to the conference finals, or perhaps even more.
      Maybe Kawhi (24.2 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 3.2 APG) will be the X-Factor that propels the Raptors to championship glory, in ways that Vince and many others could not. Maybe, just maybe, he’ll like his surroundings so much, he’ll be inclined to stick around for another season or five. Either way, Raptor fans don’t care. They’re just fine basking in the glow of his All-World presence. Laugh all you want, Kawhi. Fans know the adage: he who laughs worst, laughs best, or something like that.
      The Raptors got as close to the championship pin as ever before in 2018, thanks largely to the designs of offensive specialist Nick Nurse, a top assistant to Dwane Casey. Following the Raptors’ latest collapse at LeBron’s hands, this time in the conference finals, team exec Masai Ujiri gambled by bumping the reigning Coach of the Year, Casey, to give Nurse a shot.
      The early returns have been quite promising. Like last season, the Raptors are top-ten in both offensive and defensive efficiency, joined only this year by Denver and Milwaukee. The defense has seen a boost not only from the newcomers, Leonard (1.8 SPG) and Green, in lieu of DeRozan, but improved awareness from frontcourt holdovers Jonas Valanciunas, Serge Ibaka and Pascal Siakam.
      Ibaka, in particular, has been a revelation. Formerly one of the league’s greatest disappointments, the re-Serge-nce has Ibaka (17.3 PPG, 62.1 2FG%, 1.4 BPG) back in the lineup as a full-time starter, rendering Valanciunas a near-luxury as a backup big.
      While much of the rest of the league has their eyes on LeBron’s return to Cleveland, and KD’s Warriors hosting OKC, Atlanta had their Vengeance Night a couple days early. Although Mike Scott (6-for-12 3FGs @ ATL) came through to bail out the Clippers in Monday’s 127-119 victory, the Hawks still have ample time to shore up their perimeter defense (38.3 above-the-break opponent 3FG%, 2nd-worst in NBA).
      To notch some wins sooner than later, Atlanta’s guards and wings (Kent Bazemore, in particular) have to cease fouling inside as help-defenders, get out of the paint to allow Alex Len (minus-4.9 differential on defended opponent FGs, 12th-best in NBA w/ min. 12 opp. DFGAs per game), John Collins and Dewayne Dedmon to handle their business, and be in better position to contest the kicks and swings to long-range shooters. Aside from Green (45.1 3FG%) piling up points from the right corner, the Raptors have been benign beyond the three-point line.
      There may come a time where a highly-touted prospect like Trae Young longs to be somewhere in the NBA other than Atlanta. There may come a time when the feeling, by the Hawks organization, is mutual. In a league (a pro sports world, really) where almost no one gets to be drafted and then stick around all the way through retirement with their rookie team, a not 100-percent-amicable split is likely for Young (25 points, 17 assists vs. LAC on Monday) at some point.
      But there’s no need to hasten that day. Not 17 games into a career that, like Carter’s, may reach 1,500 or so before all is said and done. Not at the outset of a campaign by the Hawks where Young hasn’t had time to play with a steady complement of Atlanta starters, like John Collins, Taurean Prince and, maybe soon, Dedmon. Not before we get to see how Young, fellow rookies Kevin Huerter and Omari Spellman, and future prospects take their lumps and gel together, within Coach Lloyd Pierce’s purview.
      For now, Hawks fans, just suffice as Young and the Hawks charge uphill. Sit back and enjoy Trae, charting his ups and downs, while he is still young, healthy, and not crotchety and full of himself like John Wall.
      Forget 25,000. It was a hard-enough lug just getting to 20,000 points, the season before Carter sauntered into Dallas one month shy of his 35th birthday. After getting discarded by the Nets in 2009, years of home-cooking in Orlando and a year full of chimichangas in Phoenix left Carter looking swelled, and not feeling swell. No one would have blamed Carter if he grabbed a rocking chair and awaited his call from Springfield, after the Suns cut him just before the 2011 lockout ended.
      But then Carter got re-committed to his fitness in Dallas. All the “He’s still got it!” and “Vintage Vinsanity!” cat-calls when he did something right in a game, that used to wear him down, began motivating him to surge ahead. Playing major minutes, and sharing tutelage, alongside fellow tricenarians Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Shawn Marion and Jason Kidd was like sipping from a Fountain of Youth.
      Working in The Association at age 42, and not just in a suit-and-tie, seemed improbable back then. Being around to score another 5,000-plus points? That was even more unlikely. The siren song of championship-chasing wears many a pro career to a premature conclusion. Demonstrating his worth in unlikely locales like Memphis, Sacramento and, now, Atlanta, Carter gained longevity in this league by committing himself to a more noble cause.
      There’s no real skin off these Raptors’ backs if Vince gets his 13 points to reach the 25K plateau tonight. Having to wait a couple minutes while the game stops and the Hawks offer up some laudatory commemoration of the feat. But they’d really appreciate it if Carter gets his honor against the Celtics on Friday. If you see Coach Nurse directing Kawhi to D-up VC, you’ll know why.
       
      Happy Thanksgiving! Let’s Go Hawks!
      ~lw3
    • By lethalweapon3
      Bobi and Tobi, with Marcin Gortat and Friends.
       
      See what can happen, when you simply let coaches coach?
      The LA Clippers are swinging by State Farm Arena to face our Atlanta Hawks (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Prime Ticket in LA), and our old chum, Doc Rivers, is out here living his best life.
      No more appeasing Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, no more traveling cross-country to hold DeAndre Jordan hostage. Team consultant-slash-overseer Jerry West helped Coach Doc and megabucks owner Steve Ballmer move on from delusions of championship grandeur with a bloated, aging roster that never reached the Western Conference Finals.
      Both the Clippers and Hawks are in transition mode, breaking their perennial playoff teams apart and relieving their sideline taskmasters of the added burdens that come with deal-making duty. A distinction is that the Clips (10-5) elected to try seeing through the rebuild with their incumbent head coach.
      Climbing out of salary cap purgatory, LA is crafting a team stocked with role players that are blending well on and off the court. Conceivably, it’s a team that could sell itself to prospective free agent stars so Ballmer and Rivers won’t have to soft-shoe so hard in the summertime. In the early going, the Clippers’ scheme is looking good.
      CP3 facilitated the paradigm shift the prior summer by commandeering a trade to Space City, a deal that brought Pat Beverley, Lou Williams, and Montrezl Harrell to Clipperville. Setting up a trade-and-waive deal for Jamal Crawford, plus cash and a pick that later became Omari Spellman, with the Hawks in a three-team swap brought them Danilo Gallinari to provide short-term, starter-quality offense for the post-CP3 phase.
      Rather than ride Griffin’s career into the sunset, team president Lawrence Frank and GM Michael Winger shipped his freshly-extended contract to Detroit, gleaning Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, and su-PER-man Boban Marjanovic from the multi-player deal. Also included in that trade was a 2018 first-rounder, which the Clips used on Draft Night to trade up and acquire stringy rookie combo guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
      Among players not on rookie or short-term contracts, the Clippers are obligated to pay only Gallinari, Williams and Harrell next season, then only Lou on a modest veteran deal in 2020-21. Coach Doc is under no mandate to win-now, nor is he tasked with strategically losing games in a chase for plum draft picks. Instead, players understand, if they play well together under Coach Doc’s watch, they will not only raise their own expiring-contract profiles with other NBA teams, it’s likely they could be asked to return to LA next season, under a brighter marquee.
      What’s working for the Clippers, who seek to stretch their winning streak to five games tonight? It’s hard to surmise at first glance. Their overall game tempo is decent (9th in pace), yet they’re not hoisting a ton of threes (28th in 3FGAs per game), and they’re not dishing a bunch of dimes (24th in APG). Even with ex-Wizard Marcin Gortat and Marjanovic in the paint, the Clippers aren’t necessarily a stout rebounding team (19th in O-Reb%, 21st in D-Reb%). Even with a healthy Beverley pressuring ballhandlers, LA’s 5.4 steals and 11.7 forced turnovers per game rank last in the league.
      Unlike a lot of copycat wannabes, the Clippers aren’t trying to out-Warrior the Warriors. Rivers is tasking Harris and his guards with the demand to drive, draw extra defenders, and then either force defensive foul-worthy contact or make the optimal pass.
      Clipper drives (5th most in NBA, just behind Atlanta) could include kickouts to uncontested shooters outside the paint (NBA-best 41.3 catch-and-shoot 3FG%), be it Africa Game MVP Gallinari (46.3 3FG%), Harris (41.8 3FG%), or former Hawk Mike Scott (45.2 3FG%). Or, maybe to Gortat or Gilgeous-Alexander at the elbows.  Or to Harris for a post-up, or Marjanovic for a high-percentage bucket when the gargantuan center barely needs to leave the ground.
      Or, drivers just advance as far as possible to the hoop, daring defenders to make the stop or risk a shooting foul, so players like Gallo (NBA-best 95.3 FT%, min. 40 attempts) and Lou (94.4 FT% on 5.9 FTAs per game) can feast. Whatever the choice, the decisions with the rock are swift and decisive -- sort of a Bizarro World Hawks offense.
      Rivers is no longer working outside his strength, specifically conveying X’s and O’s in an uncomplex manner.  As he encourages his charges to play wholly to their own individual strengths, the Clippers currently boast the league’s 4th-most efficient offense, scoring 115 or more in nine of their past ten wins (incl. OT home wins over Milwaukee and Golden State). The defense takes a similar approach, daring opponents to barrel the ball inside and coaxing playmakers into shooting over length.
      As per NBA.com’s hustle stats, LA defenders contest an average of 46.5 2FGAs per game, a volume that leads the league. Their 32.1 Box-Outs per game rank 2nd in the NBA, 0.1 fewer than GSW. They trust that the quality of the shots they derive from drives and screen plays, on offense, will be superior to that of their opponents. Key to the Clipper defense has been sixth-man big Harrell (team-best 3.8 defensive Box Plus/Minus, 9th in NBA; 1.8 BPG). Montrezl’s athleticism and energy at both ends makes it easier on Doc to avoid overusing his starter Gortat (17.5 MPG) or Boban.
      Blanketing the perimeter from drive-happy guards like Atlanta’s Trae Young would be simpler if the Clippers had guard Avery Bradley (questionable, sprained ankle) and forward Luc Mbah a Moute (out, knee) available. LA will be happy if Young, hounded by Beverley, settles for target-practice clanks well beyond the 3-point arc (0-for-14 3FGs, 7-for-20 2FGs in last 3 games; only three of 95 3FGAs from the corner, all on the right side).
      The Clips will be less enthralled if Young gets into the paint and darts passes to an improving array of Hawks bigs, especially John Collins. Jean-Baptiste’s persistent paint presence during a guest appearance on Saturday, in combination with Alex Len, helped Atlanta (3-13) build up an early 38-30 lead in the first half on the host Pacers. Unfortunately, poor shot selection during Young’s short-hook stints, and a lot of second-guessing in the second half (33 points), doomed the Hawks’ chances to end their losing streak in a 97-89 defeat in Indy.
      Collins and Dedmon are likely to see an uptick in minutes, and touches, over the course of Atlanta’s four-game Turkey Week homestand. But for Young to enjoy longer runs on the floor, Coach Lloyd Pierce wants to see better decision-making out of his rookie floor general, setting up teammates from the outside for quality shots and moving more cohesively on defense.
      Otherwise, Pierce is satisfied handing the reins over to veteran backup Jeremy Lin (24+ minutes, 16 points, 4 TOs, 5 PFs in each of past two games; 3 steals @IND), for better or worse. For Trae, the head-to-head with Beverley serves as a good appetizer with the Lowry-Kyrie-Kemba trifecta up next on the holiday menu. With Taurean Prince (CORRECTION: as per JayBird's note, likely returning from a sore Achilles), Kevin Huerter (team-best +9.5 on/off differential) will join fellow rooks Young and Spellman in the starting lineup tonight.
      One NBA tenant at Staples Center hopes to woo a 1B free agent superstar in the coming summers to pair with LeBron. Conversely, the Clippers are aiming to show why their happy-go-lucky roster, backed by committed staff, is the one worth joining, especially to a star who wants assurances they’re the bona fide 1A, or a pair of 1As that wants to buddy-ball in a high-profile NBA market. Until then, the 1Cs are quite content to play their hearts out for Coach Doc, letting the Clips fall where they may.
       
      Let’s Go Hawks!
      ~lw3
       
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