Official Game Thread: Hawks at Suns


lethalweapon3
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“I don’t wanna be here, either, Coach Ty… but I can’t recall my Twitter password!”

 

 

“With his emergence and importance to not only what we’re doing in the short term, but hopefully in the next decade-plus, I think it’s important to make him a partner in the process.”

Relax, Atlanta Hawks fans, that wasn’t Travis Schlenk speaking of Dennis Schröder. That was the GM of Dennis’ opponent tonight, the Phoenix Suns (9:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Arizona), speaking about the inclusion of 21-year-old star guard Devin Booker in his team’s player-personnel affairs.

The GM is only 16 years Booker’s senior, but Ryan McDonough wasn’t born yesterday, as he understands the sports market in which he works. While the Hawks have jostled with the Barves, Dawgs, and Falcons for Atlantans’ attention since moving to Georgia back in 1968, the Suns had The Grand Canyon State all to themselves for the first two decades of their existence. That was quite awhile before Cardinals flew, Diamondbacks slithered, and Coyotes sauntered their way into the Valley.

Phoenix is, and remains, Suns Town. Its sports fans look upon Their Team with a more critical eye than any others. Fifty years in, generations of fans are looking to a guy who was years away from being conceived when Gar Heard made The Shot to return their favorite franchise to even modest glory.

Now in his fifth year of swings and mostly misses, the recently contract-extended McDonough (whose brother, Terry, works just down the pike as the recently-extended VP of player personnel for the Cards) needs to put a fresh face that isn’t his own behind the wheeling-and-dealings. So why not use one of the few hits the former Celtics scouting director has had since he arrived on the scene in 2013?

Since plucking Amar’e Stoudemire out of high school in 2002, the Suns have selected 10 lottery players over the past 15 NBA Drafts, including at least one from each of the last seven drafts, three of them top-five in their respective draft years. Illustrating how boom-or-bust these picks can get, the lotto pick from 2012, Kendall Marshall, just retired from hoops altogether in November.

Of those ten players, five remain on the roster, six if you count draft-day trade acquisition Marquese Chriss. Of that subset, only Booker (career-highs of 24.9 PPG, 38.4 3FG%, 47.7 2FG%, 87.0 FT%, 4.5 RPG, 4.2 APG) stands out as a surefire star, while T.J. Warren remains as-advertised for a hustle player without a hint of long-distance range (19.4 PPG, 16.9 3FG%). The rest (Alex Len, Chriss, Dragan Bender, Josh Jackson), plus second-year second-rounder and starting point guard Tyler Ulis, display varying levels of waning potential on a nightly basis.

McDonough was granted his contract extension by Suns owner Robert Sarver in mid-July, and seems to have avoided making any significant additions to a roster, coached by Earl Watson, that checked in 2016-17 at 24-58, a mere one-game improvement over the prior season. Watson couldn’t last beyond the first three games of this season, a start marked by a pair of ignominious blowout losses and the defection of its former leading playmaker, hair salon expert Eric Bledsoe.

Bledsoe’s “I Dont wanna be here” tweet finally spurred McDonough to make a move, exchanging EBled for a protected 1st rounder in 2018 from Milwaukee along with Greg Monroe, essentially bubble-wrapped for a future trade deal. Athletic third-stringer project Derrick Jones was bounced to allow two-way G-Leaguer Mike James to become a historical footnote, the latter waived just weeks after signing a full NBA contract in favor of guard Isaiah Canaan (5.0 APG, 40.0 3FG%, 96.7 FT% off-bench in last 8 games).

At least until the NBA trade winds begin to blow, the Suns have set on Ulis, Booker, Canaan and Troy Daniels (42.5 3FG%) in the backcourt, Warren at the wing in front of a very green Jackson, and a frontcourt rotation of Tyson Chandler, Len, Monroe and Jared Dudley (questionable for today, illness) in front of the very green Chriss (starting today) and Bender. Under the direction of replacement coach Jay Triano, the senior bigs are waffling between major minutes on one night and DNP-CDs in the ensuing games, ostensibly to keep them “fresh”, for something.

If Booker’s valuation holds any weight, then Triano will remain at the helm for the foreseeable future. “He’s giving a lot of players a lot of opportunities,” Booker told the Arizona Republic, “but he’s also holding people accountable at the same time, which is what we need.”

Triano is instilling an offense that forces players, from Booker to the centers, to share the ball and keep it from excessively dribbling it on the ground, where their turnover problems (15.8 TOs/game, 2nd-most in NBA) tend to take hold. Only the Hawks’ prior (and next) opponent, Portland (1.26), has a lower assist-turnover ratio (1.29) than the Suns, an issue Triano wants to fix foremost.

Len was strung along all summer as a restricted free agent without a contract, but is now enjoying a career season when he does get off the bench (11.0 RPG when granted 20+ minutes). He added, “I definitely love Jay and love playing for him.”

If the Suns (no playoffs since GM Steve Kerr, coach Alvin Gentry and player Grant Hill’s 2010 Western Conference Finalists) truly want to demonstrate that newfound sense of love and stability to their lotto-weary fanbase, they need to start stringing some wins together here at TSR Arena, and soon.

Phoenix (14-24) has the NBA’s worst home record, at 6-14. They’ve notched just two wins since beating then-downtrodden Chicago way back on November 19, and both victories came against still-downtrodden Memphis, one of those wins off a sneakily-designed buzzer-beating alley-oop play.

While they’re only two games from the Western Conference basement, the Suns are only five games behind the 8-seed and have a rational 9-13 mark in-conference, 9-10 since that disastrous start. Getting back in the playoff hunt requires beating teams at home, especially teams like the Hawks (10-26, league-worst 3-15 on the road).

With half the country currently shivering in sub-zero wind chills, Arizona native Mike Budenholzer’s troopers couldn’t have picked a better NBA locale to kick off their five-game, four-arena road trek. His Hawks have shown signs of warming up themselves, notching three home wins over their past four games, and now want to see how good their improving show can be when they take it on the road. Atlanta is 0-6 away from Philips Arena since beating Brooklyn back on December 2, although those first five road defeats were by single digits.

Budenholzer (199 Hawks wins, t-5th w/ Hubie Brown) would love to rotate his frontcourt more, a la Phoenix, but those schemes were precluded by early injuries to Dewayne Dedmon and Mike Muscala, and to current starters Ersan Ilyasova and Miles Plumlee before that. The good news for Coach Bud is his frontline is beginning to firm up.

Having labored through a mostly-bad nine-game stretch at the season’s outset, before getting shelved to heal a bum ankle, Muscala is back after a quick jaunt through the lake-effect snow up in Erie, and he’s probable to be available for tonight’s game. Meanwhile, Dedmon is a good bet to return to the floor by the time Atlanta’s road trip concludes on January 10.

Moose won’t be thrown to the wolves, or the Suns, quite like ex-Sun Plumlee and Tyler Cavanaugh were in their season debuts. Rather, he’ll be used sparingly until he can find a rotation (likely, ones paired with centrifugal forces John Collins and Plumlee) where he regains a comfort level spreading the floor and hustling for rebounds and loose-balls.

Frontcourt passing was the name of the game in Atlanta’s 104-89 victory over the visiting Trail Blazers on Saturday night. Schröder’s brilliance re-emerged, particularly as a scorer late in the contest (22 points, 8 assists, 1 TO) as Atlanta pulled ahead and away. But Dennis’ pinpoint passing was matched with 13 dimes by a combination of Taurean Prince (12 points, team-high 10 rebounds, 5 assists), Ilyasova, John Collins, and Plumlee. Collins’ three dimes in the space of four early fourth-quarter minutes helped to break the game open for the home team. Collins led a Hawks bench crew that out-assisted Portland’s 10-1.

Superior passing, deadeye shooting, and an 18-10 points-off-turnovers edge helped the Hawks minimize a 46-28 disadvantage versus the Blazers in the paint. Still, that last part sounds fine to Chandler, who has enjoyed 23-rebound and (a Suns-franchise record) 27-rebound outings versus the Hawks during the past four seasons. As has been custom on back-to-backs, Triano will likely choose to let Chandler go full-bore tonight, then rest him in tomorrow’s contest in Denver.

Muscala’s addition won’t firm up Atlanta’s interior defense (63.8 opponent FG% within 5 feet, 4th-highest in NBA) or keep opponents from getting extra helpings (NBA-high 14.5 opponent second-chance PPG, 15.2 on the road). But the more frequently he can manage to make smart, decisive decisions when the ball comes his way, the sooner he will discover it wasn’t the Man-Bun holding him back.

Schröder (29.0 PPG vs. PHX last season) was noticeably active on the defensive end on Saturday, and more of the same from he and Kent Bazemore will help keep Booker (6.0 FTAs per game), Canaan and Ulis from creating havoc and foul problems in the paint. Coercing Phoenix’s scorers out to the margins works out well for most of their opponents. The Suns join the Lakers, an upcoming Hawks opponent, as the only clubs shooting below 35 percent on three-point shots above-the-break and below 40 percent in each of the corners.

Add a poor perimeter shooting night (PHX is 2-20 when shooting below 35 3FG%) to the Suns’ sloppy transition defense (13.7 opponent fastbreak points per-48, 4th-most in NBA), anemic interior defense (48.4 opponent paint points per-48, tied-2nd-most in NBA), and problems with turnovers (18.5 opponent points per-48 off TOs, 4th-most in NBA), and you have the makings for a messy yet entertaining, high-paced competition between two struggling squads that checked out of 2017 with a 6-9 December record.

 

#SarverOut electronic billboards currently dot the Arizona sky. While Philips Arena’s two-year renovation process is already underway in Atlanta, Sarver’s $450 million renovation proposal for his older TSR Arena isn’t going so well. Fans and politicos alike are peeved, and a deliberate tank job won’t satisfy anyone around town. For all the Processed meat chewed up and spat out over the past seven years, Phoenicians want to see a lot more steak than just Booker on the floor.

With everyone peeved about the stagnating state of his franchise, Sarver is sure to pass the heat onto his managerial staff if the home losses continue piling up, especially to teams like Atlanta. As one recent Oakland Raiders coach would warn McDonough, multi-year contract extensions don’t mean quite as much as they once did.

 

Go Dawgs! And Let’s Go Hawks!

~lw3

 

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Phoenix has played much better than I expected. I didn't realize how good of a scorer Warren has become, but I'm happy to see it. I hope these kinds of games make Bud realize Collins isn't a center long-term. Asking him to defend, rebound, and score against bigger guys neutralizes a lot of the advantages he gives us. Hopefully once Dedmon recovers we'll see more of Collins at PF.

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Lol, that was a tank battle even I can get with.  That block was on some late 80’s Michael Jordan shit.  Dennis with the brain freeze though.  He actually thought he was the hero.  And how did Plumlee get into Duke?  Consistently missing 2 free throws is just dumb.

Have y’all seen that commercial for the video game with the battling tanks doing all types of craziness?  Can’t help but think of the Hawks every time it comes on.

I only saw parts of the game but I always wondered is that Chriss dude any good?  Also what happened to that other small guard they had in addition to Bledsoe and Dragic?  I forget his name.

Edited by benhillboy
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46 minutes ago, benhillboy said:

Lol, that was a tank battle even I can get with.  That block was on some late 80’s Michael Jordan shit.  Dennis with the brain freeze though.  He actually thought he was the hero.  And how did Plumlee get into Duke?  Consistently missing 2 free throws is just dumb.

Have y’all seen that commercial for the video game with the battling tanks doing all types of craziness?  Can’t help but think of the Hawks every time it comes on.

I only saw parts of the game but I always wondered is that Chriss dude any good?  Also what happened to that other small guard they had in addition to Bledsoe and Dragic?  I forget his name.

Which one? Ulis, Knight or Isaiah Thomas?

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9 hours ago, TheNorthCydeRises said:

And people don't think Bud point shaves.  No reason why Collins shouldn't be in the game right now.  Plumlee bricking FTs.

LOL . . and they hit a 3.

Lead all of a sudden down to 2

Tank Crowd:   YEAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH  YEAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

I truly don't think Bud is point shaving. We have seen enough of him to know that this is what he is as a coach. It kinds reminds me of the Mike Smith era with The Falcons. Mike had a couple of 13-3 seasons but bombed badly in the playoffs. But had very strong support for the fan base because he turned the team around so quickly. His roster then changed primarily because of him and then the losing came. And during those loosing seasons everyone else was blamed especially the GM, the assistant coaches, lack of a pass rush and Matt Ryan. Then Quinn came and all of a sudden we can draft, Matt is mvp, and we can rush the passer. I was an admitted detractors Smih much like I am with Bud. Bud has some good attributes but also some fatal flaws as a head coach. Bud struggles mightily with personnel management during games and is making personnel mistakes similar to what you saw with Mike Smith and the results of these mistakes are eerily similar. Mike Smith used to blow big lead but was bailed out a lot by Ryan. Bud blows a big lead but does not have a Ryan player to bail him out now.

I realize my stance is very unpopular on this message board but I am just being objective about what I see on a nightly basis.

 

 

 

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      Giannis’ dips, dunks, and dishes deep in the post are creating opportunities for his co-stars, who in turn create quality offensive chances for the rest of the roster. Whether it’s halfcourt heaves, awkward layup shots, or contested mid-rangers, Atlanta’s field goal makes in the two most recent games come with much higher degrees of difficulty.
      Rebounding, after Capela and John Collins (10.3 series RPG, despite 4.0 personals/game), dime-dropping, after Trae, and defense, after Kevin Huerter (team-high 3 blocks in Sunday’s 113-102 loss, which only scratches the surface of how good he looked) and Bogdan Bogdanovic (2.3 SPG), are near-binary in numerical production among the remnants of the Hawks’ cast.
      Hawks coach Nate McMillan could do well to consider going big earlier, introducing Danilo Gallinari as a quick sub for Bogi (listed as probable ahead of Game 4), and preserving the swingman’s weary knee for crucial defensive stops later in the contest. Bogdanovic played through Sunday’s entire final quarter but was a defensive non-factor as Middleton (20 4th-quarter points in Game 3, incl. 4-for-6 3FGs) ignited to help Milwaukee surge ahead for good.
      It wasn’t the playoffs, but two months ago, a Hawks team without Young available caught Giannis and the Bucks slipping. One night after clobbering an injury-and-illness-riddled Sixers team at home, Milwaukee flew to Atlanta and was feeling good after entering the fourth quarter up by 8 points. As was the case on Sunday, Middleton heated up in the final frame as well, with 12 of his 23 points. But so did Atlanta’s Bogdanovic and Lou Williams from beyond the 3-point arc (combined 8-for-9 3FGs).
      Meanwhile, Capela and fill-in starter Solomon Hill did just enough on that April evening to contain Antetokounmpo, while Buck teammates were of little use, at either end, on the back end of their back-to-back. In Game 3, the revelatory rookie Onyeka Okongwu showed he could serve Hill’s defensive role well, and maybe not just in a pinch.
      Whether Young (6-for-14 3FGs in Game 3; listed as questionable, bruised foot) is fully functional, fully productive, fully available, or not, some of the Traemates have to catch fire from outside if Atlanta intends to fully recover in this series. The Otherhawks (4-for-19 3FGs in victorious Game 1, 7-for-31 in Game 2) were by default a series-best 9-for-23 on non-Trae treys in Game 3, skewed downward by Bogi’s 2-for-10 outing, and are 21-for-70 in this series overall. Having the proper personnel getting back on defense is essential, too, whenever the Bucks aren’t retrieving Atlanta’s jumpshots from the bottom of the net.
      Hopefully, Young will be available to help the Hawks wage a fairer fight with Antetokounmpo and company tonight, earning Atlanta a guaranteed third home game in these conference finals while staving off the potential for elimination on Thursday in Wisconsin.
      In so doing, the Hawks will also have staved off what looked to be, on Sunday night, another Jenga moment for Atlanta Sports history. Also, it is hoped, we’ll get through the summer offseason without any others unfolding.
      John, if you get a call in a few weeks about a business opportunity from the Sultan of Brunei, please, just hang up the phone.
       
      Let’s Go Hawks!
      ~lw3
    • By lethalweapon3
      “Been There. Done That. Made The T-Shirt!”
       
      The Hawks had the Bucks dead-to-rights. In their house, Atlanta’s Omni Coliseum.
      The prize that awaited Atlanta was a date with destiny. The season before, a classic nip-and-tuck affair between Dominique Wilkins and Larry Bird, at hallowed Boston Garden, had the Hawks coming up on the short end but earning the admiration of NBA fans everywhere. It was far too late to establish Atlanta, in their lovely red-and-yellow jerseys, as The Team of the 80’s. But who would take the lead and rule the roost in the final full season of the decade?
      After edging the Hawks in 1988’s second-round series, the Celtics would relinquish the Eastern Conference crown for the first time in five years, to Isaiah Thomas and the Pistons. The next season, Boston lost Bird to a season-ending injury early, leaving the NBA East as wide open as it had been in recent memory. Who would challenge the new kings of the East, in their Auburn Hills palace?
      Chicago, and Michael Jordan? As far as anyone could tell, the eventual 6th-seeded Bulls weren’t ready. Cleveland, and Brad Daugherty? A breakthrough season awaited, but the core of Lenny Wilkens’ 3-seed Cavs were so young. Patrick Ewing and the Knicks? They would win the Bird-less Atlantic Division. But they finished with the exact same 52-30 record as Nique and the Hawks, who improved on the prior year’s 50-32 mark. Entering the playoffs, on the heels of the Nique-Bird duel… why not Atlanta?
      The window was open for the 4-seed Hawks, as the top-seeded Bad Boys, who easily swept the Celts, awaited their arrival. All Atlanta had to do was to Take Care of Business, on its homecourt, before a heavily partisan crowd. Their opponents? A Milwaukee club the Hawks played, and swept, in the regular season, winning all six times by an average of 11.0 points per game. The core of the same Bucks team that the Hawks bounced, 3 games to 2, out of the first round with a Game 5 home win the prior postseason.
      Milwaukee began that season at a gaudy 40-19 but stumbled across the finish line with 14 losses in the final 23 games, including two versus the Hawks, one in Atlanta by 25 points. Defensive maven Paul Pressey, whose late-season injury greased the skid, would be unavailable for the entire first-round series. Seemingly on his last legs, point guard Sidney Moncrief was about ready to retire.
      This wasn’t the Bucks’ series to win. Not until Atlanta made it that way.
      Including the prior year’s first-round faceoff, the Hawks and Bucks always held serve at home in the playoffs. That was until Game 2 at the Omni, when the Hawks could not contain super-sixth-man Ricky Pierce and Milwaukee cruised to a 108-98 win, wasting Wilkins’ 32-point effort. With the 5-game series turned to the underdogs, the Bucks were in position, at the MECCA, to close out the series upset.
      Wilkins’ contemporary, fellow All-Star and NBA All-3rd-Teamer Terry Cummings, hurt his ankle early in Game 4. Led by All-Stars Moses Malone and Dominique, plus John Battle off the bench, the Hawks capitalized and survived in OT on Milwaukee’s famous Robert Indiana floor. Cummings, like Pressey, was left with no choice but to watch from Wisconsin as the series shifted, for the last time, back to Georgia.
      For the Bucks, with their seasons on the line, there would be no leading scorer, no top defender. Problem?
      “The shot on Ehlo GOOD! BULLS WIN!” was ringing in everyone’s ears that day. Perhaps too loudly, at the Omni, for the Hawks to realize they were getting tuned up by not just Pierce, but Fred Roberts, Paul Mokeski and Jay Humphries. Bucks rookie behemoth Tito Horford didn’t have to lift a finger.
      Thanks to buzzer-beaters sunk by Mokeski and Roberts, and a plethora of missed Hawk free throws, Atlanta could not sustain a lead in any quarter. The Omni crowd felt a wave of relief when the Hawks grabbed an 86-85 lead on the Cummings-less and Pressey-less visitors, with just under three minutes to go in the elimination game. But then Atlanta let the Bucks rattle off eight straight, a Doc Rivers three-pointer proved too little, too late, and all was lost. Including, that date with destiny in Detroit.
      “This will be hard for us to get over,” Wilkins said after the Game 5 loss. He didn’t know the half of it. The next season, Rivers would be out due to injury for two months, Atlanta would sink to 41-41, 6th in the Central Division. Pete Babcock would arrive from Denver to help a busy Stan Kasten run things, and longtime coach Mike Fratello would resign after Atlanta narrowly missed the playoffs, finishing just behind Pierce’s Bucks, coach Lenny’s Cavs and Reggie Miller’s Pacers.
      With Jordan answering the call in 1991 to overtake the Pistons, not Dominique in 1989, the window for the Hawks’ Finals hopes had closed. For at least a few more years.
      Taking Care of home. It’s what likely would have made such a difference for Wilkins and his Hawks at the Omni, as their fates entered the 1990s. With his statue now perched at the entrance to State Farm Arena, and the balance of power in the NBA East once again up for grabs in the 2020s, Taking Care of Home is what would make the difference for a fresh, new group of Hawks to boldly go where no Atlanta team has gone before, the NBA Finals.
      The common denominator? The visiting Milwaukee Bucks (8:30 PM Eastern, TNT, 92.9 FM in ATL, Postgame Coverage on Bally Sports Southeast), in town for Games 3 and 4. No worries, Atlanta! Tito and Mokeski retired long ago.
      Despite a washout loss in Game 2 of this series, the underdog Hawks upset Milwaukee in Game 1, granting themselves the opportunity once more to maintain homecourt advantage and close out coach Mike Budenholzer’s Bucks in no more than six games. But this is a far more challenging visitor than the ’89 Hawks faced, thanks to the whirling dervish that is Giannis Antetokounmpo around the paint.
      Giannis was a rolling, spinning highlight reel in Milwaukee’s 125-91 win on Friday night, but he didn’t need to put up pinball-tilting figures (25 points, 3-for-4 FTs, 9 rebounds in 2.5 quarters). Teammates Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton did the dirty work in pestering Atlanta ace Trae Young (2021 Playoffs-high 3 assists, 9 TOs, 1-for-8 3FGs) while Holiday, Brook Lopez and Pat Connaughton (combined 9-for-12 3FGs) hit the key jumpers Atlanta (Traemates combined 8-for-28 3FGs) could not. Multiple Bucks chipping in to balloon the lead gave Giannis, his fellow starters and, by extension, Atlanta’s starters, a respite ahead of Game 3.
      The lack of a secondary ballhandler production, either off the bench or sharing the floor with Young, is a challenge that coach Nate McMillan and the Hawks have to overcome in this three-day homestand. McMillan leaned on Young to sort out his Game 2 struggles to make better reads and connect with teammates for too long. Deploying Lou Williams for longer stretches, as a substitute for either Trae Young or Bogdan Bogdanovic, in combination with a back-in-action Cam Reddish, could make for better balance in the Hawks backcourt.
      With Atlanta getting gashed on the boards in Milwaukee, sixth-man Danilo Gallinari has to expand his focus beyond his patented up-periscope jumpshots and help secure rebounds on defense, when John Collins and Clint Capela are occupied with Antetokounmpo and/or Lopez. Having to rely on Solomon Hill to lead the bench in minutes, as became the case once Atlanta waved the white flag in Game 2, is not a scenario conducive to securing homecourt victories.
      Both Eastern Conference Finals entrants have reason to celebrate reaching this stage. Milwaukee tried tanking in Giannis’ rookie year, were rewarded with Jabari Parker and Thon Maker during the come up, but eventually realized acquiring a sound cast of savvy vets and scrappy prospects around their emerging supernova was the best approach. The Hawks weren’t huge winners in the NBA Draft Lotteries during their rebuilding phases, either. They aren’t tying their successes solely on the haul of Lottery picks, including Reddish and the injured De’Andre Hunter, to get them to this stage and pull them through. Not this year, anyway.
      If Atlanta comes away from Games 3 and 4 with a decided advantage, it’s because veteran supporters, from LouWill to Gallo, stepped up their games when called upon. With better contributions from developed non-Lottery talent like John Collins and Kevin Huerter, the Hawks returning to more competitive rebounding, timely shooting, and proper closeouts on the Bucks’ shooters, will aid in Taking Care of Business before its home fans. This remains the Bucks' playoff series to win, only, if Atlanta allows it to be that way.
      With a year-round focus on competitanking for future game-changing talent in the rear-view mirror, Hawks fans are no longer feeling a draft. Yet here, in the Hawks’ downtown arena, fans recognize there remains, unmistakably, an open window. Take Care, Atlanta!
       
      Let’s Go Hawks!
      ~lw3