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“DO NOT LISTEN TO YOUR CRAZY UNCLE ON SOCIAL MEDIA!”
Friday Tidbits! A gaggle of Atlanta Hawks will convene at The Farm tonight and try, once more, to beat the Miami heat (7:30 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, BS Sun in MIA).
I can’t let this month pass without serving up some Squawklove for our top-flight Public Address Announcer. Just last April, it was sounding like 6-to-8 weeks, or months, would be a great prognosis for our local radio legend, Ryan Cameron.
Sepsis was the case that they gave him, on top of his longstanding congenital heart condition, and he spent weeks in touch-and-go status in the ICU after undergoing surgery. Cameron fought it off, was back on the airwaves by August, and holding down the mic at State Farm Arena’s center court when the Hawks’ season commenced in December.
I can’t tell you how much joy I get hearing those golden pipes get put to the test. By Tony Snell against the Nuggets. By Danilo Gallinari against a Celtics team that still doesn’t know what hit them. By Steph Curry and All-Stars that made the arena rims look like troughs. Lately, by our fearless Leader of Horde, Bogi Bogdanovic. By Red Velvet against the Pacers. And as always, by Trae Young, whose return from a Grade 2 lateral ankle sprain (out at least a couple games, including Sunday’s versus Milwaukee) will be worth the wait. “FOR THREEEEEEEEEEEE!” All hail The Ryan King!
The bad news? We’re reaching the point where Nate MacMillan and the Hawks’ coaching staff will have no choice but to sort out optimal rotations, involving returning would-be-starters and bench guys, on the fly after the regular season concludes (Magic Numbers: 7 for Play-In, w/ WAS; 12 for Top-6 Playoffs, w/ MIA). The good news? I was worried our other players returning to the floor jussssst in time for Trae/Clint Capela/John Collins to catch demoralizing injury bugs was destined to be a May problem, not April.
Capela (questionable, bruised back, because Atlanta Sports) nearly summoned the spirit of Willis Reed during Wednesday’s OT loss at Madison Square Garden. His will to fight through obvious discomfort, in vain hopes of salvaging a late lead for victory after Young was carried off, should be inspiration to some on the Atlanta IL to get off their dunn, er, duff, and overcome whatever currently ails them. Let’s go, “KD”. (Snell has been upgraded, to doubtful, so that’s something. Gallo remains questionable).
Due to an inflamed knee, Miami star Jimmy Butler wasn’t available to save his team on March 2, when the heat got the deep-freeze from Ice Trae (13 fourth-quarter points) in a 94-80 win that proved to be a pivot point for the Hawks (32-27). In the fourth quarter, MacMillan was able to rest Collins for a game the next evening, a win in Orlando. The Hawks win dropped Erik Spoelstra’s reigning conference champs back below .500, and recovering to their current standing, at 31-28 has been a long slog.
They’ve won three straight since Butler called out his team’s effort as “sawft”, following a loss in Minnesota this time last week. Miami would love to dig themselves out of the Play-In hole and, like the Knicks, dip past the Hawks in the standings with a win tonight, especially with the knowledge somebody not named Trae has to beat them. They’ll fly home tomorrow for a two-games-in-three-nights affair with the 11th-seeded Bulls, a team that’s also figuring out how to make-do without their headlining, double-team-drawing star guard.
Be it Brandon Goodwin (under 10 career mins. vs. MIA, half of them w/ DEN), who starts in place of Young tonight, his Gwinnett chum Lou Williams, Point Huerter or Point Bogi setting the plays, execution on offense must be at a premium. Atlanta committed a combined 38 turnovers in the two-game series straddling the turn to March down in Miami, including a heat season-high 16 steals despite the Hawks’ victory in that latter meeting.
Miami, meanwhile, must make like a streetballing barbershop quartet and stay mindful to pass the ball. The heat are 0-5 when they assist on 20 or fewer baskets, including a season-low 15 when they last lost to the Hawks. Only seven heat turnovers in that game, too, but if you’re shooting 37.3 from the field, you’re not having a field day playing iso-ball (41.7 iso-play eFG%, 24th in NBA). Combined with a deliberately slow pace, Miami has finished six games so far without exceeding 90 points (all losses; 5 times in 73 games last year), which is unacceptable in this day and age unless your last name is Spoelstra.
They’ve been without Trade Deadline pickup Victor Oladipo (out, sore knee) and Tyler Herro (questionable, sore foot), but their absences may only help with their perimeter marksmanship. Miami has shot just 35.0 3FG% as a team (24th in NBA). Thanks to Kendrick Nunn in this week’s home wins over Brooklyn and Houston (11-for-20 combined 3FGs), and Herro shaking off the barnacles in San Antonio on Wednesday (5-for-6 3FGs), the heat have outshot their foes on threes in nine of their past 10 wins (the exception involving a kid named Steph, naturally).
Even if Capela’s a late scratch, rookie Onyeka Okongwu will need to be ready to help Collins and former heat forward Solomon Hill, particularly to keep Bam Adebayo guessing if it’s ever safe to vacate the paint. The heat depend not on blocking shots (4.1 team BPG, 29th in NBA) but making opponents take contested interior shots over height, without fouling.
Their mediocre team rebounding, though (72.6 D-Reb%, 4th-worst in East; 2.8 opponent putbacks/game, 3rd-most in East) can allow Collins and Okongwu plenty of chances at cleanup duty when tough shots go up. In the aftermath of Kelly Olynyk’s trade to Houston and Meyers Leonard’s career immolation, former Hawk starter Dewayne Dedmon has been brought in and is already munching away at rookie Achiuwa’s precious floor time.
Over the past 25 NBA seasons, only one team, the 2009-10 Trail Blazers, have had to watch opponents shoot over 80 percent from the charity stripe (80.3 opponent FT%). Our Fine Feathered Friends ought to be feeling a bit ruffled, this deep in the season, as their foes shoot 80.5 FT%, a percentage that only dropped a smidgen as the Knicks made 20 of 25 foul shots on Wednesday.
It’s a shame, since the Hawks themselves have been reasonably good in this area (81.0 team FT%, 2nd-best in NBA), and a prolonged absence by Young (career-highs of 87.4 FT% on 8.8 attempts/game) may worst be felt here. Kevin Huerter and Bogdanovic have combined to take 1.9 FTAs per game, less than Williams’ 2.5, and our demure wing duo could stand to draw more contact on their trips to the paint. Goodwin’s 62.9 FT% (37-for-41 in prior two pro seasons, 22-for-35 in this one) may be more of a small-sample anomaly, but he’ll need to be on-point when earning points from the line this weekend and going forward.
I know I’m not the only Hawks fan who notices this, too. On the legally obligatory “Without the Expressed Written Consent” ad during any NBA game, the rolling graphic of team logos begins with Boston’s, continues three-by-three in exact alphabetical order by NBA team locale, and ends, after Washington’s, with Atlanta’s. As KRS-One might say, “Why Is That???”
Also, I figured out the Hawks players did their “Take The Shot” pro-vaxx PSA in some swanky Emory Healthcare facility (I think they just replaced the TV ad with Clint’s great one-liner, sadly, after some Uncles got in their feelings and called Hawks Customer Service. Still up on the radio, though!). And I was relieved, because I was ready to hand Johnny Bap the max early, after catching him on the balcony up those fancy curved stairs with that monstrous chandelier, in what I thought was Collins’ MTV crib selfie. “Pay the Man!”, I shouted at first, “because I know the Man has some bills due!”
I’m still not going to games or public events, including the latest MLK-themed Unity Night today. But I did rather enjoy kicking back in a socially-distanced stadium seat mid-day yesterday, watching crew members drawing up the play lines for Atlanta United’s MLS home opener tomorrow versus the Chicago Fire (Saturday night, 8 PM Eastern Bally Sports South).
I had time to chill in The Benz after getting poked, awaiting side effects that never came. Spicoli’s CORE Response, Uncle Arthur’s foundation, and the team of Army soldiers delivering the shots, themselves vaccinated by the Georgia National Guard, had that whole joint running smoother than a fresh jar of Skippy. Now, it helped indubitably that there were next-to-no lines, although I can’t speak for the rush hour crowds (hours vary if you go without an appointment, but they’re open until 4:30 today, and have been open as late as 10 PM mid-week).
A full 24 hours later? To disagree just slightly with our dear rock-band buddies from Athens, it is NOT the End of the World as We Know It, and I Feel Fine. Take The Shot! (Qs and As are at https://www.emoryhealthcare.org/taketheshot/... Hush, Uncle Karl, hush!)
Let’s Go Hawks!
“Who’s prepared to pay the price? For a trip to paradise?”
It’s the Cleveland State Vikings, and the Georgia State Panthers, in a play-in matchup to determine which team will get to face the top-seeded… oh, excuse me? Yeah, that’s right, don’t call it a play-in. Let’s try this again, with a dash of NBA flavor, to taste.
Tonight, live from Atlanta, it’s the Cleveland Cavaliers, visiting the Hawks (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Ohio) in a race to determine who will be worthy of an opening-round matchup with the top-seed for the East Region. It’s May Madness in March! It’s Awesome, Baby! Dipsy-doo, dunkaroo!
As I groggily draft this gamethread opener, I would like to know who it is, up at NBA HQ’s scheduling office, that could not grant the Hawks (18-20) that extra half-hour graciously extended to several of Atlanta’s hosts on the back ends of back-to-backs. I needed to Fall Back to savor last night’s romp over the Kings, as well as the Last Team Standing ACC Champions up in Greensboro. Alas, thanks to Daylight Savings, there is precious little time for celebration in The A.
The league could have at least been sensitive enough to grant Trae, Kevin ‘n Bruno, De’Andre, Big O Smalls, and Skylar time to figure out how far their favorite college teams will make it down the brackets in Indy this year. Rondo and Cam, y’all just sit this one out. JC will help you figure out how to enjoy the hiatus, he’s good at this by now.
Worse yet, the Hawks get to face the Cavs (14-23) on a day’s rest. Cleveland, once again, has been granted ample time to lick their wounds, taste their own blood, and scout out their favorite NBA opponent to sink their teeth into.
The first time they met this season, in January, Cleveland’s visit came two days after a deflating 20-point loss to the Pacers in Indy, at that point their worst loss of the young season. The second time they met, in the Buckeye State last month, the Cavs were reeling from a 10-game skid, with nine of those defeats coming by deficits of 16 to 38 points.
If you were not the greatest fan of former Cavs assistant coach Lloyd Pierce running the show in Atlanta, then you can thank your lucky stars for the Hawks’ outcomes against their lottery rivals. The 112-111 loss by the Hawks provided Cleveland with not just a trust fall catch, but a trampoline bounce, the start of their season-best four-game winning streak.
Now they arrive at State Farm Arena after a 34-point loss to the Pelicans on Friday. Just 2.5 games back of the free-falling Raptors for the final “NCAA First Round” reservation, JB Bickerstaff hopes Atlanta will be there tonight, once more, to catch his team on the rebound.
Speaking of rebounds, Kevin Love is back upright! It’s hard to get pre-owned cars off the lot unless the customer can first hear the engine running smoothly. While Andre Drummond is being spiffied up on the showcase spinner ahead of the Trade Deadline, Coach JB has the five-time former All-Star starting but on a minutes restriction, perhaps up a smidgen from the ten he received during Friday night’s 116-82 washout in New Orleans.
“I don’t want to speak hyperbole or take it over the top, but this is probably the most mentally taxing – not the most physically taxing injury – but the most mentally taxing for me for sure.” Whacked in the leg during preseason action, then re-aggravated Gallinari-style during his first game back in December, Love shared with the Plain Dealer the challenges recovering from his latest setback, the calf injury that sidelined him for nearly three months. “Just playing basketball, that’s what I love to do. It’s so much a part of me. When you have it taken away from you and you feel like there’s not much you can do after working so damn hard, that can be really disheartening and a tough hurdle to overcome.”
The returnee the Hawks should be more concerned about is Larry Nance. The Cavs forward was averaging 2.4 SPG over his first 15 games until he was slowed by a hand injury that required surgery. Only the Sixers’ Ben Simmons has as many per-game deflections (3..9) as Nance, an element to defense that the Cavaliers (112.5 D-Rating, tied w/ ATL for 22nd in NBA) have sorely missed.
Keeping the turnovers down and the margins close were problems for the Hawks in the two games versus Cleveland thus far (20-15 and 19-15, respectively), but not so much over the past three Hawk victories (8 player TOs last night vs. SAC, tying a season low).
Much like the winning field day enjoyed, until yesterday, by the Kings’ De’Aaron Fox, Collin Sexton enters today looking for a fifth consecutive victory over draft-mate Trae Young’s Hawks. The Pebblebrook High star has averaged 26.0 PPG (53.3 FG%, 40.0 3FG%) versus Atlanta, going back to December 2019.
Young had 28-and-12 but sunk just one of seven three-point shots when the Hawks fell by a point last month. He was 0-for-3 in the final quarter while Sexton and Cavs rookies Dylan Windler and Isaac Okoro (combined 5-for-5 fourth-quarter 3FGs vs. ATL) were perfect from that range.
To help spell Sexton and his backcourt mate Darius Garland (probable, missed Friday’s game due to a groin strain), Cleveland brought in Quinn Cook on a 10-day deal. Cook contributed 13 points in his 17 minutes at N’Awlins.
Atlanta has to cut off passing lanes for Cleveland’s backcourt-centric offense (104.3 O-Rating, last in NBA; third-lowest 3FG%, lowest 3FGA rate, as per bball-ref), and must keep a hand in front of perimeter shooters and limit paint penetration without offering bailout fouls. Atlanta is a rational 16-7 when they permit 25 or fewer assisted buckets, so a little hero-ball from Sexton won’t hurt if it isn’t compounded by trips to the free throw line, wide open shooters, or second-chance shots.
Clint Capela will find the going rougher securing defensive boards versus Jarrett Allen, JaVale McGee, Love and Nance, so he’ll need steady support and quality boxouts from John Collins and the small forwards to keep the Cavs at bay all day.
I’m cutting off this gamethread opener early so I can get some beauty sleep. My Drexel Dragons are going Dancing for the first time in a long while, and I’m not gonna risk missing the reveal of which 2-seed they’re bound to upset this week because of the lost hour of shuteye. I sure hope the Hawks found plentiful rest last night, too.
Go Jackets! (and Lady Jackets! And Lady Dawgs! And Lady Bears! We see you, Mercer!) Let’s Go Hawks!