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“She BLINDED me! With SCIENCE!”
They’re playin’ BAD-sket-ball! We loathe that BAD-sket-ball!
“Escape From New York” wasn’t even on the cutting room floor the last time the Knicks put up 143 regulation points on a team as hapless as our Atlanta Hawks. They escaped, quite scathed, from New York. But waiting for them at State Farm Arena is another NBA opponent slowly climbing out from its early-season struggles. An “SLC Funk!”, if you will.
Quin Snyder’s Utah Jazz (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, AT&T SportsNet in SLC) hope to be the next team to use the Hawks as a steppingstone. So you don’t have to look it up, Utah’s regulation scoring record is 151 points, twice in 1982, four seasons before the Jazz scored 153 while still in New Orleans.
There’s a clear cleaving of the NBA’s Top 11 squads away from the… Others. If the Commish were to entertain the rest of us with a mid-season Badsketball tourney, the Jazz (16-11) would be the #1 seed and prohibitive favorites. The Hawks would probably need to head to Dayton to reach the second round.
GM Dennis Lindsey knows that, just because all your offseason moves aren’t panning out, your team doesn’t have to take a dive. Utah’s biggest acquisition, Mike Conley was supposed to be the defensive backcourt complement to center Rudy Gobert (career-high 13.9 RPG, season-high 19 boards vs. ORL on Tuesday), supplanting Ricky Rubio, and he was supposed to give diminutive off-guard scorer Donovan Mitchell (career-high 25.2 PPG and 4.7 RPG, career-low 2.3 TOs/game) more time playing off-ball. His hamstring, sadly, just will not cooperate.
Conley’s out maybe for a few more weeks after his attempt at a return from a weeks-long absence failed, in Tuesday’s 109-102 home loss to Orlando. His struggles to create inside on drives (36.9 2FG%) has a lot to do with replacing a high-post center, namely his former Memphis partner-in-grind Marc Gasol, with a post-plugging pivot in Gobert (67.8 eFG%, above his NBA-high 66.9% from last season).
Ed Davis (1.7 PPG) was supposed to help make up for the team dealing away Derrick Favors for future second-round picks. Emmanuel Mudiay was supposed to be the quality guard depth that Dante Exum was not. Jeff Green (38.1 FG%) was supposed to be no worse than the Jeff Green the Wizards got last season. These things aren’t really working out.
But one free agent signing is hitting it out the park, and it may be enough to save the Jazz’s season. Bojan Bogdanovic’s interior scoring (44.4 2FG%, down from 53.8% last year w/ IND) is suffering similar to Conley’s due to the Gobert Effect. But that’s not why he was brought here.
The former Eurostash has been canning triples (46.1 3FG%, 9th in NBA) to become the Jazz’s other reliable 20-plus-point scoring threat (career-high 21.1 PPG). His 8-for-13 3FGs and 8-for-10 FTs helped Utah stiff-arm the Warriors last Friday. Bojangles then paired up with Mitchell to score 30 apiece (incl. 17 of Utah’s last 19 points in 4.5 minutes) as the Jazz came back late to dust off the Magic.
Conley (team-high 4.6 APG) returning to the shelf leaves a lot of the passing duties in Snyder’s offense to Joe Ingles (4.1 APG, 1.8 TOs/game), the 32-year-old swingman who Lindsey signed to a two-year contract extension back in October. His jump-shooting was setting off not Jingle, but alarm bells, well into the start of December (35.8 FG% through first 22 games). But his recent turnaround (55.3FG%, 6.6 APG in last five games; season-high 23 points in a win at Minnesota on Dec. 11, the Jazz’s last road game) has rebuilt Utah’s confidence as the team has won four of its past five.
The Jazz really cannot afford to mail it in. Their contributing core is essentially set through at least the trade deadline of next season. The 2020 first-rounder they shipped to Memphis for Conley is protected only 1-7 if they fail to make the playoffs. So it’s 2020 postseason or bust, and while a nice run could entrench them in the back end of the Western Conference, a road slide or two could have them scratching and clawing with as many as seven conference peers for the final three playoff slots.
Although they hope to keep up their winning ways going tonight, the Jazz have hit a few sour notes. Over the past three weeks, they’ve suffered losing margins of 19, 20, 9, 25, and 14, mostly to contenders, although their last one came ten days ago at the hands of 6MOY/MIP candidate Dennis Schröder and visiting Northwest Division rival OKC.
Minnesota, Phoenix, Golden State and Memphis have been the Jazz’s sole road wins. They’re hoping to build up their record versus Eastern Conference teams with this 3-game swing through the Southeast, after recent losses at Milwaukee, Toronto, Philadelphia and Indiana.
The best defensive rebounders in the West (75.6 D-Reb%, 3rd in NBA), and the most accurate three-point-shooting team in the league (38.6 3FG%), Utah has found itself slipping whenever they leave the Beehive State (72.2 D-Reb% and 36.8 road 3FG%; 16.2 road TO%, 5th-worst in NBA).
While the bench situation is not as dire as it has been for Atlanta (league-worst -4.1 bench plus/minus), Snyder has struggled to get productive minutes out of his reserves when it comes time to hold leads or keep deficits close (41.3 bench FG%, league-low 1.7 bench SPG; -2.0 bench plus/minus, worst among teams with winning records).
The good news for Utah is they have spent about as much consistent time working out in Atlanta (6-whatever) as the Hawks seemingly have. The scheduling run with few breaks has taken its course for Lloyd Pierce’s club, as a string of 4-games-within-5-nights that has been ongoing since the season opener ended, with Tuesday’s loss in New York, a break of sorts that continues through January 3rd. But the lack of confidence-building homestands in the forthcoming schedule remains glaring.
A two-game road trip for Atlanta follows tonight’s game. Then, when the Hawks come back from Xmas break to have Giannis and the Bucks waiting for them, a three-game road trek follows that. The first three game homestand of the New Year offers no cupcakes (Indiana, Denver, Houston), while the three-game stretch at State Farm Arena around MLK Day won’t be much easier (Detroit, Toronto, Clippers).
To turn things around before the season gets completely away from them, Atlanta is going to have to string together wins, and impressive ones, in front of the home crowd. And the lack of defensive awareness evident in the Big Apple, particularly in transition and on halfcourt screen actions, cannot rear its ugly head again.
The Hawks must force turnovers out of a Jazz team that is likely to get Badsketball-sloppy with the rock, with Conley out of the picture. Atlanta must run and convert transition opportunities into points by pressuring the rim, forcing Utah’s bigs into foul trouble, and by finding open shooters in the corners on the fastbreak. Players cannot get stagnant in the halfcourt offense, allowing Ingles and Mitchell to pick away at perfunctory passes. As was the case in New York, it is simply a matter of being mindful and making things easier on themselves to be in position to win by night’s end, especially players not named Trae Young.
The Hawks learned in NYC there’s no Snake Plissken swooping in to rescue them from their Badsketball-playing themselves. Beginning tonight with Utah in town, we will see if the Hawks take advantage of their latest wake-up call and straighten up like SLC’s Stevo. If Atlanta’s “supporting” cast, specifically the veterans wasting away on the bench, don’t figure things out, soon, they could go out as sad as Sean the Beggar and Heroin Bob.
Let’s Go Hawks!
Can we get a Veteran's Exception clause for getting popped for weed (assuming it's that and not some wild strain of Swiss chard)? Ol' Boy Thabo been through a LOT.
On second thought, it is Strike Three, so it is what it is. So glad this is April 2018 and not April 2015!