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No worries, Harry’s bringing rebounding reinforcements!
The marathon continues! Well, not just the figurative one.
Here’s a travel advisory for our local fans tomorrow. If you’re seeing way too many people kicking around in shorty-shorts over the next couple days, no, The Bazemore Family Reunion is not in town. This is America’s Marathon Weekend, and already there are mini-Mebs scampering all throughout the Georgia World Congress Center and Centennial Olympic Park areas.
Roughly 12 hours after the Atlanta Hawks and Brooklyn Nets do their thing at State Farm Arena (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, YES Network in The BK) tonight, Team USA will hold the Olympic Trials (broadcast live on NBC) to select the players going for the Gold in the men’s and women’s 26.2-mile races, assuming there will actually be some this summer (cough, wheeze) at the Tokyo Games.
Around 750 of America’s best qualifying competitors, and thousands of cheering fans will run these streets, in downtown, Midtown, down by the Olympic Cauldron (which will finally be lit) near GSU Stadium, and the Eastside. All of that is to suggest, with most major intown streets closing, travel on and off the highways is going to be the true test of endurance, from about 11 AM Saturday through mid-afternoon.
Hopefully, the roads will clear up before the back end of the Hawks’ back-to-back home-game test, the Portland Trail Blazers, tips off tomorrow evening. The biggest issue Atlanta the Basketball Club (17-43) will face with lane congestion in the coming days involves John Collins (team-high 38.3 3FG%; 25.1 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 62.7 FG% this month) defending and scoring amidst the trees.
Without Trae Young available due to a hammy strain, the Hawks managed just 86 points up in Brooklyn on January 12. Young wasn’t likely to do much, anyway, to narrow Atlanta’s awful 62-33 rebounding deficit. They entered the game with John Collins (2-for-6 2FGs, 0-for-5 3FGs, 8 points and 5 rebounds in a dud performance), De’Andre Hunter, Damian Jones and Alex Len to staff the frontline, and Len (5-for-5 2FGs, 4 rebounds in 16 minutes off the bench) came away as Atlanta’s best option largely by default.
Frontline help was and is coming in the forms of Dewayne Dedmon (acquired for Len, in part), Skal Labissiere and Clint Capela, but not anytime over the next week or so. Dedmon is on the shelf after a non-surgical procedure to alleviate elbow pain, while Labissiere (knee) lacks a timetable and Capela is wisely taking a slower approach to heal his heel issues. Holding up along the interior is a routinely foreboding challenge that’s proving hard for Lloyd Pierce and the Hawks staff to sprint away from.
“I’ve got to play some other guys a little bit more,” Pierce shared with reporters following Wednesday’s 130-120 defensive collapse against the Magic, wasting what was shaping up to be a nice Flu Game from Trae (37 points, incl. 26 in the first-half, 11 assists, and one crazy block of Mo Bamba) before he found himself running on empty (1-for-9 FGs in the final quarter). “The energy was low tonight.”
Who those “other guys” are remain to be seen, but one is safe to assume we will see more of our favorite Half-Man/Half-Power-Forward in the interim. 43-year-old Vince Carter hasn’t been logging minutes in the double digits lately, but the Hawks have been more effective when he has used his short stints to help out on the glass.
Carter’s two highest D-Reb% values in games came during close wins for Atlanta this month, versus the heat and Knicks, although that was just a trio of boards in the space of just under seven minutes of play. Vince did collect a season-high of seven D-Rebs (and 9 total) in 24 minutes three weeks ago, as the Hawks stayed close to the Celtics’ vest for a full half in Boston. The week before that, Half-Man’s half-dozen D-Rebs were all Atlanta needed to help Collins fend off Joel Embiid and the visiting Sixers.
It’s not ideal, but this is a back-to-back weekend with De’Andre Jordan (season-highs of 20 points and 6 assists vs. ATL on Dec. 21), Jarrett Allen (25 rebounds in last two games vs. ATL) and Hassan Whiteside (NBA-high 3.1 BPG and career-high 14.2 RPG w/ POR) storming through the State Farm Arena turnstiles, and there will be only so much in the way of running gels for Collins, Bruno Fernando (back-to-back double-figure scoring with 10 points and 9 rebounds as a replacement starter vs. ORL) and Jones around to consume. (JC, check with somebody before you consume anything, okay?)
Fernando’s playing time has ramped back up in recent games and could stand a further uptick, for the final February contests, on behalf of a Hawks team whose 70.6 D-Reb% is virtually tied for dead-last in the NBA with the Hornets.
“2021 Eastern Conference Playoffs! Party of Two!” Whether that’s a reservation assured for Collins and Young remain to be seen, but in Brooklyn’s case, next year’s postseason has long been anticipated as a certainty, assuming Kyrie Irving (shoulder) and Kevin Durant (Achilles) return to 100-ish percent health next fall.
Attendance in this year’s postseason party is somehow even less certain, which is why the Nets (26-31. 0.5 games ahead of Orlando, 6.5 ahead of 9-seed Chicago), like the Magic and various and sundry foes before them, will try to use the Hawks to once again break their slide while firming up their prospects.
January’s home win in Brooklyn was a brief respite during the Nets’ 2-12 downturn. After absorbing the loss of Irving due to arthroscopic surgery, the Nets redoubled their efforts to win six of eight games prior to the All-Star Break. But since then, they’ve lost three of their past four, coming up short at home to Orlando and in Washington this week.
As noted by Yahoo! Sports’ Mike Mazzeo, Kenny Atkinson is already the Big Apple’s longest-tenured major pro sports coach. He previously spent four seasons as a trusty assistant on Atlanta’s bench, and the Nets coach isn’t planning on doing that again anytime soon. To ensure he is indeed around to guide The Kyrie and KD Show in 2020-21, his Nets need to sweep floundering teams like the Hawks.
Atkinson and his assistant, ex-Hawk Jacque Vaughn, are challenged with getting Brooklyn to play better perimeter defense. Brooklyn is 8-19 when they allow more than 12 made threes, and they’ll be hoping Kevin Huerter’s recent sophomore slump (31.1 3FG% in last 8 games) extends long enough that he cannot help Young get the Hawks over the hump tonight.
Philly went just 4-for-22 from deep against the Nets back on February 20, but Brooklyn (3-10 when allowing 28 or more FTAs) watched the Sixers go 32-for-35 from the charity stripe (18-for-19 by Embiid) along the way to an overtime loss. Collins can create his greatest havoc by attacking the rim early and drawing Taurean Prince and the Nets’ bigs into early foul trouble.
Softening up and contracting Brooklyn’s interior with shots around the rim, post passes and and-ones during the first half could grant him ample looks from outside in the second, when Young can make more forays inside and keep his torrid run going from the free throw line.
Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, Prince and sixth-man Garrett Temple (combined 5-for-23 3FGs @ WAS on Wednesday) will try to atone for rough outings against the defensively anemic Wizards, failing to be of much assistance for Caris LeVert (team-highs of 30 points and 5 assists @ WAS). But the Hawks need to be more mindful of keeping toes in the paint, limiting second chances for Brooklyn (34.2 team 3FG%, 25th in NBA) and cutting off driving angles for Dinwiddie, who can pile up offensive fouls when forcing the action amid clogged lanes.
For Pierce’s Hawks, finding the proper balance among the players sharing the floor with Young and Collins, placing extra emphasis on securing defensive boards as a team while giving the bigs ample help, can produce a more satisfying result than they’ve had all season long against Brooklyn, or any team that clogs the paint hoping Atlanta will miss lots of shots and come defensively unglued.
Nobody said this journey for our young Hawks would be smoothly paved, or that the path to competency would be swift. Yet, as Chris Webber loves to say about life, you gotta just Run Through the Tape, baby! Say, does anyone know if C-Webb is, like, retired retired? We need rebounders of any age! 46 is the new 43!
Let’s Go Hawks!