Current Donation Goals
Recently Browsing 0 members
No registered users viewing this page.
“Trust me, Lloyd, this head coaching biz can make you grow gray hairs fast. In places.”
Supersonic motivating rhymes are creating. And everybody knows that Ohhh heyyy! It’s Ya Boi. Thanks to some divine intervention from our #1 Atlanta Hawks fan, The “Don’t Call Me Olivia” Pope (“What am I,” he groused, “some kind of miracle worker?”), it looks like I’m back in my happily unpaid internship gig, on the grind to deliver more long-winded pregame commentary. Through this NBA All-Star Break, at least.
At this season’s long-awaited tip-off, if you told me about The First Eastern Conference Coach Who Got The Axe Despite a Crap-Ton of Untimely Setbacks, I’d have had no doubts you were referencing Steve Clifford.
Don’t bring that noise up here, Orlando Magic fans would tell our Atlanta Hawks ahead of tonight’s first regular season meeting between the Southeast Division rivals at Amway Center (8 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Florida), about how you’ve missed Bogdan Bogdanovic sooooo much. “I’ve got a man down!” They’re not tryna hear that, see.
Longtime followers of the program know how long I have marveled at how, in a state where seemingly everybody’s less than 100 feet above sea level, Coach Cliff has managed to keep his head above water. The Magic (13-22, 9-22 since starting out 4-0) are hoping to stave off a losing streak, heading into the Break, that would stretch to five games, one that began by splitting a series at home with whatever Detroit throws out there. But for the fact that it’s the Hawks led by interim coach Nate McMillan coming to town, Clifford would have good reason to feel like he could spell relief, P-I-E-R-C-E.
I mean, look at this hot mess. The athletic defensive maestro Orlando waited through most of last season to return from a knee injury makes it into the Bubble just in time for yet another debilitating knee injury that has him on the shelf for all of this season. The one significant addition that team prez Jeff Weltman made last season (that kinda sorta worked, at Bubble time) has been in-and-out of the lineup dealing with a calf issue.
The oft-injured, prized point guard project Weltman pried from Philly made it almost eight games into this season before going down with a torn ACL. Fine. Get out there, emergency backup first-rounder project, and a break a leg! No, they said a leg, not a rib! Now they have to settle for the aging point guard project Philly prized before the last one, who himself just returned from injury after missing over a month.
Also missing over a month, this season, was 2019’s lottery prize, the Atlanta native who spent all of last season recovering from a March Madness injury sustained while playing for Auburn. 2018’s lottery prize, and Cam Reddish’s lauded shot-blocking high school teammate, caught a bad case of COVID. He’s finally back, but he can hardly go for 15 minutes a night without looking like a SpongeBob meme trying to catch his breath.
Also out of commission: the guy most known for hurdling mascots-on-hoverboards at Slam Dunk Contests (so glad John Collins didn’t get dragged back into this with his prop planes on Sunday… anybody seen Harry around?). He’s been out for over a month with a sprained ankle. Their un-Googleable hanger-on three-point shooting swingman, in town since 2012, who just can’t seem to find the exit, has been stuck in the revolving door with injuries, too.
When Hollywood execs get around to adding a dash of Florida Man to the nightly array of medical trauma p0rn on TV, producers won’t find a more perfect setting than the Magic’s medical team offices.
Floridians have grown increasingly accustomed to weathering storms, and they can find inspiration during the non-hurricane seasons by looking to Clifford and his All-Star-caliber center, Nikola Vucevic (29 points, 5-for-8 on threes, 15 boards, 8 dimes in Monday’s home loss to the visiting Lukatics).
Our dearly departed head coach here in Atlanta didn’t have the luxury to point at the incessant inertia that is Weltman’s front office as an excuse. At least our GM tried, this past offseason, when pushed to do something. While we were going Bongo for Bogi, the Magic went after just one guy in free agency, and that was a side of Dwayne Bacon, a Struggle Bus straphanger from Coach Cliff’s earlier years in Charlotte.
Clifford is threatening to fall about 5.0 games below the .500 mark, which is about where he was in his final two seasons before the Horcats cut him loose in 2018. Yet even as Orlando gets relegated, however momentarily, to the third-most respected NBA outlet in The Sunshine State, Clifford isn’t getting pushed out because, it appears, nobody in a suit-and-tie is pushing anyone around Central Florida.
“It sucks,” Clifford remarked on Tuesday, parroting other coaches around the league as news of Lloyd Pierce’s sacking made the rounds. “He’s done a really good job. He’s a tremendous person. Yeah, this is a hard one.” You won’t need Key & Peele’s Obama Translator to know Cliff is simply saying what he’s supposed to say, and to avert any undue attention that might come his way if people peek at the direction the Magic seem headed, under his and Weltman’s watches.
We all still think of Nate Mac as a Pacific Northwest guy, what with his longtime affiliations with the Sonics and, later, as coach of the Trail Blazers. But for the first decades of his life, McMillan was Mister Raleigh, from an age where people at that end of the Carolinas thought John Wall was some sort of brand-name particle board. He’s a Southern dude, through and through, one who grew up at a time when the Hawks and Bullets were the only pro hoops teams around. No one was even thinking about swampy Florida becoming a hotbed for pro basketball, or any athletic endeavor not known as baseball or jai alai.
If all goes reasonably well in The ATL, McMillan will get a good chance to pad his stats. Now at 662-588 in the regular season for his career with last night’s 90’s Throwback victory in Miami, this year, he ought to pass the Hawks’ Czar of the Telestrator, Mike Fratello (667-548; thanks, Nique!), and Nets assistant Mike D’Antoni (672-527), moving into the Top 20 on the all-time NBA regular-season wins list.
Nate’s playoff record is less than stellar, his only playoff series win out of nine tries coming way back in 2005 with Rick Sund’s Sonics (have a Coke and a smile, Rick). But that sounds pretty good right now to Tony Ressler, the Hawks’ owner in full Oleta Adams Mode, thirsting to get his franchise back in the NBA’s postseason party however he can.
There’s added motivation for McMillan to excel, as well. If the Hawks (15-20) figure things out tonight and secure their first pair of wins on back-to-back nights this season (last Hawks B2B road sweep: Jan. 4-5, 2017 @ ORL and NOP), and if all the other home teams do them a solid tonight and tomorrow (go Cavs! Go Pels!), McMillan can go into the All-Star Break looking down at his former employer, the plummeting Pacers, in the standings. And the Bulls, too. Enjoy your time in our hotel rooms this weekend, Zach and Domantas.
With just this one win, Atlanta could move up as high as 9th in the Leastern Conference, a half-game behind LaMeloville and one game behind the default division-leading heat. Nate knows, in this conference, a two-game hot streak is like a couple dashes of hot sauce on, well, anything (I got This Old finding out Texas Pete is actually made in Winston-Salem).
For all things to go reasonably well, at least tonight, the Hawks cannot rely on the Magic settling for 80 points, like the stifled heat did yesterday. Greasing the skids for Pierce’s ouster was Atlanta making the league’s most dysfunctional offenses – Cleveland, OKC – look like the second coming of the 2016 Warriors, and the Magic (26th in O-Rating, dead-last in eFG% and TS%) poses a similar threat.
Orlando thrives off of rebounding (NBA-best 76.1 D-Reb%) and winning second-chance-point margins. They’d really have something if they had the guards and shooters capable of pushing the rock off the defensive boards (NBA-low 1.03 transition points per possession). Fortunately for Atlanta, McMillan rested John Collins as his Hawks boat-raced Miami 31-14 in the final quarter. He can give Al-Farouq Aminu, Khem Birch and Gary Clark fits if both he and Clint Capela (questionable, foot pain) can stay out of foul trouble.
Neither Atlanta (14.1 points per-48, 2nd-lowest in NBA) nor Orlando (14.2, 3rd-lowest), gets much juice out of scoring off turnovers, so a repeat of the Hawks’ 23 player TOs last night (one off their season-worst), while not ideal, won’t be a killer against this particular team. But there was much more experimentation in Atlanta’s halfcourt possessions yesterday, specifically passing out of the post and working Trae Young (16 games w/ point+assist double-doubles, tied-2nd in NBA behind only James Harden’s 21) off-ball, than we’ve seen in recent games. While Trae coughed up the ball on eight occasions, so did the combination of Capela and Solomon Hill.
If the Hawks can cut down on the second-guessing and pump-faking, going up quickly on the catch-and-shoots, they’ll produce enough points that Vooch and the combo of Evan Fournier (26 points, 5-for-8 3FGs vs. DAL on Monday) and Terrence Ross won’t be able to keep up even if they’re all hot.
There is a parallel universe somewhere, as @thecampster and other Squawkers rightly infer, that has upstart Atlanta nicely situated at 20-15 instead of 15-20, with Trae happily preparing to host the ASG as a reserve, and LP getting praise as a viable COTY candidate. Alas, all the Hawks can do going forward is look themselves in the mirror and, with McMillan’s help, begin cleaning up the problems we can all see, while resting up this weekend.
Atlanta got no breaks from Da Schedule Godz in the back half of the season, what was already a tall order with several games versus Detroit and Minnesota already in the rear-view. Only three home games this month, oughta-wins versus the Kings and Cavs (on a back-to-back, no less) and the Thunder, precede a torturous road trip out West that will carry our team into next month. The Hawks putting intrinsic talent advantages, versus downtrodden squads like the Magic, to their own advantage, will aid them in bouncing back faster than a Spalding off Grant Williams’ heinie. Wins in-pocket now can only help when sidelined players like De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish return to action.
The one fortune our Hawks have had, relative to many teams, are the precious few impacts, to the roster and the schedule, from the still-simmering pandemic. I’m hoping that wellness continues, not only for the players and staff, but for the fans and the readers of this here forum.
In my twenties and thirties, I recall scratching my head, first during the Olympics, then during Freakniks, then during the Superb Owl, of all the tales of Atlantans hightailing it as far out of town as gas prices could take them. Then came 2003’s ASG, with the streets gridlocked with low-riders, the sidewalks loaded with ladies in the telltale Mariah-Carey-meets-Betty-Rubble get-ups, when I started to get The Hint.
As crazy as that weekend was, there weren’t national health and associated socio-economic emergencies hovering over our heads. This weekend, our pothole-stricken roads will be filled with people, mostly out-of-towners, pretending not to notice and Doin’ Too Much on the off-chance their favorite NBA Baller might sneak out for some late-nite lemon pepper wings. Or, on the slightly less off-chance some Insta-model greased up in clear heels, unable to find said Ballers, will willingly settle for bump-and-grinding these aforementioned Jordans-rocking Busters at The Compound.
We had shootings at The Blue Flame and INSIDE the Gold Room (the notorious old “Gold Club”, with a fresh coat of paint), and that was just LAST weekend because the evening temperatures were unseasonably swell. It helps that Da Weather Godz are putting a deep freeze on this weekend's evening lows, but still, Tallulah Gorge is suddenly sounding kind of nice. In all likelihood, though, this fuddy-duddy 404’er is gonna stock up and hole up in his Lethaldome until at least Monday, and I avidly encourage folks in and around The Perimeter to follow suit. Don’t be a Buster out here in these streets. Not this weekend, anyway.
I don’t want to hear about any Squawkers this weekend being victimized by the wraths of either COVID-19 or COLT-45. Stay safe, preferably at home, and we’ll see you all next week!
Let’s Go Hawks!
“Don’t sweat the game tonight, Trae. Just chalk it up to a Bad Hair Day.”
STATEMENT FROM THE ATLANTA HAWKS BASKETBALL CLUB
ATLANTA, GEORGIA -- “Accountability matters,” says Principal Owner, and Chair of the Board of Directors for the Atlanta Hawks Basketball Club, Tony Ressler. “When we’re losing for weeks on end, and the performance on the floor is not up to snuff, someone has to be held accountable.”
For that reason, the Hawks have relieved Lethal Weapon 3 (“LW3”) of his duties as Head Gamethread Writer (“HGW”) at HawkSquawk.net, effective immediately after tonight’s game with the Miami heat (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Sun).
“We need insightful, portable analysis ahead of games if we have any chance of reaching the Playoffs,” said Ressler. “Like my wife’s performance in Twister, I demand precision and perfection out of everyone around me. When we’re about to play the Hornets, we can’t afford Storytime With Lethal veering off-topic about his ten most favorite Charlotte Flair matches. I’m sorry, but that’s not what I’m not paying for!”
President of Basketball Operations and General Manager Travis Schlenk made the announcement today. “We needed a new voice for the second half of our season, to get us where we needed to go,” said Schlenk, adding, “¯\_(ツ)_/¯”. The Hawks (14-20) have won just 10 of 29 games after a promising 4-1 start to the 2020-21 season, including four wins in their last 15 contests.
Over his seven-year career as HGW on HawkSquawk (“The Squawk”), LW3, a Philadelphia native in his third decade as an Atlanta transplant, averaged 84.7 Gamethread Posts Per Season (GaPPS). In that time, he amassed 14.3 season tickets per year, 3.5 likes per post and 0.99 stars per thread.
“Lethal’s injury updates, ultimately, were an unfair reflection of where our Club is improving, health-wise,” said Mildred Ratched, R.N., Vice President of Athletic Performance and Sports Medicine. “Particularly our free agents. In fact, we’re wheeling out Bogdan Bogdanovic for a few minutes, in time for this next game. Kris Dunn is getting better by leaps and bounds, although, I admit, we’re still working on the whole leaping-and-bounding part. And Rajon Rondo would be activated by now if he would just bother to return my calls. Excuse me, he’s what?”
“Anyway, just to find the positive news in the Gamethreads, you’ll get some silly sidebar from Lethal about memorable scenes from Mommie Dearest,” said Nurse Ratched. “I mean, enough about Tina and the Axe, already! Ugh!”
“He’s a fine enough fellow, who cares way more about Atlanta and its sports history than any sane sentient being should. But, frankly, have you seen the ego on this guy? Unmanageable!”, added Uniform Fashion Guru, Organizational Fire Ranger and Chief Executive Officer Steve Koonin. “Believe me, I’ve had to work directly with Future on a weekly basis, so I know unmanagea— just a minute, folks, I’ve got to take this call… Hey, Camye. Hold on. What do you mean, that was 2Chainz?”
“Don’t nobody look at me,” said Pope Francis, Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the State of Vatican City, Servant of the Servants of God. “I’m totally just in this for the sweet, free jerseys. Do these come in full-length?”
Gamethread viewership on The Squawk peaked in Atlanta’s 60-win season in 2014-15, and during LW3’s perennial Trade Deadline Karaoke. He has assailed over 600 current and former players, coaches, TV analysts, owners and general managers, and occasionally Russell Wilson, during his tenure as HGW.
“Indeed, this month is the ten-year anniversary of when Dominique gave that former referee and suit tailor a shiner,” noted Head Coach Lloyd Pierce. “And while that’s nice trivia to know, it’s not the content I need when I turn to The Squawk to prepare for the Miami heat game. I need to read about how we’re going to get Trae to move without the ball after a double-team, how on Earth we’re going to keep Kendrick Nunn from getting wide-open corner jumpshots in transition!”
“I depend on the Squawk to alert me, our scouts, my staff, and my players, that we’ve got to be physical,” said Pierce. “That we’ve got a tag on rollers. We’ve got a punch-on. We have to wipe the post. We’ve got to be into bodies and go over screens. We’ve got to be up to touch in the pick and roll. We’ve got to tag rollers. We have to get to closeouts. We have to force hot shooters to dribble. We’ve got to make our adjustments at the level to screen. We’ve got to X out on the perimeter. We’ve got to be multiple effort. We’ve got to be airspace on the closeouts. We got to pick up full court and get into bodies and change directions and try to spin some ballhandlers. We’ve got to deflect on the ballhandlers. We’ve got to make sure that, when they’re making their crossover, someone’s sitting there. When there’s a driving gap, we’ve got to be in the gaps. We’ve got to make sure that there’s an extra pass on every single possession. When there’s an extra pass, we got to make sure we get out and contest. We’ve got to do it with discipline, so that no one is fouling shooters on the perimeter. We’ve got to make sure we find bodies on the perimeter. We’ve got to come in and make our hits. We’ve got to rebound the basketball, so we can get out and run… oh, fellas, this is Tony on the line, I’ll finish my thoughts later. After all, we’ve got a big rematch with the heat coming up! Nate, wrap up practice!”
“Can you believe nobody realizes I’m still here?”, asks Senior Basketball Advisor and former General Manager Rick Sund, from the Hawks’ corporate headquarters on Marietta Street. “Just between us? Nobody knows I’ve been The Mole this whole time. Shhh! I’m hiding out in an office behind the Coke machine!”
The Atlanta Hawks Basketball Club has won one National Basketball Association championship in its 75-year history, as the St. Louis Hawks in 1958. They have won one Southeast Division championship in the years since LW3 assumed Gamethread duties on The Squawk. In the interim, Hawks fans will post random team stats and stat leaders, betting lines and trends, until they can convince Hubie Brown to take over HGW duties. For more information, please visit hawksquawk.net.
Let’s Go Hawks!
“Stop the game! That jersey clashes with our pink and blue!”
“What’s our record, Jordan, with our #fullsquad?”, David Lee wanted to know. He didn’t know to add the hashtag yet, while pressing his postgame media contingent. But he would, soon. “What’s our record? #Fullsquad. When we have everybody? Does anybody know what our record is? When we’ve got Andre, and Steph, and everybody in the lineup? We’re pretty darn good.”
The excitement had been waning for Lee’s emerging Golden State Warriors. Coming off a breakthrough 2012-13 season, where the Dubs won their first playoff series since the We Believe era ended, head coach Mark Jackson found himself juggling the starting lineups in 2013-14, and he was losing believers fast. A 14-13 start to the season simply wasn’t good enough.
But in Jackson’s defense, Lee inferred, fifth-year pro (and, soon-to-be first-time All-Star) Stephen Curry was in and out of the lineup with nagging ankle injuries. By the time Curry could be stabilized, the Warriors found themselves without their key offseason addition.
Andre Iguodala, by then nearing age 30, wasn’t asked to fill too much of the boxscore, an open three-point jumpshot here, a steal or two and a fastbreak jam over there. Acquired over the summer via a surprising sign-and-trade from Denver, he was seen as the glue guy that made the Warriors’ competitive streak stick. But his hamstring injury had him missing nearly a month, greasing the skids on Golden State’s swoon toward mediocrity.
But then, Iguodala returned. And in mere days, the Warriors went on a splashy run.
A 19-point home win over the Lakers kickstarted a ten-game winning streak. To win their seventh-straight, Golden State had to erase a 15-point Hawks lead at Philips Arena with under seven minutes to play. Iguodala came through in the final minute, with an assist for a short Curry jumper, a defensive stop (with Curry being O-D subbed for Draymond Green) leading to a Paul Millsap miss, and his only swished three-pointer of the game at the buzzer, assisted by Curry, to win by one.
It took the brilliance of Brooklyn Net Joe Johnson to finally stop Golden State, keeping the Warriors from becoming the first club in NBA history to go undefeated on a seven-game road trip. But by then, #FullSquad, uttered by Lee and reiterated in fun by Iguodala and multiple Warriors, had become a meme on Vine and a perpetually trending topic on Twitter.
2015’s Finals MVP, Iguodala returned around this time last year to the Bay Area, honored by the teammates who stuck together just long enough, with a little coaching change and a little more help, to win three NBA titles. Dre was returning with his latest team, the Miami heat.
“We’ve got one of the greatest Warriors in the history of the organization back,” said Klay Thompson, who was recovering from the leg injury that ended both Golden State’s Finals run in 2019 and the 2019-20 season before it could begin. “I can’t wait to see your jersey in the rafters one of these days.” Addressing what we once recognized as a crowd at the new Warriors arena, Iguodala assured the fanbase about the absences of the Splash Brothers with a term they know so well.
“My brothers will be back in action, #FullSquad next year, to wreak havoc on the league for 80 games. Love y’all!” What, Andre, not 82?
He didn’t know it yet, but Iguodala would be a key “glue guy” element for his current NBA club’s surprise return to the NBA Finals in 2020. He, like most who ran through the Warriors’ reign in the 20-teens, knows as well as anybody that the most important ability is availability.
For the Miami heat, their “culture” is built on defying the need for a #FullSquad to thrive. While their visitors for the next couple of days, the Atlanta Hawks (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Sun), spin their wheels, the defending Eastern Conference champs are finally taking off, seeking to win their sixth and seventh consecutive games at the Hawks’ expense.
Coach Erik Spoelstra’s club has had to endure the wrath of COVID (guard Avery Bradley tested positive, while Tyler Herro had to quarantine when his housemate came down COVID+). Franchise All-Star guard Jimmy Butler caught Da Rona missed almost a dozen games. Kendrick Nunn and Goran Dragic have missed stretches. But down on South Beach, heat Culture dictates there’s always a “next man up.”
Last year’s surprises of Duncan Robinson and Nunn have moved comfortably into Coach Spo’s starting lineups. When the heat needed offense in Butler’s and Bam Adebayo’s absences, two-way player Gabe Vincent stepped up with 46 points during a two-game series in Philly. Around once a week, the other two-way player, Max Strus, drops in and drops between three-to-five three-pointers in a game. Rookie first-rounder Precious Achiuwa has rendered free agent vet Moe Harkless nearly unnecessary.
The team has been sloppy (8.7 opponent SPG and 16.1 player TOs/game, 2nd-most in NBA), and are routinely outshot on three-pointers with Butler and Adebayo ineffective from that range. But Miami is coming together at the right time, with the All-Star Break approaching.
Having bigs like Adebayo (career-highs of 19.6 PPG and 5.5 APG) who can not only finish around the paint but also pass the ball enlivens an offense. Having vets like Iguodala and Butler who have not only preached about perseverance through adversity as a team, but lived through it, goes a long way, too.
“We know what adversity is,” Jimmy Buckets shared with Rachel Nichols for ESPN’s The Jump, as his team, then at 11-17 while looking up at Atlanta and many others in the Eastern Conference standings, was preparing for its current winning run. “We’re supposed to be better. We’re supposed to get better and bring everybody up with us. Maybe here and there we’ve forgotten that. We will get back to it, though. I promise you that. We will.” So far, with a .500 record on the horizon, it appears they have.
In recognition of our team’s dear hosts in Miami, here are a couple lines of dialogue from one of The U.’s favorite sons.
“Hey, Jabroni. Who are the Atlanta Hawks’ opponents missing today?”
“Well, Tyler Herro’s got a bum hip, Meyers Leonard’s out for the season, and Avery Br—”
“IT DOESN’T MATTER WHO’S OUT FOR THE HAWKS’ OPPONENTS!”
Let’s Go Hawks!
“Alright, who leaked out that our coach voted for Horford and Scary Terry?”
The NBA Blender is funny.
Isaiah Thomas had long imagined that he, and a former Atlanta Hawks star, would play as a professional pair in a critical tournament game. As the self-made, former Boston Celtics star sipped on a socially-distanced margarita in San Juan last week, there’s no way he could have imagined, five years ago, that his ex-Hawk co-star would be Joe Johnson.
It was at the All-Star midseason classic, in 2016, when I.T. whispered sweet nothings into Al Horford’s ear. Join me in Boston in the upcoming summer, Thomas confided in the All-Star center’s ear, and we can build a championship squad around us! Jeff Teague isn’t helping you reach the mountaintop. Neither is Jeff’s backup, Dennis Schröder. But, says Thomas, I’m the tank engine you need to get where you want to go. You. Me. Maybe, KD… Banner #18!
“I wrapped him up,” Isaiah boasted of Horford’s free agent deal, confirming he broke the ice during the preceding All-Star break about prying free the four-time All-Star and aligning him on Team Green. “I knew he was coming to Boston, for sure.”
“Man the things he was doing to us in the Playoffs,” Thomas told Bleacher Report in the offseason after being ousted by the upstart Schröder and the Hawks, while conveying the age-old sentiment that if you can’t beat them, get them to join you. “I’m looking forward to him doing that for us.” Word to Tito!
A half-decade later, Thomas is representing Team USA. But not in Tokyo. No, he was in Puerto Rico last week with Joe Jeezus and Hawks one-timers Jordan Sibert and James Nunnally, aiding the Americans in locking down a qualifying spot in next year’s FIBA AmeriCup. Joe and Isaiah combined for 20 points, nine rebounds and three assists to keep Gustavo Ayon’s Mexico squad at bay in the finale and help USA finish at 6-0 in group play.
The Dominican Republic, fortunately, didn’t need Horford’s help to go 4-1 and qualify for AmeriCup, too. Unlike Isaiah, Al is busy in the NBA, but not on the Celtics team he joined when he abandoned Atlanta for a four-year, $113 million deal. He declined the final year of that deal, and surprised Boston by signing with a division rival in 2019. But he’s not there, either.
Instead, Alfredo is employed in the state that brought you Trae Young. Thomas, meanwhile, gets to watch his replacement with the Celtics (no, not you, Jeff) pairing up in the NBA East with the star of 2012 classic movie “Thunderstruck”, Kevin Durant, only on yet another Atlantic Division team.
I.T. was showing out in the Caribbean in hopes an NBA club paying attention will toss him a raft ahead of the playoffs. In the meantime, he and the ex-Hawks are helping USA lock down a reservation for Olympics 2024 so that folks like Trae won’t have to do so years from now. Thanks for your service, Isaiah.
Tonight, Young returns to his schoolboy state to face Horford, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the Oklahoma City Thunder (8 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Oklahoma), a club that has been very, very good to Hawks past and present. Dennis made a name for himself playing with Russell Westbrook and Paul George and, later, Chris Paul, before being sought out and acquired by LeBrongeles. Now, it’s Al’s turn to use his play and veteran leadership as a springboard for a timely trade back into championship contention. So far, so good!
Late in Wednesday’s back-and-forth with the visiting Spurs, Lu Dort found himself in a shootout with Patty Mills. Normally, for a fellow known more for his defensive skills than his sharp-shooting, a second-year pro that was shooting 31.7 3FG%, it’s Advantage, The Other Guy. But San Antonio was hounding Gilgeous-Alexander (11 1st-quarter and 21 3rd-quarter points, career-high 42 points vs. SAS) defensively, daring somebody else to beat them. And Horford kept right on feeding Dort, who, I can only presume, Al thinks has a surname pronounced “Dart.”
Lu lived up to Al’s trust (or, misperception) by bulls-eyeing all of his final three treys in the closing four minutes of action. Horford, who also splashed a fourth-quarter three and one of his mid-rangers to keep OKC in the running, assisted on two of Dort’s three-pointers, the final one off a kickout with under three seconds left to play to avoid overtime and secure the 102-99 victory.
For rookie coach Mark Daigneault and the Thunder (13-19), they avoided losing their fifth in six games. Their prior victory was a resounding win in Cleveland this past Sunday, but let’s not mention the Cavs again, shall we? While they’ve gone 5-10 since going 8-9 to start the season, OKC showed no love while beating Giannis and Milwaukee on Valentine’s Day here at Chesapeake Energy Arena. They accomplished the win without the services of SGA (career-highs of 23.5 PPG, 6.4 APG, 55.8 2FG%, 41.9 3FG%), who has since returned nicely after missing time with a sprained knee.
Nikola Jokic and Denver arrives in Okietown tomorrow. Seeing how well a certain team fared without Andre Drummond in the middle recently, Daigneault is saving Horford (out, rest) for Saturday. A former Hawk and Horford backup, Mike Muscala, is now the most experienced Thunder player active tonight, with Trevor Ariza (personal leave, out indefinitely) and George Hill (thumb surgery) unavailable.
Also missing honey-dip dunker Hamidou Diallo (sore groin), Daigneault will throw Dort, SGA, Dariuses Bazley and Miller, rookie Theo Maledon, and whatever’s left in the kitchen sink to encourage Young to give up the ball and not get in back during Atlanta’s possessions.
The pride of Norman North High had a rough outing in his last trip to this NBA floor, in January of last year. Despite 26 points, 16 assists and just one turnover by Trae, and solid production from John Collins and Cam Reddish (questionable for today, sore Achilles), discombobulated defense and a lack of creative offense made things easier on CP3 (18 points), Dennis (21 bench points) and SGA (24 points) to win the day over coach Lloyd Pierce’s visitors, 140-111. None of those guys, one must note, were the leading scorer for OKC on that wintry day.
Young will greatly welcome Danilo Gallinari (OKC-high 25 points, 4-for-6 3FGs vs. ATL in January 2020) averaging a team-record ten threes per game for the Hawks going forward, but hopefully that record-smashing production (38 points vs. BOS, most for Gallo since he was a Nugget in 2015) won’t be necessary to win on most nights.
Inspired perhaps by Horford’s lead, plundering the Thunder tonight will require inside-oriented ball movement by Atlanta (14-18). The Hawks are 5-12 when Collins produces just one assist or fewer, and they’re 4-1 when Clint Capela cranks out two dimes or more. Swift decisions to either post-up or kick-out and crash the glass can grind the Thunder’s interior defense (17.6 opponent points per-48, 24th in NBA with Horford) into submission.
On what is now (no longer “that other team from Ohio”) the league’s least efficient offense (NBA-lows of 104.6 O-Rating and 21.6 O-Reb%), Al’s absence should allow the Hawks’ frontline to shine at both ends while pressuring Isaiah Roby and Muscala into foul trouble. Even Gallo (career-low 39.1 2FG%) can get into the act with his height advantages, throwing the Thunder’s defensive game plan off-balance.
Countering OKC’s defensive pressure on the point-of-attack will also require Tony! Toni! Toné! Snell (4-for-6 3FGs, helping the Hawks make a team-record 23 triples in the 127-112 win over Boston) to do it again. It feels good, too, if Kevin Huerter and Reddish, if available, can connect on what should be a bunch of open perimeter looks, and if Young can move off-ball to keep eyes on him.
Horford, averaging his highest scoring average (14.6 PPG) since biding adieu to The ATL, has been putting on a good face, and the PR machine to max up his veteran value is running at full bore. “Philosophically, he just believes in team basketball, and he’s walked that walk for a long time,” Daigneault told The Oklahoman, who grants his big man a career-high 5.6 3FGAs per game (only Dort, the Thunder’s version of Marcus Smart, shoots more) in return for making his own job so much easier. “He’s just a flat-out winner.”
But the anxiety is rising for Horford, who faces more than just sitting out the postseason for the first time since tearing pec #2 with the Hawks in 2013-14. He’s locked into his current contract, owed as much as $81 million over this and the next two seasons (2022-23 is non-guaranteed, but team exec Sam Presti might see that as reason to keep him around).
Horf sees Nate McMillan, “Mister Sonic” who went on to coach Seattle, and Pierce’s top assistant must bring to mind a former Sonics rookie of McMillan’s, Nick Collison, who moved to the Sooner State with the franchise and never left until it was time to retire. Al wants no part of that fate. With the trade deadline mere weeks away, and OKC not in the running as a postseason threat anytime soon, Horford has no intention of becoming, “Mr. Thunder, Jr.”
With GMs putting third-tier players on the waiver wire in hopes of making cap room for incoming veterans, Horford, and his exiled buddy Thomas, want to be among contenders’ final ingredients. They’ll need guys like Presti who are willing to press “Purée” on the presto-change-o machine.
Relax, Al! Here, come sit by your old friend Moose. Do you like piña coladas?
Let’s Go Hawks!
“HOW YOU LOSIN’ TO THE CAVS AGAIN? DAYYUMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMNNNN!”
“There’s No Chemistry!”, we’re told, when something named Lamar Stevens looks like a dadgum DuPont Factory on wheels strolling down the lane untouched in the clutch. Whatever.
In usual Atlanta Sports years, by the time our Hawks had blown their 10th fourth-quarter lead of the season (as per 92.9’s Mike Conti), we’d be occupied with United fooling around in the playoffs, fretting over the Dawgs getting stonewalled by Saban, and watching Matty Ice waltz for his life behind a slushy O-Line. More often than not, we’re still washing out dandruff after scratching our heads about how the Bravos collapsed in the postseason. This time, that is.
But nothing is usual in this most unusual sports town. The MLS season is delayed, the Flowery Branch Fail-cons are busy swapping out executive office furniture, Uga XVI or whatever is busy with doggie charm school, and members of the Baseball Club are still driving around the Gulf Coast seeking out directions to North Port. That means our Hawks, their beleaguered head coach, and their collective failures are on the A-Block in A-Town sports radio, and they’re trending for the wrong reasons on local anti-social media.
“There’s No Chemistry!”, we’re told, as our young All-Star-on-the-Low is out here looking like Frank Drebin outside the fireworks factory. Alright, Move On! Nothing To See Here! Move Along! Please Disperse! Another Day! Another Opportunity! 100!
I’m not wasting any energy waiting around to find out if Bogdan Bogdanovic is ever walking through that door. Not today, anyway. Instead, while the Boston Celtics (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Boston) pay us a visit, hoping the Hawks will help them lick their own wounds, one night after their two All-Stars (smh) got licked in Lukaland, and help them return once again to .500 ball, I prefer to use this space to praise a local team that can now, finally, legitimately say, “We are a playoff team!” and not induce hearty guffaws.
Your Friendly Neighborhood Bracketologist is here to share the good news. The Yellow Jackets of the Georgia Institute of Gotdang Technology are projected to be bound for Dayton! Wait, what’s that? Oh, okay, Indianapolis, then, fine! Unlike Bawb Rathbun whenever the Hawks are about to shoot free throws, I’m not even halfway jinxing these guys. It’s a Stone Cold Lock TM, baby!
No more excuses about those brain-draining nuclear physics professors distracting Tech’s umpteenth-year scholars from standing toe-to-toe with the one-and-doner programs of the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Yellow Jacket Men strode up to Blacksburg and jived those turkeys at Va-Tech last night. It’s their fourth victory in a conference-high seven games against an opponent that entered their contest ranked in the Top-25. And the PR director masquerading as the college’s head basketball coach won’t let you forget it.
“There should be ELEVEN teams in the tournament coming out of the ACC!”, he says. Come home, Josh Pastner, you’re drunk. But they are getting eight, and the crew guided by Monstrous Moses Wright, Trae-Lite Jose Alvarado, and Bell Buckets Michael DeVoe are looking every bit like a top-7 ACC program right now. (By the way, the Lady Jackets are going Dancing, too. As a Top-8 seed, at that. Give ‘em hell, Nell!)
At long last, Pastner has cleaned house of all his creepy colleagues from Memphis, and got his postseason ban out of the way at the perfect time. Finesse! Beating the Hokies last night gave the Jackets their first two-game in-conference road winning streak since 2008. When they beat the Fighting John Collinses in Winston-Salem next week, that’ll be three in a row.
Once Pastner comes down from his high, he’ll have his team ready to run Jim Boeheim and student journalist killer Coach K’s clubs right on out the Thrillerdome over the next seven days. That, and a first-round victory in the ACC Tourney will sew up a spot in the 68-team dance for the first time in eleven (miserable!) years. Even a slip-up or two, at this late stage, would simply mean a “first-round” affair with Directional Kentucky or somebody is in the offing.
These Jackets have come a long way from blowing gimmes at McSqueamish Pavilion, to local lessers Georgia State and Mercer during the Thanksgiving break. At that time, hardly any other sports teams were playing, the heat lamp was squarely on the head coach, and the home fans were disgusted, disgruntled and just flat-out dissed, with no confidence their team would even deserve an invite to the CIT, never mind the NIT, once all was said and done on the 2020-21 season.
What they’ve done since that low point – winning almost all their home games on The Flats, beating ranked and favored opponents here and abroad, beating the remaining teams they absolutely had to beat, coming through at closing time – ought to be inspirational to another Basketball Club dribbling aimlessly just down the road, one that actually gets paid for their name, image, likeness, and, we have been led to believe, their competitive spirit.
Let’s Go Hawks! Or Not. At This Point, Just Do Whatever! The Checks Gon’ Clear Either Way.