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“Please, don’t T me up! I was just trying to do the Buss It Challenge. Now, I’m stuck like this!”
Los Angeles’ Anthony Davis shoveled a pass down the right corner to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and the Milwaukee Bucks’ Donte DiVincenzo stood, with a foot still stuck in the paint, confounded.
KCP had already hit six threes on that chill Thursday night. LeBron was closing out on his season-high 34, featuring six threes of his own, and Davis was chilling, too, with 18-9-and-6. Bucks defenders struggling to contain either Laker superstar left Caldwell-Pope and a slew of other contributors open all night. By the time Donte could react -- too late! KCP looks back at AD to see if he wanted it back, then confidently swishes three-pointer #7.
For Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer, watching James and the LeBronnaires pick apart a team coming off two consecutive seasons as a #1 seed in the East had to be a haunting feeling.
Hawks fans recall looking on in horror as a decimated Atlanta club, coming off its greatest regular season ever, finally made it to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2015, only to have J.R. Smith looking like the second coming of Kyle Korver, anytime they dared to double LeBron. The next season, in the conference semis, Coach Bud’s Hawks had to contain LBJ and the healthy Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, only to find themselves fit to be Fryed. The Cavs sank over half of their threes on the way to another 4-0 sweep and, this time around, an NBA championship.
Bud did have one scrappy competitor coming off the bench in 2016’s series. Budding guard Dennis Schröder was taken two picks after Milwaukee stole Hawks prospect Giannis Antetokounmpo in 2013’s NBA Draft, and he outscored LeBron with 27 points in Game 1 of the second series.
Bud would sour on Schröder, and Dwight Howard, as potential leaders he could hang his hat on. But, not before Dennis would help Atlanta pull off some more menacing wins over James’ Cavs in the regular season, during the Hawks’ last hurrah with Coach Bud still in charge.
Bud had Luke Babbitt playing 42 minutes in November 2017, with rookie John Collins offering support off the bench. While LeBron’s Cavs, this time with Korver on their team, were figuring out what the heck Bud was up to, Schröder had 28-and-9, and the 1-8 Hawks stole one at The Q, doubling their win total and denying Cleveland a chance to return to .500 as they fell to 4-6.
James was beginning to craft his exit, and so was Budenholzer. Both have had grand success in their new NBA locales. In L.A., James cleaned house throughout the organization, and commandeered the arrival of Davis and his next championship ring. Budenholzer elbowed his way into the opportunity to coach up the Greek Freak in Milwaukee, earning the Greek Freak a pair of MVPs, somehow a DPOY (which I think AD noticed), and some more Coach of The Year hardware for himself.
This past week, the Lakers were in Milwaukee, on national TV, and this time with Schröder in his corner, James had the Bucks’ head coach in perpetual Budface mode. Los Angeles sank 51.4 percent of their threes on Thursday, three days after Kevin Durant and James Harden’s Nets teammates, Jeff Green and Joe Harris (combined 9-for-16 3FGs; whole team 48.4 3FG%), found themselves routinely wide open beyond the arc.
Milwaukee won 60 games in his first season in charge, finished 2019-20 on pace for 63, but was stopped by Kawhi and Jimmy Buckets (or, if you prefer, Nick Nurse and Erik Spoelstra) from reaching The Finals. Even if he manages to get over the Eastern Conference hump at long last, is there a game plan for The James Gang that doesn’t feel, especially from the vantage point of Hawks fans, like the same old song, just with a different beat?
The coach that replaced Budenholzer in Atlanta, Lloyd Pierce carries his Hawks into town tonight (8 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Wisconsin, NBATV) hoping to win four straight games for the first time since Bud’s Hawks were closing out the franchise’s last winning season, in 2016-17. Atlanta (8-7) will face a Bucks team that’s not wild about the prospect of losing three straight games again.
The last time that happened, in March of last year, a 10-point loss by the 53-9 Bucks to the Lakers (LeBron and AD combined for 67 points) led to a three-game slide on the road, one that only ended because of the NBA season suspension. The ship never quite righted in the Bubble, the Bucks winning just 3 of the final 8 regular season games, getting upset once by the Magic in the playoffs’ opening round, then trounced by Miami’s three-point marksmen in a conference semifinal series that only went five games.
One thing the Bucks (9-6) can’t complain about is rest. After beating Luka and the Mavs at Fiserv Forum to win their fourth-straight game, they had two days off before losing in Brooklyn, then a couple days off before falling here to the Lakers. Milwaukee has had a couple days off to lick their wounds before dealing with Atlanta tonight, and then they get a couple days more to rest before meeting the Raptors down in Florida.
Given all this extra time to reflect and reset, the thing the Bucks must resolve is the knowledge that it’s possible to walk and chew gum when playing defense. Opponents have made the decision of whether to clamp down on opposing stars posting up or driving down the lane, or, to cut off and close out stopgap shooters waiting in the wings, an either-or proposition.
They’ve already had five games where they allowed opponents to hit shots at a 45 percent clip or better, and they’ve lost the whole quintet. It’s not just Finals threats like the Lakers and Nets. After winning their Christmas Day game, the Bucks flew to New York and got trounced by 20 to the Knicks, who hit 59.3 percent of their 27 3FG attempts while also getting fouled and drawing plenty of trips to the free throw line.
What Milwaukee would rather do is shoo ballhandlers and their passes inside the 3-point line, daring them to engage in a futile battle of interior field goal accuracy with Antetokounmpo (62.0 2FG%, highest of any active NBA’er w/ 9 or more 2FGAs/game), Khris Middleton (56.5 2FG%, belying his 44.3 3FG%) and Jrue Holiday (56.1 2FG%).
While they won’t have to worry whether Clint Capela (∞ rebounds and ∞ blocks in Atlanta’s 116-98 win @ MIN on Friday) is going to go off this evening from outside, Milwaukee is going to rely on latching Holiday and DiVincenzo (combined 3.3 SPG) onto Trae Young (43 points, 8-for-12 3FGs @ MIN). The Bucks may catch a break, as both Capela (sore hand, as you might imagine yours would be) and Young (back spasms) are listed as questionable.
Whether Trae plays, and stays hot shooting from deep, or not, Atlanta will need to get the ball out and around the horn to open jumpshooters the entire evening. Besides Rajon Rondo coming in during the ends of halves on Friday to pad the Hawks’ lead, and Young, Atlanta’s remaining Hawks shot a collective 4-for-17 versus the well-worn Wolves.
Danilo Gallinari, and the swingman tandem of Cam Reddish and De’Andre Hunter, will see looser minute restrictions going forward after coming off injury absences of varied length. Getting these three, and Kevin Huerter, going on threes, and a dash of John Collins stepping out will keep Antetokounmpo defending in space, he and Middleton unable to help Brook Lopez and Bobby Portis inside as Atlanta crashes the glass in pursuit of putbacks and extra-chance opportunities. A plethora of wide-open made threes will help add to Budenholzer’s growing headaches.
LeBron, AD and the NBA champs’ front office made strong offseason moves to bolster its chances for a back-to-back championship. Milwaukee did secure Giannis for a good while. But GM Jon Horst’s roster re-construction – replacing Eric Bledsoe with Holiday, depleting the bench of veteran talent – felt like a club that took a big step sideways after coming up short two postseasons in a row.
There is ample time to fix what ails the Bucks, who threaten to slip out of the top-ten for defensive efficiency after leading the league the past two years. But even if they make it out of the East this summer, if the head coach doesn’t figure out how to tighten up their perimeter D by the time the Lakers show up, they can go ahead and nip their championship dreams in the…
Let’s Go Hawks!
“Aye, B-Good, after the game, how ‘bout we swap jerseys? Shorts, too!”
“You’re a SNITCH!” Clap. Clap. Clap-clap-clap. “You’re a SNITCH!”
The stands were empty on Monday afternoon. But don’t think the ghosts of State Farm Arena past weren’t haunting the soul of one D’Angelo Russell. The man is frustrated, and I’m a bit worried he could be hearing voices. And claps.
There’s little wonder why Russell, the Snitch, resorted to playing The Snatch Game with Hawks forward De’Andre Hunter at the close of the Timberwolves’ 108-97 loss in Atlanta on Monday. On a Minnesota club sorely missing Karl-Anthony Towns, Ricky Rubio and others, the team’s current top scorer is trying to show toughness and leadership. It just remains to be seen whether he knows exactly how.
This wasn’t supposed to be his lot in life, not six seasons into a career that began as the NBA flagship Lakers’ #2 overall pick back in 2015. But then the kid discovered Snapchat, played around too much, and blew up roommate Swaggy P’s engagement with Iggy Azalea prematurely. Now, D’Angelo looks on with disgust, as the mantle of Point Guard of the Future to Play with Superstars in L.A. got passed on to Lonzo Ball and now to, of all people, Dennis Schröder.
He made it worth his while in Brooklyn, earning an All-Star nod, although he couldn’t escape the wrath of the squawking Hawks faithful who jeered him into a 6-for-23 outing and a near-disastrous loss in March 2019. Today, it’s Kyrie standing in his place, as part of the newly formed Biggie 3. Golden State couldn’t wait to pair him up with Steph Curry while Klay Thompson healed up. Then, once Steph joined Klay on the shelf, the Warriors couldn’t wait to put out a flyer for Andrew Wiggins, who enjoys the occasional Curry dish still today.
Playing with his buddy, Karl-Anthony Towns, in Minnesota was supposed to be fun. Alas, gloom has followed Russell here, too. Towns is fighting through a bout with COVID-19, a malady that has claimed a parent and multiple family members, while the duo plays for a head coach that has struggled to elude the shadow of his late father in the Twin Cities.
2020’s lottery luck brought them the #1 overall pick in Anthony Edwards, but coach Ryan Saunders and the Timberwolves have yet to show how the Ant-Man and Russell can mesh (minus-22.2 points per 100 possessions as a two-man combo, MIN’s second-lowest w/ 150+ minutes, as per bball-ref) without getting in each other’s way. With a single Jimmy Butler-inspired playoff appearance to show for the past 16 years (a series dominated, coincidentally, by Houston’s Clint Capela), and now one win to show for the past eleven games after a promising 2-0 start, the 2020-21 season already feels headed to that familiar sunken place for Wolves fans.
Steady 20-plus-PPG scoring, with five-plus assists per game to boot, used to be enough to have major value and earn staying power in this league (Russell’s plus/minus of -11.8 per game is far-and-away the lowest of 24 NBA’ers meeting this threshold). Big multi-year extended contracts, like the one Timberwolves’ second-year GM Gersson Rosas inherited from Golden State by dumping Wiggins and possibly this year’s top-3-protected first-rounder for D’Angelo, used to be immobile, too.
In 2021, Russell foresees himself, despite his soon-to-be $30 million annual deal, still getting passed around the league like a hot pierogi. He gets to watch other top scorers dictate precisely where they want to go, or, if they choose to stay, who they want coming to play with them. When they warn you repeatedly “Don’t Press Send!” on a stupid social media post, and you smash down the button anyway, your destiny as a professional is officially out of your hands.
D’Angelo knows he must offer something else of positive value to change his career narrative. He’s not quite sure where that ray of sunshine is, which is why he’s out here grabbing at anything he can. That was much to the dismay of Hunter, who had to cling onto the final meaningless possession on Monday with D’Angelo draped on one arm, then jump-ball with a sore knee (like Cam Reddish, he’s still questionable to play today) while Russell’s shoes never bothered to lift from the floor, the guard whining about the quality of an unnecessary toss with the referee.
The Hawks fans didn’t forget D’Angelo’s Snapchat misdeed, and he in turn couldn’t grow up enough to forget their taunts. He missed out on playing Atlanta at all last season, and he thought he’d offer up a touch of payback worth remembering, before the Hawks play their rematch tonight (8 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports North in MSP), even though us fan-trolls are all now catcalling from the comforts of our Barcaloungers.
If anything, Russell’s chicanery on Monday is already far less memorable than KAT giving our lowly Hawks shade, and then lots of buckets, following his late-night gaming escapade Gameboy Ben Simmons from that same month of 2018. For as infrequently as he faces the Hawks (nine games, fewest of any team he hasn’t already played for; 20.8 PPG w/ 43.8 FG%), D’Angelo would do well to make like Frozen and Let It Go.
Trae Young is shooting the ball worst of anyone in the NBA’s current 20-and-5 Club (39.0 FG%, the only one lower than Russell’s 44.0%). But he’s maintained a franchise-face presence in Atlanta, a team that at least looks to have a play-in trajectory on paper, and I suspect that’s what really grinds D’Lo’s gears. That Young is getting to the line with ease and, aside from Wednesday, sinking them even easier, sticks in the craw of Russell (68.9 FT% on 3.5 attempts/game) almost as much. Trae’s Hawks do have 99 problems, but a Snitch, well, you know.
In the decisive final seconds of regulation, as the shorthanded Hawks charged back from 17 points down in the second half to even things up with Detroit on Wednesday evening, Atlanta’s head coach Lloyd Pierce had Trae in the game. On defense.
Young gave us his latest submittal as a DPOY nominee by staving off a hard-charging Jerami Grant under the rim, his help giving the recovering defender John Collins just enough time to erase the Piston star’s would-be game-winning layup attempt. The Hawks would go on to prevail, 123-115 in OT, and even their record to 7-7.
In the decisive final seconds of regulation, after his team threatened to blow a 20-point home lead to the remnants of the Magic, and mere minutes after the Hawks’ victory, Russell was on the bench, a coaching decision made by Lil’ Flip just in case a swift defensive stop was needed. One was needed.
Up by two with under five seconds to go, Jarred Vanderbilt clanked a pair of would-be game-clinching free throws, and Orlando’s Cole Anthony grabbed the long board and sprinted down the floor, delivering for his struggling Magic on a corner heave over Malik Beasley that had Greg Anthony looking like the proudest papa on NBATV’s Crunch Time. Instead of escaping with a sorely needed win, Minnesota fell to 3-10, still looking up at everyone in the Western Conference standings.
Fortunately for Minnesota’s spirits, Rosas had just recently missed out on the opportunity to pass up on Cole Anthony. Almost one year ago, Atlanta’s PBO Travis Schlenk had handed him Brooklyn’s draft pick, the multi-team swap bringing the Hawks Capela (∞ points, ∞ boards vs. DET) while landing the T’wolves Beasley and, eventually, a reservation two spots behind Orlando in 2020’s Draft. (oooh, and speaking of suspected snitches, how about Evan Turner, as @NBASupes helpfully reminds us?)
Rosas could have doubled up on top-20 first-rounders, much like Atlanta did in 2018 when they used Minny’s pick (wherever on Earth you are, blessings to you, Adreian Payne) to select Kevin Huerter (career-highs of 15.4 PPG, 50.7 2FG%, 84.6 FT%). With the #19 pick, perhaps the Wolves could have tried their luck with prospects like Precious Achiuwa, Saddiq Bey, or Tyrese Maxey.
But Rosas wanted to bring back Ricky Rubio to the North Star State, a surefire fan draw in a season with no fans in the seats. Right now, Saunders and the T’wolves are up a creek, and neither Rubio (6.3 PPG, 38.1 FG% pre-quarantine) nor compadres Juan Hernangomez (health ‘n safety, likely out again today) and Towns, have been around lately to help Russell paddle.
Minnesota’s maleficent malaise over the decades has involved a cycle of making the tough decisions to part with high-value talent, but not getting much more of value in return. From KG, to Al Jefferson, from K-Love, to Butler, and now Wiggins. Even though the Wolves are reluctant to pull the triggers, they make big, bold, blockbuster trades. They just can’t seem to win them.
In Rosas’ turn at the wheel, it is beginning to appear as though that time is arriving again soon, with Russell and Atlanta-native Beasley in his sights as the league’s trade deadline nears. Just the slightest of winning runs puts their 2021 first-rounder in jeopardy (they gave up their own second-rounder, too, in the Wiggins deal), and at some point in the back end of this season, a healthy Towns and Rubio and a growing Edwards makes that risk very real.
In the meantime, Rosas needs just what transpired this week. He needs Russell to ball out (31 points, 4 steals and 7 assists @ ATL, team-high 19 points, 6 assists and 2 blocks vs. ORL) enough to pump up his trade value, but not so much that he risks Minnesota losing out on a top-tier lottery pick. Same with Beasley, who threatens to join a 20-and-5 club of his own, too (career-highs of 19.2 PPG, 4.9 RPG).
Ultimately, for Russell to improve the likelihood he winds up this summer with a bench-scoring-starved legitimate playoff contender, and not Sacramento, the hijinks are going to have to stop. No coach or GM, aside from maybe LeBron, is going to risk silliness sinking their championship voyages.
D’Angelo is going to have to understand, every step he takes, every boneheaded play and/or video post he makes, some GM out there is secretly recording his every move. Should the Hawks fans he wants to Troll So Hard be the ones to break the news to him? Nah, we ought to keep it to ourselves, there's no need to risk stitches. Don’t press send, y’all!
RIP, Hammerin’ Hank! Let’s Go Hawks!
“OMG, Claire! Can you believe this? Our Lyft driver is the one and only Kris Humphries!”
It’s Game #2 of Must-Win Week #2! Despite a C-minus effort on MLK Day, our Atlanta Hawks passed their first test with a win over the shorthanded Timberwolves. But here’s a Red Alert. The last-place Detroit Pistons returning to State Farm Arena today (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Detroit) are not the last-place Pistons that the Hawks beat here in December.
When the then-unbeaten Hawks fended off winless Detroit (now 3-10), coach Dwane Casey’s crew had two first-rounder rookies, Killian Hayes (now out indefinitely with a hip tear) and Saddiq Bey starting together in the backcourt. Grizzled vets Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose were rested and inactive. And the Pistons had to fly back home, saving their energies for a game against Golden State the next evening.
This isn’t to say the Pistons are good now. Just that they’ll knock you clean off your high horse, if you roll a D-plus effort out there on the floor. Just ask Miami. Absent Jimmy Butler due to COVID protocols, the heat strolled home after dropping two straight in Philly, the last one by 17 points, only to fall at home to Detroit by 20, Miami players giving up the ball 22 times due to turnovers (sounds familiar?).
The defending Eastern Conference champions, still sans Jimmy Buckets, got their chance at revenge in the same building two nights later. Yet they dug themselves in a 12-point first-quarter foxhole, then had to scramble and hang on to escape on MLK Day with a 113-107 victory over the Pistons.
Coach Casey’s seat is warm, by design, as a lame duck under the purview of new GM Troy Weaver. He remains confident that his long-term status isn’t dependent on near-term player development. Youthful charges Bey, center Isaiah Stewart, Svi Mykhailiuk, Deividas Sirvydas and Sekou Doumbouya aren’t getting much burn as Casey relies on multi-year vets (including 23-year-old wayfarer Josh Jackson, whose defense is giving his slipshod career new life) to fill his short rotations. The Piston pupils are nearly non-existent on nights that aren’t part of back-to-back pairs.
If he had his druthers, Detroit’s head coach would have them checking in against the Skyhawks and the Bayhawks, not the Hawks (6-7). “…they should be learning the G-League,” Casey told Omari Sankofa of the Freep about his blue-chippers on Tuesday, “making mistakes and learning from them in the G-League instead of our (NBA) games.”
Even without much reliable depth for Casey to turn to, only one of Detroit’s ten defeats have been by more than ten points. They’ve stayed within shouting range throughout because Jerami Grant has been making plenty of All-Star noise. The Son of Harvey, already in his fourth NBA stop over seven seasons, is dropping career-best numbers (24.9 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 2.5 APG, 2.7 3FGs/game, 86.3 FT%).
As a 2020 free agent, Grant expressed his appeal for working under an African-American coach+GM combo, and Casey is rewarding him with free reign as the Pistons’ new franchise face, good timing since Griffin’s gasket is leaking lots of oil (career-lows of 14.3 points per-36 and 0.1 BPG; 38.3 FG%, 35.2 FG% in 18 brief appearances last season; 67.9 FT%). Like Charlotte’s Gordon Hayward, and New York’s Julius Randle, Grant (27 points @ ATL on Dec. 28, tied with Jackson in the 128-120 loss) needs teams, like the Hawks and heat, that get caught slipping defensively to help his team escape the Eastern Conference basement and shine up his resume at All-Star voting time.
The final bell hasn’t rung for Professor Griff just yet. Bleak Blake’s still averaging 4.3 APG (1.7 TOs/game), aiding Rose (team-high 5.1 APG, off the bench) and Hayes’ replacement starting point guard, Delon Wright (4.1 APG, 0.9 TOs/game) in creating ample shot opportunities, at least many more than Detroit’s foes can hoist (NBA-low 83.8 opponent FGAs; 17.2 opponent TO%, 2nd in NBA). Grabbing more steals, taking higher proportions of threes from the field, and crashing the offensive glass more frequently than last season, is all what keeps the Pistons more in the ballpark than the Tigers.
The problems come when Grant’s teammates, like hot-and-cold Hawkslayer Wayne Ellington (7-for-11 3FGs @ MIA; 2-for-7 @ ATL on Dec. 28), Griffin and Wright aren’t hitting shots outside, or finishing inside (team 48.3 2FG%, last in NBA; 49.8 eFG%, 28th in NBA). Atlanta, fortunately, has a forward duo that can keep Grant and Griff inefficient when they’re on the floor together.
I am here for De’Angry Hunter! (Way better than The Angry Whopper, no?) De’Andre is out here having it his way -- going up for ferocious dunks, wrestling away 50/50 balls, lofting threes with no hesitation, keeping candy away from babies at game’s end, even chewing out refs on bone-headed calls and drawing techs? My large, adult son!
While watching Zion and N’Awlins taking their turn at getting flame-broiled by the red-hot Jazz on national TV last night, one of my Hawks Twitter faves (@REGGIES_WORLD) asked aloud, “You know who would look good on the Pelicans right now?” Aren’t you hungry? A double-digit scorer all season long, this will be the 12th opportunity in Hunter’s budding career to serve up consecutive 20-burgers for the first time (10.5 PPG in prior 11 chances), if he is indeed good-to-go tonight (probable, sore knee).
With Clint Capela (28.8 D-Reb%, 3rd in NBA; 23-and-15 plus 3 blocks vs. MIN) doing the dirtiest of the dirty work around the defensive glass, John Collins and Hunter are ((slides on titanium draws)) powering forward. Their positive +12.6 Net Rating as a duo in Atlanta lineups is surpassed in the NBA East only by KD and Joe Harris (+13.6, min. 300 minutes played), and currently 6th-best overall.
Tack on Trae Young (8.9 APG and 88.9 FT%; multiple 3FGs, despite a season-low 8 FGAs vs. MIN, for the 2nd time in his past seven games), even with his wayward floaters and jumpers, and with refs trying their darnedest not to fall for his Nashketball tactics, and the Collins-Hunter-Young trio (+12.7 Net Rating, 3rd-best among NBA East 3-Man Lineups w/ 200+ minutes, 6th-best anywhere outside L.A.) is only a Crosby or a Stills short of a supergroup. Teach your children well, LP!
Hopefully, Cam Reddish (upgraded to questionable, bruised knee) or Kevin Huerter (3-for-8 3FGs, 8 assists, 2 TOs, 4 steals vs. MIN) can become that fourth wheel, although four shouldn’t be needed to turn Atlanta into the true Motor City tonight.
Individually, Young (probable vs. DET, sore heel, although the ggod news is his wrist is fine) is just a marginally superior defender in the early going, compared to the balance of his past season. But after enduring Jabari Parker, Damian Jones, the esteemed Vince Carter, and the M.I.A. tandem of Alex Len and momentary Piston Dewayne Dedmon in last year’s frontcourt, Trae’s learning that not being the league’s worst defensive player often comes down to the company you keep.
My only ask of De’Andre, as the serene sophomore begins to shed his Dr. Bruce Banner persona, is that he not try to keep up with Trae in the turnover department. It can be easy being green, if you play possessions looking less like Kermit The Frog flailing about, and more like The Incredible Hulk.
The Hawks can be top-tier competitive (2-1 w/ team TO percentages below 10.0%, as per bball-ref; wins over Philly and the Nets, with sole loss @ BRK) when it’s only Young turning the ball over frequently. Hunter’s six TOs versus the T’Wolves on Monday, tying Trae and contributing to Atlanta’s season-high 24 player goofs, negated his and his team’s own defensive stops and were but his only significant blemishes.
Atlanta coach Lloyd Pierce must work on his game plans to improve off-ball anticipation on offensive possessions, his players effectively resetting when a play call is countered and the need to shift to Plan B, with a Drew-ian sense of urgency, arises. Such execution is essential against a Detroit team that thrives off scoring chances after producing turnovers (19.5 points per-48, 5th-most in NBA). A slop-fest won’t work against the Pistons as it did against the shorthanded T’Wolves.
The Hawks need not look ahead, but that doesn’t mean their fans can’t. COVID-craziness notwithstanding, next week’s slate includes a visit to Budworld, where Giannis awaits, and home games with first Kawhi & PG, then the fat-suit-less Harden, KD & Kyrie in town on back-to-back nights. Will we get a well-rested and recuperated Wizards bunch in Washington next weekend? We’ll see.
The week after that? A four-game homestand, but with LeBron and AD, then Luka and the Jazz on a back-to-back, then a Tampato team that’s shedding dead weight (sorry, Alex) and is on the mend. Atlanta will then get four days off, but only before heading to Lukaland for their next, and finally scheduled, national TV appearance.
Things could go south, or soar north, in a hurry for the Hawks. But it’s the outcomes of those games, not the ones against the Knicks, Cavs, Hornets, Timberwolves and Pistons, that ought to define how one looks at this season’s success. It’s why Must-Win Week #2 cannot afford to go the way of Must-Win Week #1.
The Georgia Tech men’s basketball team is aiming to win their third-straight ACC game, and fifth in a row, with a chance of rising to 7-3 tonight by beating 20th-ranked Clemson on the road. Unfortunately for Tech, they’re not Top-25 ranked, and may still not be even in victory, in part because their season has already been defined, by Thanksgiving weekend losses at home to local Peach State “rivals” Georgia State and Mercer. Once you do that, nobody wants to hear about how you beat blue-bloods Kentucky and UNC.
You don’t want to be the Yellow Jackets; you want to be the team that does the stinging of weak opponents around here. Atlanta will have roster reinforcements coming along soon, and they don’t need to show perfection yet, although cutting the turnovers in half would sure be nice. Today, and on Friday in the rematch with D’demono Russell in Minnesota, we do need the Hawks to avoid another buzzkill, by at least showing us they’ve mastered their B-game.
Let’s Go Hawks!
“HEY, PAL! RESPECT THE FLAG!”
In the Capitol building in our District of Columbia, a United States Senator laid on the floor of the Senate chamber, unsure if this day would be his final one alive.
He was swiftly losing consciousness, and his eyesight. He was being blinded by his own blood.
The perpetrator of his assault: one Democratic congressman from the great state of South Carolina, armed with a thick, gold-tipped cane.
Amidst an iconic, nearly 60-year-old Federal building constructed with incomparably cheap and skilled slave labor, in a new cameral wing built much the same, the Massachusetts Republican suffered blows from both the wood and the gold, all of which splintered onto the hallowed floor in a race with gobs of partisan bloodshed. Even as the cane broke apart across his head and body, he was unable to see from whence the next blows were coming.
Stunned onlookers, members from both Houses of our Congress, rushed to intervene, only to be blocked by a Congressional ally of the assailant, one with a willfully violent reputation in the halls of Congress himself, and another Senator brandishing a cane… and a pistol… who demanded, “Let them be! Let them alone!” What unfurled here was no gentlemanly duel.
The assailing Congressman, feeling publicly insulted by the Senator’s words towards a family member, sought to hunt down this man, in the Capitol, and deliver a taste of the irrepressible, irredeemable suffering felt through generations by untold numbers of slaves, individuals the colleague, ironically, hoped to one day free.
Both inside and at all points south of the nation’s capital, there were Big Fans of the carnage Preston Brooks wrought upon Charles Sumner on that fine spring day in 1856. A Richmond newspaper editorial suggested Sen. Sumner, a self-styled “Radical” for advocating the end of slavery, should be “caned every morning.” “These vulgar abolitionists in the Senate,” the typography went on to insist, “have been suffered too long to run without collars. They must be lashed into submission.” Many non-witnesses believed Sumner and his fellow abolitionists were overselling the extent of his injuries in hopes of buying political sympathy.
The golden splinters from Rep. Brooks’ cane were not collected as evidence in a trial. Rather, Southern lawmakers salvaged them, fashioned them into rings, and wore what Brooks would later describe as his “sacred relics” on neck chains, as a display of solidarity. Replacement canes from throughout the South arrived at his door, one in which was inscribed: “Hit him again.”
When Sumner’s Massachusetts colleague dared to call Brooks’ brazen act, “brutal, murderous, and cowardly,” Brooks was again offended, this time challenging that Republican Senator to a duel (with pistols, not canes) that, thankfully, never materialized. He did face repercussions, eventually, for his actions. Arrested and brought to trial in a D.C. Court, Brooks was convicted, fined the equivalent of $8,500 for his assault on a fellow elected official, and was free to go without incarceration.
In mid-July, mere months after the attack, he resigned from his post, thwarting House attempts at expulsion. By the first day of August, he was re-elected by South Carolinians in a special election, and deemed such a hero that a city in Florida, and a new county in neighboring Georgia, were quickly named that year in his honor (to this day, they still are). Brooks was back in the Capitol building by November. But he would live for only a couple months, done in by a nasty case of croup. The poor fellow.
In his final days, he would see an empty Senate chair, left deliberately open by the Massachusetts delegation as a reminder of the effects of Southern American barbarism. One must note, his pistol-packing partner-in-crime, also from South Carolina, would not make it to the end of the Civil War, mortally wounded in battle on behalf of the Confederacy. But before his demise, two years after the cane assault, Lawrence Kiett would try to put hands on a colleague himself, in the Capitol.
A Pennsylvania Republican was jeered by Kiett when he attempted to cross the aisle in the House of Representatives amid intense late-night debate in 1858. Kiett called his (White) political rival a “Black Republican puppy.” The gentleman from the Keystone State retorted: “No Negro-driver shall crack his whip over me.” Oh, NOW you’ve gone too far, sir. Mr. Kiett’s honor has been impugned!
Kiett lunging at his fellow Congressman’s throat sparked a massive brawl of reportedly about 50 elected officials, ending only when a Mississippi rep’s hairpiece went flying as he dodged a punch, errantly placing it back upon his head upside down to uproarious laughter. Talk about flipping your wig! The Boys are back in town. Following Brooks’ lead, Kiett “resigned”, ran for his seat again as ratification for his conduct, and won re-election in South Carolina overwhelmingly.
Back to Senator Sumner. What inexcusable, cane-invoking sin did he commit? African-Americans, and women of all races, lacked much of anything we would recognize as human rights today. But they were certainly easy fodder when politicos sought to rhetorically blast each other. Sumner and other abolitionists were mocked, particularly by Andrew Butler and Stephen Douglas (of Lincoln-Douglas Debates fame) with allusions that they found the Black woman alluring, thereby worthy of their heroism and, perish the thought, the prospect of interracial marriage.
The slaveholder class were taking figurative jabs on the chin, too, as abolition advocates suggested their foes needed female slaves around to have someone around to satisfy their urge for non-consensual sex. Sumner was not so direct.
As he argued fiercely on the Senate floor against permissible slaveholding in the bloody Kansas territories, Sumner invoked the invisible mistress of Don Quixote, the fictional hero who believed, as the tale goes, that he needed (the notion of) a female by his side, to be respected by his fellow male peers as one of chivalrous virtue.
“Of course [Sen. Butler] has chosen a mistress to whom he has made his vows, and who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him… I mean, the harlot, slavery.” Oh, snap! Rep. Brooks, Sen. Butler’s first cousin once removed and perhaps not as up on literary references as a distinguished gentleman might expect, indeed snapped. With some egging from Kiett, he set his plan for tilting at Sumner in motion.
But for this heinous, bloody act, the Party of Lincoln might have become the Party of Sumner first. The Massachusetts senator suffered lingering effects from his injuries throughout the rest of his days, including what we now call PTSD. But he did see Messrs. Brooks and Kiett to their graves, as he returned, years later, to the Senate and became one of President Abraham Lincoln’s closest confidantes while their nation veered into internal war.
Sumner specialized not merely on matters of abolition, but foreign affairs. He aided the President in negotiating tactics to keep the Brits and the French from meddling on behalf of what was by now the Confederate armed and naval forces.
From the White House, Lincoln leaned on his Senatorial visitor, who he would come to describe as, “my idea of a bishop.” But Abe’s Congressional consultant would make clear that, for military and moral reasons, the POTUS could no longer cast illusions that emancipation for the slaves in states and territories, was not the central aim of the Union. But for Sen. Sumner, 1863’s Emancipation Proclamation, and the ensuing conclusion of civil conflict in 1865, might have been longer in coming, and to the credit of someone not rocking a beard and a top hat.
A beneficiary of Sumner’s radical political activism (and survival), up to and over one century later, John Lewis wasn’t any more immune from a wooden stick. Or, a wooden crate. Beaten by random bone-breaking bigots as one of the original Freedom Riders in 1961 in Rock Hill, South Carolina, imprisoned in Mississippi’s notorious penitentiary for over a month, bashed with objects of wood, lead, steel, and stone throughout Alabama, law “enforcement” stood back and stood by, reluctant to intervene and eager to assist, not arrest, his and his party’s assailants. The spirit of Congressman Brooks lived on.
There was nothing to suggest that a day might come where Lewis could enter the U.S. Capitol, not as an interloper making “trouble” for the forces of “order” of the day, but as a duly elected Congressperson, a United States Representative from the fine state of Georgia.
It took a lot of slander and spite from his opposition to get there. But before any of that, Lewis had to personally overcome acts, and the omnipresent threat, of violence upon his person. The threats didn’t end once he reached the Capitol, either. But Rep. Lewis was inspired, propelled forward from his impressionable teens to his elderly grave, by something greater than the evil that men do.
A fan of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. since he first heard him on the radio at age 15, Lewis would come to meet Rosa Parks and King in short order. After writing a letter to King about his being denied attendance at Alabama’s Troy University, Lewis’ hometown public college, he was invited to Montgomery to meet with King, warmly received as “The Boy from Troy.”
Rather than risk the young man’s family coming under attack by suing the university system for discrimination (imagine weighing this public act at age 18), Lewis was advised by King to go to a Tennessee HBCU, to pursue his education, pursue his dreams of ministry, and bring forth King’s ideals of Non-violent Direct Action into being.
Well before adopting his pastor father’s new Lutheran-inspired name in his twenties, a youthful Michael King spent his days hooping in a lot behind Fire Station No. 6 on Atlanta’s Auburn Avenue. Perfecting his set shot, the chances young Michael could grow up to make a living as a professional basketball player was up in the air. One thing that was out of the question – he could never aspire to work as a firefighter, not in this segregated station that sits mere yards down the street from his birth home.
King would go on to change that narrative, not for himself, but for the new kids and young men like Lewis who looked up to him for guidance. What he came to espouse was the way of Non-violent Direct Action. But he would always urge his followers that a lot needs to occur, first, before conducting the sit-ins and boycotts that would seize the consciousness of this nation. The essential first step: by educating yourself, and questioning your sources of information, ensure that there is a legitimate issue worth addressing.
Step 2: educate others about the issue at hand. Step 3: petition and negotiate with those likely to oppose you on the issue, seeking cooperation before making them out as arch enemies of your cause. Step 4: if those steps do not bring forth meaningful change, pursue Non-violent Direct Action. Our problem, learned through history and not just this month, is not just the preference to engage in Direct Action through violent means, but to simply hop right on over Step 1.
What we love to do is to fanfic, LARP, and cosplay our way into crafting concerns out of thin air. Dressing up as the aggrieved and ingesting downside-up rhetoric (e.g., “George Wallace? David Duke? Pshh. John Lewis is The Real Racist!”), subversionary tactics trivialize the appeals by generations of people for whom “liberty”, “freedom”, and “justice” rarely apply equally.
A full-throated industry today thrives by applying those patriotish labels to any manner of advocacy and defenses for policies and practices that objectively harm the disadvantaged, and against any measures remotely aiming to remedy them. For the privileged, the invocation and perpetuation of moral panic, futhering justification of violence, is a perfectly exhilarating way to pass the time. ‘Tis but a hobby, like macrame or cornhole, that one can share with their family and friends, only with symbols of intended intimidation and subjugation, rifles, ammo, bombs, and flowery shirts for a touch of fun. Onward, Boogaloo Soldiers! To “Freedom”!
We will drive right past the re-purposed dead Walmart, with cages of adolescents cloaked under the guard of paid Federal agents and contractors, to insist that the real and present danger to the livelihood of children could be lurking in the new Super Walmart’s ladies room. Or, in a pizzeria basement in DC. Or, in a box from Wayfair that might’ve been disguised online as a $12,000 cabinet. Before we don our tricorne hats and shout through the bullhorn, “Won’t somebody please think of the children?”, Step 1, people.
“School choice!” we exclaim, while stripping publicly funded schools of the resources they need to be viable choices, while curling our lips when students who look like Anthony Edwards and De’Andre Hunter are offered seats in the private and charter schools we promoted after desegregation and conveniently “chose”. “Religious Freedom!”, we’ll insist, until a religious leader outside of the “Moral Majority” preaching about equality makes us fear conceding the fruits of privilege.
“Respect the flag!”, until someone not fond of remedial busing policies (above) elects to use one to tenderize a Black passerby in the streets. “Honor the Troops! Back the Blue!”, we demand, until it’s time to back a retired military member and police officer up the Capitol steps in the hunt for politicians we’ve been told we must despise, until it’s time to bash an officer with a Back The Blue flag for standing in the way while we play our racist reindeer games.
“Stop the Thugs!” we declare when it’s the shattered glass and looted property at the College Football Hall of Fame gift shop that gives us pause. Not so much when the shards fall from the many doors and windows of the nation’s legislative branch. Those thugs, we are assured, are instead divinely empowered patriots.
The Subversive Word of the Month is “Unity”. After the failed Capitol coup ten days ago, the individuals who Capitol-ized their careers on fabrications over America’s voting and election processes, items never their concern when gerrymandering and “How Many Jelly Beans Are In The Jar?” was on the table, now want “unity” with colleagues targeted, by those the individuals ginned up by leaping over Step 1.
“Hey, you election fraudster you, sorry we were within minutes of possibly getting zip-tied and hanged by folks wrapping their bigotry in red, white, and blue while reeking of AXE Body Spray and Skoal. Let’s come together and put this anger and division behind us!” If you brought anger and division to, and through, the front door, you don’t get to stand inside the house pleading for unity.
Our Atlanta Hawks and Minnesota Timberwolves play this afternoon (2:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports North in MSP, NBA TV) on what is billed as the first of four “Unity Nights”. Unlike those who would deem votes cast at State Farm Arena and throughout the Peach State as suspicious and illegal because they didn’t get the result they enjoyed four years before, these calls for “unity” are sincere and founded in facts, not fan fiction.
“A Call for Unity” was exactly what ministers in Birmingham were pleading of Dr. King and civil rights leaders in a 1963 newspaper editorial, after boycotts, marches and picketing were well underway in the city center. Unity wasn’t sought to correct the systemic denial of employment and fair wages to Black citizens, not when the desegregation of a middle-class neighborhood led to bombings so frequent the place was nicknamed, “Dynamite Hill,” not when leaders responded to desegregation orders by closing parks and public facilities outright, not when leaders complaining of the violence would find their homes, businesses and houses of worship bombed in turn.
Dr. King could not pick up a paper on the day of the editorial, because he was locked away in a Birmingham jail. It was here, from his cell, where he responded with, “Why We Can’t Wait,” a letter that began on the margins of the newspaper he was handed. Responding to claims of being the impatient outsider and agitator of the movement, King asserted that, in stepping to him but not their oppressive local leaders, the ministers had glossed over Step 1.
His presence, as an American citizen invited to help the disenfranchised peacefully pursue purported ideals of justice and equality, in the face of decidedly non-peaceful government-endorsed and extra-judicial violence, was not the problem. Agitators convinced these ministers to errantly believe that King, and civil rights leaders, were The Real Agitators.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” “Anyone who lives in the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds,” and “justice too long delayed is justice denied,” were among King’s scribbled responses that struck at the heart of the true matter. Another of his Greatest Hits: “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”
Having spent decades studying the issues on religious, academic, political and social grounds, King stood firmly on Step 1. He educated others on the issue, and he and his followers advocated through peaceful pleas. No shortcuts allowed. No one of sound mind and heart in Birmingham budged, not until after King, Fred Shuttlesworth, Ralph David Abernathy and others had reached Step 4. By 1963, the Civil Rights Movement had ample reason to Stand Their Ground, employing Non-Violent Direct Action to foster the “tension,” among the otherwise comfortable, needed to bring meaningful negotiation to the fore.
58 years later, a Texas leader who took cover just hours before returning to the Capitol grounds, in the wee small hours of the morning, had come across a new issue worth literally fighting for: the folks we cast as fraudsters stealing our election our calling us out as liars! Oh, snap! How dare they?
It was fitting that as he charged at his accuser, he was stopped cold in his tracks by a former NFL player named Colin. This African-American footballer decided long ago he could not simply, “Stick to Sports!”, and ran successfully for Congress.
From Jesse Owens, Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson, and Jim Brown, to the athletic heroes of the present day, sportsmen have long been entwined, sometimes wittingly, usually not, in the aspirations of politicians. Sometimes as the lightning rod, other times as the chastening rod.
The very night before Election Day, on a bitter cold night in a swing state, the Commander-in-Chief was out of ideas to energize the crowd and boost his deflating poll numbers. With no prompting, no rationale, he thought he had his finger on the problem. A no-good, do-gooder athlete from the swing state next door.
“How about basketball? How about LeBron? I felt very bad for LeBron, very badly, down 71 percent,” espoused dear leader, assuming his shivering crowd was as up to speed on Nielsen ratings as his own approval ratings. “I didn’t watch one shot… you know why? When they don’t respect our country, when they don’t respect our flag, nobody wants to watch!” This was his best effort at a closing argument to keep his job.
He got the “LeBron James Sucks!” balloon inflated among the rally-goers. But he lost the swing state, and lost the election. Mr. President slipped past Step 1, on many fronts; now, he cannot fathom stepping aside, especially to a political rival he tormented, and to the African-American who will serve next in line. He pivoted quickly to Pied Piper-ing his followers to the next “issue”: people who look more like LeBron than him, casting the decisive ballots in that state and others, like Georgia.
On the eve of runoff Senate elections this month, he made his last stand alongside a gubernatorially-handpicked Senator who alienated her WNBA employees by publicly criticizing their demonstrations over police brutality in hopes of political gain. She lost, too. “How about basketball?”
We will lean on, and prop up the likes of Jim Bunning, Herschel Walker, Reggie White, David Tyree, John Rocker, Curt Schilling, Josh Hader, and stand for their First Amendment rights if they espouse views we wholeheartedly agree with. Otherwise, the rest are ordered to Shut Up and Dribble, unless we absolutely need them to quell unrest or further our own political aims.
We’re told votes for folks like Colin Allred, the former Tennessee Titan who upended a 22-year congressman in Texas, might be illegal and must be investigated with the highest of scrutiny. The system wasn’t designed or jiggered for folks like him to be our representatives; clearly, there’s some “issue” here! There is an issue, it’s just not the ones we craft to make our bigotry comfortable.
In the early hours of January 7th, Rep. Allred’s most pressing issue was the exposed colleague from the other side of the aisle who, rather than deal with his own exposure, tried in vain to pull a Rep. Brooks on the Pennsylvania colleague who impugned his character. At least this time, unlike 1856, a duly elected Black citizen could stand in the way, rather than being castigated to the margins of society, as privileged noblesse dueled over his family’s fates. “Haven’t you had enough violence today?”, Allred asked of the would-be assailant. Indeed.
Amid the cane-rattling, Rep. Brooks likely didn’t care to notice how the Capitol of his day was under expansion. Above him and his victimized subject, Sen. Sumner, with the assistance of slave labor, a new ellipsoidal dome was underway. The iconic structure would soon be topped by The Statue of Freedom. One highly skilled slave, Philip Reid, was paid $1.25 per day over the course of nearly a year to cast and plan the transport of the statue. Reid would be emancipated in 1862, shortly before the statue that stands tall today was placed in its permanent spot.
Under that statue-topped dome, a man who John Lewis gave his first internship as a teenager will soon be checking in for work. Georgia’s first Jewish senator will be joined on that day by a reverend who would come to caretake the Ebenezer Baptist congregation the late Rev. Dr. King left behind. Their pending introductions as United States Senators will be more than poetic.
She was one of 15 protestors rousted up and zip-tied under Georgia’s state capitol rotunda in 2018, back when voter suppression was simply the way to play the game, and when “Every Vote Counts!” chants while standing peacefully in the building was an illegal obstruction worthy of detention. Then a Georgia state senator, Nikema Williams will be awaiting Jon Ossoff’s and Raphael Warnock’s arrival from the other chamber of Congress, having won the late Rep. Lewis’ House seat.
Those who will propel our society and this nation forward, and not into a descension of interpersonal violence and brooding despair, are those who don’t sit idly by, those who speak truth to power, but who are also are well-versed on true issues, not scare tactics, misinformation, nor threats and acts of violence for the sake of sustaining imbalanced order in one’s own favor.
When you’re armed with truth, no canes, gallows, flag poles or fists are necessary. Like Sen. Sumner, Dr. King and Congressman Lewis, some of Georgia’s newest entrants headed to work beneath our Statue of Freedom understood that to reach solid ground, and to stand genuinely and heroically for us all, you must first work your way through Step 1.
Let’s Go Hawks!
“Vatican just called. Il Papa wants the hookup on a case of BOLT24.”
We won’t have Rudy Gobert around to spank us tonight! Dusting off the first double-digit L of the season, our Atlanta Hawks head to the Pacific Northwest. They’ll be thankful if the good sirs on the Portland Trail Blazers (10 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Northwest in PDX) don’t have another paddling in store for them.
Coach Lloyd Pierce conserved some players’ energies during the front-end of last night’s back-to-back, keeping every one of his Hawks (5-6) under 30 minutes. It’s not as if Trae Young (1-for-11 FGs; probable for today despite back tightness) and the starters did anything worth expending any more ergs.
Imagine the margin if Cam Reddish (4-for-5 3FGs, rest of squad 1-for-23) didn’t bring his outside-shooting A-game! Cam’s questionable for today with a bruised knee, so even if he plays, he’ll give up some minutes to Kevin Huerter today. ‘Twas just a year ago, tomorrow, when Huerter’s velvety-smooth jumper ended our decades-long Hawks Hex in San Antonio.
Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell (7 steals combined, more than Atlanta’s tally of 6) stifled the Hawks backcourt with few problems, while Gobert gave Clint Capela and our wide-eyed rookie Onyeka Okongwu fits in the opening half. Aside from a pair of Atlanta runs in the second and third quarters, the eventual outcome was academic.
Capela and the barely visible John Collins must be far more imposing this evening in Portland, as the Blazers (7-5) are reeling with the losses of their starting bigs. At worst, JC should find it easy to be the most impactful Collins on the court tonight.
Zach Collins had to undergo his second ankle surgery in five months, on the same malady that ended his run in the Bubble. He’s out until probably the end of this month. The other beefy big in coach Terry Stotts’ starting lineup, 290-pounder Jusuf Nurkic, returned strong at Bubble time after planning to miss last season while recovering from a leg injury. But now, a broken wrist suffered in Thursday’s 111-87 home loss to Indiana will keep the center out, likely until after the Blazers’ currently scheduled games conclude.
Nurkic wasn’t the singular reason the air escaped Portland’s balloon on Thursday. Even with him on the floor, Indiana went on a 21-8 run to close the half up 59-36. In the battle between Nate McMillan’s last two coached teams, the Pacers throttled the Blazers (7-4) without the services of either the traded Vic Oladipo or the incoming Caris LeVert. (Edmond Sumner filled in as the emergency starter for Indy; historians know who I’m talking about, but you’ll hear of another person named Sumner on Monday, if I can finish my rambling MLK Day pregame thread on time.)
Portland had won four in a row before that loss, but now they’ve suffered four of their five defeats by double-digits. That includes losing the season-opener versus Utah, by 20, and at G-State by 13.
How do the Blazers compensate? One thing Damian Lillard (26.9 PPG, 7.2 FTAs/game, 6.8 APG) and CJ McCollum (team-high 27.6 PPG, 43.4 3FG%, 5.3 APG) will try to do is shoot their way out of any situation. The pair was fairly inefficient with a combined 44 points on 34 shots plus 8 free throws. And aside from pogo-stick Derrick Jones (pro tip: if he’s heading toward the paint, foul him before he gets there, or run the other way), no other starters or Carmelo Anthony’s bench crew could get unstuck.
For a team that’s not usually turnover prone (2nd-lowest TO% in NBA), Portland’s 16 assists and 18 player turnovers on Thursday won’t get it done on most nights. The Blazers (2nd in NBA for 3FGA rate, just ahead of Utah) could find themselves pressing too much to stay in front tonight, particularly trying to play tit-for-tat if Young’s wayward jumpers start finding nylon again.
Make my funk a T-Funk! Trae’s momentary shooting woes (28.8 3FG%) are the least of my worries, as long as he contributes well in other facets of the game and other Hawks elevate their play when the ball heads their way. He won’t be hounded as much by Portland’s star guards as he will by Robert Covington and Rodney Hood. When the double- and triple-teams come, Young (8.4 APG, 4th in NBA) can artfully move the ball inside, where Collins, Okongwu and Capela can overwhelm the hope-you-miss defenses of Enes Kanter and Melo, the turn-sideways-to-go-missing Jones, and the hack-happy Harry Giles.
Even if Atlanta’s shooters are off-line, second-chance points abound for the current NBA leaders in that category (16.6 points per-48). When Portland’s iron is unkind, there’ll be ample opportunities to score on the break (15.9 opponent fastbreak points per-48, 4th-most in NBA).
A steal and a block from Young helped soften the blows last night in Salt Lake, with Portland’s backcourt stars getting multiple defensive looks from Atlanta’s young defensive wings, Trae will need to continue being an assertive help defender, aiding the Hawks in forcing mistakes and low-percentage jumpshots from Lillard’s and McCollum’s floormates.
The Timberwolves will be in town for Monday’s MLK Day Game, and we’ve heard much of Karl-Anthony Towns and his family’s ordeal with the COVID-19 pandemic. @JayBirdHawk shared Trail Blazers forward Nassir Little’s weeks-long personal bout with the coronavirus in the Homecourt thread last month. As did Towns, Little advises everyone within earshot or eyeshot to please be careful:
One clever way to stay close to family during the pandemic? Get them on the team! The pride of Hot Springs, Arkansas and Montana State basketball, Keljin Blevins is Damian Lillard’s cousin. Lillard has been a mentor for Blevins, even more so after the latter’s father passed away while he played at Southern Miss. After training with the Blazers and their Summer League roster in 2019, Blevins made it into the G-League and now serves as Portland’s sole two-way player.
Let’s Go Hawks!