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    • By lethalweapon3
      “…starring CHRISTIAN WOOD, in a Very Special episode of The Fresh Prince of Bellaire.”
       
      Houston… y’all done been had problems!
      This is all the Astros’ fault, you know. Those sheisty sign-stealers’ rendition of “Bang the Can Slowly (2017)” brought Houston their long-coveted World Series trophy. But the price for that is bad mojo, in the form of a litany of mopey stars, and their coaches, hightailing out of town as fast as they can.
      2017 Series MVP George Springer can’t even go to Toronto, yet he still inked a deal with the Blue Jays to try getting the stink of the Stros’ side-eyed successes off of him.
      Trading off Nuk Hopkins from the Texans was sure to cost Bill O’Brien all his jobs, eventually. But O’Brien’s antics also cost the team J.J. Watt, who demanded out only to wind up with Hopkins in Arizona, and the soul of franchise QB Deshaun Watkins, who continues to play hardball holdout until he gets the exit he desires.
      Even the Dynamo, according to MLSsoccer.com, “experienced as much roster turnover as anyone in the league.” Longtime star Alberth Elis wound up getting put in mothballs to end 2020’s season as the futbol club negotiated his sale to a Portuguese side.
      And then, there’s the Rockets. What’s left of them, anyway.
      When Clint Capela last played at Toyota Center, he was holding the fort inside the paint for two former league MVPs, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, playing together in the backcourt. Then, team exec Daryl Morey made good on his wish to make Mike D’Antoni’s Rockets fullcourt fast, trading Clint to Atlanta and pushing 34-year-old undersized P.J. Tucker into the five-slot full-time. For their trouble, the Rockets got a seven-game series win over Russ’ and James’ former team, and a gentleman’s sweep at the hands of the eventual world champs.
      In the offseason, Morey read the writing on the wall and bailed for Philly. Harden went COVID-clubbing, snuck a fat suit under his jersey, and made it clear to everyone without saying it aloud he wanted no part of continuing to play for broke-boi owner Tilman Fertitta. The new management swapped out Westbrook for the injury-recovered John Wall in hopes of appeasing their biggest star, but to no avail. Now, Harden’s with the Nets’ new assistant coach -- D’Antoni, who feigned an interest in retiring before showing up in Brooklyn.
      The obligatory tribute video commemorating the useful tenure of Capela (questionable, heel pain) will appear on the Jumbotron this evening while his Hawks and his former team, the Rockets (8 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, AT&T SportsNet in HTX) are in a timeout. Meanwhile, you can bet there’ll be one Houston player jabbing another in the ribs while looking up and asking, “psst… hey, that guy used to play here, for real?”
      Hopefully, that jab doesn’t bruise anybody’s tender ribs, because head coach Stephen Silas is down to fielding objectively tall volunteers from the Toyota Center stands.
      Backcourt holdovers from Capela’s last games here, Eric Gordon (out, groin strain) and Ben McLemore (out, ankle sprain) are sidelined, while Bubble-COVID-tester fan Danuel House is questionable with a sprained knee. Traded from Cleveland in the Harden deal that also begat Victor Oladipo, Dante Exum remains in a walking boot. Wall banged up his knee in practice and will miss his fourth consecutive game.
      The club cut loose Wall’s UK pal, DeMarcus Cousins, who can’t quite boogie like he used to. Tucker is getting the Elis treatment, the new regime figuring out, in addition to second-rounders, how much cash they can allocate to Tillman’s pockets in exchange for the sneakerhead. Former Net Rodions Kurucs was clinging to limited minutes until a strained oblique put him on ice.
      Would-be leading scorer Christian Wood (listed as doubtful) shined for 17 games before going down with a severe ankle sprain, and now he is eager to follow the lead set by David Nwaba (out, sprained wrist, put off surgery and played last two games injured) and return ahead-of-schedule.
      That’s to help out Silas, in part, because their Rockets, tonight, could tie the record 17-game losing streak set back during the franchise’s maiden voyage, in San Diego in 1968, during an era when NBA teams played virtually every day. With a lanky kid named Pat Riley coming off the bench, those Rockets snapped their skid with a single win over juggernaut Philly, only to close out that season with 15 more losses in a row.
      That was also the pre-Lottery era, so coming away with Elvin “The Big E” Hayes in the subsequent Draft worked out pretty nicely (all you six-foot-two middle-schoolers named Enyeka, don’t even try it). San Diego turned it around with Hayes, fellow rookie Rick Adelman and Riley to guide the Rockets to a playoff series with the Hawks the following season.
      Houston (11-26) did the whole Wile E. Coyote gag of feeling pretty good about themselves after running off a cliff (“Harden, Schmarden!”) before peering down. After winning seven of eight games, the Rockets have not won since Wood departed in the third-quarter of their win at Memphis on February 4. The average losing margin over the past 16 games has been 18.25. In the rematch with the Grizzlies just 24 days later, host Houston was waxed by 49 points.
      Now, Silas has no choice but to push the pace (4th in NBA) and the on-ball pressure (15.3 opponent TO%, 6th in NBA; 19.4 points off TOs, 4th in NBA) as much as possible and hope for the best, while shifting the team’s re-development into overdrive, beginning with their latest star at point guard… Kevin Porter, Jr.?
      Porter was a pouter in Cleveland, the troubled guard hissy-fitting his way out of town for a conditional second-round pick. The Rockets promptly sent him over to the Glubble with their Rio Grande Valley outfit, re-fashioning him as a ball-dominant point guard.
      Now back with the “big” squad, and starting in two of his past three games, the results have been nice (17.4 PPG and 8.3 APG in 32.4 minutes/game), particularly when he’s not jacking pull-up threes (19.0 3FG% on 7.0 tries/game). “We’re not going to overstate anything,” Silas told the Houston Chronicle after KPJ dropped 27-and-8 on the Jazz in Utah last Friday, “But we think we got something there.”
      Aiding Oladipo (last 6 games: 24.3 PPG, 30.8 3FG%, 1.7 SPG), for whom the Trade Deadline sharks are already circling, Porter will likely share the floor with fellow default starters Jae’Sean Tate (only Rocket to appear in every game this season), esteemed Hawk-Killer Sterling “Black Lightning” Brown, and two-way center Justin Patton.
      The rookie Tate, Patton and another recent pickup, high-flying two-way forward Anthony Lamb, are the only Rockets exceeding 220 pounds, part of the urge for Wood to usher his way back onto the floor as soon as possible. If Wood gets his way and plays tonight, Atlanta may feel inclined to counter with the resting Capela. But it sure helps Hawks coach Nate McMillan to know he has a fellow Nate ready to help domi-Nate, too.
      Nathan Knight balled within control during Atlanta’s fifth-straight victory, Sunday’s refreshing 100-82 win over the Cavaliers. Knight was active on the boards, showing off a dash of handles, splashing a three and drawing trips to the line (9-for-10 FTs) to eclipse his rookie highs with 16 points and 9 rebounds. That was sorely needed by a Hawks club that was competing without first-rounder Onyeka “The Dream” Okongwu and Capela. Especially given the league’s relaxed two-way rules, Nate Mac shouldn’t hesitate to mix Knight into rotations more going forward.
      On National “John 3:16” Day, John Collins (last ten games: 18.1 PPG, 8.4 RPG; team-highs of 22 points and season-high 13 boards vs. CLE) recalls the embarrassment of letting Cleveland off the hook with their ten-game slide last month (should be noted he left that pivotal game, a 112-111 loss, before halftime for concussion protocols).
      Collins isn’t not eager to experience anything similar today in H-Town, especially considering the Hawks (19-20) need to get above .500 any way they can in the final warmups before their weeks-long West Coast road trip, and that the Rockets have to save something up for a visit by Golden State tomorrow. Trae Young and the Hawks suppressing the turnovers (16.7 TO% in March, second-highest only to Cleveland) while getting back consistently in transition would go a long way toward keeping the groove going tonight.
      This year, Atlanta surpassed Houston (and Boston, and DC), to become America’s seventh-largest media market. After fits and starts (lay off social media replies for now, LP) the Hawks are finally beginning to give its growing legion of eyeballs more reasons to tune in. Conversely, no matter where you turn, Houston’s teams have given its sports fans more reasons to zone out, one departing franchise player at a time. But, hey, Stros, enjoy your Commissioner’s Trophy. Hope it’s still shiny!
      Last Houston sports superstar left in the room, please, turn out the lights! That is, after all the windmills get de-iced. Too Soon?
       
      Erin go Bragh! Let’s Go Hawks!
      ~lw3
    • By lethalweapon3
      “I’m tellin’ you, our duo nickname is gonna be catchy! You just gotta go by ‘Hooch’!”
       
      I’m putting as much effort into the thread for this game, between the Atlanta Hawks and the visiting Indiana Pacers (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Indiana), as the Hawks (aside from Skylar Mays) put in while preparing for last night's game versus Gregg Popovich, DeMar DeRozan and the San Antonio Spurs.
       
       
       
       
       
       
       
       
       
       
       
      Let’s Go Hawks!
      ~lw3
    • By lethalweapon3
      “Excuse me, Mr. Ref? I don’t think this is basketball!”
       
      Rasslin’ fans: what is your most memorable heel turn?
      Seth Rollins breaking up The Shield? Nobody can forget Bash at the Beach ’96. My favorite WCW shocker in the 90s was big-bro Scott on the Steiner Brothers, sneak-attacking his baby-faced sibling Rick to join that badass new World order.
      In more modern times, Tommie Ciampa busting up bosom-buddy Johnny Gargano happened while nobody in NXT was expecting it. They bonded again, but only to find themselves prey to Crossfit Jesus Finn Balor’s stunning heel turn on them.
      Shawn Michaels smashing up poor Marty Jannetty, once and for all, in Brutus the Barber’s shop was downright iconic. Go back even further, and Larry Zybysko bloodying his ageless mentor, Bruno Sammartino, with a wooden chair created a lot of buzz.
      As a gimmick, the heel turns are all part of a necessary evil. Everybody can’t be friends until the end, or the goodie-two-shoes hero who does everything by the book and bores every fan to tears. To grease up the adversarial relationships, competitors eventually must jump ships and turn on their mates. Pupils defying masters, masters waylaying pupils.
      When they’re executed best, the works catch everyone off-guard, tear up old alliances to create new ones, and keep everyone at the edge of their seats. The new heels, from Hollywood Hogan to Big Poppa Pump to the Savior of SmackDown, engender whole new cults of personality. The victims draw sympathy for their plight, making their babyface runs reach unforeseen heights as well.
      That’s what made Steve Nash’s heel turn on his disciple, Trae Young, last month more fun than a Barrel of Monkeys.
      “Steve Nash is my favorite player of all-time,” the fresh-faced true frosh from Oklahoma revealed in the run-up to the 2018 NBA Draft. “With his size and my size, we’re very similar. He’s very cerebral, he can score from all three levels, he knows how to get his teammates involved and he’s a winner.” Wait a minute, Trae, what’s this about “three” levels? I thought there were just two-pointers and three-pointers for you little guys!
      Soon, Trae would up the ante on the fawning by going beyond mere discussions of “favorites”. Kobe’s kid Gigi had her favorite must-see NBA baller, too, but as far as GOATs go, in Trae’s mind, there can be only one.
      “If anyone asks me who the best player of all-time is,” Young, starting his second season as a pro, proudly told Sam Amick in November 2019, “I tell them, ‘Steve Nash’. That’s my favorite player, and it’s always been my favorite player. I definitely try to model my game as much as I can to Steve.” Aww.
      I’m not sure who Trae would say is his favorite coach of all-time. Lon Kruger? Aww. One thing, though, is for certain as his Atlanta Hawks get a visit from the stupefyingly star-studded Brooklyn Nets tonight (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, YES Network in The BK). It sure as heck won’t be “Coach Nash.”
      Steve understands the task at hand. He’s a first-year coach, handed MVP-caliber talent and ordered to earn some rings, and fast. The whole world is watching him, and learning the ropes on the fly is not an option. He understands that, in order to get his Nets (11-8, 5th in the NBA East) to climb the ladder and grasp the title belt, he’s got to knock upstarts like Young and his Hawks (9-8) out the box, leaving them to fend with the lumberjacks below.
      Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant came to their coach’s rescue as Young’s Hawks waged war with the Nets on December 30, their fourth-quarter heroics seizing the final pinfall of a high-flying, fun-filled 145-141 cage match. Trae wasn’t making it easy. After making his defender scramble around a Clint Capela screen, Young delivered a mini-Rikishi as he went up for the jumper.
      The ensuing whistle caused Kevin Durant to grab his head in faux disbelief, and a flustered Coach Nash to utter to the referee what had to have felt like a chairshot aimed at his longtime protégé: “That’s Not Basketball!” Oh, really? Et tu, Brute?
      “I bet if I was playing for Steve, he’d be happy,” a miffed Young told The Athletic’s superb Chris Kirschner in response to his hero’s outburst. “I think [Nash] wanting to get in the refs’ ears a little bit was just trying to help him. I learned a lot about drawing fouls from him.”
      “If he says it’s not basketball, he must’ve been saying it about himself, because he’s done it a couple of times throughout his career and was so successful.” Mic. Drop. Exit Music. But the cerebral mind games of Stevie “The Brain” Nash got into the heads of the refs and Young, at least for quite a while.
      After dropping 30-and-11 (14-for-16 FTs) on the Nets, Trae would score just 21 points (7-for-21 FGs) two days later in their teams’ rematch at Barclays Center. Atlanta would win that New Year’s Day game resoundingly, 114-96, in part due to a well-balanced offensive attack and Irving (3-for-11 FGs) cooling off. But Young could only get 4 opportunities to score from the charity stripe, his first game of this season not getting double-digit free throw chances.
      That drought would linger for five of the next six competitions, the Hawks dove-tailing from 4-1 to 5-6 as the refs’ swallowed whistles neutralized the offense built around Young. 33.0 PPG on 14.8 FTs/game, and 50.7/34.8/90.3 shooting percentages to close out the 2020 calendar year; 16.5 PPG on 5.8 FTs/game, and 33.3/21.4/82.9 shot splits in the half-dozen games after the Nets series. Nice work, “Classy” Stevie Nashty.
      But it appears that over the past five Hawks games, Trae has been drawing his bumps and getting up off the mat (33.0 PPG, 10.8 FTs/game, 46.1/40.7/87.1). The rediscovered effectiveness of his perimeter jumpshot is opening defenses back up for him to exploit them. Trae’s bounceback sets the stage for an intriguing payback match this evening, one with a new, special-guest competitor.
      But, first, a quick look back.
      In the entirety of his illustrious NBA playing career, MVSteve never once averaged 20 PPG in a regular season. The last time in his life the first-ballot Basketball Hall of Famer did so, he was a 20-year-old, still in college. Go ask Lloyd Pierce and Marlon Garnett, they were standing right there!
      The Hawks lead and assistant coaches will recall, back in the 90s, Nashty Nash upping the craftiness of his foul-draws, and thus, his shots at the free throw line from 3.2 to 6.4 per game. In so doing, that took a gangly and otherwise unremarkable Canadian junior from the lowly WCC conference (and not from John Stockton’s Gonzaga, either) and placed him formally on NBA scouting radars.
      Fast forward ten years, and the guard reached MVP strata, trying to prove his mettle as the Rated R Superstar in the NBA Playoffs. No more was he simply serving up the ball to watch Dirk Nowitzki drain the life out of the shot clock. In Phoenix, Nash and his coach Mike D’Antoni understood, there’s hardly a need to peek at the clock, as play decisions must be made, and fast. Deservedly facing double- and triple-teams while bringing up the ball and at the point of attack, Nash began drawing contact again.
      A 12.9 percent free throw attempt rate (as per bball-ref) for the point guard, in his final season as a first-round exit with Dallas, became 23.0 percent, 31.3 percent, and 28.8 percent rates as his Suns made their peak charges toward the Western Conference Finals.
      Thanks largely to free throws, and his legendary accuracy, Nash would average 20+ as a scorer in his first two playoff runs with the Suns. The signature foul draw of his career was getting Rob Blaked by Robert Horry into the sideline boards during a pivotal Game 4 in 2007 and, boy oh boy, Nash sure sold the heck out of that one, eh?
      Sold it so good, he tricked two tag team partners, Amar’e Stoudemire and Boris Diaw into getting themselves tossed and suspended, sapping any momentum Nash thought his Suns would gain by having the refs kick Mr. Playoff Clutch out of the ring.
      “Four years later,” Raja Bell admitted in 2014 in one of those newfangled things called a podcast, “I’m hanging out with Steve at a bar in Santa Monica somewhere, or somewhere in L.A., and he says that he gave that hip check (from Horry) a little bit of flair.” Whooooo!
      Just be glad The Canadian Crippler didn’t smash a bottle of LaBatt Blue Light on your head for leaking out the tricks of his trade, Raja! “He admitted to putting a little sauce on that hip check,” Bell confidently shared of Nash’s famously flubbed flop. Mamma Mia, that’s a not a basketball!
      It was actually Raja running up on The Horry-ble One and nearly getting chokeslammed, not so much Nash’s zesty sauce, that drew the DQs of Stoudemire and Diaw, but that’s neither here nor there. Horry got two games, the other Suns got one apiece. Advantage: Tim Duncan. The Spurs, not the Suns, would go on to sweep young LeBron in the most royal of rumbles. Despite Nash’s best sell, there would be no new World order in the rough-and-tumble Western Conference.
      And maybe that’s what gets Nash’s gander up when he watches Trae (57.0 free throw attempt rate) waltz to the line with impunity. Like last night, when an exasperated Tyronn Lue, coaching his clipped-down Clippers in a handicap match, could only look on in horror as Young (11-for-11 FTs, 7-for-7 in the second half, along the way to 26 points in the Hawks’ 108-99 win) curried favor with the greyshirts.
      Basketball is not former Nets head-honcho-turned-heel Jason Kidd demanding Tyshawn Taylor run into his gin-and-Coke so Brooklyn could gin up a timeout it didn’t have. It’s not even the player Kidd racing, toward a clueless Mike Woodson standing outside the coach’s box, so he could run into Atlanta’s coach and draw a momentum-swinging technical.
      Trae has simply watched what the legends of the league have done, and he works tirelessly on improving upon that. It’s not that petite guards with crafty handles drawing fouls isn’t basketball. It’s that there’s a petite guard in the league drawing fouls better, and earlier in his career, than Nash ever could.
      We can’t forget, either, that Nash is no longer just some casual, objective mark, but a manager who’s been handed championship-belt expectations from the jump. He’s standing just outside the ring, begging the refs to give his poor jobbers like Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot a break when they forget the game plan and find themselves, once again, hoisted up on Trae’s back. No, not another F5!
      If what Trae has been doing wasn’t basketball, the self-appointed arbiter of what is or isn’t basketball should have marched himself right up the glass tower to Sean Marks’ front office and told his GM that under no circumstances should Brooklyn be going after The Dirtiest Player in The Game.
      Alas, here is James Harden, in nWo black. That’s right, the guy “Not basketball”-ing his way to leading the NBA in free throw attempts in 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020, is joining forces with Irving and Durant in a quest for greatness. What’re you gunna do, brudder?
      Nash stood by and watched as the Nets tossed Caris LeVert, Taurean Prince, Jarrett Allen, Rodions Kurucs, and I think B. Brian Blair and Rocky King over the top rope to make room for The Bearded One. All that, plus a trove of future picks and pick swaps that Nash could have used if he and Marks were around to rebuild this roster, if necessary, should the grand plan fail. If the inference wasn’t clear that it’s Win or Bust for Nash before acquiring Harden, it is now.
      Down the bench, D’Antoni can tell Nash of how he inherited a contender that spent years under Harden and Dwight Howard getting dispatched in the postseasons by the likes of diminutive Damian Lillard and Stephen Curry, only to find his squad getting bounced by Curry and, this past season, LeBron (don’t blame Clint Capela), despite Harden pairing up with another former league MVP.
      Harden and D’Antoni escaped H-Town after Daryl Morey’s maneuvers left the Rockets with a sizable hole at the 5-spot that only P.J. Tucker could spackle. In the 2021 Playoffs, at crunch time, who is Brooklyn’s last line of defense around the rim? Will it be Durant (7.2 D-Rebs/game, 1.4 BPG), who is already giving it his all at the other end of the floor (NBA-best 139.4 4th-quarter D-Rating)?
      If not KD, DeAndre Jordan? Reggie Perry? Norvel Pelle? Nic Claxton? Jeff Green? Guys like Bam Adebayo, who amassed 41 points and 9 dimes on Saturday propping up a Miami team that’s been missing Jimmy Butler for a minute, would have field days on the interior if Durant is occupied guarding talented forwards.
      While the Nets defense (115.2 D-Rating since dumping LeVert, Allen, et al. for Harden, 25th in NBA) contracts to help, the backcourt cannot afford to find themselves getting tuned up like Bickerstaff’s Collin Sexton did while wearing Kyrie’s old number last week. And don’t let a key frontcourt guy like Durant or Jordan get banged up and miss critical time.
      Three thirty-point threats, and a guy who can bury triples in Joe Harris (48.4 3FG%), used to be enough when teams struggled to average 110 points and play with pace, but no more. On a shallowed roster with few rotational options, can Nash commit Harden and Irving (1.2 SPG apiece) to a sustainable defensive strategy that’s greater than, “I score, you score”?
      Just to be sure, Nash is going to want to see his stars put a squash job on Trae and the Hawks, who avoided a deflating loss last night with a solid second half. But Young has his share of enforcers. John “C-na” Collins racked up 50 points (61.8 FG%) and 19 rebounds in the last two Atlanta-Brooklyn bouts. There’s also Kevin “Fourth Querter” Huerter, whose Hawks high of 13 points (3-for-3 3FGs) in the final frame helped Young and De’Andre “The Giant” Hunter (team-high 23 points @ BRK on Jan. 1) snip the Clips last night.
      Danilo Gallinari (probable, ankle) missed all but 3 minutes of the two-game series in Brooklyn. He was held under 15 minutes yesterday and is rounding back into form.  Rookie Onyeka Okongwu was DNP’d against LA and can provide valuable floor time plugging the paint after Capela (questionable, hand; 18 rebounds vs. LAC) and Collins (11 boards, 5 blocks vs. LAC). Any defensive help Cam Reddish (questionable, Achilles) can offer tonight is gravy.
      Nash did offer a touch of kayfabe after the December 30 game, flowering his 22-year-old professional prodigy with praise. “[Trae] took a big jump from last year to this year at drawing contact and recognizing situations where he can draw contact to deceive the opponent,” Nash said postgame, as transcribed by Bleacher Report. “It’s impressive, and he’s done really well. He’s getting to the line at a league-leading rate. I’m impressed and I think it’s a real skill he’s developed.”
      With Harden sharing usage with Irving and Durant, the race to crown a new #1 contender for the free throw title is on, Young (10.9 FTAs/36) neck-and-neck with giants like Embiid (12.2) and Giannis (10.9) for that coveted spot. As The Beard (7.1) tries to catch up, pulling copious foul-call flops out of his bag of tricks tonight, it would be fun to catch Nash’s other former tutee, Pierce, calling it out: “Hey! Ref! That ain’t basketball!” Nash might think he’s Jim Cornette standing up for his Horsemen and their henchmen, but his old friend LP can bring a tennis racket to the squared circle, too.
       
      RIP Sekou! Let’s Go Hawks!
      ~lw3
    • By lethalweapon3
      Was gonna go with LeHurt but I have no idea if what he's got is painful or not. Tough break for the Pacers, but tougher for him. Hope that thing gets cleared up quickfastinahurry!
      ~lw3