Official Game Thread: Hawks at Bucks -- ECF GAME 2


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50 minutes ago, NBASupes said:

That Torrey Craig move will prove to be a killer for Milwaukee. 

Also, Milwaukee has to win the games where Jrue goes for 30+

I'm sure Middleton will go for 30 this game and jrue will be quiet a kept

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2 hours ago, NBASupes said:

That Torrey Craig move will prove to be a killer for Milwaukee. 

Also, Milwaukee has to win the games where Jrue goes for 30+

Maybe, IIRC they needed to move Craig when they acquired PJ Tucker who was instrumental in getting them past the Nets. 

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10 hours ago, lethalweapon3 said:

Bobby the Bobcat

Well my friend Bob just got a nickname for the day lol.

 

10 hours ago, lethalweapon3 said:

iso-ball, aimless passes, blown bunnies, and abject failures at boxing out to secure defensive rebounds in the clutch.

Shuuurrrttt urpp leethul u don’t KnOw! :Bud:

 

10 hours ago, lethalweapon3 said:

Trae 1, two-time league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo 0.

:smile:

 

10 hours ago, lethalweapon3 said:

That leaves Khris Middleton, also a dud in Game 1 (0-for-9 3FGs) to live up to his All-Star and Olympic-level expectations

We need to keep him in check today.

 

You the man lw3. Awesome thread let’s rock n roll and go up 2-0 in this thing!

 

GO HAWKS!!!!

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36 minutes ago, JayBirdHawk said:

Maybe, IIRC they needed to move Craig when they acquired PJ Tucker who was instrumental in getting them past the Nets. 

Was he though. He held KD to what? 40 points on 50% shooting??

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8 minutes ago, Atlantaholic said:

Was he though. He held KD to what? 40 points on 50% shooting??

It helps when you don't have to double a guy and let him score while keeping everyone else in check.

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37 minutes ago, JayBirdHawk said:

Ok, so let's see if the refs call this tonight.

 

Honestly it's kind of a joke how long it takes but if you aren't going to call it on him in the regular season then it seems dumb to start now.   I want to win but not sure i want these kind of cheap points.

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    • By lethalweapon3
      This season is already one for the rafters.
       
      Props to the pride of THE Georgia Institute of Technology! DWTS meets THWG!
      Iman Shumpert got his cha-cha on the hardwood early enough, during his decade-long NBA career, that the Yellow Jacket could simply slide through the rest. Over half of Shump’s points, rebounds, and assists came in his first four pro seasons, the last of which featured his attachment with J.R. Smith to LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers, courtesy of a trade by his first pro team, the New York Knickerbockers.
      Nearly two-thirds of his NBA starts came while suiting up for New York. Playing for the Knicks can get you places, like the express line at Sbarro’s. It might even get you the hookup with a random, enterprising R&B star. But it won’t guarantee you a shot at center stage of ABC’s hit dancing show. Not unless you make yourself a spectacle of a “star” by publicly feuding with owner Jimmy Dolan, or something like that.
      Now, winning a gold ball while hooping adjacent to a LeBron, or a Kobe, or some such, that could draw some faint curiosities as to your paso doble skills.
      It takes two teams to tango, and Shumpert’s former team gets to do that for the first time this season with the Atlanta Hawks (7:30 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, MSG Network in NYC). This time it’s in the State Farm Arena building where, last spring, the Knicks’ dreams of postseason glory began to quickly tap away.
      Tom Thibodeau’s club came into this season like a team with its hair or fire, winners of five of their first six games. That included victories over division rivals Philly and Boston, and the withstanding of a late charge by the Bulls to prevail in Chicago. Since then, the Knicks (10-9) have played in November like a team with its hair like Coach Thibs’.
      It's a back-to-back for both clubs, each having arrived in The A with somewhat differing trajectories. As “Clint the Clinic” Capela (season-highs of 23-and-17 plus 3 highlight-reel blocks @ MEM on Friday) was helping Atlanta (11-9) make quick grits of the grisly grinders in Memphis, last night, the Knicks were preparing to hop on a flight south, after getting scorched at home by the Suns.
      The Knicks have gotten up for big-name opponents, tripping up a Middleton-less Bucks team in Milwaukee near the beginning of the month, then outlasting a LeBron-less Lakers team at MSG this past Tuesday. But unlike the Hawks of late, New York hasn’t been able to string victories together. And then there were disheartening defeats at the hands of the Cavs, Pacers and Magic (twice).
      Despite the ostensible upgrade at the point guard position with Kemba Walker, ball movement has stagnated this month (1.41 assist/TO ratio, tie-28th in NBA). Despite the return of center Mitchell Robinson, the Knicks are struggling to win rebounding battles (71.4 D-Reb%, 24th in NBA). Despite the introduction of wing scorer Evan Fournier to pair with R.J. Barrett, the effectiveness with shot-making has waned (53.4 November TS%, 25th in NBA, down from 2nd in October w/ 58.2 TS%).
      Through it all, last season’s Most Improved Player award winner, Julius Randle (19.8 PPG, 42.0 FG%; 10.1 RPG and 5.0 APG), has continued since the Hawks’ playoff series with the personification of the acronym WYSIWYG. With Randle going 3-for-8 on shots last night for 9 points (6 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 TOs) in 31 minutes before he and the starters were granted an early reprieve, no one around Manhattan harbors any grudges that Trae Young and the Atlanta interlopers disrupted a path to the 2021 Finals.
      New York (33.2 pullup 2FG%, 3rd-worst in NBA) is settling frequently for isolation jumpers well outside of the paint, and Atlanta defenders will need to be mindful of closing out above the break, where the Knicks’ 37.2 3FG% matches Atlanta for 2nd-best in the league. The Hawks should be able to box out and pull away with superior halfcourt offensive designs, especially with the adroitness with which Young (27.7 PPG, 9.0 APG. 44.2 3FG%, 89.2 FT% during 7-game win streak) is reading and reacting to defensive pressure.
      The Knicks return home from Atlanta to visit Brooklyn in a few days, and then Chicago comes to town. Accordingly, they only hope the start of an eye-opening winning streak, and not the extension of a slide down the standings, can be as easy as A-B-C.  In seasons past, no matter their situation, they were ensured of playing here before a Knick-friendly crowd, using the word “friendly” loosely. Those days are past, and those obnoxious fans will continue to fall back in the rearview mirror as fans of high-quality basketball show up to The Farm proudly rocking red and yellow.
      Alright, New York and all your crazy fans! Get to steppin’.
       
       
      Let’s Go Hawks!
      ~lw3
    • By lethalweapon3
      “On second thought, LeBron… Watch MY head!”
       
      Is a branch soon to fall from The Poplar? As the Atlanta Hawks fight through the tryptophan to tip off with the Grizzlies in Memphis (8 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL and MEM), former Popovich and Budenholzer acolyte Taylor Jenkins will have to make some lineup maneuvers to address a defense (NBA-worst 115.1 D-Rating; Orlando’s 111.6 ranks next-to-last) that has uncharacteristically, for this proud franchise, become as soft as Grits and Butter.
      Memphis is 5-0 when holding teams below 110 points. But they’re 9-9, and the 4-9 side of this has become concerning. They were headed toward improving that mark on Wednesday when they held the visiting Toronto Raptors to 25 first-quarter points. Unlike the TVA, this edition of the Grizzlies have a hard time locking down the floodgates.
      Grizzlie foes have buried nearly half of their corner threes (NBA-worst 49.2 opponent 3FG%), and over 38.4 percent of their treys above-the-break, also a league-worst. Gary Trent and Precious Achiuwa showed they read their scouting reports, going 7-for-8 from beyond Beale Street on Wednesday at FedEx Forum, along the way to 37 of Toronto’s 67 second-half points, as the Raps prevailed 126-113.
      It's easy to point an accusing finger at Ja Morant (116.8 D-Rating, lowest among NBA players w/ 1000+ possessions). But Jenkins has Kyle Anderson and Brandon Clarke coming off the bench, is giving unready rookie Ziaire Williams way too much time in rotations, and has replacement center Steven Adams looking lost alongside Jaren Jackson, Jr.
      Minnesota is surging well enough on their own. But when they beat you by 43 points and score 138 in regulation (four T-Wolf guards, incl. Pat Beverley, combining to hit 16 of 26 threes), as was the case this past Saturday, alarm bells ought to be going off.
      Zach Kleiman and the Memphis front office are due for a bit of self-reflection, too, for their shallow roster construction. But Beverley was a Grizzlie for less than a week in this offseason, as the team unloaded Jonas Valanciunas and Eric Bledsoe in successive trades. The one tangible remnant aside from Adams from those deals, the struggling Jarrett Culver, is getting yo-yo’d to and from the G-League and hasn’t really found a role under Jenkins, not even as a defensive stopgap.
      Coming off a 38-34 season in 2020-21 and a tidy first-round exit versus Utah in last year’s playoffs, Jenkins is challenged to demonstrate growth and a stronger, more playoff-competitive roster. If the defensive lapses continue and young players’ development continues to stall on his watch, Memphis’ coach won’t find himself challenged for much longer.
      The Griz only give themselves a shot when they’re able to fight fire with fire, on multiple fronts. They upset the Jazz, 119-118 on Monday in Salt Lake (despite letting That Other Bogdanovic go 7-for-11 from deep) thanks to a big 28-point night from Desmond Bane to supplement Ja and Triple-J. Getting De’Anthony Melton (questionable, strained groin) back will boost the defense, but he’s not the panacea.
      The team’s second-leading scorer, Dillon Brooks only recently returned fully from an offseason non-shooting hand injury and has been high-volume, low-efficiency on offense (19.3 PPG, 30.0 3FG% in last 4 games). He’s been a net-negative when unproductive on the other side of the floor.
      Whereas the Hawks’ sixth consecutive win required pummeling the Spurs’ interior before breaking the game open in the second half with timely perimeter shots, stretching the win streak ahead of tomorrow match back home with the Knicks will necessitate an outside-in approach.
      Open shooters like Kevin Huerter (69.6 eFG% during win streak) will be available off penetration early, and Adams is unlikely to abdicate the paint when John Collins or Danilo Gallinari have clear looks at three-pointers. Later in the contest, Atlanta (10-9) can work the paint and exploit Memphis’ wafer-thin interior, as Anderson and Xavier Tillman routinely find themselves overwhelmed.
      The Hawks will need their bigs to remain patient and avoid foul trouble off of cheap hacks, particularly those that send the acrobatic Morant to the line for extra points. Boxing out on putback specialist Adams (5.3 O-Rebs per-36, 4th among NBA players w/ 20+ MPG and 10+ games) will be a key to victory as well. The Knicks arrive in the morning after hosting red-hot Phoenix at MSG. Atlanta will likely do well if they put up pinball numbers, but they must remain focused on the task at hand to avoid a TILT before heading home.
      Y’all be easy out here on Black Friday! Wrangling with strangers in a tug-of-war over the only 5G Bluetooth toaster oven left in Aisle 4 isn’t worth the hassle.
       
      Let’s Go Hawks!
      ~lw3
    • By lethalweapon3
      “Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Stayin’ Alive!”
       
       
      “Draft Tim Duncan. After that, stay alive.”
      You can bet Gregg Popovich has been thankful for the opportunity to do both. Perhaps, even in that order. He responded in true, curt Popovich fashion, after declining to discuss his approach toward Don Nelson’s career-wins record, to a reporter curious as to his personal “keys to success.” He’s now 18 wins behind Lenny Wilkens, and 21 behind Nelson. These are simple life keys that he offers. Stick around long enough for Fortune to fall into your lap. Then, don’t fumble it. Prosper, and then, live long!
      Here on the Squawk, we’ve beaten to death how thankful we were to have our team playing a role in the Big Fundamental not winding up in the greedy Celtics’ clutches. I’ll always wonder, but for the way that 1997 NBA Lottery shook out, how the landscape of the post-MJ era would have changed for the league.
      Presume Coach Pop is on the outs by 1998. With no clear avenue past Hakeem and Shaq, does David Robinson hit the hay early and retire too soon? Does Rick Pitino head to the Hall for his stellar NBA coaching career? Does the Knicks’ dream playoff season, in 1999, end in a title for Patrick Ewing and Jeff Van Gundy, making New York City all the more insufferable? Are the Spurs still in South Texas?
      Do the likes of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili become, and remain, Eurobasket hoop legends, inspiring others to stay satisfied on that side of the Atlantic? And, whither The Pop-lar Coaching Tree? Do the sideline careers of Steve Kerr and Doc Rivers ever get off the ground? Was there still time for Mike Budenholzer go back to hooping in Denmark?
      Ensuring we would never need to discover the answers, coach-GM Popovich and the Spurs’ brass didn’t get tricked into picking Keith Van Horn. And for that, all of San Antonio remains grateful, even today as the Atlanta Hawks stop by (8:30 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Bally Sports Southwest-San Antonio) in hopes of extending their win streak at AT&T Center to three in a row.
      There are more than a few fans of the NBA’s Silver-and-Black that would be thankful to live long enough to witness a Spurs club (4-12) that prospers in the years after Popovich finally calls it a day, on the sideline and in the front office.
      One thing the Spurs are doing, for better or worse, is moving the ball, roadrunner fast. They haven’t been top-ten in pace (currently 5th in NBA) since the Finals years of 2013 and 2014, with Ime Udoka and a departing Coach Bud assisting Pop.
      It’s the clearest sign of an exodus from Iso-oriented ball dominated by former Spurs LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan in recent years. Popovich is giving way to point guard Dejounte Murray (18 points, 11 assists, 10 rebounds vs. PHX on Monday) and an array of small-to-mid-sized wings like Derrick White, Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell, returnee and recent Buck Bryn Forbes, and Lonnie Walker.
      Isolation sets represent an NBA-low 2.4 percent of San Antonio’s possessions. What lingers following those former Spur stars’ departures, though, is an offense that still doesn’t embrace the three-ball. Only DeMar’s newest club, the Bulls, and the one prior to his Spurs tenure, the Raptors, come close to matching San Antonio’s current 2FG frequencies (NBA-high 68.9 percent of all shots from the field; NBA-high 33.3 2-point makes and 63.6 2-point shots per game).
      San An’s money shots (NBA-high 53.2 paint points per-48) come with a foot or two in the paint, but outside the charge semi-circle (22.3 non-restricted area paint FGAs/game, shooting 46.3%, each 2nd in NBA). When failing to achieve penetration, the Spurs are more than happy to settle for the tried-and-true mid-rangers (15.6 mid-range FGAs/game, 4th in NBA).
      The Spurs sit behind only Golden State with 69.3 PPG created off of assists. But the offensive modus operandi appears to be finding driving lanes that draw in defenders, then to float, pull-up, lob or kick out for the closest-range, most lightly-guarded shot a teammate can find. High-percentage, low-efficiency (105.5 O-Rating, 25th in NBA).
      Complicating matters for the Spurs offense are their collective struggles to, first, get to the charity stripe (NBA-low 16.8 FTAs/game), and second, to make shots from there (NBA-worst 68.3 FT%). Accidental Olympian Johnson is the sole Spur getting more than three free throw shots per game, and both he and Murray (each at 66.7 FT%) challenge the notion that two out of three ain’t bad.
      Disrupting plays with minimal contact is the name of San Antonio’s defensive game. Dejounte (2.1 SPG) leads the way, as demonstrated with his strip of an inbounds to Chris Paul for a fastbreak layup on Monday, pulling the scrappy Spurs within three points of Phoenix’s defending Western champs with 15 seconds to spare.
      Murray’s 3.9 deflections per game rank third in the league, as per NBA.com’s hustle stats, as does White’s nine charges drawn on the season (the roving Thaddeus Young isn’t far behind). When the Spurs keep themselves in contention for victories, as they did in storming back versus Phoenix, they’re skillfully building advantages in the turnover column (16.1 opponent TOs per 48, 4th-most in NBA) while limiting foul trouble (16.5 personals per-48, 2nd-fewest in NBA).
      The downside for the Spurs is the ease with which their backcourt-heavy defense (48.2 opponent paint points per-48, 3rd-worst in NBA) gets exploited in the interior, via Roll-Man P&R or Post-Up plays, nearly neutralizing their halfcourt offensive approach. Starting pivot Jakob Poeltl (7-for-9 FGs, 1-for-6 FTs, 5 O-Rebs and 4 D-Rebs vs. PHX) is getting back into form following his bout with COVID, and Popovich sprinkles in stints for Thad Young and Drew Eubanks to alleviate Keita Bates-Diop, as offseason pickup Doug McDermott (sore knee) shuffles in and out of the active lineup.
      The Spurs’ interior defense is ripe for peeling by the Hawks’ John Collins (116.0 O-Rating, 1st in NBA East and 6th overall) and Clint Capela. Opportunities abound for Atlanta to get the dormant former Spur Gorgui Dieng rolling (career-low 41.2 2FG% w/ ATL; career-best 59.1 2FG%, incl. 66.7% in 16 games last year w/ SAS), and to find mismatches inside the perimeter for Danilo Gallinari (career-low 42.6 2FG%).
      Gallo was 3-for-3 inside the perimeter during the Hawks’ 113-101 win over the Thunder back home on Monday, leading Atlanta’s bench brigade with 11 points and six rebounds. A Grizzlie last year before getting picked up off waivers by the Spurs, Dieng will likely be charged with finding the best Cajun turkey in Memphis ahead of the team’s arrival early Thursday morning.
      Absent Collins, Capela (28 points, 5 blocks and 17 boards) played the key role in aiding Trae Young (28 points, 12 assists, 7 of ATL’s 12 player TOs) and Atlanta to their second consecutive win in the Alamo City, back on April 1. The double-overtime win amid a treacherous springtime road trip was pivotal in getting the Hawks up to .500 level for the final time last season.
      Similarly, albeit at a far earlier stage, Atlanta (9-9, 1-8 in away games) would be thankful for the opportunity to enter winning territory for the last time this season. Much was made of the arduous early road schedule, but even the Hawks’ sole road victory in New Orleans was fraught with late-game danger and suspense.
      We will get to see whether Nate McMillan and the Hawks coaching staff has since done enough to keep players from reverting to bad habits, particularly on defense, when they’re far from the cozy confines of State Farm Arena (on road: 114.9 D-Rating, 3rd-worst in NBA; 11.9 opponent TO%, 2nd-lowest in NBA; 15.6 opponent fastbreak points per-48 and 48.7 opponent paint points per-48, each 4th-most in NBA).
      Enough about what might have been. Let’s get this show on the road!
       
      Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. Let’s Go Hawks!
      ~lw3
    • By lethalweapon3
      “So, shall we Shag now, or shall we Shag later?”
       
      Out went the team that has allowed the most points per game in the East. In comes the team that scores the fewest points in the West. Who is the one that will frustrate us the best?
      The homestand keeps rolling along for our Atlanta Hawks, with Mike Muscala’s Oklahoma City Thunder (7:30 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, BS OK) here today to follow up Saturday night’s act by the Charlotte Hornets at State Farm Arena. The Hawks made quite the nail-biter out of their contest against the weary visitors from Carolina, in part, by letting the Hornets collect a whopping 21 offensive caroms. They now face an OKC team that, nominally, leads the NBA with 48.4 RPG.
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      The undrafted Kenrich Williams, rookie second-rounder Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, and 2019 second-rounder Isaiah Roby came off the bench and snatched nine offensive rebounds away like candy from Al Horford and the Celtics on Saturday night, part of OKC’s square-shaped three-game road excursion that concludes with a trip home tonight.
      Nine of the Thunder’s 15 O-Rebs, leading to 12 second-chance points, came in the fourth quarter, beginning shortly after a Jayson Tatum triple widened the C’s lead to 20 points. Al’s layup with 63 seconds remaining, putting Boston back up by twelve, was supposed to close the proceedings. But sloppiness and a loss of focus ensued from the scrubs on the home side.
      A Darius Bazley putback of a missed Shai Gilgeous-Alexander free throw, a pair of ballhandling Celtic turnovers, then a three-pointer by Lugie Dort following a rebound of Kenrich’s missed three, narrowed Boston’s edge to four, pressing Ime Udoka to begrudgingly shove his starters back in to save the game with ten seconds to go.
      Despite bowing out with a 111-105 defeat on Saturday, scrappiness keeps Daigneault’s poor-shooting, low-scoring Thunder in ballgames, as it did one evening before in a 96-89 loss at Milwaukee. The world champion Bucks saw its comfy 20-point third-quarter lead evaporate, down to two, in the space of just nine basketball minutes.
      A 91-89 rockfight on Friday, with just under 30 seconds to go, ended mercifully with a 15-foot sling from Milwaukee’s goliath, Giannis, and some missed heaves by Gilgeous-Alexander. Nonetheless, for last weekend’s home teams, the later-game outcomes versus the Sooner State visitors seemed painfully unnecessary.
      Boston’s and Milwaukee’s recent game tapes ought to feel familiar to Nate McMillan, who sits tied at 696 NBA coaching wins for 19th all-time with former Milwaukee and St. Louis Hawks coach, and Knicks coaching legend, Red Holzman. Nate, who also recently passed Red for 20th all-time in regular-season games coached, doesn’t have John MacLeod on his personal radar. But once he scooches past McLeod with 12 more victories, McMillan will have 18th-place in NBA wins all to himself for a while. Get your weight up, Spoelstra!
      McMillan watched with dismay on Saturday as Eastern Conference Player of the Week finalist Clint Capela (81.5 FG%, 14.3 RPG, 1.7 BPG and 1.3 SPG in last 3 games) routinely left his man to help flail at a loose Hornet. The problem wasn’t Clint, but his teammates, who individually failed to properly rotate, box out, and grab Charlotte’s misses with intention. They looked a lot like Atlanta United standing around the net in NYC yesterday, leaving goalkeeper Brad Guzan out to dry. At least those defenders aren’t allowed to use their hands to retain possessions.
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      Muskie got the next night off in Boston after snagging a season-best nine D-Rebs and sinking a season-high 4 threes on six attempts versus the Bucks. He is playing like a 30-year-old career bench guy who knows his contract will soon expire and is at the end of his ro… I’m sorry, what’s this?
      I’m hearing that this isn’t Money Mike’s contract year? That he was brought back to OKC, on a two-year deal (club option for another $3.5 million next season) by pick-hoarding boss-man Sam Presti this past August?
      It is true that Muscala was enjoying the best statistical season of his career with the Thunder last year, arguably better than his final go-round with the 24-58 Hawks in 2017-18. But once he got shelved alongside Horford in mid-March, with a purportedly sprained ankle, the sun looked to be setting quickly on his eight-years-long tenure in The Association. Perhaps it would soon come time for “Mike Jawz” to rekindle his fledgling rap career. Make the music with your mouth, Mike!
      Things looked to be careening toward a future in beat-boxing in the summer of 2019, when the Minnesota native and free agent was shocked to find Presti rapping at his door, Masai-to-DeMarre-style, with a contract offer in his other hand. While more attention was paid to this past offseason’s pickup of Favors, a renewed contact for Muscala, two weeks Derrick’s senior, was under most everyone’s radar. Including that of Mike, who teared up at what looked like maybe his final NBA exit interview last May. Suffice to say, Sam’s a big fan.
      While the 2021 tank was certainly integral to Presti’s far-sighted plans, it was notable that OKC was a nifty 17-22, mere games behind Memphis in the rambunctious NBA West, then went on a 5-28 plummet the rest of the way after he put Muskie, Horf, and most importantly SGA (plantar fascia tear) in rice. Yes, the Thunder (6-10) have dropped four of their past five. But they have won five of the past seven games when Muscala has played. He’ll have at least one Atlanta Hawks fan, after tonight’s final buzzer, rooting him on to many more Thunder victories in the months to come.
      Longtime viewers of these long-winded threads (this keyboard’s catching a reprieve over the Turkey Break) already know that I don’t stop weighing the Trae-Luka draft-day deal with the subsequent inclusion of Cam Reddish. Floor general Trae Young’s arrival to Atlanta, in 2018, meant it was time to help pack Dennis Schröder’s bags, too.
      In a three-team deal, the German kid known as the Menace, and some French kid nicknamed TLC, headed to OKC. Moose went to Philly, while Carmelo got a nice lunch here at Mary Mac’s Tea Room. More importantly, the Hawks seemed to have a 2022 lotto-protected first-rounder coming its way.
      That extra pick looked juicy to Hawks fans back then. That was until Presti put the squeeze to the competitive veteran talent on his roster, figuring out a downright pyramidical scheme of obtaining draft picks to help desperate teams dump vets, then getting more picks to help desperate teams acquire them.
      Because 6-10 at this stage of the season is a resounding overachievement, one of the only possible first-rounders OKC has going out, not coming in, could conceivably be back in play for Atlanta. This pick bifurcates into 2024 and 2025 second-rounders if – somehow, not already when --it makes it to the next NBA Lottery.
      As the Western Conference looks more and more like the NFL’s AFC, the Thunder currently sit one full game behind Minnesota for the final prospective Play-In spot. As for the teams below them, the Kings are a royal pain, the Spurs are simply going through the motions, the Pels are up a crick without a chicken drumstick, and the Rockets, bless their hearts, have no idea what’s going on.
      One more team out West gets caught slipping – looking at you, Minnesota – and Atlanta fans could be throwing back popcorn at Play-In time. The T’Wolves remember moonwalking into a rare playoff spot, in 2018, thereby gifting Atlanta with the chance to draft Kevin Huerter in the small-p process. The dealing away of Dennis and Mike just days after that draft may reward the Hawks as Adreian Payne had done once before. Only this time around, Mike may have a personal say in that transaction transpiring.
      Now I’m not suggesting actually keeping the theoretical pick. I don’t know Duke University’s Paolo Banchero from Buford Highway’s Pollo Campero, and I’m not trying to start bathing in the waters of Lake Tankathon anytime soon. But there is a “lock” next to Oklahoma City’s line on that site, one that looks like it could be “picked” with just a little more work on their end.
      What I do find tantalizing is the maximization of near-term draft capital for the Hawks’ front office, ahead of 2022’s Trade Deadline. Atlanta could package one of both of its picks with a veteran to upgrade its roster in preparation for the, well, let me not jinx our own chances at the P-word by saying it aloud, not with our streaky Hawks (8-9) a full game behind momentary 8-seed contenders Cleveland, New York and Boston. The less the conveyance from OKC looks like a mirage, the better Travis Schlenk and company’s pre-Deadline negotiating positions to upgrade the roster for a certain kind of run.
      Jalen, Onyeka, Sharife and Skylar continue to toil in hopes of future rotational minutes. And as De’Andre works to get back up to speed, the last thing the Hawks need, going forward, is a future mid-to-high-level draft-pick for some long-range prospect, least of all their own selection.
      Continuing to avert the risk of that future tonight, Atlanta needs to be superior in execution in all avenues, from guarding OKC’s perimeter shooters and closing out without committing bailout fouls, to winning the turnover battles, avoiding the roving Dort on inbound plays, moving the ball without overdribbling and making open shots, to most importantly keeping the Thunder hopelessly one-and-done on offensive sets. As long as Atlanta takes care of fundamental business, it won’t matter what OKC’s star ballhandler does.
      “He’s like Trae, only… taller! Bigger! More versatile! A better defender!” I, along with many others, fell for the “Like Trae, but better,” hype surrounding the pro-tential of Gilgeous-Alexander, who would be the Hornets’ main-stager right now, had the #11 pick not been swapped down for the Clippers’ next pick, Miles Bridges, on 2018’s Draft Day (not a lot of Who Won The Trade talk around that one, eh?). Both Trae and Shai earned their big-bag extensions this summer. Yet, as Trae displayed more recently, your ability to shine, as a young and playoff-inducing superstar, often comes down to the company you keep.
      Shai’s not, “like Trae,” and he’s not “better.” With his 6-foot-6 frame, SGA is naturally a better shooter than Trae from the field, and he ought to be better along the boards, as he is. But his shot-creation skills, from a team-leading guard standpoint, pale in comparison, even without veteran talents paired alongside him to siphon away the usage. With steelier defenders and a savant defense-oriented coach around him, a more dedicated and durable Young has been able to narrow the gap on that side of the floor.
      Reddish’s scoring binge in the past two games, and Capela’s 20-and-15 evening in the win over Charlotte, has them now comfortably joining three other active Hawks (discounting the injured De’Andre Hunter) in double-digit scoring this season. With a repeat of his 36 points over the past two games, Huerter could soon follow suit, granting Young and the Hawks the deep and balanced offense that had been touted, on paper, in the run up to this season.
      Stuck much like Luka in the West, Shai is largely left to chart his own path back into playoff-caliber territory. Very much unlike Luka, he's awaiting less experienced talents like Bazley, Poku, Tre Mann and Giddey to fill the gaps.
      Young spun straw from the outset with the Bazes and Bembries, but eventually benefitted from the healthy presences of Capela, ex-Clipper legend Lou Williams and ex-Thunder star Danilo Gallinari. SGA, who dipped his toe in playoff waters with Lou and Gallo’s Clips and Gallo’s Thunder during his first two trial-by-fire seasons, will need crafty vets around once more, in order to make his next scene-stealing postseason breakthrough.
      It was assumed in the short term that the essential veteran in tandem with Gilgeous-Alexander would be Favors, by default. But it is becoming more evident that Muscala, of all people, may be the keeper, perhaps even the player other GMs will pray Presti dangles for deals, once it’s time to talk turkey about picks and prospects as the Deadline approaches.
      It would be great, come March 30th with a handful of this season’s games remaining, for Atlanta to be in a position to “help” Moose and Shai with a playoff push in OKC. But that is far into the future, and the Hawks have more immediate concerns at hand as they look to sweep their homestand and sustain their newfound momentum. Having trae-ded places on their professional trajectories, Young and his aspiring Hawks have no time for regrets about stealing any of Shai’s Thunder.
       
      Let’s Go Hawks!
      ~lw3
    • By lethalweapon3
      “The Hawkman has 24 hours to reveal himself.”
       
      Don’t let the smooth 10-7 record fool you. The Charlotte Hornets, like the Atlanta Hawks, are on the mend and on the rise!
      LaMelo Ball, Miles Bridges and the Hornets are in town (7:30 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast in ATL and CLT; NBATV elsewhere; 92.9 FM in ATL) at State Farm Arena, and they are bugs on a mission.
      Similar to Atlanta (7-9), Charlotte had to withstand an early-season downturn as they took their lumps on the road and in back-to-backs. Having lost to Cleveland on the business end of a back-to-back at home, coach James Borrego’s club headed out west and watched their losing skid extend to five in a row. Then the trip turned back east, and his team has since ventured north in the standings.
      First, there was victory in a showdown with Ja Morant in Memphis. Then, a packed-house homestand kicked off with a win over future number-retiree Kemba Walker’s Knicks. Following that, the Hornets became the first NBA club, as per Elias Sports, since 2017-18’s Hornets to topple the NBA’s sitting conference leaders in consecutive games. They denied Charlotte native Steph Curry’s Dubs another dub, before outlasting Brad Beal’s Wizards.
      The Hornets, coming off the 121-118 home win versus Indiana last night, are 0-3 on the back ends of back-to-backs, and like the Hawks did earlier this week, they’re aiming to rise to 1-3 in this category tonight. They also embark on a three-game road swing through much of their division-rival’s towns, with the rematch in D.C. on Monday, and the Magic in O-Town on Wednesday. These games, in particular, are a huge deal for Charlotte.
      Even as Atlanta plans (soon?) to raise their rare Southeast Division flag from their most recent banner season, having gone worst to first in-division since 2019-20, the Hornets, around the Carolinas in some form of fauna since 1988, have never been able to hoist a division banner of any stripe.
      Kemba’s and Borrego’s mad dash in 2019 for the Southeast title (and, by extension, a playoff spot, since the entire division was awful) came up short by three games to 42-40 Orlando, and that’s as close to the mark as they’ve been in a long time. Steph’s father Dell’s 1994-95 edition of purple and teal finished two games behind the Pacers for what was the Central Division crown at the time.
      If you’re the Red Sox, AL East pennants don’t add up to a hill of beans in Beantown, in and of themselves. But each one does scream out, suggestively, that in one particular Anno Domini, Boston finished a season ahead of the hated Yanks.
      The Hawks and the Hornets, as Chris Paul might tell the tale, don’t really despise each other, nothing like those longtime, bitter baseball rivals up north. But one thing fans of Atlanta’s and Charlotte’s teams with hoop dreams have in common is, we’re sick and tired of Miami acting like they’re Nique’s manna from the heavens. Short of a Larry O’Brien, nothing says, “we outwitted the smarmy Pat Riley this year!”, quite like a Division Champs banner.
      The heat, now one half-game out of 1st in the East, already cruised past Charlotte once last month. Charlotte understands that the best way to at least keep chase with the current division leaders is to rattle off as many divisional wins as possible, and that opportunity, continuing tonight, avails itself.
      After a post-Thanksgiving back-to-back versus Minnesota and at Houston, the only to-date schedule that, by most measures, is stronger than Atlanta’s, ratchets up again before the Bugs and Birds collide here again on December 5. That game will be the first of a back-to-back for both them and the Hawks.
      Both Borrego and coach Nate McMillan’s crews are trying to spiffy up their once-sagging defenses. A couple of overtime games register into it, but the Hornets (25th in D-Rating) have allowed a league-high 113.6 PPG. Also factoring in is a departure, for Charlotte, from snail-paced tempos (102.16 possessions per-48, 3rd in NBA), as Borrego transitions fully from the Kemba years to hand the offense over to LaMelo (7.6 RPG, 7.5 APG; 38.5 3FG%, 92.7 FT%).
      Just about all of Ball’s season-high 32 points (plus 8 dimes and 11 boards) were needed to outpace Indiana last night. But despite allowing 118 points in regulation, his team held their prior four vanquished foes to 98.3 PPG on 40.0% shooting from the field (25.3 3FG%).
      He’s no De’Andre Hunter, yet the defensive activity from the star of Real Baby Mama Dramas of the Queen City has been sorely missed. P.J. Washington (1.7 blocks per-36) remains out indefinitely, after hyperextending his elbow seven games into the season. Charlotte has ramped up the playing time for Washington’s fellow UK Wildcat, Nick Richards (2.8 blocks per-36), in part to account for Washington’s absence and to keep from wearing down starting center and offseason addition Mason Plumlee.
      Like the Hornets, the Hawks are finding ways to adapt. Atlanta’s defensive efficiency improved to 110.9 (tied with Orlando for 27th in NBA) after throttling Boston by a 110-99 score on Wednesday evening, the first Hawks opponent to be held in double-digit scoring over Atlanta’s past 12 contests. A defensive gem from Cam Reddish (3 steals and a block) on Wednesday helped make Jayson Tatum’s 34-point night taste like empty calories for Boston, and teammates helped keep Tatum’s teammates (6-for-29 3FGs) tranquil from downtown.
      John Collins isn’t the only one in the Dirty South Division who has been rounding out his game beyond his aerial exploits. Keeping up with JC’s T-shirts, mask coverings of Miles Bridges, flinging the ball past Clint Capela, are selling like hoe cakes in the 704.
      But Bridges has crossed over from Just a Dunker into Most Improved Player territory as Charlotte’s leading scorer (20.8 PPG on 16.7 shots per game, up from 12.7 and 9.4 as a sixth-man last season). Miles’ full-floor presence (6.1 D-Rebs per game, behind only LaMelo’s 6.2) also alleviates pressure on Gordon Hayward (41.8 3FG%) to be a stout post presence at both ends.
      While he’s not shooting the rock with high efficiency in the paint (40.0 FG% from 3-to-10 feet, as per bball-ref) or on the perimeter (33.9 3FG%), the frequency of Bridges' high-efficiency targets (just 3 of 163 2FGAs beyond 10 feet) help maximize his on-court production. Ball and the Hornets could stand to initiate Miles' touches more often in the paint, where his 77.8 FG% (on just 2.3 shots per game, as per nba.com stats) ranks 5th in the league (min. 10 games & 2 paint FGAs).
      Plumlee, by comparison, gets almost double Bridges’ paint touches, although he has the sense to pass safely out of most of them (NBA-high 41.0 pass%). Despite the occasional brilliance of Ball, the Hornets (NBA-high 30.9 PPG on spot-up plays), even with gunners like Terry Rozier and Kelly Oubre, are committed to moving the pill effectively. While playing at a high pace, all five starters average at-or-above three assists per game, and their 1.90 assist/TO team ratio ranks third in The Association.
      Thanks to Bogdan Bogdanovic (season-high-tying 6 assists w/ no TOs vs. BOS; 2.6 APG, down from 3.3 last season), the Hawks are beginning to realize the importance of not simply letting the ball stick wherever Trae Young (last 7 games: 9.1 APG, 5.3 TOs/game) hurls it. After Bogi, only Collins and the thawing bench guard Delon Wright (each w/ 2.1 APG; Wright had 5 assists and no TOs vs. ORL) average over two assists per game for Atlanta.
      Not every pass delivered from Young is required to result in a shot attempt, although the Hawks seem to take this notion a tad too much to heart (NBA-low 22.1 catch-and-shoot FGAs/game; 55.4 C&S eFG%, 5th-highest in NBA). The more confident and creative the Hawks (2.13 assists/TO ratio this week, 5th in NBA) get with their ballhandling decisions, particularly off catches from Trae, the less opponents can predictably drill down on their brightest star.
      Charlotte’s daring and dazzling playmakers make them must-see TV in the Land O' League Pass. But for those attending games in their stadium, they’d love to see at least one flag, commemorating a division title or two, make its way up into the rafters soon. Certainly, before Walker’s number gets up there beside Bobby Phills’.
      A division banner would mean as much to the fans as the team quenching its five-year-long playoff drought, if not more. But getting there will require beating the other division darlings, past and present, that stand in their way.
      Tonight’s game is shaping up to be a veritable springboard. But while it may set up a vault for the victor, their opponents may find themselves trying to avert another dive. Today, and come April, whose wings will be flying the highest?
       
      Let’s Go Hawks!
      ~lw3