Official Game Thread: Mavericks at Hawks -- The Season Opener!


lethalweapon3
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2 hours ago, lethalweapon3 said:

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“We finally won something!”

 

You like mavericks? We’ve got your mavericks, right here. In this town!

As with all things gamethreads, we have to go back a way for a prime example. We’ll swing it to the late 1980s, featuring a former tight end, D-Lineman, and two-time SEC champion with his UGA Bulldogs, the son of a 1940s UGA Dawgs hero, the pride of prestigious Buckhead (not City)’s Dykes High School in Atlanta as its former quarterback. A couple decades removed from his gridiron glories, Billy Payne was a mover and a shaker in the white-collar world.

By then, Payne had presided as a lawyer and executive at major financial and real estate institutions with influences spanning the region and the globe. But like many a native Georgian and resident Atlantan present and past, Billy had quite a dream, a vision conceived on a random Sunday in church. When he relayed his reverie to his fellow bigwigs, they would tell him he needed to wake up and smell the coffee. Or, perhaps, swill another beer.

ANOTHER American-hosted Summer Olympic Games? Only this time, in the South? In Georgia, no less? Centered in what was often derided as the nation’s worst pro sports town? The place legendary AJC writer Lewis Grizzard affectionately dubbed, “Losersville”?

Entering its third decade trying to keep professional sports afloat, Atlanta’s baseball heroes were still seeking its first playoff victory -- not just a series, but a single game. The annual decline in regular season results, after getting swept in the 1982 NLCS, was congruent with the drop in fans venturing south of downtown Atlanta to watch the Bravos play. By 1988, the club was enduring its losing-est season since 1935, two MLB towns ago.

“Fall is glum in the Loss City of Atlanta,” scribed Sports Illustrated’s Rick Reilly in that summer of 1988. “The Braves fall, then the leaves fall, then the Falcons fall.” At least the baseball team’s co-tenants had a solitary playoff win, an NFL wild card game from 1978, to hang their helmets on.

The puny single-digit-win returns in most of the regular seasons that followed had the foxy Falcons mired in a swamp of their own making, the NFL’s worst team in 1987. Save us, #1 draft pick Aundray Bruce! Their owners essentially said, “Save us, Atlanta city and Georgia state coffers, with a new domed stadium. You wouldn’t want us running off to some Nique-forsaken burg like Jacksonville, now, would you? Would you???”

There was hardly a flicker when the pro-hockey Flames were shipped out at the beginning of the Eighties. Not even Miracle on Ice Olympic goaltender hero Jim Craig was enough to draw ice hockey fans and, more importantly, money, to downtown Atlanta’s luxury-suite-less Omni Coliseum. As Payne spoke of Olympic grandeur in Atlanta, in 1988, the recipient home of the Flames was celebrating not only the completion of a Winter Games, but an NHL President’s Trophy, and the embarking of an eventual run to the Stanley Cup.

The owner and seller of the Atlanta hockey franchise to Calgary in 1980, original Atlanta Hawks owner and Omni developer Tom Cousins, would level with Payne years later, when the latter shared his Olympic-sized ideas. “Billy,” Cousins recalled advising in a Golf Digest profile of Payne, “I think you’d be wasting your time and money. And I’m sure he got that from most places he went.”

Besides, many an American pondered, nobody wants to watch a bunch of 30-year-old Bobans thumping on our hastily-collected crew of NCAA All-Americans, not on our home turf. And wait, didn’t we just have the Games here a few years ago? No nation had ever hosted Summer Games as recently a dozen years apart. Why are we spending *our* time and money, taxpayer largesse in particular, trying to woo the world’s amateur-sports fans back here again, already?

Oh, and this wasn’t just any quadrennial jock-fest we’d be hunting. These would be the Centennial Games, the 100th anniversary of the initial “modern Olympics” effort in Greece back in 1896, a time I imagine when Greek pankration still had a Dream Team. The clear-cut favorites around the globe, Athens (not the quaint college town where amateur-athlete Billy excelled) had applied enough friendly pressure on the International Olympic Committee that most respectable metros and nations around the world had enough sense to just sit this run out.

Earlier efforts to drum up local support for Olympic bids died predictably on the vine. The city of Atlanta was mired in global disrepute for unsolved cases of missing and murdered children. Beyond the city bounds, Georgia was getting depicted in the media as an unwelcome haven of Southern hos-pi-tility, between Deliverance, Miss Oprah Goes to Forsyth, and The Big Boss Man.

To kickstart the Eighties, the state’s most globally-prominent native son was a loser, specifically, the first elected president since 1932 to lose in his attempt at presidential incumbency. The city’s best pro team squandered its chance at proving itself a peer of America’s Team, the Dallas Cowboys. As the decade neared its end, only the Hawks had the look of a possible contender in Atlanta, while Georgia’s most renowned athletic product was, at that moment, a Dallas Cowboy himself.

There were the social and geopolitical schisms, going back from at least Mexico City through Munich, Montreal and Moscow, and the exorbitant municipal expenses that went unrecouped whenever the Games left town, that had many critics rightfully questioning whether this pursuit was worth one red cent anywhere, much less here.

Most anyone envisioning a 1996 Olympics in Atlanta would not have given it a second thought, given all the “Losersville” backdrop and all the dismissive scoffing. But Billy Payne was not most anyone.

Merriam-Webster’s defines a “maverick” as “a person who does not conform to generally accepted standards and customs.” Custom would dictate being gentlemanly enough to let Athens enjoy its Olympic centennial, granting enough time to get Atlanta’s reputation for pro sports off the mat, and Georgia’s stalled economic climate back in gear, for efforts much further into the future.

Payne, however, was a maverick with means, one with considerable pull in the boardrooms. To lug his dream toward reality, he had to get other mavericks on board to share his vision.

A former U.S. Congressman, Andrew Young endured a controversial and brief run as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. But he rebounded well in his return to local politics. Through much of the Eighties, Atlanta’s mayor pushed for expansion of both international investment and minority enterprises in his city’s reforming economy.

Payne, who originally convened an affluent professional group of White colleagues to brainstorm about the Games, recognized Ambassador Young as a suitable champion to bridge private-sector support with skeptical Black, minority, and/or poor and middle-class citizens, particularly those that held leadership positions and political clout.

Both Payne and Young recognized that in Atlanta’s pocket was the most recognized commercial product brand on Earth. However, the Coca-Cola Company’s CEO, Cuban-born American Roberto Goizueta, was still freshly licking wounds gained from the biggest protests anyone around town would see for a while.

Coca-Cola spent the early 80s quietly reformulating its fizzy brown soft drink. Eventually, Coke unveiled a new flagship beverage, “New Coke”, that would win many a Pepsi Challenge, since it tasted too much like the beverage of their bitter rivals from up north. The sarcastic adage, “Oh, THAT idea will go over like New Coke!”, supplanted lead balloons as a result of Goizueta’s folly.

The late Coke chairman would not only keep his job until his passing in the mid-90’s, but he’d have his name tied, Wharton-style, to Emory’s business college. Coca-Cola turned tail on “New Coke,” but not before accidentally creating a feverish demand, for an iconic, “Classic” product that the world’s consumers had hitherto taken for granted. In the interim, Goizueta needed desperately to take up a new cause that could return his company to Atlanta’s, and the South’s, good graces. Enter Messrs. Payne and Young.

Young, who was with his ally Dr. Martin Luther King on the day of the civil rights leader’s 1968 assassination, understood ways in which the city could leverage its history with civil rights and “rising from the ashes” to enhance its profile as an internationally progressive and influential locale.

Atlanta had an expanding interstate freeway and a spiffy new rail transit system coursing through its central city, a transport backbone feeding directly into an airport, regional hub to both Eastern and Delta Airlines, that was swiftly asserting its place among the world’s busiest. Young’s city also had what was emerging as the nation’s largest convention center, in the shadow of the Omni.

Witnessing the success Peter Ueberroth had in leveraging private finance to offset the local costs of the 1984 Games in Los Angeles, Payne sought to copy that model. He recognized the value gained by using existing sporting venues, like the Omni and UGA and Georgia Tech’s coliseums, for prospective Olympic events.

Further, it helped to establish ready-made plans for post-Games operations of new venues, from the Georgia International Horse Park, the forthcoming Georgia Dome, and Tech’s new aquatic center, to the notable conversion of Olympic Stadium into a new home for the Bravos. Tech’s central location and mostly-empty summertime campus made for an ideal Olympic Village site. The city and state paired up to clear land near the Omni for an Olympic fan celebration zone, transitioning the space into intown parkland.

Beyond his corporate mavericks, like Goizueta, and his public-private partnership mavericks, like Young, Payne also had the ear of a sports and media maverick. The sitting owner of the Atlanta Hawks and his self-styled baseball version of “America’s Team”, Ted Turner was thriving, even when his local teams were spinning their wheels. This was due to the wildfire success of his 24-hour news network, and his sports-flavored “superstation”, latching onto the rise of cable and satellite television.

An avid sailor who earned the nickname, “Captain Courageous” as 1977’s winner of the prestigious America’s Cup, Turner the media exec established the Goodwill Games in 1986. They were ostensibly his attempt to ease pressures on amateur sporting due to capitalist-communist policy fights disrupting participation in the Olympics. He proved capable of not just successfully fielding the events in Moscow, but also showcasing the power of his Atlanta-based television networks, broadcasting a multitude of live contests internationally while limiting the need for tape-delays.

Payne didn’t begin petitioning his dream in earnest until 1987. Yet by the spring of 1988, with the aid of maverick leaders like Young, Goizueta and Turner, Atlanta had eclipsed Nashville, San Francisco, and the early favorite, Minnesota’s Twin Cities, to nab the US Olympic Committee’s bid as America’s submission to the IOC.

Ranked 36th among cities in U.S. Census population at the time, Atlanta making it through the “first round,” and decisively so by a 14-2 vote over Minneapolis, raised plenty of eyebrows, plus a few guffaws and snickers around big-sports-media towns like New York and Philadelphia. “It’s Atlanta? Seriously?”

The USOC’s president considered a 1996 victory for America an impossibility, given all the attention demanded by the freaky Greeks. Other USOC officers agreed that any serious push to field another Games in the States, following L.A. and Lake Placid, was premature. To the US committee, Atlanta was intended as merely a sentimental vote, a tip of the cap to Payne and the local leaders’ hopes to be acknowledged as a worldly, big-league metropolis. Here’s to you, Atlanta. Who knows? You “might” even win, someday!

If any North American nation was securing an Olympic repeat anytime soon, the prevailing thought went, it would have to be Canada. Despite the debacles of ’76 in Montreal, the Canadians were submitting their second-largest city, Toronto, and their nation’s mild summer climes, for the ’96 Games, shortly after concluding a critically lauded Winter Games in Calgary. Yet while Toronto’s bid came with ardent opposition willing to travel to IOC meetings in protest, Young and local leaders were able to keep foes of Atlanta’s promotion relatively small, localized, and late to the party.

By starting its formal efforts late in the USOC and IOC processes, Atlanta’s contingent stymied the foment of organized local, and international, resistance. They sent a multi-racial “Dream Team” of enthusiastic women and men to the IOC meeting in Tokyo for Selection Day in September 1990. The perception of a prepared and diverse American crowd ready and eager to roll out the welcome mat for the IOC, standing alongside bitter Canadian protestors, would not go unnoticed by the committee.

Georgia’s diverse 300-person delegation also contrasted with those brought by Manchester, England, and Bogdan Bogdanovic’s hometown. Belgrade was awash in ethnic strife and political unrest. With the Yugoslavian city eliminated in opening-round IOC voting, as Mike Davis at The Medal Count blog noted, top-seeded Athens found itself surrounded by four “Anglosphere” challengers.

As one city would be eliminated in each round of IOC voting, those delegates largely cast their votes for another Anglosphere city, rather than Athens. The former ambassador Young’s pull with African, Middle Eastern and Asian voters carried underdog upstart Atlanta through each round. Feeling the heat, the Athens contingent went from feeling self-assured of victory to crying foul about this well-heeled, and amazingly prepared, American interloper.

“The Olympic flame will not be lit with oil,” a grouchy Athenian newspaper editorial complained, “but with Coca-Cola.” The Greeks entered Tokyo with its main message to the committee being, “regardless of our flaws, you’d better hand us the Centennial Games, or we may never bid again,” a threat that proved idle, and unwise. They demanded their A-plus, without taking their homework, or anyone else in their class, seriously.

Coke, being a longtime Olympic sponsor, gave Atlanta a leg-up that no competitor was prepared to counter, until it was too late. So did the application of American technical wizardry, including computer-generated animation by a firm that would later be known to larger audiences as PIXAR, in the 1990 U.S. bid presentation.

That September, it all came together. And yet, as Juan Antonio Samaranch decreed, “The International Olympic Committee has awarded the 1996 Olympic Games to the City of… At-lanta!”, the moment was a stone-cold global stunner, and an over-the-top-rope regional plancha. The scene around Underground Atlanta seemed every bit as surreal as it was jubilant.  Specifically in all-matters sports, Atlantans were unaccustomed to good fortune in competition, and especially clinching what they worked so zealously to earn.

“Atlanta?”, had become, “It’s Atlanta?” within roughly a calendar year. In the space of two-and-half more years, “It’s Atlanta?” had become, “It’s Atlanta!” On this September day, there was joy in Losersville, as Atlanta was a genuine “world champion” in the arena of sports for the first time. Other towns could fuss with each other about “Rings” until the cows came home. But for us, five colorful, interlocking ones would do just fine.

One overjoyed attendee at Underground’s celebration shared with the AJC: “We finally won something!” Each word leaps from the page, as an exclamation unto itself. We! Finally! Won! Something!

Indeed, Atlanta did win something. To a greater extent, Georgia prevailed. The South, in a good way, prevailed. America prevailed. But none of it happens without a maverick willing to defy “It’s not your turn,” “They’re not sophisticated enough,” and, “He’s too little!” customs, seeing past all the reasonable doubts and unreasonable constructs to paint a bigger picture that no one else, at the outset, could.

The Georgian who made the Olympic Dream happen couldn’t see it quite as clearly as he would in another significant capacity decades later, but Billy Payne would come to learn that, even to a self-made maverick, big dreams cannot be realized in a vacuum. A committed collective of talented mavericks, diverse in ways that are more than just skin-deep, have to coalesce in order to turn notions of “Impossible!” into, “I’m possible!”

That’s the feat that faces one of Atlanta’s, and America’s, biggest sports mavericks around today. Trae Young graces State Farm Arena (You made it! Welcome back, Hawks fans. 7:30 PM Eastern, TNT, 92.9 FM in ATL) before an adoring crowd and an opposing team from Dallas that fashions itself as “Mavericks”. Not even six months ago, a nationally-televised, highly anticipated season-opener on TNT Thursday featuring Young and 2018 draft-mate Luka Doncic – in Trae’s downtown Atlanta NBA building, no less – seemed impossible. And yet, here we are!

A quarter century has passed since Atlanta made good on its promise and welcomed the world. Between Samaranch’s mealy-mouthed attempt to qualify praise of the hosts’ endeavors, the sting of the mid-Games park bombing, and the central city’s economic lurches once the Olympic high died down, you could understand the locals feeling a bit jaded, in the aftermath and ensuing years of ‘96.

Anyone expecting Atlanta to become some American utopia as a result of the Olympics coming to town was due to be in for a good measure of disappointment. But the region has transformed, in strange and unpredictable ways, including on the sports pages (remember sports pages?). Over the course of the past 25 years, Atlanta has shed its “Losersville” pro-sports wound. The new scar to rip off is called, “Can’twinitallville”.

The Bravos would shock the baseball world with a worst-to-first sprint in 1991, then run headfirst into one wall after another until the year before the Olympics. In defiance of their first 25 years of existence in town, they’d proceed to win ten more consecutive division titles after breaking through with its first World Series win in 1995. They would claim seven more such banners over the past 12 seasons, including four in a row. And yet, fans can only hope the second World Series trophy will arrive very, very soon.

The Falcons. You all know what happened. No, not that time, that other time. The Dream. Hmph. Hey, the Hawks won 60 games that one time, that was cool. Thrasher? Why, I hardly know her!

At least Atlanta United was able to defy the “Can’twinitall” gravity in our sport-mosphere, once in its first couple seasons of pro-soccer contention. We’re nearly three years removed from their breakthrough MLS championship. Largely, though, because of the other longstanding teams finding creative ways to come up short, if they come up at all, the MLS Cup celebration at Magic City still feels fresh.

Through it all, Atlanta has had its share of athletic mavericks blaze into town -- the Prime Times, the Number Sevens and Number Elevens, the Highlight Films, the Fab Five Freddies, the Angels and the Ices. It helps to have architects, like Alex Anthopoulos, Darren Eales and the Hawks’ Travis Schlenk, with the skills and foresight to identify them, and to build high-caliber teams around them.

While these standout athletes get Atlanta close to the pin on occasion, to do what King Josef accomplished and nail a hole-in-one, these otherworldly talents must assess the maverick spirits within the people that surround them, and then forge environments in and beyond the sporting venue conducive to championship-quality contention.

Such are the tasks that face Trae Young (9.4 APG, 2nd in NBA in 2020-21, and 25.3 PPG), coming off an ascendant NBA Playoffs run (28.8 PPG, 9.5 APG) that now has the rising fourth-year point guard on a first-name basis in sports markets like New York and Philadelphia that, no matter their own shortcomings, could always take Atlanta and its “Can’twinitallville” reputation for granted. Until now.

Bold and unbothered, crafty and cunning, recalibrating and unrelenting, Trae exudes the qualities that are hallmarks of people we identify as mavericks. But to achieve his ultimate ends, he needs other mavericks, willing and able to collaborate with him, letting him lead as he continues applying what he learns along the way.

There’s the top-20-winning-coach maverick in Nate McMillan, who learned much about himself along the way to dismissing his “Can’twinatplayofftime” reputation, perhaps once and for all. There’s the league-leading-rebound maverick in Clint Capela, and the model-of-efficiency-with-mad-boosties maverick in John Collins, who will now spend years together redefining what a modern NBA frontcourt looks like. That’s thanks to real estate maverick Tony Ressler, who showed this summer that parsimoniousness, unlike some owners of NBA clubs on the rise, won’t get the best of him.

There’s the net-scorching perimeter-shot maverick in Bogdanovic, whose surge as a healthy starter this past April, together with tactical improvements from McMillan, set the stage for the Hawks’ fascinating turnaround (27-11, following a lackluster 14-20 start) to become the NBA’s unexpected Southeast Division champions.

Then, there’s the legion of mavericks-in-training, from De’Andre Hunter, Kevin Huerter and Cam Reddish at the wings, to local product Sharife Cooper at the point, to Cooper’s fellow rookie Jalen Johnson and Onyeka Okongwu. Whether it was during critical junctures in the Playoffs or the free-wheeling Summer League, these up-and-comers have already had some shining moments, each demonstrating that when it comes to revealing true maverick potential, they have only scratched the surface.

There’s a definitive difference between being a maverick and being, well, a “Mav”. It is possible to be both. Sharing space with Trae under the net on the SI magazine cover, as Reilly’s former rag previewed the NBA’s 75th season, Luka Doncic has been brilliant on the court (11 triple-doubles over 66 games in 2020-21) while lugging former Internet maverick Mark Cuban’s franchise back into perennial playoff position.

How much further the big-M Mavericks can navigate, through the rough-and-tumble Western Conference during the regular season, and whether they can become much more than an intriguing first-round exit, depends on how well-conditioned Doncic can remain, and how many other small-m mavericks Doncic has at his disposal.

While I know little of his overseas offseason regimen, this summer, Luka has certainly thrown his considerable weight around. He pushed out his championship-winning head coach, the on-paper longtime GM, and Cuban’s riverboat-gambling maverick pal, the fellow that seemed to be truly pulling basketball-operation strings behind the scenes. The point guard who helped Dallas’ prior star maverick claim their franchise’s first NBA title a decade ago, Jason Kidd takes the head coaching reins.

Kidd has spent many of his recent years on the sidelines fine-tuning the point guard skills of superstars who would customarily be forwards. He’s expected to do more of the same with Luka (35.0 usage%, 2nd in NBA last season; 8.6 APG, 4.3 TOs/game), who doesn’t have much of a learning curve in that department. To advance this club further, Luka and Kidd need their one-time unicorn to morph into the transformative maverick that Dallas (and previously New York) thought they were getting.

Averaging just over 13-and-5 in Dallas’ seven-game series loss to the Clippers, while shooting under 30 percent on threes, 7-foot-3 Kristaps Porzingis is now Dallas’ full-time option at the four-spot, with Dwight Powell serving as the starting pivot. “I want him to be who he is, and that’s a basketball player,” says Kidd, proponent of the league’s fashionable “position-less basketball,” of Porzingis. “I want him to feel comfortable on the floor in any spot.”

Like former Mav and new Hawk backup point guard Delon Wright, the Mavs have an adequate assistant ball-caddie in Jalen Brunson. But Kidd needs his other basketball players, from Porzingis on down, to commit to moving the rock (22.8 assists per-48 in 2020-21, 26th in NBA, even with Doncic), especially in the rare moments Doncic gets a breather.

If not Porzingis, can the returning Tim Hardaway, Jr. be a maverick in thus-far unforeseen ways? Can it be Dorian Finney-Smith (9.8 PPG), who finished third behind Luka and Timmy in floor time, or former Knicks shooter Reggie Bullock, or Bucks bench man Sterling Brown, expanding their repertoire? Can a young gun, like second-year swingman Josh Green, emerge to be that reliable second- or third-wheel that helps free the offense from stagnation?

Dallas finished its preseason scrimmages tied for first with Golden State in averaging 29.8 assists per contest, while committing just 13.0 turnovers (3rd-fewest in NBA), and it wasn’t all Luka doing the dishing. If Coach Kidd can get successful ball movement to carry over into the next 82 games (please, hoop gawds, let there be 82 this season), and find more on-ball stoppers to cluster around Doncic as his own defense improves, Dallas might be a legitimate postseason threat for reasons beyond #77. If not, Doncic may be demanding more staff members, on and off the court, to hit the bricks.

Unfettered by any star-player distractions or setbacks, Atlanta enters 2021-22 with a clearer understanding of who their current and future mavericks are, certainly more so than the “Mavs.” For the Hawks, it’s a matter of teammates helping each other realize their full capabilities, individually and collectively, and Trae Young is proving the be the kind of facilitative maverick that makes this happen.

Despite this summer’s postseason breakthrough, no one among the NBA media is out over their skis about the Hawks’ chances at title contention, not just yet. Rather, they’re resuming the position the USOC gave Billy Payne and Atlanta back in 1988. Great effort, here’s your laurels. While the world turns their attention back to the prohibitive favorites, Atlanta, just stay at it and, who knows? You “might” even win something, someday.

By season’s end, with the rise of Atlanta’s many mavericks, we could bear witness to a stunning and groundbreaking outcome -- one where “might” makes right!

 

Thank you, Squawkdonors! Let’s Go Hawks!

~lw3

That was awesome! Took me 18 min to read but worth every word. Slaying is early is lethal! :applause:

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2 hours ago, lethalweapon3 said:

And yet, fans can only hope the second World Series trophy will arrive very, very soon.

What a win tonight! Please yes let’s end it tomorrow with Fried! Exciting time for Atlanta indeed! 

 

2 hours ago, lethalweapon3 said:

Through it all, Atlanta has had its share of athletic mavericks blaze into town -- the Prime Times, the Number Sevens and Number Elevens, the Highlight Films, the Fab Five Freddies, the Angels and the Ices. It helps to have architects, like Alex Anthopoulos, Darren Eales and the Hawks’ Travis Schlenk, with the skills and foresight to identify them, and to build high-caliber teams around them.

Dope paragraph prolly my fav. 

2 hours ago, lethalweapon3 said:

While I know little of his overseas offseason regimen, this summer, Luka has certainly thrown his considerable weight around.

:sarcastic:

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23 minutes ago, lethalweapon3 said:

Oh my…

"I mean, I think Mark had this idea that maybe we could work together, [that] the stuff that he's good at I might be deficient at and vice versa," Voulgaris said. "[Nelson is] more of a, kind of like a wheeler-dealer, like when you shake his hands, you want to make sure your rings are still there. Not in a bad way, but he's that guy. He's a deal maker. He's a broker. My working relationship with Donnie Nelson was seeing him every once in a while and getting a fist bump. That was it. Whether it was a fist-bump text message or a fist bump in person, that was his thing. He was very nice and cordial to my face, [but] I think threatened by me."

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10 minutes ago, JeffS17 said:

Does anyone know what jerseys we're wearing tonight?  I haven't been able to find that anywhere

Wish we would bust out the MLK! I know we won’t but we should, we dominated in those.

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      Coach James Borrego’s hive has only enjoyed one two-day siesta this season, prior to the three-day break preceding tonight’s tipoff. It has been 17 days and counting since they’ve had a day off following a home game (their 7-2 home record, now, the best in the East), and tonight’s game will be their NBA-high 16th away game. They’ve only played once at home in their past seven contests, as Philly, resting since emerging victorious here on Friday, awaits the Hornets’ arrival to Spectrum Center tomorrow for a two-games-in-three-days affair.
      Atlanta needed all of last week’s 72-hour regrouping time just to survive the Pacers, back on Wednesday in Indiana. It’s the Hawks’ only victory since their seven-game get-right streak concluded back on November 26. Another three-day break arrives soon. But first, coach Nate McMillan’s flock has to fly north for a wintry tilt in Minnesota tomorrow. No one has time to hear about the Hawks (12-11) being short-winged, perhaps least of all the Hornets.
      The starting backcourt of Ball and Terry Rozier were sent home from practice yesterday after being placed under the league’s Health ‘n Safety Protocols. Backup bigs Mason Plumlee and Jalen McDaniels were booted from the Hornets’ nest due to Pandemic Protocols, too, the former’s plans to return from a calf injury tabled for a little longer.
      For most pro teams, a visitor coming to your floor abruptly absent a key player or two is soothing news. But we all know The Atlanta Axiom. The fewer talents an opponent suddenly has, the bigger trouble an Atlanta sports team finds itself.
      The ATL Axiom held firm at The Farm on Friday night, when Doc Rivers’ Sixers were permitted to claw their way back into contention, and then toward a 98-96 victory, despite having to make-do without Tobias Harris as a late scratch. In deflating home losses to the Knicks and Sixers, Atlanta combined to score just 25 points in the fourth quarters, dropping their effective field goal percentage in final frames to 46.7 eFG% (a shade below Minny’s league-worst 46.6).
      The Hawks often get too caught up in swinging for the fences, hunting for home run plays and shots that look good on the nightly sport segments, when executing the occasional sacrifice bunts and bloop singles will do just fine.
      Subpar shot selection by Trae Young (questionable for today, sore knee), a lack of urgency getting set in transition (1.16 transition PPP allowed, 3rd-worst in NBA, although frequency of opponent possessions is thankfully 3rd-lowest), and delayed off-ball movement in halfcourt sets, bedevil McMillan’s club when they play with a lead. A furthering of these woes leaves the door open for Ish Smith, Cody Martin, Kelly Oubre, rookie James Bouknight and Gordon Hayward to waltz in and snag another reinvigorating win for the visitors at Atlanta’s expense.
      As Charlotte turns to G-League callups to buttress the front line behind Hayward, Miles Bridges (career-high 35 points @ ATL last month) and P.J. Washington, the Hawks will want to depend on veteran Gorgui Dieng, certainly more heavily than they have in recent weeks (5-for-8 FGs in past three appearances, DNP’d in two of last three games).
      Getting more mid-game pulp out of Danilo Gallinari (season-high 18 points vs. PHI, matching the Sixers’ whole bench production; 16 points vs. CHA last month w/ 8-for-8 FTs) and Dieng will lighten the loads for starters John Collins and Clint Capela (combined 17-for-19 2FGs vs. CHA last month). It should also grant Young, Kevin Huerter (questionable, sore quad) and any Atlanta ballhandlers a higher margin for late-game error.
      Atlanta (NBA-best 12.3 team TO%) remains among the stingiest with the basketball, a telltale sign of McMillan’s influence and Young’s continued maturation. For this to factor into winning advantages, particularly on a team that doesn’t force many turnovers themselves, just comes down to the timing of the turnovers at the starts (14.3 1st-quarter TO%, tie-22nd-lowest in NBA) and ends (13.0 clutch-time TO%, 19th-lowest in NBA) of games.
      The Hawks have been in a league-low 7 clutch-time situations (3-4 record; final five minutes of games w/ margins of +/- 5 points). While it's hoped they won’t need to deploy situational plays tonight, it’s more hopeful that they’ll look better prepared than they have recently.
      The good news with the impending threat posed by Charlotte Hornets, or maybe Murder Hornets, is that there remains plenty of time for Atlanta to prepare, adjust, get things right and steady the path toward a bright and fun-filled future. Don’t y’all have me out here looking silly in a beekeeper fit by this time next December. Not in the year 2022, Austin Daye.
       
      Let’s Go Hawks!
      ~lw3
    • By lethalweapon3
      “Who Wants a T-Shirt?!?”
       
      Will the Reign of Trae-ror continue tonight? Trae Young is back home, looking to extend his 30-plus-point scoring tear to six straight tonight at State Farm Arena. More importantly, he’d love for his Atlanta Hawks to extend the NBA East’s best home record to 9-2, in front of a packed house and a national TV audience, at the expense of the Philadelphia 76ers (7:30 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, ESPN).
      Yes, the Sixers are climbing out of a rut, one that has the team averaging 98.1 regulation PPG (42.6 team FG%, 30.3 3FG%) over their past eight matches while pushing the ball at a snail’s tempo (NBA-low 96.3 possessions per-48, as per NBA.com stats). But the dip has been quite explanatory.
      Joel Embiid (40.5 3FG%, 40.8 2FG% this season) went on an eight-game health hiatus after engaging a bout with You Know What. Tobias Harris, Matisse Thybulle and Isaiah Joe have all missed multiple games for a similar reason, while Harris, Seth Curry, and Danny Green have been working through nagging injuries.
      Harris has parked himself well outside the paint at critical possessions of recent games (last 6 games: 43.2 FG/22.7 3FG/70.6 FT shooting splits; zero FTAs in last 2 games) to save up his energies, stifling his impact as Embiid’s complementary scorer. Second-year guard Tyrese Maxey has filled the bill as best he can as a passer (5.0 APG, 0.8 TOs/game over past 8 games), but he hasn’t been able to buy buckets lately (29.9 FG% in last 5 games), and his scoring his negligible if he can’t get to the free throw line.
      Whatever the rationales, coach Doc Rivers is gratified that, in explaining away the 76ers’ struggles of late, he doesn’t have to put up with The B.S.
      “I literally don’t talk about it,” Rivers explained to reporters, ahead of the last Sixers-Celtics game, asking about the ongoing ordeal around Ben Simmons. “I coach the team and the guys that I can see every day. I let Daryl (Morey, not Hall) and Elton (Brand, not John) deal with all of the other stuff.”
      Rivers knows the voices summoning the name of his once-auspicious Aussie would ring louder, had a healthier Philly collective come out of the gates this season at 2-8, before the recent 3-9 downturn. Instead, an 8-2 start that included satisfying wins over the Bulls (twice) and the Hawks has most of the Phanbase in chill mode, and Doc living on Easy Street, at least for now.
      Philadelphia would be in even better shape if they could simply get out of their own division. Wednesday’s sloppy 88-87 loss in Boston, lowlighted by a fatigued Embiid settling largely for cherry picks (3-for-17 FGs; 18 rebounds, 6 assists, and 3 blocks), dropped the Sixers to 0-5 versus Atlantic foes.
      While they won’t play divisional opponents for a while, Philly’s schedule remains tough over the next couple weeks, with the Jazz, Warriors, Thunder-plundering Grizzlies, heat and Nets on the slate following this current road trip. If the Sixers (11-11) can’t snatch away a victory tonight at The Farm, they’ll head toward a double-dip in Seth’s hometown of Charlotte having won a single in-conference game, at home versus Orlando, in the space of a month.
      With the Nuggets’ Austin Rivers shelved, Doc isn’t the only head coach who has a son fighting through You Know What. Jamelle’s pops Nate McMillan returns to the Hawks’ sideline tonight after having joined Rivers, Rick Carlisle and Coach Pop among active coaches in The 700 and Up Club, in absentia in Indiana.
      Getting to win #750 won’t happen anytime soon, but it sure would be easier for Nate Mac if he can eventually get a fuller complement of players in his rotation, particularly at the wing. Without Bogdan Bogdanovic and Cam Reddish (with Young, the three leading Hawk scorers in Atlanta’s 122-94 loss in Philly on Oct. 30; Cam’s doubtful for tonight), the Hawks are putting a lot on Kevin Huerter’s plate.
      Undoubtedly, Red Velvet has been eating (8-for-11 FGs and a timely jersey tug @ IND; 53.7 FG%, 43.6 3FG% over last 9 games) while handling tough backcourt assignments, an integral component to the Hawks’ current 8-1 run. But there will be stretches, like the second half in Indy, or games, like the last home game versus the Knicks, where Huerter’s production will dip.
      Preserving Huerter’s minutes will allow him to look more like the Game 7 hero that propelled Atlanta over Philly into the Eastern Conference Finals. It will be essential, then, for McMillan to turn more frequently to Delon Wright to help fill the gap.
      Amid Wednesday’s 114-111 win over the Pacers, Wright’s 11 points (4-for-6 FGs) under interim coach Chris Jent were a season-high, and he is a surer defensive option than Lou Williams off the bench. Mixing in Wright to play alongside Young, and Huerter at turns, should only enhance the Hawks’ two-way backcourt prowess until either of Reddish or Bogdanovic returns at full health.
      With the aid of Green and Thybulle, the Sixers will throw all kinds of janky defenses at Young, designed to keep him from shooting and coaxing him into giving up the ball. Trae has been relinquishing the rock, too, during his latest scoring streak, just not as frequently to his opponents as they might like (8.8 APG, 3.0 TOs/game over last 5 contests; 9.1 and 5.0, respectively, in prior 8 games).
      Savvier ball-handling, and better finishes on plays for roll-man Clint Capela, has made Trae (NBA-high 15.0 PPG as P&R ball-handler) an incrementally more potent offensive threat than even the version that gave Simmons and company fits at playoff time.
      The Sixers do tout the league’s best roll-man defense (NBA-best 0.86 opponent points per possession on those P&R plays), making it tough on John Collins (1.56 points per possession, tops among 23 players with 3+ roll-man possessions per game) and Capela (combined 7-for-20 FGs w/ Collins @ PHI on Oct. 30) to thrive. But Young is well-equipped to exploit Embiid and Andre Drummond’s saggy defensive schemes. He’ll need Huerter, 2016 Sixer first-rounder and fill-in starter Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (2-for-5 3FGs for season-high 8 points @ IND), Collins and Danilo Gallinari to make good on perimeter opportunities as they arise.
      The Sixers will eventually find their sea legs, but there’s no need to help them swim tonight. If the Hawks dictate the tempo, harrying Philly into bad shots while boxing out and limiting second chances, Embiid and the Sixers will find themselves in no condition to keep up for a spirited run of 48 minutes. Let’s make “Trae-ror” the order of the day!
       
      Let’s Go Hawks!
      ~lw3
    • By lethalweapon3
      “OWW! Friggin’ COVID Toe!”
       
      I was this old, minus a couple months, when I discovered, for the first time, that coaches don’t get Olympic medals. It never dawned on me that in all the years I watched Dream Teams and their predecessors stand on the podiums, that the Bobby Knights and Coach Ks of the world weren’t right there among them collecting shiny laurels. In a world where participation trophies are frowned upon, coaches of top-3-finishing teams and athletes don’t even get those from The Notorious IOC.
      I suppose, “Assistant Coach, Gold Medal-winning USA Basketball Team, 2020- “, ought to look nice on a LinkedIn page somewhere. But at what cost for Lloyd Pierce?
      An Atlanta Hawks team that checks out of 2020-21, pointing to injuries and discombobulated lineups and such, hovering around 40 percent victory rate at 30-42 (still a considerable improvement over the prior season’s 20-47 mark), would have fans disappointed but looking forward to a season where internal growth translates into a genuine playoff push.
      But Pierce, stuck between a Pop and a hard place over second-year pro Trae Young’s Olympic worthiness, elected to prioritize golden medals for NBA vets over standing in alignment with the goose that lobs golden eggs. He could have done both and, coming off the Tokyo momentum, made 2021-22 his make-or-break season as the Hawks' head coach. Alas, for Pierce, nothing gold can stay.
      What LP does get, as a consolation prize, is being the man next to The Man, in the Fieldhouse of his former assistant’s employer. His Indiana Pacers, coached by Rick Carlisle in the lead chair, will meet a similarly shorthanded but rested Atlanta Hawks club (7 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Bally Sports Indiana) at the Gainbridge Fieldhouse. If Pierce is to catch up with his Atlanta replacement tonight, he’ll have to do so via Zoom calls.
      A victory shy of 700 NBA regular-season wins for his career, McMillan has some work to do if he is to one day catch Carlisle (845), one spot ahead of him in 3rd place among active coaches. But he’ll need to turn to Chris Jent tonight in order to keep the Hawks (11-10) above .500 on this season. Nate’s son, Hawks assistant Jamelle, came down with You Know What, and out of an abundance of caution, Atlanta’s head coach will isolate until he is cleared with sufficient negative test results.
      The bug is going around, even among vaxxed players and staff, and the Hawks are fortunate to this point that injuries have been the sole setbacks for deploying a steady rotation. Justin Holiday has That Thing, and the former Hawk will miss time for the Pacers (9-14) just as he was beginning to get back his starter’s minutes.
      Holiday joins shot-blocker extraordinaire T.J. Warren (out since December 2020 with a foot injury, may return later this month) on the shelf, albeit at a minimum six-foot distance. The Pacers will be thrilled to have shot-blocker extraordinaire Myles Turner (re-activated after non-COVID illness) back in the stead.
      Carlisle went with essentially a four-guard lineup around All-Star Domantas Sabonis on Monday, versus Karl-Anthony Towns and company in Minnesota, plugging T.J. McConnell in Turner’s slot. The late night returns were kind of like Felicia Moore’s. Towns and the T’Wolves ran off with a 20-point turnaround from the third quarter on, letting off the gas late to make their 100-98 win over Indy look respectable.
      At least from inside the paint, Sabonis (25 rebounds, 10 assists, 16 points on 5-for-8 2FGs vs. MIN) did all he could to hold the fort. But, in a theme familiar to Young after his Hawks got Bing Bong’d by New York on Saturday, Sabonis got little support on the offensive end.
      Aside from Holiday and dry-behind-the-ears rookie Chris Duarte, who will likely start in place of Holiday, the other Pacers combined to hit just 3-for-24 from beyond the three-point line. Resistance was futile against Minnesota, too, as Karl-Anthony went to town with 16 third-quarter points to outpace Anthony Edwards’ 11, and almost Indiana’s 19 as a team.
      Jent will similarly seek to put a dent in the Hawks’ third-period woes, as displayed on Saturday when the visiting Knicks turned the momentum in their favor with a 34-24 edge. The first-half losses of Bogdan Bogdanovic (out for at least a couple weeks, sprained ankle) and Cam Reddish (out, aggravated sprained wrist) seemed to throw Atlanta off-kilter. The sustained brilliance of Young (5-for-10 3FGs vs. NYK, ATL teammates 4-for-27), the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week, was insufficient by his lonesome to keep the Hawks in contention for victory on that night.
      Former Pacer Solomon Hill will take a stab at filling Bogi’s minutes, as will Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot. But for Kevin Huerter, and reserves Danilo Gallinari and Lou Williams (combined 7-for-30 FGs vs. NYK), Atlanta can ill afford “open shots not falling”, particularly if the Hawks hope to stretch their road winning streak to three games tonight.
      The lack of cohesion in third quarters comes mostly in losses for Atlanta (NBA-worst 132.9 3rd-quarter D-Rating in Ls, “ahead,” admiringly, of 3-loss Phoenix’s 130.8), particularly as the team fails to get stops in halfcourt and/or get back in transition off missed shots. But second-half meltdowns, regardless of outcomes, have become de rigueur for Indy (NBA-worst 98.8 2nd-half O-Rating, incl. NBA-low 1.16 assist/TO ratio). The Pacers often find themselves scrambling late behind Sabonis and Malcolm Brogdon after coughing up early leads.
      The team that comes out of the Fieldhouse tunnel for what will hopefully be the final 24 minutes of action with a gameplan and a sense of urgency will have the upper hand by evening’s end. Is there a coach capable of making adjustments in the house?
      I do hope LP was able to stop by the IOC gift shop on his way out of Japan, picking up the commemorative clothing that says, “I HELPED A WATERED-DOWN TEAM USA NOT FUMBLE AWAY GOLD, SALVAGED COACH POP’S OLYMPIC LEGACY, AND ALL I GOT WAS THIS LOUSY T-SHIRT”.
       
      Let’s Go Hawks!
      ~lw3
    • 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