Today Philips Arena carries the name earned by the Omni Coliseum beginning in 1982 as a slender 6 foot 8 inch forward out of the University of Georgia captured the imaginations of Hawks’ fans.

That slender-framed high flyer’s name was Dominique Wilkins. He was quickly dubbed the ‘Human Highlight Reel’ during his first few seasons in Atlanta. The leaping ability those in the state of Georgia had grown accustomed to was on display on the biggest stage as Wilkins participated in multiple NBA Slam Dunk Contests. His most memorable came as he defeated Michael Jordan head-to-head in the 1985 contest.

Present Hawks’ fans are beginning to feel similar every time rookie John Collins is in the open court. The same collective breath can be heard throughout Philips Arena with anticipation of a potential slam. Collins’ first splash in the league came in the NBA Summer League as he threw down multiple monstrous dunks. The 19th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft immediately earned expectations following his play this summer and early this season.

That attention has earned the 6 foot 10 inch forward consideration for the 2018 edition of the NBA Slam Dunk Contest. Collins has heard the whispers throughout the social media world as the NBA announced the All-Star teams earlier this week and hasn’t shied away from wanting to be a part of the showcase. Collins feels honored to be in the conversation.

“It’s really exciting and nerve-wracking,” Collins said. “There’s a lot of eyes watching the dunk contest, but then again it’s a big honor as well. It’s something that hopefully I can get into, but I’m grateful being in the conversation.”

An appearance in the on All-Star Saturday could do for Collins what it did for Wilkins during the 80s and Josh Smith’s Hawks in 2005. Beyond Collins as an individual the Hawks are a team that sits double-digit games below .500 so far this season, an electric performance by Collins on the big stage could be a highlight for a fan base looking for something to cling to in the form of positive growth in the near future.

“It would elevate it (my career) a lot,” Collins said. “Our team is in a bit of limbo trying to develop. So for me to get called into the dunk contest, that’s big time. My first year being able to go to L.A. to celebrate All-Star weekend would be big time if I get the call. It’ll be cool.”

Collins wasn’t born when Wilkins dunked his way past Jordan win in 1985, but as a basketball player and fan, he ranks it as one of the iconic moments in the NBA’s history. The Aaron Gordon and Zach Lavine showdown in 2016 is the most memorable dunk contest Collins has seen in his lifetime.

Collins says he will get creative and prepare if the opportunity comes to fruition, but a call could go to guys who have been a part of the event before.

“I’m going to prepare for it a little bit, think of some new tricks with social media and all that, there’s a lot of dunks that have been done, so I’ll have to come up with something new and innovative if I’m selected,” Collins said. “There will be some practice just finding some new dunks, something creative.”

Collins wouldn’t have too far to look for advice as Wilkins works for Fox Sports calling the Hawks’ games.

“Nique was one of the greatest dunkers of all time in this league, so I’d definitely ask him some tips and tidbits on what he tried to do to be creative when he was in the dunk contest,” Collins said. “He and Jordan had the very legendary one, so it’s always great to have him around just to ask for his advice on new stuff for the dunk contest.”

The contestants have yet to be announced for the Feb 17 event, but Collins name has been an interesting and one that has been spoken in high frequency in recent weeks.

A tribute was in order for a former Hawk when the Washington Wizards visited Philips Arena Wednesday night. Mike Scott spent his first five seasons in Atlanta with the Hawks where he appeared in 281 games and became one of the more well-liked players by the fan base.

The crowd showed their appreciation for Scott as there were numerous jerseys with Scott’s number 32 on the back throughout the arena, despite Scott being a member of the Wizards, a division rival and the team that eliminated the Hawks from the playoffs last season.

The Hawks also put together a video tribute chronicling Scott’s tenure with the team. The video ironically featured one of Scott’s most memorable moments in which he dunked on current teammate Bradley Beal and another monstrous slam on another current Wizards teammate Ian Mahinmi in the 2014 playoffs.

Scott was then met with a standing ovation to which he responded with appreciation as he acknowledged the crowd with a wave and a pound of his chest.

“That was dope,” Scott said. “I only spent five years here, but it was kind of a long five years. That was great. There was a lot of love from the fans and the coaching staff.”

Scott had Wednesday’s game circled to see his old friends and teammates like Kent Bazemore and Dennis Schroder, whom he spent most of his five seasons playing with. Scott expected it to be a little emotional and it was. Scott scored six points in the 18 minutes of work Wednesday. With the reunion checked off, Scott expects it to begin to feel normal when he faces the Hawks the next two times this season as the Wizards chase the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

“I thought about it,” Scott said. “I wish we would have won. But that felt good. I think we come back here late January, so I’m glad we got this over with and we can come back in January and just straight hoop.”

The Atlanta Hawks and Washington Wizards don’t have a friendly past. At least not the last three years, as the two teams have played a total of 22 times in the last three seasons.

The two teams have seen each other a lot in the big, high-pressure situations. Not only as combatants in the Southeast division, but the two teams played two back-to-back wars disguised as playoff series.

There were hard feelings.

Wizards forward Markeiff Morris has some choice words for then-Hawks forward Paul Millsap as he referred to Millsap as a ‘Crybaby’ following Game 3. Morris heard boos and cheers when he missed a free throw Wednesday night. Wizards’ point guard John Wall fired social media jabs at Hawks’ point guard Dennis Schroder after the Wizards eliminated the Hawks in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. This was iced off by multiple on-court altercations over the six games.

Point being, the two franchises don’t necessarily like one another. Wednesday, the schedule had them squaring off for the second time this season with expectations of more ‘chippiness’ between the teams.

“It seems like that was forever ago, it seems like both teams have had chippy moments both regular season and in playoff games and everything,” Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer said. “I think it’s two competitive teams and when you know each other well and when you kind of almost anticipate and expect what’s coming, I think it leads to that little bit of extra edge from both sides. If it happens in a regular season game it’s not a surprise when you’ve played each other a ton.”

The Hawks haven’t forgotten. They haven’t forgotten that it was the Wizards who knocked them out of the postseason last season in addition to all of the back-and-forths that went on during games and through media off the court.

“You sort of [think about the chippiness], kind of have to, this is the team that put you out last year,” Hawks’ forward Taurean Prince said. “You kind of get fired up against a team like that. On top of that even if that wasn’t the case, they’re a good team and this is a good chance to get a good win.”

Both teams managed to behave on Wednesday with the fireworks coming on the court. The Hawks played inspired on both ends of the floor to earn the 113-99 win over the Wizards on Wednesday. Schroder led the way with 21 points and seven assists. Ersan Ilyasova scored 20 points, while Marco Belinelli added 19 off the bench. The Hawks defense added some quick and excitement to a mostly full-Philips Arena. John Collins blocked three shots. Kent Bazemore swatted a shot off the backboard that brought the crowd to its feet. Prince added two more blocks as the Hawks totaled seven blocks on the night. Hawks also held Wall to only 10 points.

“Good win for us coming off three days without a game,” Budenholzer said. “We had a couple stretches where we couldn’t score but our defense kept us in it and we kept getting enough stops.”

The days of guys like Joe Johnson and Kyle Korver bombing it from deep are gone, but the 2017-18 Hawks are surprising with their 3-point point shooting so far this season.

The Hawks currently sits fifth in the NBA among the best 3-point shooting teams. They’ve only finished  with a Top 5 ranking twice this decade, but this team has a different agenda than the past.

Shoot more 3s.

“That’s what we do,” said Taurean Prince. “That’s what we plan to do going into every game.”

Saturday night, Atlanta grabbed just their sixth win of the season, but it was the the 3-point performance that stole the show. They shot 17-33 from 3. Ersan Ilyasova, who finished the game perfect from beyond the arc, was responsible for five of them. Whether it was off a semi-fastbreak or a baseline cut to a corner, he found good looks throughout the night.

Dennis Schroder, DeAndre Bembry and Prince understand how important it is knowing the whereabouts of Ilyasova, Tyler Cavanaugh and Marco Bellinili. The 3-point line is the lifeblood of this team’s offensive prowess.

“You got to have your eye open for three point shooters,” said Bembry. “Marco is somebody like Kyle Korver. You always have to know where they are at. Coach forces us to take a lot of open shots. Don’t turn down anything. From that the numbers are just going up higher. If you are going to give us that jump shot we will take everyone of them.”

Ilyasova joined the team last year as an attempt to fix Atlanta’s spacing issues. But he wasn’t enough to stop the Hawks from finishing 23rd in the league. This season however spacing is the least of their concerns.

“The difference is the starting lineup,” said Bembry. “They are all shooting at a high rate right now. Tonight as you can see, Ersan definitely started us off. Its hard to guard stretch fours who are picking and popping. Starting with him hitting threes. Taurean is shooting around 40-percent. Dennis and Baze starting to get going. That’s a hell of a starting lineup shooting the 3. Then you have Belinelli and shooters coming off the bench.”

The most impressive aspect of this shooting display not only tonight but all season is the efficiency. Yes, they are attempting 27 shots per game, ranking just 18th in the league, but the focus here is the quality of shots. The 5-man out offense is producing the necessary space and open looks that they didn’t have at their disposal last season.

They have the right pieces for this system and its giving opponents fits. They are tough, active and confident shooting the NBA’s deadliest game changer.

“They play with five 3-point shooters most of the game,” said Orlando coach Frank Vogel. “They shoot a ton of them. That’s the style of play that they play. You try and contain Belinelli off those pin downs and more importantly Schroder. His penetration. All of their guys just driving on you and taking advantage of the space makes them tough to guard.”

Atlanta had won four of the last five meetings against the Cleveland Cavaliers coming into Thursday night’s game. They flirted with a fifth victory after leading the King and his servants 69-63 at the half, but fell short 121-114.

“They are tough,” said Cavs coach Tyronn Lue. “Schroder puts a lot of pressure on the defense. They have multiple guys that can shoot the basketball and put it on the floor. They can make plays.”

Dennis Schroder, who had phenomenal performance posting 27 points on 58-percent shooting from the field, came off a pick towards the elbow of the free throw line with 2:11 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter and a chance to take the lead. His shot barely grazed the front rim. What happened next was almost a certainty.

LeBron trotted down the left side of the floor and responded with his patented left wing 3-pointer to seal the deal. Splash.

Atlanta threw everyone they could at James throughout the night. Taurean Prince took a shot at him. DeAndre Bembry matched up with him most of the fourth quarter. Even Ersan Ilysova took a swipe at him.

In the end LeBron James did what LeBron James wanted to do. Finishing with 24 points and 12 assists — just three assists shy of matching Atlanta’s starters — his fingerprints were all over the Cavs’ 10th straight victory.

Despite the loss, it was another shot a top tier team for the Hawks, an opportunity Prince relishes as a competitor.

“I like playing those type of guys,” said Prince. “Iron sharpens iron. I don’t feel like I will get better unless I continue to play those type of guys. Guys like Paul George. Just continue to further my career and my abilities as a defensive player.”

Atlanta has shown the tendency to gear up for these games. Tonight they scored 114 points on a Cavaliers defense that has improved recently. Without Dedmon, they dominated the paint outscoring the Cavs 50-40. Their record is no indicator, but Boston, Detroit, San Antonio and Cleveland will tell anybody they had to earn those victories against these young Hawks.

“Not discrediting any lower tier teams, but we get hyped up for games like this,” said Prince. “This is an opportunity to show who we are. Opportunity for guys to get better against great players.”

It may have taken 18 games, but John Collins finally heard his name called by Ryan Cameron as the Hawks starting power forward. Collins faced a All-Star front-court tandem in Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan and didn’t disappoint, finishing with 14 points and 11 rebounds — his fourth double-double of the season.

Luke Babbitt and Mike Muscala’s injuries facilitated this into fruition, but the call up was earned. Collins has played a role in some of the Hawks most impressive comebacks of the season whenever they’ve faced a large deficit, and he currently leads the team in PER and win shares.

“I like his game a lot,” said Blake Griffin. “I’ve watched him play this season. Physically he’s ready. He plays the game the right way. He does exactly what I’m assuming he’s suppose to do within their offense. He’s got a super high ceiling.”

One moment he found himself guarding the all-purpose attack of Griffin, who finished with a triple-double, then on the next possession would have to find a way to position himself to score around the defensive anchor that is Jordan.

“I like him a lot, said Deandre Jordan. “He’s physical, long and very good rebounder. He’s active around the rim and dunks everything. He just need to keep working. He has a great coach in Budenholzer. They put him in spots he can be successful. I like him a ton.”

As he typically does on a nightly basis, Collins attacked the glass without concern of who stood in his way and tonight was no different. Hustled, banged and battled with the NBA’s 2nd best rebounder in Jordan was yet another impressive sight given the disparity in size. But that’s what Collins does–work, work and work some more.

That level of activity generated openings in the clippers defense for easy dunks.

Griffin, known for his highflying highlights early in his career can see a ton of potential in the Hawks young phenom and  poke with Collins after the final buzzer.

“I told him to keep working. He’s going to be a beast.”

Hawks’ 2nd-year forward DeAndre Bembry isn’t used to watching his team play from the sidelines.

The 23-year-old wing out of Saint Joseph hadn’t dealt with an injury that has held him out as long as the fractured wrist he suffered in the Hawks’ season-opening win against the Dallas Mavericks back on Oct. 18.

This season, a season in which Bembry was expected to have a significant role increase for the Hawks, he’s been hit with two injuries that have kept him off the court. Bembry also sustained a strained right tricep in September that kept him out for about a month.

“I’ve never with injuries throughout my career, other than rolled ankles and stuff like that,” Bembry said. “It’s been funny, I got two injuries in a row with the arm muscle and then right after that I fractured my wrist, this is my first time and I’m just pushing through it.”

The initial prognosis called for Bembry to miss four-to-six weeks. Three weeks after his surgery Bembry is starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel for his return. Prior to Wednesday’s win over the Sacramento Kings Bembry was able to get up some shots pregame.

“I’m feeling a lot better,” Bembry said. “Going into three weeks off of surgery, the scale was between four-to-six weeks and I’m probably going to get another X-Ray to see how it’s looking this week just to check on it and see what’s inside and how its healed so far. That’s going to be the start of whenever I can come back. I’m working out, I’m shooting jumpers… The process has been going well so far.”

Bembry was indeed back soon, as he was listed as probably in the Hawks’ injury report on Friday. Bembry finally returned to game-action against the Celtics on Saturday, but was quickly put back on the bench when it because clear that thinks still weren’t 100-percent for him.

As Bembry said before, he doesn’t want to be hampered by the injury when he is on the floor.

“It’s full throttle when I get back, that’s why we’re having this process now, going through the motions of working out and seeing how much I can take as far as the pressure of pushing people and getting back out there,” Bembry said.

One Bembry is ready to fully return, Hawks’ head coach Mike Budenholzer’s bench gets deeper as the addition/return of Bembry adds another versatile wing that can play both ends of the floor as well as take some of the ball-handling duties and pressure off of the three point guards the Hawks rotate.
Bembry is ready to help where he can to give the Hawks a boost after a 3-13 start to the season.

“I’m definitely ready to get back out there, it’s tough when you’ve got a lot of guys that’s hurt and a lot of new guys coming in with big roles,” Bembry said. “I was looking forward to the start of the season, but I took the loss at the beginning and now I’m just trying to come back out there and try to help my teammates get a win somehow.”

For the second time in two weeks, the Hawks lose a heartbreaker to the hottest team in the NBA.

Atlanta walked into a Philips Arena filled with more green than a Wiz Kahlifa video. Fully aware of the the Celtics 14-game win streak that was at stake. They gave Boston their best shot but fell short 110-99.

“I knew at some point whether when they made the run or at the end of the game they would come back at some point,” said John Collins. “Talented and a well coached team you know will come back with something.”

Out the gate they jumped out on the Celtics to an impressive 26-10 lead. No suprise if you ask them, they believe they can run with the best of them. But, they also understand this Celtics team is as elite as there is in the league.

“Sure you believe, when you go up 15 points or however much we were up,” said Collins.  “It always creeps into your mind. But these guys aren’t going to lay down. They aren’t going to give up their streak.”

Impressively, Atlanta very rarely blinked whenever Boston made a run through the first three quarters.

The resilience was evident all night long. Celtics started the 2nd half with a couple buckets from Al Horford and Jaylen Brown to reduce the lead to just one, then Schroder responded with 8 points. Brown cashed in a 3 with 5:49 in the third quarter to give the Celtics a three point lead — Luke Babbitt responded with a three of his own. The ball movement was evident all night and created good looks.

“People can see we can compete with anybody,” said Malcolm Delaney. “When we pass we look like one of the best passing teams in the league. “

Passing is just a portion of the battle when you face a Brad Stevens’ team that has rallied from a significant deficit several times during this current streak. Atlanta on the other hand will need to address their late game struggles. Tonight was another reminder after they trailed by just one with 6:35 left in the 4th quarter that they will continue to lose games if they can’t find an answer.

“Some of the leads we have when we got back into the game after losing the lead we need to take those possessions more seriously,” said Delaney. “That’s how we will win a couple games. When you look deep into the stats, we are terrible at finishing games.”

They won’t have much time to harp on this loss with a trip on Monday to San Antonio, who have won six of their last eight.

 

 

It’s the little things.

Atlanta Hawks’ point guard Malcolm Delaney dives on the floor to tip a loose ball away from a Boston Celtics’ guard as Dennis Schroder sprints full speed after the loose ball. Schroder gathers the ball just before it goes out of bounds and finds center DeWayne Dedmon streaking down the middle of the paint for a dunk. Two points, all based on a few small, extra efforts.

The Hawks’ energy was evidenced throughout Monday’s game on a couple of occasions. Late in the fourth quarter, a Kent Bazemore pass was intercepted by Marcus Smart, Schroder did not pout or hesitate, it was a dead sprint back to get into position to where Schroder ultimately earned a charge. Next possession, Schroder hit a mid-range jumper to put the Hawks ahead by one.

Little things.

“For every team, it’s (hustle) is going to give energy into the game when somebody hustles or dives on the floor like Malcolm (Delaney) did, that’s why I chased the ball down,” Schroder said. “Those kinds of plays give the team energy. We competed for 48 minutes, we did a great job sticking with them, but they hit some tough shots, we’ve got to give them credit.”

Prior to the 2017-2018 NBA season the chatter league-wide stated that the Hawks weren’t supposed to be good. They were a lottery-bound team with slim hopes of many winning nights.

Well, they don’t seem to know nor care what they are ‘supposed’ to be. The Hawks knocked off the presumed top-dogs in the Eastern Conference Sunday evening in a 117-115 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. Monday, they battled the team that was considered the next best thing in the Boston Celtics to a 110-107 loss. The Hawks had their chances and with a little over a minute left in the game the Hawks looked up and saw themselves in the lead.

Little things.

“We don’t have a superstar or whatever, so we’ve got to do all the little things like competing on the defensive end, dive on the floor whatever it takes to win some games,” Schroder said. “I think we got better tonight competing for 48 minutes and they hit some tough shots and you’ve got to give them credit.”

The Hawks’ loss Monday night dropped them to 2-9 on the season, a record that was expected but deceiving. The Hawks have been in most of their losses with only three coming by a margin of 12 or more. Bazemore feels that there is a light at the end of the tunnel that has been the first 11 games of the season and thinks the energy and effort of the last few games have brought the team closer together.

“Our record doesn’t show, but it’s not as bad as it looks,” Bazemore said. “We’ve been in pretty much every game. I thought the Houston game and probably the Milwaukee game out of the 11 we’ve played were the only two that we kind of didn’t show up. Going into the last three games actually brought us closer together. If you’d have told someone we’d split these games at this point of time in the season, they’d probably laugh. To get one of the two is big for us. We actually had chances to win two, so it’s early in the season and we still got 71 to go so anything can happen.”