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Think back to the year 1997. Seems like a long time huh? Were you alive? Were you in school? Maybe you were a little baby crying in the crib. Well that’s the last time the Atlanta Hawks franchise walked in an arena and beat the San Antonio Spurs on the road. You see it’s been so long the since the Spurs lost to the Hawks, they played in the old Alamo Dome.

This span extended to 19 straight games on Monday night as the San Antonio Spurs tied the Golden State Warriors for the best record in the NBA beating the Hawks 107-99. The two teams are now 52-14 with sixteen games remaining.

Hawks point guard Dennis Schroder had 22 points and 10 assists to lead Atlanta, while Tim Hardaway Jr. continued his solid play with 17 points. Paul Millsap and Kent Bazemore combined for 31 points, but had only five rebounds between them. The loss snapped Atlanta’s three game winning streak.

Kawhi Leonard made his triumphant return from a concussion scoring 31 points for a Spurs team that were uncharacteristically sloppy at times during the game. They had a season high 23 turnovers, missed shots they usually make and looked out of sorts at times. Normally a performance like this would incite anger from Head Coach Gregg Popovich. Continue Reading…

President Trump’s first term has brought forth one of the most divisive times in both our country’s history and our personal relationships. Professional basketball players, like the rest of us, have been affected no differently. Back in November, Kent Bazemore expressed his “excitement” for Trump in the aftermath of his election and later, in February, Sporting News reported that Bazemore believed that Trump was an “asset” for this country. His close friend and Under Armour colleague Stephen Curry disagrees, but was pragmatic when asked about his and Bazemore’s relationship after Monday’s 119–111 Warrior victory over the Hawks.

“I don’t think you need to keep [politics] out of a friendship,” Curry said. “You accept people for what they believe in whether if you believe it or not.”

Head coach Steve Kerr can also relate with Bazemore and Curry on having close buddies that don’t completely concur with their political point of view. Kerr hasn’t been shy this season when it comes to expressing his disdain for the president. But, he feels that people should be open to contrasting opinions because freedom of expression is essential to our democracy.

“I got lots of friends that disagree with me politically and I have no problem with that,” Kerr said. “it’s part of our democracy and everybody can take their stance. That is their opinion, we respect it, we debate and we hash things out. That’s the way it should be.”

Back in November, Bazemore spoke with me, post-election, about the importance of supporting the new commander-in-chief.

“I am excited man,” Bazemore said. “Something new, obviously the rest of society hasn’t taken it well with all of the protest and riots. “But I think people all across the country are sick and tired of how things have always been and that’s why you get a guy like him in office to shake things up a bit. Make America great again is his slogan and as a President, we should stand behind him. I am all for change, never been afraid of change — Barack Obama said he has a shifting confidence in Trump. Like Oprah said, I think everybody can take a deep breathe now.

“You know I was reading a post the other day, talking about how Trump is what America is. I think that we should all come together during a time like this. Some people are scared of change, but I am not, let’s do it, let’s see what he’s got because that’s all you can do is stand behind him. For a man like him to be talked about as negatively as he has all his life and still assumes the position of power says a lot about him and his resilience and as a leader that’s what you want.”

Following the Bazemore’s and Curry’s sixth matchup of their careers — Curry the winner of five of them — the former chatted with Dell and Sonya Curry outside the visitor locker room as other family and friends waited for Steph to finish up his postgame media obligations. Once completed, the two greeted one another with smiles and laughter. The pleasantries exchanged reflected their relationship — devoid of the political divide that has soiled so many relationships since that fateful Nov. 8 day.

“Our friendship goes way beyond basketball or politics,” Bazemore said. “We have a very special bond, but we aren’t siamese twins or anything. We both have a way of living life.”

Curry has no fundamental issue with having a close friend that takes an opposing side in the political arena, as long as that individual can articulate his or her thoughts logically and within reason.

“As long as you stand by it and have a reason for it or what not,” Curry said. “That doesn’t change my perspective on who a person is.”

Bazemore, too, was coy, yet candid about the potential divisiveness politics have taken on his life, but concurred with Curry’s perspective of acceptance, regardless of beliefs.

“Circumstance or whatever you want to throw out there may shape our opinions on certain things,” Bazemore said. “But it doesn’t change the state of our friendship or anything. It’s life, you are not going to be on the same page with all of your friends, but what’s understood doesn’t have to be said — that’s my guy all the way until the end”.

 

Avery Yang Contributed Reporting

The Atlanta Hawks accomplished a very important task starting a interesting journey to the playoffs. After beating the Brooklyn Nets in an overall very lackluster performance (outside of Dennis Schroder), the Hawks finished a disappointing home stand with a 105-99 win over the Toronto Raptors on Friday night.

With the win, the Hawks finished with a 3-3 record and possibly avoiding a potential collapse in the locker room and playoff race to end the season. Atlanta took the season series from the Raptors 2-1 and now own the tie-breaker if the two teams end the season with the same record to determine a playoff position. As always for a total recap of the game, please check out Graham Chapple’s piece on the game on HawksHoop.com. As always, it is a informative and thorough read. With Atlanta in the five slot and chasing Toronto in the fourth spot. THIS GAME WAS HUGE! This could be the start of something here folks.

Dennis Schroder scored 26 points, including 13 points in winning time to lead the Hawks. This has been a massive turnaround from the benching earlier on in the week. I have to admit, I thought this was a major issue (I think it may come back at playoff time but who knows?) but Schroder has done an outstanding job as of late of “walking the walk” and putting the situation behind him. A lot of times players and coaches say everything is okay for the cameras and reporters, but for now, it’s happening before our eyes. Paul Millsap had 21 points and Tim Hardaway Jr. finished with 20.

DeMar DeRozan finished with 28 points but he shot 12-for-30 to get those points including 1-for-8 from 3-point land. Serge Ibaka had 18 points for the Raptors.

Looking at this potential first round matchup, I learned a lot, but here are my most important…

Three Lessons

Lesson number one: Boy!!! Dennis Schroder is BALLIN!!!!

Like Jim Jones style…Schroder fly high…no lie…like show biz…BALLIN! The magic number for the Atlanta Hawks when it comes to Dennis Schroder is 25. When he scores more than 25 points in a game, the Hawks have lost only once this season. It bears repeating here, when the Hawks need a basket, Dennis can create offense for his teammates and himself. This was very evident in the fourth quarter when the game was close at 86 apiece.

This is where Schroder took over scoring two baskets in a row and eight of the next ten points to give the Hawks a 96-88 lead. Also read…The Raptors could not stop the Atlanta point guard in crunch time. Throw in six rebounds and five assists, Schroder played an efficient and strong floor game. This is what the Hawks envisioned giving him the keys to the franchise.

Dwane Casey called the struggle a “tough stretch defensively”

More thoughts from Casey, via ESPN.com:

“I thought, other than that, we were competing,”

How about Head Coach, Mike Budenholzer’s take on Schroder’s play…

“Dennis has the ball in his hands a lot of times in the fourth quarter  making decisions, making a good play,” Budenholzer said. “I think it was him offensively then our defense giving us that little bit of separation.”

The wonderful thing about the aggressiveness of Schroder is being able to break down the defense and disrupt the Raptors down the stretch. It seemed to Schroder could get to the paint at will.

Budenholzer’s take on that…

“He collapses the defense”…”He creates offensive rebounding opportunities. At some point, they start switching. Paul drives to the basket and gets the fifth foul on Ibaka after a switch. That’s a tough cover for a point guard covering Paul. I think there a lot of things between Paul and Dennis that they create good things for us.”

Speaking of Paul Millsap…

Lesson number two: Paul Millsap is a MAN!

The Toronto game marked the fifth game that Millsap topped the 20 point plateau. In various NBA circles it has been mentioned that Paul Millsap is one of the most underrated players in the league. In an era where numbers are considered the blueprint of how good players are, Millsap averages around 18 points a game but is a dominant dynamic to the Hawks…

Thabo Sefolosha’s take on Millsap’s importance, via ESPN.com:

“The whole team, we look to him a lot,” Sefolosha said. “He does a lot of things. He can score. He can pass the ball. He’s definitely our go-to-guy. He’s feeling good and he’s doing everything for us out there.”

What you see with Kawhi Leonard in the Western Conference with the San Antonio Spurs is what you get with Paul Millsap in Atlanta. I love the way he goes out and quietly puts in work. The numbers are not as gaudy, but just as important to the Hawks. Millsap is not the guy that is concerned about his “brand”. He’s concerned about being a professional NBA player that goes out and helps his team the best way he knows how. This is not limited to on the court play. He is a key locker room guy that the Hawks need for leadership. This was never more evident than this week, when he spent time on the phone with Dennis Schroder giving advice on moving forward with the benching incident against the Warriors. Since then, Schroder and the Hawks have been on a roll.

Lesson three: Dwight Howard was very active and engaged.

Maybe it was Shaquille O’Neal at courtside looking for Shaqtin A Fool clips. I don’t know, but Howard was active scoring 16 points and grabbing 10 rebounds, three on the offensive boards. With two blocks and a steal, Howard showed life in a game he should have the matchup advantage. Jonas Valanciunas finished with 11 points and 12 rebounds. Howard knocked down six of his nine shots in the game. It is going to be interesting how many fourth quarters Dwight is going to be sitting if he continues to shoot 4-for-10 from the free throw line. He has to shore that up.

Paul Millsap and Dennis Schroder will get the headlines, but don’t get it twisted here, the most important player will be Dwight Howard. Howard has to dominate down low on the boards and provide the rim protection needed to get out of the first round which could easily be the Toronto Raptors.

Here’s what I learned…now learn from this!

Head coach Mike Budenholzer scratched Thabo Sefolosha from the starting lineup for being late for pregame warmups. Sefolosha was caught in traffic. The lineup change was only for one game. If there is one thing you have to give Budenholzer credit for, it’s consistency. Punishment is for the entire team. No favorites.

Boy that Atlanta Hawks bench is something. Zero points in the first half?! That’s not going to get it done.

The Atlanta Hawks finally captured a win against a top contending team in the second half of the season, defeating the Toronto Raptors 105-99 .

A week ago, they dropped three games in a row to Cleveland, Indiana and Golden State. Granted, they were competitive in those games, but that doesn’t show up in the win column. Struggling against the elite teams at this part of the season is alarming with the NBA Playoffs around the corner. A win like tonight, even with Kyle Lowry out of the lineup, is a reminder to themselves that they are capable of much more than they showed over that stretch of those games.

“In a way, it does remind us,” said Thabo Sefolosha.” “We had three tough losses at home during the home stretch. We definitely wanted to get this one.”

“We lost some tough games, close games, but you have to keep playing,” said Kent Bazemore. “This was a big game for us as far as playoff seeding, capturing home court, so we had to get this one.”

In February, they did secure a win facing the rival Celtics and later against Houston, but in the same month they looked inept facing the Jazz allowing 120 points, and couldn’t buy a shot against the clippers shooting 40-percent from the field. As we draw closer to the Playoffs, there is no denying the importance of a win like tonight and what it does for a team still in search for an identity.

Nobody can’t deny the importance of heading into the postseason feeling like you belong and have a legitimate shot to make some noise. Your ranking has some involvement in that, but how you fared against the those elite ball clubs goes an even longer way.

Think of the 2006-2007 Golden state Warriors that upset the Dallas Mavericks in the first round. In the final 20 games of the season, they defeated the Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns and Detroit Pistons —  all 50 plus winning teams that year — and there is no denying that those wins contributed to shocking MVP Dirk Nowitzki and the 1-seed Mavericks.

Yes, ranking does hold some sort of weight when it comes to a player’s psyche heading into postseason, but confidence goes a long way as well.

“I think a little bit of both matters,” said Sefolosha. “But we can only control what we can control. Confidence in everybody, feeling good and ready to go is the one thing we can control.”

The Hawks will not be the 8-seed going into the Playoffs, but at one point this season they were and have looked as such at times. Wins against team like tonight will factor into their psyche come late April and May as well as all that they’ve been through as a team. Strong character develops when you face the type of adversity they have and is immeasurable when the lights shine the brightest.

“We can compete with anybody if everybody is on the same page,” said Dennis Schroder. “If everybody is playing together and playing defense together. We have to keep getting better each game until the playoffs start.”