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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.”

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.”

John Collins, standing at an undersized 6’10”, has matched up with some of the biggest bodies this league has to offer—like Dwight Howard, Timofey Mozgov, Dirk Nowitzi and Timofey Mozgov—in the first few games of his career. Collins received his first heavy dose on October 9th, when he was tasked with boxing out 7’1″, 255-pound bruiser Marc Gasol. Good luck with that, right? Despite the disadvantage, he snagged eight boards. Shocking to some, but not to those fully aware of his rebounding prowess.

Collins doesn’t just feel as if its his responsibility to rebound—he takes pride in it.

“Of course I take pride in it,” Collins said. “Part of being a great defending team is getting stops and finishing the play with a rebound. It is really important to me. Using my athletic ability regardless of the matchup on the offensive or defensive glass.”

Take a look his draft reports and you’ll find scouts raving about his motor, low post scoring ability and, most importantly, his rebounding. Atlanta has finished in the bottom half of the league in rebounding twice over the last three years—they placed ninth last season primarily due to Dwight Howard’s expertise.

Obviously Howard is gone, but Collins is demonstrating, in his mere 19 minutes per game, that Atlanta has acquired yet another force on the boards.

Last Friday night’s home opener was no different, as he found himself battling with Denver’s 6’10”, 255-pound Nikola Jokic and 6’11”, 255-pound Mason Plumlee on several occasions. Collins scrapped and scrapped all night long until he was able grab eight rebounds. On a night when he shared the floor with Kenneth Faried, another relentless worker on the glass, Collins showed in many instances that he has the same motor.

The rookie grinds on the glass and understands matchups—which explains why he currently sits fourth among rookies with 7.3 rebounds per game and first in offensive rebounds.

“On the offensive end I’m just trying to use my athleticism and quickness to get around,” Collins said. “Either by tip backs or whatever I can force. On the defensive glass its really about boxing out and trying to find a body—or just attacking the ball.”

The most important aspects of rebounding are positioning and anticipation—especially for someone of Collins’ size.

“For me its almost like the more outmatched I am, weight or height, I think for me to just get a body on him will help my teammates get the rebound,” Collins said. If its a guy I know I can box out pretty well, then I’m pretty comfortably, I try to attack it. If its a guy stronger than me or more experienced than me, I try to hit him first. Make sure my guy doesn’t get the rebound.”

As the Atlanta Hawks attempted to an ultimately futile comeback in the third and fourth quarter of Sunday’s 117-106 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, a new, slightly unfamiliar face was among the familiar ones.

Isaiah Taylor, a second-year player out of the University of Texas found himself running with the starters late as incumbent backup point guard Malcolm Delaney sat, not seeing a minute in the second half. Hawks’ head coach Mike Budenholzer was pleased with Taylor’s speed, energy, passing, shooting ability and ability to create for himself and his teammates while starter Dennis Schroder was out of the game as well as high energy on the defensive end.

“When he’s been on the court I think just his speed, his ability to get to the paint and really his willingness to pass kind of collapses defenses and he finds guys,” Budenholzer said. “He’s made shots too. I don’t think he’s shot a lot of 3s, but he made one early tonight. He’s made a couple in other games and getting to the free throw line. I think just giving him a chance, he’s a young guy. Like I said when we first got him, I think we’re excited about having him and seeing him grow.”

Taylor, who signed with the Hawks one day before the season-opener against the Dallas Mavericks, logged what was tied for his season-high 16 minutes Sunday in the loss and put in seven points for the Hawks.

Taylor has spent the first six games of the 2017 season acclimating to a new team and a new philosophy. Sunday, Taylor felt as comfortable as he’s been in a Hawks’ uniform and it all started with a three-pointer early in the first half. Taylor feels the shot allowed him to bring the energy that Budenholzer covets and ultimately led to him seeing extended minutes late.

“Whenever you come in and hit a bucket, it’s just like ‘let’s go,’ that’s everybody’s moment, I don’t care if you have no energy at all, you get in the game and you get a bucket, you’re automatically going 100 percent,” Taylor said.

Taylor only played in four games last season for the Houston Rockets, but the experience of learning from James Harden and the coaching staff of the Rockets and the coaching staff of the Rockets’ G League affiliate Rio Grande Valley Vipers has helped Taylor prepare for the minutes that he is seeing so far in 2017.

“It helped me a lot going down to the D League last year with RGV,” Taylor said. “That coaching staff down there was amazing. I think they helped me a lot during my progress in the NBA. They got me ready for this moment.”

Taylor could be a big part of the Hawks’ rotation moving forward as they search for combinations that work after losing six games in a row. Taylor has finally gained his footing in Atlanta, a process that was aided by the fact that Taylor played against John Collins in summer league and has watched all of the Hawks from afar the past few seasons. Gaining the consistent minutes and the trust of his teammates is the next step for Taylor.

“I’m doing all right,” Taylor said. “I played against John (Collins) in summer league. I know what ‘TP’ (Taurean Prince) can do. Before I got here I watched a lot of these dudes on T.V. before. It’s just gaining trust in them and them gaining trust in me so that I can put them in position to be successful on the court. I think that’s the next step for me to feel even more comfortable.”

It’s no secret that that this is a transitional period for Atlanta.

Travis Schlenk steps in as the general manager of the Atlanta Hawks, replacing the reassigned Wesley Wilcox and Mike Budenholzer stepped down from his role as president to solely coach the team.

While it’s not quite a full-fledged youth movement, the young guns will certainly be featured.

Team success will take a backseat to individual player improvement so let’s look at one aspect of every Hawk’s game that they need to take to another level to have the franchise trending up by next summer.

Dennis Schröder: Be a leader

The speedy German has trekked a long path to arrive as de facto face of the franchise. A first round pick in 2013, he was buried on the bench as a rookie, but slowly became a more integral part of the team over the years. His minutes per game has risen every season, topping out at 31.5 in 2016-17, his first season as a starter.

He is the only Hawk on both ESPN’s and the Washington Post’s lists of the top 100 NBA players. He figures to have the ball in his hands as much as he wants.

Still, it hasn’t always been a smooth ascent. Dennis has been involved in a few on-court squabbles like a recent one with John Wall. In addition, he was arrested outside a hookah bar this offseason for his involvement in a fight. He has subsequently been disciplined for those actions.

Dennis has a flair for being flashy on and off the court, but on this youth-filled roster, he needs to be a cool-headed veteran and provide steady leadership. He’ll have plenty of rope to work through slumps on the court, unlike in season’s past, but after butting heads with Dwight Howard helping to lead to his unceremonious departure, Schröder will need to help others on the team break out of funks.

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