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For the most part, day 1 of NBA free agency frenzy was thought to have been won by Mike Conley’s 5-year $153 million dollar deal with the Grizzlies (largest deal in NBA history), only to be outdid by the Atlanta Hawks signing Dwight Howard to a 3-year $70.5 million dollar deal shortly after. The hometown kid returns to his roots where we were first introduced to the 6”10 slender teenager with the Hollywood smile, as he dawned a #12 for Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy. Fast-forward 3 teams in 12 years later and his presence couldn’t come at a better time.

 

 

The Hawks have a history of having trouble acquiring star power, especially through free agency, and the low attendance numbers over the years are a direct result. Dwight’s signing doesn’t mean sold out games every night, automatic championship contenders, but what it means is the organization’s unwillingness to hunt big names is a narrative of the past. Owner Tony Ressler, GM Wes Wilcox and Coach Mike Budenholzer have decided that in order to every cross the bridge towards relevancy and appeal to the rest of the league, it will first need to establish a precedent and that’s what this acquisition does. Now the Hawks job isn’t done, they will need to surround Dwight with the pieces to legitimately contend for a championship. Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver still remain from the All-star foursome selected to represent in New York a year ago. Bazemore played the best basketball of his career this season and will return after signing a 4-year $70 million dollar deal and a confident Dennis Schroder steps into the starting point guard spot.

 

The 3- time defensive player of the year leaves an offense first, offense second, oh, and then defense third mentality in Houston; and now joins one of the best defensive coaches in the league. The Hawks have finished in the top three of defensive rating over the past two seasons. What Budenholzer has done is highly impressive, given the lack of size and rebounding capabilities on the roster; he now he has a game-changing player with the ability to secure both of those deficiencies. Atlanta has sorely missed that imposing defensive presence anchoring, sort of similar to what Tyson Chandler meant to those Dallas Maverick teams, an already outstanding group of perimeter defenders who do a terrific job of swarming ballhandlers and speeding up offenses Al Horford and Paul Millsap did all they could, playing much bigger than their listed size. However, now with Howard, Hawks are in a great spot frontcourt wise, because either Millsap stays at his designed position or Horford finally slides to the power forward spot where many believe he can be most productive in.

 

Another important note is that due to Budenholzer’s all hands on deck philosophy; he has been able to keep the minutes of his two cherished big men to a minimum, Horford logging in 31.9 minutes and Millsap logging in 33 minutes per game over the past 3 seasons, another refreshing sign for Howard.

 

Over the past couple seasons Dwight has not looked like the Superman we saw in Orlando, much of that can be attributed to injuries (knees and back) and poor coaching philosophies he was forced to endure. However, he is not absolved of blame, defense is all about effort and his effort was questioned much of the season as he looked disengaged at time. The injuries is one thing Atlanta is taking a risk on, but the mental stability is much more riskier. Howard discussed the situation in Houston on Inside the NBA on TNT during the playoffs.

 

“As a big, sometimes you want to feel a part of what’s going on,” Howard said on TNT. “If I could bring the ball up the court, shoot threes, go between the legs and do all that stuff, that would be great. But I have to rely on my teammates to get the ball. Now, there have been times where I’ve been upset and I’ve taken myself out of games in situations, and that’s on me. I have to grow to be a better player at that.”

 

Howard’s played 71 games and the entire first round, so the issue wasn’t physical, but much more a mental block. He averaged just 13.7 points per game, the second lowest of his career on just 8.5 field goals a game, on a team that took 7,392 regular season threes during his tenure. He now joins a philosophy that believes in ball movement and has shown that they don’t mind playing through their bigs, two factors that I’m sure played a large part in his decision. Howard will certainly find much more comfort playing with a willing passer in Dennis Schroder, especially in pick n roll situations forcing defenses into a tough circumstance with shooters on the perimeter. This scheme also promotes lower post passing between its big to create easier scoring opportunities as he would likely post and catch or catch and go closer to the rim. A similar scheme is currently ran on the clippers between Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan whenever they play two-man game from a Hi-lo setting; Millsap is just as much, if not more, of a floor stretcher as Griffin and an excellent passer too.

 

The possibilities with this team, under this coach are limitless for Howard as long as he stays healthy and engaged. He is now 30 years old with an injurious history and has been apart of enough drama to launch a Netflix series. More than ever before, Dwight’s legacy will be impacted, in his hometown, as an Atlanta Hawk.

This Hawks team has many qualities, their most important one being pride, was called upon in a potential sweep versus the Cleveland Cavaliers. Similar to Game 3 they fought hard, showed their mental toughness, togetherness, but unfortunately it wasn’t enough to earn its first playoff victory over LeBron James and company in the past two seasons.

“Not sure, it’s something we have to go back and look at,” said Al Horford about what it will take to get over this hump. “Obviously, it’s not enough, it’s not enough of what we have. We fought hard, we gave it all we got, but we will see what happens.”

“Its unfortunate, we wanted to beat this team so bad,” said Paul Millsap. “They left a bad taste in our mouths last year. This year we thought we had them figured out. They did something completely different than last year. That they shot more 3s this year compared to last year and it killed us.”

Tyronne Lue’s implementation of more ball movement and the 3-point shot became the difference maker this year, covering up any difficulties or adjustments the Hawks may have given them. Kevin Love alone scored 12 of his 15 third quarter points from downtown (finishing with a game high 27 points) after Atlanta had out scored them in the paint and out hustled them on the boards in the first half. The team took a total 152 3-point attempts in this series — made 77 — with 45 attempts coming from Game 2’s eruption. Not even the league’s second best defensive team had an answer for that, especially with players like Kyrie Irving and LeBron James penetrating.

“Its a product of [LeBron and Kyrie] guys playing well and downhill,” said Love. “They’re so devastating and tough to stop when they are doing that, they can spray it out to the corner. They draw so much attention. They do it in different ways. But in doing that, Channing is going to be open, JR is going to be open and I’m going to be open.”

Millsap knows the new wave of high volume 3-point shooting team in the NBA isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon.

“That’s where this league is going. 3-point shots are killer man. They shot the mess out of the ball. When everybody on the basketball court can shoot like that, it puts your defense at a tough spot. We struggled with it all night, all series.”

Not having enough is nothing foreign to Atlanta Hawks fans over the past five to seven years. They have been sitting in limbo, teetering between elite and average for some time now, losing in the either the first or second round eight of the last nine seasons. Dennis Schroder’s last second possession to win the game defines this team’s issue in a nutshell; having to trust a 6-foot-1, 170 pound 22 year old backup point guard to force a Game 5 against a experienced bunch lead by King James.

The 2015-2016 Atlanta Hawks faced several uphill battles throughout the season, whether its a struggling Kyle Korver, a starting point guard conundrum or the loss of Tiago Splitter. Regardless, this team managed to re-invent itself into a defensive juggernaut, which speaks volumes.

The contract discussions of Kent Bazemore, Horford and adding more talent in the off-seeason (with the salary cap rising) will be the main focus for Mike Budenholzer. However, a lot of times for teams looking to get over the hump, hitting reset too soon may set the franchise back tenfold.

There are only two ways to look at it. Either the glass is half full or half empty. The success they shared over the past two years it could be the former and should not be taken for granted; but better yet each individual allow it to be used as fuel knowing how close they have come.

“I think that individually we can get better,” said a reassuring Millsap. “That’s from me on down the line. I think as a collective group we can all be better. I think if we keep everybody here, we will continue to grow. We will get better. We will get to the next level and I think that’s what this teams wants to do. We want to take that next step, get to the that next step in basketball.”

Home is a place of refuge, a place to reset, regroup and re-energize; but for the Hawks, all they received was a 121-108 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

In the first two and a half quarters, they returned back to the style of basketball that brings the most success to them as they forced turnovers, played physical and mailed in good looks from 3-point land. This game, Coach Budenholzer decided to shake things up a bit by adding more defense and hustle to the lineup, replacing Kyle Korver with Thabo Sefolosha and giving Kris Humphries more meaningful minutes.

“You have to change. We’re in the playoffs,” said Al Horford, who scored 24 points. “We’re fighting for our playoff lives right now. At this point, we have to do some changes because what we’ve done hasn’t worked. We felt good about tonight, but we had some mistakes that cost us.”

Those mistakes Horford referred to came mostly in the the second half, especially in the fourth quarter, as Cleveland made adjustments that then forced the Hawks into questionable shot selections, wasteful possessions and worst of them all, turnovers. The fourth quarter defense looked much like every quarter in Game 2, as Cleveland’s ball movement found the right shooter at the right time.

Atlanta plays best when their defense initiates their offense, but that was no more, and they were forced into a shootout they had no bullets for. Continue Reading…

Atlanta came into the game as the veteran team and they responded like one lead behind a strong fourth quarter performance from Jeff Teague in a 102-101 Game 1 win over the Boston Celtics.

“Last year was a great run for us, Eastern Conference Finals,” said Kent Bazemore in postgame. “Going that deep it does help, some people think it does not just because it’s a different year. Experience at times does beat talent.”

“I have been in the playoff every year, so I’m used to how it goes,” said Jeff Teague, who scored nine of his 23 points in the fourth quarter. “You cant get too high when you win and you cant get too low when you lose. We have a veteran group around here. We have been through some wars.”

Two teams that mirror one another in many ways were easily distinguished by defensive intensity early on. Even with the playoff experience from last season, Boston looked as if that experience had never happened in the first half. For most of it, Isaiah Thomas probed and probed searching for a soft spot in the Hawks defensive shield, but to no avail. The team shot just 23-percent from the field and 12.5-percent from downtown.

Surely, the Hawks were aware of the fight Boston has shown throughout this season, just recently coming behind from a 20 point deficit to defeat the Miami Heat. They trailed by 17 after the first half against Atlanta.

“They are great team coming from behind,” said Bazemore. “You look at the last regular season game, down huge to Miami. They came out in the third quarter to make it interesting. They have some blue collard guys over there that I really respect. They are not going to quit.” Continue Reading…

Clinching the 3-seed is unquestionably a present goal for the Atlanta Hawks, but performances like tonight against a high caliber opponent like the Boston Celtics is more paramount heading into postseason.

“The most important thing for us is to keep winning and playing well,” said Al Horford. “That’s the most important thing.”

Atlanta’s defense was at the top of Budenholzer’s list for most important adjustment to make at the half. The Hawks’ defensive coverages, mainly its ability to guard the 3-point line, were a tad bit late and against a team that moves the ball as well as Boston, that leads to them shooting 59% from downtown and scoring 71 points in just 24 minutes.

“We were just making mental mistakes, so many mental mistakes on the defensive end of the floor,” said Kyle Korver. “Against a good team, you cant make those mistakes. You cant just try and run the coverage, you have to be great.”

In the second half, they looked great, lead by Paul Millsap’s energy — 17 of his 31 points came in the 2nd half — and a collective defensive conscious to make life just a little harder on Boston. One thing about these Hawks is that they always seem to find a way to make adjustments without sacrificing their identity in the process. They came out with mindset to force more ball pressure on pick and rolls at the top, but to never over-extend too much, leading to mismatch after mismatch. This is what repeatedly occurred in the first half.

That began with the head of the snake, All-Star guard Isaiah Thomas, who shot just 2-for-12 from the field in the second half along with three turnovers. They then made a valiant effort on reacting much sooner within their coverages on the 3-point line in order to limit or contest the Celtics attempts from the three point line. (just 1-for-11 in the second half)

Coach Budenholzer later spoke about the success of these adjustments.

“Sometimes there are subtle changes, every teams does different things -o pick and rolls — you try to have a few things that you can use. To be honest with you, we looked at some clips at halftime. There was basic breakdowns, and there was some shot-making. I think we thought we could reduce our mistakes and not give some open looks and opportunities.” Continue Reading…

No matter the record or seeding, some teams just give you a tough time.

For Atlanta, that has been the Milwaukee Bucks so far this season after defeating them three out of the four meetings last year. But this year has been a different story, as the Bucks have defeated Atlanta twice with both games defeats ending in overtime. This matchup has a boxing match feel to it, two contrasting styles, Rocky versus Drago.

This one ended with Atlanta’s arm being raised up last winning 101-90, capturing their first win over the Bucks this season.

“At the end of the day they are in the top two or three, if not the best at scoring in the paint,”said Coach Mike Budenholzer. “We wanted to do everything we could to take that away.”

Hawks only trailed momentarily in the first couple minutes of the game, but never did thereafter despite not shooting the ball well — 42.3% from the field and 15.6% from 3 — because of yet another strong defensive effort. Milwaukee’s length and athleticism are the main reasons the Hawks have such a difficult time running their offense. The Bucks decided this game to place more emphasis on the Hawks 3-point attempts, which meant more opportunities inside for Atlanta. They were able to capitalize, scoring 58 points in the paint.

On defense, Atlanta decided to pack the paint and limit the longer Bucks from points in the paint. Games like is just another testament to the Atlanta’s ability to win in a variety of ways, which will come in handy in late April or May. This time instead of their usual emphasis on aggressively guarding perimeter players, they showed the ability to clog the paint and still be effective.

“This is a team that has given us problems over the last couple years,” said Kyle Korver post-game. “They are a tough team for us to play against. We wanted to protect the paint and force them to shoot from the outside. It is important for us to grind games out against a team thats big when we are not shooting the ball that well.” Continue Reading…

After a couple days of much needed rest, the Hawks returned home to get their first win in 16 days against the Chicago Bulls. In the past three games, Atlanta has had no problem scoring the ball, but it has been their most reliable asset, defense, that hasn’t looked quiet the same.

Today, shooting just 42% from the field and 20% from 3, they buckled down and showed why they are currently the third ranked defense in the NBA.

“Before the All-Star break, I thought we were playing great defense,” said Kyle Korver after a 103-88 win over the Bulls. “If you look at all the analytics and rankings, I think we were number one in the NBA for a month and a half. We were playing great defense. We came out of the break and had a slippage. So it was good for that to end and get back tonight.”

The Bulls were under a constant barrage all night, as both units from the Hawks capitalized on the absence of Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler. Aaron Brooks and E’twaun Moore attempted to hold the fort down, but never seemed comfortable and the lack of chemistry could not be more obvious. The two, who are viewed more as scorers than distributors, were accountable for nine of the teams 21 turnovers. Continue Reading…

Similar to the first meeting back in January, the lowly Bucks gave the Hawks all they had and then some.

Atlanta weathered the storm, came back, took the lead, but eventually fell in double OT 117-109. It’s the third straight loss at home, which has not happened since 2004.

“Anytime the game goes two overtimes, there are opportunities for both teams. In the second overtime, they got a little separation, a couple baskets we were not able to score. Our execution could be better in some situations, including at the end of games.”

So much buzz surrounded the team over the break about the futures of Al Horford, Jeff Teague and Dennis Schröder, back-to-back losses like these only bring on more questions and frustration. The offense is a little out of sync, piling up 21 turnovers versus Miami on Friday and shooting just 44% from the field against Milwaukee.

“It’s very disappointing,” Horford, who ended with 17 points and nine rebounds, said postgame. “We have nice homestand here. This is not the way we pictured it going. We are really in a hole right now.” Continue Reading…

The Atlanta Hawks (30-23) fell to the Orlando Magic (22-28) behind yet another buzzer beater. It was their tenth in a row in this situation, per Jaryd Wilson of the Atlanta Hawks. The last second shot from Nikola Vucevic quelled a furious comeback attempt for the Hawks in a game in which the team was fighting uphill almost the entire way.

The Magic came in reeling, having lost 15 of their last 17 games and 11 of their last 12. The Hawks were riding high off of three straight victories and have chance to go into the All-Star break with some confidence.

Tobias Harris and C.J. Watson sat out with a mild ankle sprain and a sore calf respectively. On the other side, Tiago Splitter missed his fourth straight game with a hip injury for the Hawks and has been ruled out until after the All-Star break. It left the team with one less big body to bang with Vucevic, the talented big man from Montenegro. As a result, Nikola finished with 22 points and eight rebounds to go along with the victory.

Jeff Teague powered the Hawks behind 24 big points on 17 shots in 34 minutes with five assists to boot. Kent Bazemore came alive late with 23 points and eight rebounds. Atlanta had to lean on its long range shooting, as the team shot a paltry 22-of-63 (34.9%) from two point land compared to 13-of-28 (46.4%) from beyond the arc.

Continue Reading…

Hawks Dominate 76ers 124-86

 —  February 4, 2016 — Leave a comment

Atlanta stormed out to a 27-17 first quarter lead in Philadelphia and won every subsequent quarter by at least six points as the Hawks beat the 76ers 124-86 at Wells Fargo Center. Three starters scored in double figures and five players off Atlanta’s bench scored 12 or more in an incredibly-balanced scoring attack.

Kent Bazemore led the starters with 12 points and added three rebounds. Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague scored 10 each, Millsap with four rebounds and three assists and Teague with three rebounds, assists and steals. Mike Scott and Tim Hardaway Jr. shared the team scoring lead off the bench with 13. Hardaway added seven rebounds and four assists while Scott recorded a game-high nine rebounds. The remaining double-digit scorers for the Hawks were Dennis Schröder, Thabo Sefolosha and Mike Muscala who each scored 12. Sefolosha was a game-high plus-27 while adding six rebounds, two assists and two steals. Schröder added five rebounds and two assists.

With the win, the Hawks (29-22) climbed back into third in the East. The 76ers (7-42) were led by 17 points from Nick Stauskas, who added four rebounds. Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor rounded out the double-digit scorers for Philadelphia’s starting unit with 10 each. Noel added seven rebounds, five assists and two steals. Okafor had five rebounds and three assists. Isaiah Canaan added 11 points off the bench.

The Hawks return home to face the Indiana Pacers with an earlier-than-usual tip off time of 7 PM EST. The 76ers travel to face the Washington Wizards Friday. It was only the second double-digit scoring game since coming to the Hawks for Hardaway, who has averaged just under 11 points per game over the last three contests.