Hawks fans everywhere have to be feeling at least a little bit good, even if only for the moment.
At the 40-game mark, the Hawks are just one game away from being truly half way through the season. And here they sit at 8 games above .500, an accomplishment that this franchise has not seen in years, and one that some of the Hawks players have not seen at all in their young careers.
Despite a spate of injuries mostly to their frontcourt, the Hawks have managed to plug along, losing enough to not look like a typical Cinderella, but winning enough not to look like one of her ugly stepsisters. All the while, debates have raged hot and heavy on subjects such as the number of minutes Joe Johnson and some other starters are playing, whether or not certain guys will or should be traded, and whether or not head coach Mike Woodson is doing the job right.
One subject in particular has come to the forefront and pretty much stayed there: THE BENCH. While this discussion will probably never end (at least as long as Woodson is head coach), perhaps we should take a closer look at some specifics. It’s easy to say that Woodson has under-utilized his bench. It is equally easy to say the exact opposite. And there are no doubt plenty of “facts” that can be used, twisted, or otherwise presented to support both opinions, as is the case with most opinion-driven subjects (though curiously, no “facts” have been presented for EITHER side). Of course, we all know that not all teams are the same. So while Woodson may make use of his bench as much, more, or less than other coaches/teams do, how much relevance is there in that point? There seems to be more relevance to the fact that Woodson claims a desire to use a deeper rotation, and play certain players more, while doing the opposite, until key injuries force his hand.
Some teams have winning records year after year with the use of an 8 man rotation. This Hawks team is not yet one of those teams, with only a winning half-season record to support such an idea. And so, Woodson’s utilization of the bench remains…ultimately…debatable.
On to other matters. After finding themselves on the wrong end of the barrel in a shootout against Golden State (never advisable), the Hawks found their footing against Toronto, beating them 87-84. Good games from the shoot-happy starting backcourt, with JJ going for 28 points and 6 boards, and Bibby gathering 23 points and 5 assists. The Hawks also got a big boost from Josh Smith, who played a good bit of center with Pachulia out with foul trouble. Smith chipped in 22 points and 14 rebounds on 50% shooting, with 3 assists, and 1 turnover. Flip Murray added 12, despite subpar shooting, and Solomon Jones got a decent 18 minutes of playing time. Rarely used reserves Gardner and West miraculously saw the floor for a combined 9 and a half minutes.
Up next is Chicago (tomorrow night), and we’ve faced these guys before. While Horford would be nice to have around (especially against Drew Gooden), we are as likely as not to be without his and Marvin Williams’ services. Aside from Gooden, however, our problems against the Bulls are not in the frontcourt, but the backcourt. Woodson will need all hands on deck against the speedy, strong, and smart trio of Rose, Gordon, and Hinrich. Meanwhile, Luol Deng and Andres Nocioni present their own problems, and Noah and Thomas are hustling well lately. Not to mention, the Bulls have shown they are no idle threat, recently beating both Cleveland and Toronto, while losing to hot Portland and San Antonio teams. This is a dangerous team, and the Hawks will have to work hard on defense to limit their backcourt lethality, while looking to do damage in the frontcourt without all the usual weapons.
Having said that, we can win this game. Just a matter of matchups, right?