Ladies and Gentlemen, YOUR Atlanta Hawks!!!!
Going in to tonight’s tilt against D. Wade and the Heat, the Hawks are 9-2 and a mere half-game behind Phoenix for the best record (the BEST record!) in the NBA! I’d ask “who’d a thunk it?”, but I know there are a lot of true believers/blog regulars who are ready to step forward and take credit for such foresight. Additionally, a few folks on the national hoops’ media scene have added to the excitement by placing the Hawks at the top of their “power” rankings.
Heady stuff, indeed!
So now we are at the place where folks start to draw conclusions about just what such a hot start means for the Hawks, and their potential for this NBA season. Truth is that no one knows how the following 71 games will turn out.
The coaches and players would be the first to say that the literal value of such a tremendous start is that we’re 7 games over .500 and that their confidence is sky high, which IS important to any team on the way up. So should our fans take the same approach, avoiding over-confidence, and acknowledging that the only thing that counts is the next game on the schedule?
Probably, but what fun is that?!
WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT THIS START?
Almost everything. The Hawks have nine wins on the books and nobody can take that away from them. The offense is more versatile than in any season in recent memory. Their firepower is such that they can overcome 3 quarters of so-so execution, against a very talented, playoff-bound Portland team, and still pull off an overtime victory. That simply wouldn’t have happened in years past, even last year. When the Hawks are pushing the tempo and attacking the basket, good things continue to occur.
Josh Smith and Al Horford both are taking their individual games to another level. And for all the concerns that exist (I’m a member of the group that is “concerned”, over the course of the full season) about how our front line is undersized, on the Defensive end, the facts are that, to date, their quickness and athleticism, on the Offensive end, are creating more match up problems for our opponents than they are for the Hawks.
Tonight they play a Heat team that doesn’t present the same kind of “size” challenges, for the front line, that a team like Portland did Monday night. And, having attended that game, I know that our guys won not only the game, but the statistical battle inside. But watching the game, and having a pretty lengthy historical knowledge of the NBA game, I couldn’t help but look ahead, over the course of the grueling, 82-game NBA schedule, and think about how a front line like ours tends to get worn down over the course of a season, by pounding with bigger players on a nightly basis. At this stage of the season, everyone is fresh. But, as I used an NFL analogy regarding the 6-0 start of the Denver Bronco’s last night (now 6-3), in an attempt to highlight that a fast start never guarantees that a team can maintain the pace that the Hawks have set so far, there’s another football analogy that bears consideration:
Football teams with a distinct size advantage, on the offensive and defensive lines, often trade the first three quarters of the interior line battle to a smaller, more athletic team, knowing that by the time the fourth quarter starts, they’ll have worn the other team down. And most games (seasons) are won in the fourth quarter.
So while the Hawks have added depth to their front line this season, so far Woody has largely neglected expanding his rotation and utilizing players like Joe Smith and Collins.
Let’s hear from you guys on whether you’re concerned about Horford and Smith wearing down over the season, against the front lines of teams like the Celtics, Magic and Cavaliers!
Clearly, we’re emerging as one of the top teams in the East. But with that acknowledgment, there should come the need to ask the tough questions about what it will take for this team to climb to the top of the East. If you’re a fan who just wants to enjoy the ride, and let the season and playoffs be what they will be, then I can understand your disinterest in getting too deep about things like “roster balance” and “bench utilization”.
But if you believe this team has the potential to play of all of the marbles, the NBA Championship, as early as THIS season, then looking to identify what, if any, changes are necessary to reach that goal, seems like a fair topic for conversation. And it’s never too early, in my opinion, for an organization to look for ways to improve their immediate opportunity, especially when your team, the Atlanta Hawks, are off to an East-leading 9-2 start!
I’ll leave that general issue for anyone to pick up, should any of you like to discuss it.
TONIGHT, WE FEEL THE HEAT!
This is a team, the Miami Heat, that we know about as well as any team in the league. We beat them in 7 games last spring, to win the first-round of the playoffs. There are no mysteries in how we match up.
D. Wade (with apologies to Joe Johnson and his most ardent fans) will be the best player on the court tonight. One early season issue that continues to create questions is how many points the Hawks have been giving up (while also significantly increasing their offensive production on a nightly basis). While our multi-headed group of back court gunners continues to apply constant pressure to opposing defenses, they haven’t exactly been stoppers on the defensive end. And with Wade and the lightning quick Chalmers, complemented by their own crew of “gunners”, in Q Rich and D Cook, the Heat will put major pressure on our perimeter defense (and if the perimeter guys don’t truly commit to staying in front of these guys, Horford, Marvin and Josh will be forced to work that much harder to defend the paint, causing them to rotate off of guys like O’Neal and a guy who showed during last years’ playoffs that he was a real match-up problem for the Hawks: Micheal Beasley).
This looks like it will be a real shootout, which will make for a seriously FUN game to watch. But the Hawks have to make sure that while they’re having FUN, and are providing us with a FUN experience, that they’re still taking care of the “W’s”. This is a conference match up, and losing a shootout, at home, to the Heat, would not only be a set back, but might really start to create a foundation for the way upcoming opponents prepare for playing the Hawks.
The sooner the Hawks return to making defense a priority, and this would be a great night to make such a statement to the league, the easier it will be to develop ongoing faith that this team’s start is more than a good, early season, run. The offense is there, unlike any Woody-coached team we’ve ever seen. But we need to see some of that defense that Woody has been known for, to really see that the potential for this years’ Hawks is truly unlimited!
Should be a great game tonight!
Let us know what you think about all this and GO HAWKS!