Meanwhile somewhere in the mountainous of Pennsylvania.….
Road trips aren’t always a lot of fun.The Atlanta Hawks and any other NBA team can tell you that. And if you are traveling for the Holidays, you can probably attest to it as well.
On the heels of an 18 1/2 hour drive from southeast georgia to Pennsylvania (we drove through what radio stations in Virginia were dubbing “The Blizzard of ‘09″), in which I missed both of the last two Hawks games, I have to be thankful. Even if the Hawks lost to the Bulls in overtime, they beat the Jazz before that, and made it look relatively easy. Oh, and we made it safely through the worst snow, sleet, and ice situation (even if the trip took several hours longer than it should have, due to road closures and the need to reduce speed drastically) I’ve ever been in by far. Ah yes, sometimes there is just no substitute for The Beast (my Ford F-150 Supercrew FX4), which powered right past one spun-out hybrid sedan or sports car after another. But enough of that…
As I watched some clips of the game against the Jazz, I thought, is this who the Hawks are becoming? A team that shares the ball and doesn’t have a 25+ ppg scorer? A team that uses a harassing, switching defense that can bother even the most efficiently executed offenses? Is this who the Hawks finally identify themselves as?What do y’all think? Since I didn’t get to see both games, how about y’all assess them both (I figure there will be more said about the loss, than the win, since we just CAN’T enjoy wins around here, heh heh!)
Both concepts (share the ball, properly execute a zone/switch defense) worked great against Utah. Most of what little bit of footage I saw of the Chicago game was offense (some shots of Derrick Rose showing why he was picked #1), so I don’t know how the defense went. Not all that well, based on the idea that Chicago, who has been struggling to score, managed to hit 48% of their shots.
The offense, however was a different deal. Just reading the box score, a few things were obvious.
First, the Hawks only had 15 assists. It would be easy to say that the Hawks didn’t share the ball, but is that what really happened? I mean, you can make all the beautiful, snazzy, or just plain fundamental passes you want. But if the guy receiving the ball doesn’t convert, then there’s no assist. So which happened? Did the Hawks just not share the ball, or did they not convert on plays?
Second, Joe Johnson had a pretty dang good game, offensively. He shot 50% from the field, including a blazing 5 of 7 from beyond the arc. He also took nearly three times as many shots (32) as the guy who took the second most shots on the team (Josh Smith, 12 shots). Was this the offense the Hawks wanted, or is this the offense they were forced into? Either way, it doesn’t seem to be how the Hawks win these days, for the most part. Then again, with Marvin, Mike, and Josh shooting a combined 6 for 27, Joe wasn’t getting much help at all. Oddly enough, it seems that perhaps Jamal should have taken more than 10 shots.
Third, Al Horford and Josh Smith were both in foul trouble, with four each. Ah, but there is a difference here as well. Foul trouble didn’t seem to limit or change Horford’s game too much, as he finished with 15 points on 6 for 10 shooting, 12 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 blocks. Josh Smith was far less impressive, recording just 8 points on 3 for 12 shooting, 5 rebounds, and 2 blocks. Was this the biggest negative impact in the game? Is foul trouble the biggest difference between Smith’s game against Utah, versus the one he had in Chicago? Why didn’t it have the same impact with Horford? Venturing an opinion, I would say that Josh Smith has to find ways to positively impact the game on BOTH ends of the court, regardless of foul trouble. And he must do so quickly. Why? Because coaches and their teams will catch onto how much of an impact Josh has on the game, and that he often doesn’t play well in foul trouble. Guess what that means as far as opposing gameplans?
Meanwhile, the road trip continues for the Hawks, who get some rest before facing the Minnesota Timberwolves in their own den on Tuesday. The Hawks then face the Denver Nuggets (who will no doubt wish to avenge the drubbing they received in Atlanta earlier this season) the very next night. Back to back road games are never fun. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be successful.
HAWKS VS T-WOLVES
The Hawks worked the hapless T-Wolves over last season, pretty much like everyone else did. Mike Bibby was the most consistent Hawk, going for an average of 21 points per contest. This year’s Minnesota squad is different, even if they don’t end up winning more games. With a record of 5-22, things don’t look too good for that to happen. However, the Wolves do have some things to look forward to, and some things to build off of.
The Hawks? Well, they’re different, too. But you knew that already.
Leader of the Pack
So much of the Wolves’ future begins with rookie pg Johnny Flynn. Like most rookie guards, Flynn has issues with consistency. One night, he hits nearly every shot he takes. The next night, he can’t buy a bucket. Be that as it may, Flynn is Minnesota’s floor general, and they key to success, even if he is the harbinger of failure on some nights. The highlight of his very young career has to be the 28 point outburst against Utah, in which he also made the game-winning shot. In fact, Flynn has been competitive against quite a few of the NBA’s better point guards. More specifically, he has been effective against them on offense. Defense has been another matter. The Hawks will have to be careful to swarm and frustrate Flynn early. He’s not a great shooter, but his speed, quickness, and determination help him to get points. The other thing about Flynn is that he struggles to be an effective playmaker when he’s not scoring. Of course, Flynn only has so much freedom in Coach Kurt Rambis’ offense (he has to learn the system first, then he will be cut loose to do his thing), so his assists are up and down.
Either way, a savvy veteran like Mike Bibby can exploit Flynn’s lack of experience and frustrate him into a bad game. On the flip side of the coin, if Bibby and the Hawks don’t get after Flynn right away, he’ll use his superior speed and nose for the paint to explode for a 20+ point night.
Al Jefferson isn’t producing like he was last year (23 points, 11 rebounds, 1.7 blocks per contest), but he’s still a very credible and solid producer in the paint with 16.8 ppg and 9.1 rpg, even if his defensive statistics have also taken a downturn. Jefferson is a double double threat any night, but he will get to face a similar threat in Al Horford, who has seen his offensive output increase this season. Horford is strong, but his advantage here will be quickness and speed. Who wins this battle, or will it even out, much as Horford’s matchup with New Jersey’s Brook Lopez did, before Horford left the game and Lopez was able to pad his stats?
Here’s possibly the more pivotal post matchup: Kevin Love versus Josh Smith. Horford can’t be expected to take on Minnesota’s glass-crashing duo without a tag team partner. Smith is just the man for the job. In fact, Horford and Smith both tend to play better when the other is in the game with them. Similarly, Jefferson is always better when Love is there to lend a hand. Kevin Love is a natural rebounder that has two advantages on most nights- size and near-flawless fundamentals. He’s also an opportunistic and steady scorer who has very good shooting range (8-15 from beyond the arc this season), and tends to make good decisions with the ball. Both he and Jefferson average about 2 assists per game each, showing their ability to pass the ball. On defense, Smith will have to shadow Love and fight him hard on the glass, or the Horford and the Hawks could find themselves overwhelmed in the battle of the boards. On offense, Smith must use his quickness to score on Love and draw fouls. On the other side, Love will try to do the same thing (draw fouls) to Smith, as he surely will not want to be stuck trying to deal with the high-leaping and active Atlanta forward.
Normally we’d call this the battle of the bench, but in this case it seems more like a matchup of the role players. Ryan Gomes and Corey Brewer are the main support guys for Minnesota, though both are usually starting. Add Ramon Sessions to the group, as the backup point guard. Sessions was probably looking for another shot at a starting gig when he left Milwaukee, but with Flynn around, Sessions has had to settle for second fiddle and about 22 minutes per game. Still, Sesssions has responded decently by shooting over 50% from the field, scoring 8.4 ppg, and adding 3 assists per game. Getting back to the wings….Brewer is not a good shooter (40%) but still gets 11.4 ppg. His forte is defense, where his hot stat is 1.74 thefts per contest. Gomes is more offensively adept than Brewer, averaging 12 points per contest on roughly 48% shooting. Both guys help out on the boards though, as Gomes averages 5.3, and Brewer 4.1 per game.
The Hawks counter on the wings with Marvin Williams and Mo Evans, who will have to bring energy and intensity to match that of Brewer and Gomes. In the backcourt, Sessions will need all the help he can get against explosive veteran Jamal Crawford and rookie Jeff Teague. Teague is not likely to have a huge impact in the game, but it’s hard to imagine he won’t get decent minutes against the Wolves.
While some may think this is an alien concept in the ATL, the Hawks’ coaching staff is doing a good job. It’s a new day when the Hawks lose a game in overtime to an inferior team, and it only drops them to 19 and 7 with a road record of 7 and 5. This has to reflect well on Mike Woodson in particular, who is getting more consistency out of his team than ever. Will that earn him a new contract? Very likely so, and all current signs point toward that result. The question is, when? GM Rick Sund has publicly (and apparently privately) said that this will be at the end of the season. Will that affect Woodson’s ability to perform at a high level? The Hawks record indicates that the answer is a resounding “No”, and there is little reason to think that this will change. Woodson and the Hawks seem to be running along just fine, despite the concerns with Woodson and guard Joe Johnson’s contract status. But what do YOU think? Will Woodson be able to maintain his professional approach to things and continue to get good results, or will the lack of a contract extension RIGHT NOW keep him from doing his job?
Off We Go
Hopefully the Hawks get a couple of good practices in before heading into the games against Minnesota and Denver. They always seem to play well right after they have good practices.
Well, back to more snow and exceedingly cold weather for now. So what do you think, Hawks fans? Does our squad bounce back from this loss and do to the T-Wolves what they’ve done to so many other bad teams so far this season? It would be a good thing if the starters get an early blowout and get to rest up for at least a quarter or so against Minnesota, since they’ll face Denver the very next night.