You know. The “panic” one. The “I quit” one. It’s JUST a three game losing streak.
Or is it?
Losing to a team that’s not as good as you are, and doing so at home is definitely not the way to ring in the New Year. Coming off of back to back losses for only the second time this season, the Hawks could have used some forward momentum. Instead, they got a slap in the face to start the year, and what will no doubt prove to be a tough January. Every game this month is against teams that will find ways to beat you if you don’t respect them and play with intensity throughout the game. The lone exceptions might be New Jersey and Washington, but even those two perennial losers can sneak right up on you. In New Jersey, Brook Lopez is a foundation to build on and Devin Harris is a tough cover for most NBA backcourts. In Washington, well….good games by Agent Zero, Jamison, and/or Caron Butler can do anybody in.
However, those two are just the trap games. Not including the loss to the Knicks, the Hawks play 14 other games, 11 of which are teams with records over .500. That’s not all. Five of those games are against Orlando (2) and Boston (3). And those games aren’t spaced out, either. When the Hawks play Boston, they’ll play Orlando right after that. This will happen not once, but TWICE this month. But…don’t touch that button!
Back to the Knicks game.
A day at The Post Office
It’s been said many times that games are won or lost in the paint. This theory has much merit, but like any other theory, there are numerous exceptions and scenarios that undermine thinking like that with any rigidity. The Hawks have been criticized by some for not having a bigger frontcourt, and losing games because of this. Well chew on this one: Atlanta’s starting froncourt players combined for 57 points while shooting 24 for 37 from the field (64.9%). They also grabbed a total of 31 rebounds, and added 8 assists, 2 steals, and 5 blocked shots. Meanwhile, the Knicks had four guys all playing big minutes in the frontcourt, so we’ll count all four (David Lee, Al Harrington, Jared Jeffries, and Danilo Gallinari). Combined, they scored 39 points on 14 of 38 (36.8%) shooting, while grabbing just 18 rebounds, and adding 7 assists, 3 steals, and 2 blocks. That, my friends, is post domination, three guys against four. Josh Smith even went 8 for 11 from the line. Clearly, the Hawks won the contest in the paint. So why did they lose the game?
Now we shift to the guard play. The Knicks had two main contributors by far in this game, and both are guards (though Wilson Chandler is labeled a guard/forward). Chandler and Nate Robinson combined for a blazing 65 points on a sizzling 28 of 43 (65.1%) shooting performance. Chandler even managed to grab a team high 17 rebounds. Between the two of them, they far outperfomed a Hawks backcourt trio of Joe Johnson, Jamal Crawford, and Mike Bibby. Those three offered up a combined 43 points that wouldn’t be so bad if it hadn’t taken 54 shots to get there, of which the Hawks guards only hit 19, for a decidedly dismal 35.2%. Joe Johnson’s 28 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 assists would seem like a lone, but very bright spot, until you see that he took 30 shots and only hit 12.
What do do?
So the backcourt lost the game, right? Not exactly. It’s not the guards as much as it is the philosophy. On nights that our guards can’t be stopped or can’t seem to miss, things are good….provided our frontcourt is doing enough to keep things on an even keel. The frontcourt loses usually loses games by not defending, not rebounding, and not hitting their shots. The backcourt tends to lose the game when their shots aren’t falling, and they combine that with porous perimeter defense. In both cases, a little defense goes a long way. After 30+ games, I’m leaning towards defensive issues being a bigger problem in the backcourt than in the frontcourt, however. The most frequent exception to this is when Josh Smith gets into foul trouble.
So why do the Hawks keep losing games in the fourth quarter? Why decide to live and die by the jumpshot, particularly late in games (you know, when legs tend to be more tired)? The Hawks better figure it out, as the road gets tougher as we move along. Something has to change.
HAWKS VS HEAT
Still smarting from a first round loss in last season’s playoffs that they probably felt they could win, the Miami Heat were no doubt gunning for the Hawks in this season’s first matchup. However, Atlanta rolled right over Miami enroute to a 105-90 win. The Heat go a nice performance from Michael Beasley, who is a tough cover for the Hawks, but got little elsewhere. Miami could not contain Joe Johnson though, and Jermain O’Neal and company got beat up by Josh Smith and Al Horford, both of whom recorded nice double doubles. Since then, the Heat have ridden a roller coaster a bit, but still winning more than they have lost. At just two games over .500, the Heat are currently a somewhat distant 5th seed in the East. However, the Hawks aren’t very careful, they could find the Heat breathing right down their necks by the end of the month, or even halfway through.
Everything about the Miami Heat starts with Dwyane Wade. The Hawks know how to defend Wade, but it takes persistence. Slack off for a minute, and he gets hot. If he gets hot…well, you’ll be lucky to walk away with 3rd degree burns, because you probably won’t leave with a win. Wade has the ability to get his teammates involved, but in the end, he’s much more of a play finisher than he is a playmaker. Joe Johnson will have his hands full, and Jamal Crawford better eat his Wheaties. Maybe with some hot sauce….
Michael Beasley isn’t the dynamic superstar that Wade is, but he is not much less of a problem for the Hawks. The Heat have beaten the southeast division leading Orlando Magic twice this season, and both instances involved heavy doses of Beasley, who averaged 18.5 points and 10 rebounds against them. While his overall stat production is up from last season, he is still a liability on defense. The way to neutralize him is to shadow him on offense (with Marvin Williams) and make him take more longer jumpers than he really wants, then make him work hard and get into foul trouble on defense (run Josh Smith at him early, often, and continuously…or make him guard Marvin by givng Marvin the ball on cuts and screens). Of course, this DOES require ball and personnel movement.
Jermaine O’Neal is a guy who tends to stay fairly close to the trainer’s room. However, when he IS on the court, he’s a decently effective player who is capble of dropping a double double on any given night. The body may not always be willing, but the skills and the savvy are there, and if properly motivated, O’Neal can be a bear in the post. Al Horford will be tasked with guarding him (assuming he’s playing), and making him work on the other end of the floor. O’Neal wasn’t a problem for Horford in the last meeting. Will he bring more to the table this time (again, assuming he’s playing).
Forced to the bench because the Heat decided they need the scoring more than they do the rebounding and defense, Udonis Haslem has taken to his new role quietly and effectively. He’s still tough as nails on defense, and not exceptionally foul prone. Fail to block him out, and the rebound is his. Josh Smith will have to use his athleticism and his new found rebounding fundamentals to keep Haslem from eating the Hawks up on the glass. In addition, Smith will need the ball often in the post, where he can make Haslem work hard on defense, and prevent him from doubling over to help O’Neal with Al Horford.
This might be another good learning opportunity for Hawks rookie Jeff Teague, who has not seen the floor very much lately. Teague will have to contend with the likes of Mario Chalmers and Carlos Arroyo. Neither guy has the kind of stats that jump out at you, but both are capable of running a team and playing some defense. Will Teague get some burn, or will he do most of his learning from the bench?
About That Button….
So are you wanting to push it yet, or no? Is the timing of this losing streak bothersome, or is it just a small losing streak? How do you think the Hawks will fare in the harrowing month of January? WSWD (What Should Woody Do)? Should the Hawks shift more of the scoring load to the frontcourt, or is the veteran backcourt still the path to most victories?
11 of 14 games against winning teams. It won’t be an easy road, but it’s one the Hawks have to travel.