Having gotten revenge against the Bobcats, the Hawks currently stand at 7-4 for the month of January. While this may be better than what some expected, or worse than others expected, it’s not over yet. The Hawks have four more games to go in finishing off the month, and all are against quality opponents. Three of these games are on the road, where they’ll face Houston and San Antonio on their homecourts, then return home to try and sweep the regular season against the Celtics, then finally traveling south to face their Boogeyman. We all know who the Hawks’ boogeyman (or should I say boogeyMEN) is, right?
The worst that can happen is a 4 game losing streak, leaving Atlanta with a 7-8 record in January. Best case scenario has them winning all 4 games and riding high into February with an 11-4 record for the month. Personally, I don’t really see either one happening, though I wouldn’t at all mind the Hawks proving me wrong. What the heck, let’s make predictions! Who thinks the Hawks will have a winning record for the month, and who doesn’t? Will the Hawks go 4-0, 3-1, 2-2, or 0-4 in the last four games? Who will they beat, and who will they lose to?
I’m kind of caught between 2-2 and 3-1 myself. San Antonio has struggled of late, and isn’t quite as tough at home as Houston is. The Spurs have Duncan and Parker, and we have serious trouble with both. Yet the Hawks have what it takes to beat both. I look for Atlanta to win at home aginst Boston, message sent clearly and completely, although the return of KG may turn into a revenge-fest that will test the Hawks’ focus. The game against Orlando in Orlando? Hope springs eternal, but history has a louder voice. Put me down, regrettably, for the Hawks to go 2-2, beating Houston and Boston, but losing to a disciplined and efficient Spurs squad, and of course, the Boogeymen. Even as I type this, I keep wanting to say the Hawks beat the Spurs at home, but with the trouble we’ve had with Tony Parker (and the way he ran all over us for 42 points last year), I just can’t do it. But who knows?
Moving right along….
HAWKS VS ROCKETS
These two teams last encountered each other back on the 20th of November, and the Hawks staggered away from the equivalent of a full 12 round fight, with a 2 point victory. Using this game, let’s break down how the Rockets match up with the Hawks.
Houston beat us on the glass by getting nearly as many offensive rebounds (20) as they did defensive rebounds (22). The main culprits? Scola, Hayes, and Landry. Landry and Hayes had 5 offensive rebounds, with Scola adding 4 of his own. But for good measure, Trevor Ariza and Aaron Brooks (that’s right, Mighty Mite) added two apiece themselves. While the Hawks did manage 15 offensive rebounds of their own, giving up 20 didn’t help at all. In fact, that is largely what kept the Rockets in the game. The Hawks won’t win the battle on the glass easily in this game, if they win it at all. However, they can’t allow that many offensive rebounds and expect to have a good chance at winning, unless they are shooting lights out. But it’s never a good thing to go into a game, relying on good shooting to overcome bad rebounding.
Part of the reason the Hawks couldn’t rebound as well as their opponent was because Josh Smith only played 23 minutes, due to foul trouble. In that relatively short span of time, Smith collected 8 total rebounds (3 offensive, 5 defensive), 4 blocks, and 3 assists. Though some of that was timely, late game efforts, it still showed the effect that Smith was able to have one the game. But he wasn’t the only one. Al Horford, who produced 17 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 assists, and 2 blocks, fouled out of the game. With Pachulia (4 boards, 3 blocks) and Joe Smith (1 rebound, 1 block) getting no more than a combined 19 minutes, the Hawks could only turn to Marvin Williams for production.
Shoot Your Way Out
Marvin Williams responded marvelously, chalking up 29 points on 13 of 19 shooting, and adding 9 rebounds. They saying goes that you take what the defense gives you, and Houston had no answer for Williams. Never was it more needed than then, what with Mike Bibby shooting 3 for 9, and Joe Johnson going 6 for 18. In addition to Marvin’s blitz, Horford came up with a 6 for 9 performance, and the NBA’s new Sixth Man of the Year (seriously, who’s better?) poured in 21 points on 7-13 shooting.
To ISO or not to ISO
Much is made of this offensive staple, both good and bad. The Hawks don’t always seem to know when to use it, and that has led to their undoing more than a few times. The most recent case was a barrage of ill-fated jumpers in the fourth quarter against the Bobcats last night. If you are winning and shooting well by sharing the ball, then why change that? Yet that is exactly what the Hawks did. The result? Ill-fated jumpers chucked early in the shot clock led to fast break opportunities for the Bobcats, who cut a healthy lead back down to single digits before the Hawks recovered some of their swag and pulled away for the last time. Going to ISO plays late in the game, or in tight games may prove to be a good, reliable strategy. Especially if a sudden screen is used to free the guy with the ball, if he can’t shake his defender by himself. But why go ISO when you’re up by several points, and spreading the love is what is working? Moreover, is this a coach problem or a player problem? Probably both. The question is, how do the Hawks learn when the ISO is a good idea, and when it is not. Based on what I saw in last night’s game, I’d have to put the blame on the players this time. I don’t see Coach Woodson asking certain players to stop doing what is working, and start doing something else entirely. Then again, maybe he didn’t say anything at all about it. Hey, maybe he really doesn’t care so much about the offense, to put it nicely….
The Hawks would do well to remember what worked in the last meeting, and what didn’t. Getting Marvin Williams involved early is never a bad idea, and it will tell them two things early on. One, whether he is “feeling it”, and two, if Houston is going to have trouble guarding him again.
Getting Horford touches will also be key. Perhaps unnoticed by many has been Horford’s offensive production capability, which has improved over last season by 2.4 ppg. In addition, Horford has improved of late. While his 14.5 ppg this month (11 games so far) is slightly down from the 14.7 he averaged throughout December (14 games), there are 4 games remaining this month. And while he has only had seven games this season of 20+ points, three of them have been this month. Could Horford be on the upswing? If the Hawks want more steady production out of the post, feeding him the ball is the way to go.
Josh Smith is another guy who should get the ball steadily, and he usually does, even if he takes liberties of his own accord at times. Josh has proven that his much-maligned “basketball IQ” is not what many fear it is. And he’s done it by cutting his turnovers down to 2.1, and raising his assists to 3.9. How many power forwards in the league give you roughly 4 assists per game?
Al and Josh will need to stay out of foul trouble as best they can. If their playing time is limited, the Hawks will be in trouble. Don’t look for much reinforcement from the bench, as the emphasis will be placed on backcourt scoring. Read between the lines on that one….speaking of which…
The Hawks’ guards have to recognize quickly what is working. If the forwards and center are scoring at will, then KEEP FEEDING THEM! Take what the defense gives you and don’t force hotly contested jumpers just to get on the scoreboard. If not, then the bigs need recognize this and begin setting a series of screens to free up Joe, Jamal, and Mike for easier looks at the rim. Going into ISO mode too early can dig a hole that will be difficult to climb out of against a tough rebounding team. Also, turning the game into a three point shooting contest is a bad idea.
You know the drill. Spout off about your personal keys to winning the game, who the X-factor is, and what figures to be the game-breaking element. Oh, and who thinks somebody on the roster besides Joe Johnson will get voted into the all-star reserve ranks? Is Joe a lock to make it?