….It seems that the NBA officials are against us. Some of the non-calls are just crazy. Last night’s game against the Chicago Bulls was one of the more egregious affairs, wherein the Hawks had twice the number of fouls as the Bulls, despite the symphony of flesh music that came even to the ears of those at home, every time Josh Smith grabbed a rebound in the 4th quarter. One of the most obvious examples was an Al Horford dunk off of a pick and roll play with Mike Bibby, in which Bulls forward Tyrus Thomas hung from Horford’s forearms like some desperate spider monkey. And 1, anybody? What is up with the calls, or lack thereof? Will the Hawks and their coaching staff finally begin standing up for themselves? In the case of Joe Johnson, a more aggressive style of play (which he has shown here lately) helps, but the man could stand to complain a bit more. But something has to give. Sooner or later. Preferably before the playoffs.
….Al Horford just doesn’t seem to be himself. Don’t get me wrong, the scoring output is nice when he gets adequate touches. But where is the double double guy we know and love? Horford’s scoring has increased this year, but his rebounding has had its ups and downs here lately. More to a point, Horford has recorded double doubles just 3 times in his last 15 games, and had double digit rebounds in only 6 of those 15 games. Is this cause for alarm? Maybe not, but it’s never good when your best rebounder is struggling, particularly against lineups that he shouldn’t be strugging against. Just 5 rebounds against the Oklahoma City Thunder or against the Chicago Bulls when Joakim Noah is out? On the flip side, it’s hard to complain about a double double if a guy gives you 23 and 9 or 24 and 10. But those games aren’t coming all that often. Hopefully Horford bounces back, and the fact is, he’s still averaging 9.4 rebounds per contest. However, there is little doubt that his rebounding inconsistencies are affecting the Hawks. He needs to turn it back up a notch.
….Marvin Williams seems to be finding his groove. Okay, so it’s only really been two games (in my opinion, anyway, feel free to disagree). But, despite still getting the least number of touches of all the starters and not posting “wow” scoring numbers, Marvin has shown efficiency and aggression. Aggression and Marvin in the same sentence in a positive light? Yes indeed. Two plays against Chicago stand out to me. One was a move in which he was clearly fouled, and he made the basket anyway (okay, it looked awkward, but we’ll chalk it up to the foul). The other was the high-flying, two-handed follow slam to a Joe Johnson missed jumper. Two plays, two games, I hear you in the back row. But it has to start somewhere. Now here’s the best part: Marvin has stepped up his hustle, which often times won’t show up in the boxscores, his defense, and his rebounding. Having averaged 8 rebounds per game over the last three games, will Marvin keep it up, or relapse into his disappearing acts? As the sixth option on offense (Jamal may be off the bench, but he’s still higher on the offensive pecking order), he won’t likely be posting any 20 point games unless somebody is missing or several guys are struggling. But if Marvin keeps up the defense and raises his rebounding average (5.1 for the season), along with hitting the open shot, the Hawks are simply a better team. The jury is out…
….Josh Smith looks more and more like a guy who should not only be the first one named to the all-star team if somebody bows out due to injury (c’mon Garnett, you don’t really need to go), but he should get the nod for next year’s team already. Smith’s all around stats haven’t had a very noticeable upwards spike, but his high assist games have proven timely, and his rebounds are gradually rising. More importantly, Smith has become quite the pivotal player late in games. Assists, rebounds (particularly offensive), and defensive plays in the third and fourth quarters have become his penchant, and he’s even been getting some big buckets in crunch time. Now if only he can raise that free throw percentage a little higher, a little faster. Despit the knocks on some of his “moves”, poor free throw shooting is really the only thing stunting Smith’s offensive growth.
….It would appear that maybe, just maybe Mike Woodson does see what’s going on…on offense. Statistics show that the Hawks are more offensively potent than ever, ranking high in several categories. However, there is a difference between potency and efficiency. Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford are two of the most dangerous gunners in the league, and everybody knows it. As these two learn to mesh with each other, Josh Smith and Al Horford have provided a higher percentage solution closer to the basket, as more than just an occasional threat. But you know all of this already. Here’s my reason for bringing this up. During an in-game interview, Mike Woodson was asked why his team was trailing in the game, and what they needed to do to get back on top. I expected the usual refrain about playing defense and getting rebounds. Well the rebound comments were very deserving, but then the surprise came. I’ll paraphrase the quote here, “Well, our offense has gotten kinda stagnant out there, I gotta get ‘em moving around some. We need to rebound, but our defense wasn’t that bad. They just made some tough shots.” Say what? You mean that our offense gets stagnant sometimes due to lack of movement? Could this mean that we will see more wrinkles and adjustments on offense when the usual set aren’t working? We sure hope so, don’t we? Perhaps the Hawks are learning that in the end, you still have to outscore your opponent to win the game, defense notwithstanding. That’s not to say that the Hawks don’t win with defense. They do, and they should never stray from that concept. But in those tight games where other things just aren’t working, where you can’t seem to get the loose balls, the offensive boards, and the calls….you have to score.
….Joe Johnson looks smooth. Not just smooth, but elite smooth. I don’t know that I can put my finger squarely on it, but the Main Man looks better than he did earlier in the season. Now it would seem like this would be a convenient time to say this after watching Joe post a back-to-back 30+ point performances, but I really feel like it started when he went solo against San Antonio with 31. He even looked smooth going 8 for 20 last night against Chicago. What is it, exactly? I think it’s his recent determination to get to the basket. I also think it’s because he has found a bit of a groove while playing out there with Jamal Crawford (as noted by other bloggers). Joe seems to be more in control. He’s backing guys down in the post more. He’s not forcing shots and passes nearly as much. Want a stat to chew on? How about this: Joe has had more than 2 turnovers in a game just three times in the last 18 games, with one of those games being the 37 point outburst against Oklahoma City. Joe is one of the best in the game. Here lately, he has really looked like it. Now if we can just get a few more foul calls for him, and we’ll see those 8 for 20 shooting nights offset by 8 to 12 trips to the line…
HAWKS VS WIZARDS
We’ll make this a quick hitter.
After disposing of Chicago to become 21 and 5 at Phillips Arena, the Hawks go on the road for a couple of games, with tonight’s contest taking place in Washington. The Wiz are coming off of yet another improbable win against Atlanta’s biggest nemesis, the Orlando Magic. How do these things work? I have no idea other than to say that sometimes it really must be about matchups and almost nothing else.
Be that as it may, the Hawks put the Wizards down last time by a double digit margin. Joe and Jamal did much of the damage, with some help from Marvin Williams.
Antawn Jamison is pure Hawks-bane. Every time we see him, he puts up the kind of numbers that would make you think it was Dwight Howard or Shaquille O’Neal playing for Washington. His rangy skill set makes him a tough cover, so I don’t see it happening much differently this time, either. However, if Smith and Horford get 1) more touches, 2) shoot better, and 3) get more aggressive on the glass, we may see some difference. As in Jamison may only get us for 22 and 10, instead of 25 and 19.
With Jamison all but a foregone conclusion, I have to say the two guys who have me worried the most are Randy Foye and Caron Butler. Foye is quick and likes to get to the basket, but he’s not a very good shooter. Cut off his penetration, and he also won’t be able to make plays for his teammates. Caron Butler has had an up and down season, and hasn’t been his usual “tough juice” self this year. However, recent explosions against the Celtics (20 points, 11 rebounds) and the Magic (31 points and 9 rebounds) should be a warning. “Tough Juice” might be on the way back, and the Hawks don’t want to be the third team in a row to find that out the hard way.
Should be an even game tonight in light of the fact that both teams played last night. The Hawks will need to come out with energy right off the bat, or they’ll be stuck trying to figure out who will inject some late in the game. So who steps to the forefront to carry the Hawks in tonight’s matchup? Which Wizard(s) will be the most dangerous? Can Marvin maintain his intensity and aggression? Will Jamal Crawford go for 20 again? Is Mike Bibby all but a side note these days?