I’m glad the Hawks aren’t playing any games on April 1st. We’ve been fooled enough, as it is. Beat the Orlando Magic, lose to the Philadelphia 76ers. A few years later, have things really changed? Have we gotten to where we know what to expect out of this team? How about the team itself- do they know what to expect out of themselves?
Probably the most disturbing thing about an Atlanta squad that is clearly better than ever, is the defense. Or should I say, lack thereof. We probably shouldn’t really be very surprised. After all, the group of guys we have now is very close to the same group that was here last year. Add in Jamal Crawford, who has never been much of a defender in this league, and you’ve possibly compounded a problem. Is it ability? How about effort? How about defensive design and concept implementation? Woodson has implemented the switching defense some time ago. So it’s not like it’s a new concept. You would think that the players have gotten better at it by now, right? Then again, this is a defensive concept that is used, as Woodson described it, to sometimes hide defensively deficient players like Mike Bibby. Again…add in Jamal Crawford, a player who gets heavy rotational minutes at 30+ per game, and you’re now trying to hide TWO defensively deficient players. Sounds like things got worse, right? If that sounds familiar, it should. Our very own Astro Joe suggested that this might be the case, before the season began. He got laughed at. I don’t think we’re laughing too hard right now.
Yet, perhaps it is fair to say that no single thing is going to explain what has happened to this team on the defensive end, especially since Crawford and Bibby aren’t the only ones not getting the job done. We can’t seem to figure out why the Hawks are able to lock a team down for a stretch of several minutes at a time, but cannot seem to do it for even half a game. Is it this insidious “lack of focus” that keeps rearing its head? Whatever it is, this will not cut it for the playoffs. The Hawks have shown that they can do better, and in the playoffs, they will surely have to. One thing they’ll have to do is figure out how to go from playing switch defense, to something that works better, because some teams will figure out how to exploit it. Can they make this transition?
The Last Nine
Lakers, Cavs, Pistons, Bobcats, Pistons, Raptors, Wiz, Bucks, Cavs. That would be the opponents in Atlanta’s final nine games of the season. Standing at 47 wins (last year’s total), how will the Hawks do in their last nine? Anybody care to make a prediction? Five of these games are on the road, four are at home. The trick is, however, that two of those home games are against the Lakers, and the Cavaliers. The road games include one game each in Detroit, Cleveland, Charlotte, Milwaukee, and Washington. Here is another twist- With the exception of Washington, the Hawks have lost to each of those teams this season when playing them on the road. There can be no tie (9 games) in the final stretch. Either the Hawks have a winning final stretch, or a losing one. I predict the Hawks will go 6 and 3 for the final stretch. Sound too optimistic? Maybe. The scenario goes that they’ll beat the Lakers in Phillips Arena (Lakers lose focus at times, and the Hawks are very good at home, especially against top competition), but lose to the Cavs in Cleveland. They will come back home and take revenge against Detroit. Following that, Atlanta will travel to Charlotte, where they will win a close one, then travel further north, where they will steam right past Detroit. Toronto will beat Atlanta at home because the Hawks won’t want the win as badly as the Raptors, who will still be fighing off the Bulls for the 8th seed. Finally, the Hawks come out of Washington with an easy win, escape Milwaukee with a close win, and then beat Cleveland at home, as Cavs’ reserves are outrun by the Atlanta reserves. Highlights will include leading performances by Mo Evans and Jeff Teague, and some Mario West highlight reel material.
The Hawks will slip up in Washington and get thoroughly outplayed in Milwaukee, and ending the last 9 games with 4 wins and 5 losses. Why? Because when they lose their heads, they really lose their heads. Either way, it ought to be interesting? Ok, not it’s your turn. Tell me how wrong I am and why, then tell me how it’s really going to happen. Come on, I dare you. I don’t think you can do any worse!
HAWKS VS LAKERS
What can really be said? These are the defending champs and owners of the second best record in the league. They have Kobe Bryant. Pau Gasol. Really, you could stop right there. But rather than compare the two teams, let’s talk about interesting matchups.
Al Horford gets to face another talented 7-footer , and it will be intersting to see how he has grown into playing these kinds of guys. Horford’s 15 to 18 foot jumper is good enough for him to start giving Josh Smith lessons. Will he take Andrew Bynum outside to help unclog the middle, or will he attempt to out-quick and outwork him in the paint? Wait a minute. Bynum is out with injury, probably until April. Hah! Thought you had me again, didn’t you? Well, I remembered to read up on player status this time. Okay, so Horford may actually be facing a greater challenge: Pau Gasol. Called a softie by many, Gasol is one of the most accomplished post players in the game right now, though he still resides in Kobe’s shadow (every Laker in the last 7 or 8 years but Shaq knows what that is like). He’s no joke on defense either, averaging 1.7 blocks per game with only about 2.3 fouls per game. Horford will be tested. Will Gasol?
Josh Smith vs Lamar Odom. Who gets 20 rebounds this time?
Two forwards. Both considered underachievers in the eyes of their fans. Both averaging middling points and rebounds. Both likely giving more to their team in ways that aren’t immediately seen, and sacrificed for the betterment thereof. Or so we like to think. Who gets the better of this matchup, Marvin Williams or Ron Artest?
The Main Attraction
The matchup you both love and hate to see. Why do you love it? Because it’s Joe vs Kobe. Why do you hate it? Because you hate comparisons between Joe and Kobe. But as Agent Smith says in all three “Matrix” movies….”It is inevitable….”
Best of the Rest
Will Jamal shoot 50% or better this time? If he does, the Hawks will have a good chance at winning.
Will Mike Bibby revisit some of his past Laker-killer days and shoot the lights out? If so, that’s another good chance at a win.
Will Jeff Teague dunk on Lamar Odom again? If he does, I hope he screams “Kardashian!” when he throws it down.