Hawks face ailing Raptors as time runs out

Watching the desperate Chicago Bulls defeat the Cavaliers with Lebron on the bench, I had to wonder if maybe it’s a matter of pressure. The Bulls are trying to make the playoffs. The Hawks are trying to gain the third seed in the playoffs. The Bulls are talking about doing everything they can to stay locked in and get the win. The Hawks are talking about not knowing what went wrong. Surely, it’s the difference in pressure, right?

 

Final Four

This is it. Toronto at home. Visits to Washington and then Milwaukee. The finale at home against Cleveland, who will be playing with Lebron, no doubt. Apparently Mike Brown is scared to deatht that his superstar player will catch whatever Chris Bosh has, and I don’t blame him. After stumbling last year, the Cavs are determined to win it all this time around. So, they’ll sit Lebron, but they will still be very dangerous. How motivated are the Hawks in their final four games? Do they still want that third place seed, or have they given up? Most of us probably did not expect the Celtics to fade down the stretch, and they haven’t. At least, not as much as the Hawks have. The race for the third seed is not over yet, but it’s nearly done.

Joe, Playoffs, and Other Concerns

How much longer is Joe Johnson going to be out, and what is the extent of his injury? Maybe it’s too late for the Hawks to be trying to figure out how to win without Joe (at least in the soon-to-be-over regular season), and just worry about preparing for the playoffs. The biggest concern at this point has to be how healthy Joe will be for the playoffs. Make no mistake, he is needed at 100%, or the team could be looking at a similar, or perhaps worse result than last postseason. Here are a few reasons why:

_ This will be Jamal Crawford’s first time in the postseason since he began his NBA career 10 years ago. There is no substitute for postseason experience. Just ask Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Mo Williams, who had more then Crawford has, having played 5 games in the playoff for Milwaukee in 2005-2006. Williams was fine all regular season long, averaging nearly 18ppg and 4 apg, as the Cavs won a stunning 66 games in 2008-2009. Then the big, hot lights came on, and things came just a bit unglued for the Cavs’ #2 scoring option. His shooting percentage sank nearly 7% (down to 40% overall) and his scoring dipped, although his assists remained about the same. More than once it was mentioned that LBJ’s running partner wasn’t everything he needed. Will Crawford be a steady hand in the playoffs and provide that second best scoring punch, or will he fade into bad shot selection, high turnovers, and horrid defense?

_ Josh Smith has grown into a legit scoring option in post-ups and drives to the basket. However, he is still struggling mightily with his free throws, and there does not seem to be any relief in sight. In the playoffs, he will find his lanes cut off at times, or teams will simply foul him and dare him to score at the charity stripe. Smith has had some good games at the line, but they have been too far and few between. In the meantime, a few misses seems to encourage him to settle for the mid-to-long range jumpers that teams love for him to take, and everybody else dreads seeing.

_ This could be Bibby’s last truly decent days. The Hawks starting point guard isn’t walking around on crutches, and his shot is as sweet as ever…when he’s making it, that is. Bibby is still dangerous from 3 point land (38.5%) if he can get a clear look at the basket and shoot in somewhat of a rhythm. But his minutes (27.5), defense, overall scoring (9.1 ppg), and assists (3.9) are all on the decline. While it’s easy to blame that on the minutes, there is also the lack of aggression  that is becoming more evident every day, and may explain what would otherwise be a brilliant assist-to-turnover ratio. Take also into account that when Bibby is not playing, most likely Jamal Crawford is. Still, Bibby is a polarizing presence on the offensive end of the floor, where he is more apt to keep the ball movement going than anybody else is. Are we feeling better about this, or worse?

_ Al Horford is becoming a better scoring option than even Mike Woodson anticipated, I think. With his ability to consistently step out and hit the 15 to 18 foot jump shot, and a willingness to work hard in the paint, the Hawks would be well served to keep going to him. His free throw shooting (78%) is nothing to sniff at, and he has begun to recognize how to attack different defenders. Horford has shown that he can attack quickly against slower defenders, powerfully against smaller/weaker defenders, and punish bigger ones from the perimeter. He won’t be  the scoring threat that Johnson and Crawford present, but going to him as a possible third option is worth more than just a try. At the same time, the second round of the playoffs will be a serious learning and gauging tool, as Horford is liable to face Cleveland’s 4-deep big man front, or Orlando’s Dwight Howard. Either will be a challenge that the young all-star center cannot overcome on his own. Thinking with a “glass is half full” mindset however, Horford may show us more than just a few flashes of the player and leader he is becoming.

_ What can the Hawks expect out of Marvin Williams? What does he expect out of himself? The fifth year forward has taken a step back this season, and the one thing that he could be counted on before (consistency) is the one thing he can’t seem to remember how to be. Instead of finally finding his niche, Williams has struggled mightily to do that or fill a role in some games, then flashed brilliant supporting performances in others. As much as we may foolishly lament his not morphing into a 18-20 point per game scorer, oh how we miss what he used to be: a steady 14 points and 6 rebounds per game guy who could play some pretty steady defense when needed. As it is, expecting Marvin to suddenly jump up and provide yet another steady/credible scoring threat to the mixed bag, is likely little more than a pipe dream. In fact, we might expect more of an explosion out of Maurice Evans, who seems to be playing on a different level lately.

 

HAWKS VS. RAPTORS

Chris Bosh is lost for the season now, so he won’t be on hand for the struggling Raptors, as they limp into Philips Arena. Perfect time for an easy victory, right? Well, if it wasn’t a home game, I wouldn’t even think twice about Bosh not being there, what with the way the Hawks have been playing against less successful teams.

Hedo Turkoglu might also be missing, as he is day to day after a recent collision with another player. He will travel with the team, so there is the chance that he will play, but you never know. At any rate, it doesn’t matter, as the Hawks need not be thinking about who will and won’t play. They need only be thinking about how to beat the opponent they are facing, and doing it in convincing action. In fact, maybe holding Joe out for another game is a good idea. What do you think?

Matchup Thoughts

This would be a good time for Mike Bibby to try and get back into a good groove at the series of miscues at the end of the Detroit game. Bibby is a “bounce back” type of player anyway, so this probably won’t be an issue with him. That, and he has played pretty well against Toronto for the most part, in recent years.

The Raptors simply cannot handle Al Horford. Likewise, they won’t be able to do much with Josh Smith if he’s on his game. Both guys should get a lot of looks and a good tuneup, especially if Joe isn’t playing. Jamal Crawford and much of the bench should see some decent time as well.

On the other hand, Toronto has to be trying to hang onto their very tenuous playoff spot. Coming off a three game losing streak and having lost their best player to injury, the Raptors could be coming with some unexpected fire. How to avoid embarassment (or an unnecessarily close game)?

- Don’t let Andrea Bargnani get hot from deep or score inside with easy dunks and layups.

- Jose Calderon has been underwhelming this year. Let’s not change that.

- Don’t allow Demar DeRozan to make play after play. The rookie is quick and athletic.

- Jarrett Jack, who may not be at full strength, is a tough cookie. Allowing him to have a good game is trouble, as he will alternate efficiently between scoring (48% shooting this season) and involving his teammates ( 5 apg).

Should be an easy game for the Hawks, particularly at home. Win #50. Let’s go get it!

184 comments Add your comment

vava74

April 12th, 2010
9:37 pm

Melvin, that’s the problem: we can’t play Mo at the SF slot because he is not productive there and his lack of size is exposed on defense.

Stack would be useful as an offensive tool for very limited minutes.

Melvin

April 12th, 2010
9:41 pm

Josh is hosting a block party in the 3rd qtr….

Big Ray

April 12th, 2010
9:41 pm

Wow. This is gonna be one heck of a series.

We talk about Stack gearing up to play us. Let’s not forget Zaza was once a Buck. And he’s giving his former team some kinda hell, ain’t he?

Melvin

April 12th, 2010
9:47 pm

I think playing Mo or Stack at backup SF for 15mins games wouldnt be a big issue. Now asking them to play 25-30mins at SF is a different story. Scenario #2 would mean that we are having problems with our starting SF effectiveness…

Melvin

April 12th, 2010
9:50 pm

I hope the Hawks don’t run out of gas in the 4th.

vava74

April 12th, 2010
9:52 pm

Can anyone spell “zone” and “fourth quarter choking”.

My guess is that Salmons will start to hit his shots and JJ start to
miss.

I hope that I’m wrong though.

niremetal

April 12th, 2010
9:54 pm

Newkid,

Sorry, but AK-47? That’s your counterexample? Maybe the best on-ball perimeter defender amongst all NBA forwards during the middle part of the decade, and one of only 2-3 guys in the past decade (the others being Garnett and Tayshaun) capable of playing adequate defense against all 5 positions? I’m sorry, but Kirilenko was probably the BEST defender at SF in the NBA for a couple years, and is still in the top 5. Josh is well below average as a perimeter defender. The comparison collapses on that alone.

And again, you make it sound like Josh is simply streaky or inconsistent as a jumpshooter (as I admit AK-47 is). He’s not. He’s a terrible jumpshooter. The worst in the NBA, in fact.

Josh is a better PF than Kirilenko, by far, But Kirilenko is a better SF than Josh, by far. The team’s defense moving Josh to SF would suffer doubly – once because Josh is a bad perimeter defender and again because it would significantly reduce his ability to play defense within 6-8 feet of the basket, which is where he does his best work.

Melvin

April 12th, 2010
9:55 pm

niremetal

April 12th, 2010
9:58 pm

And I should modify “the worst in the NBA” to “the worst in the NBA among guys who shoot more than a negligible number,” which is what that Hoopdata page tracks. I have no doubt that Shaq is a worse jumpshooter than Josh. Then again, I would be even more horrified of the prospect of Shaq playing SF than I am of Josh…

I just don’t get it, Newkid. Josh is one of the top 5 PFs in the league right now. He would not even be in the top 15 at SF. Why would we do that to him? Why would we do it to ourselves?

vava74

April 12th, 2010
10:05 pm

Man… Teague can’t even stand the sound of Woody’s voice…

vava74

April 12th, 2010
10:06 pm

Great “funneling” by Bibby! :-)

Melvin

April 12th, 2010
10:10 pm

Ok, I will be the odd man and say I would prefer to see the Hawks play the Heat. I think the Heat would be a more exciting matchup. Also, I think the attendance would be better and we would get a better TV slot (more like primetime) playing against the one of the Superstars in the league.

niremetal

April 12th, 2010
10:13 pm

I’ve said it before – Bibby is one of the best pick-and-roll PGs in the NBA, and Horford is a GREAT pick-and-roll big. Why don’t we run that more?

vava74

April 12th, 2010
10:15 pm

Lucky lucky lucky…

niremetal

April 12th, 2010
10:15 pm

Two straight great pick-and-rolls with Bibby and Horford. Followed by one of the ugliest possessions in NBA history (but somehow ending in a Hawks bucket)…

niremetal

April 12th, 2010
10:17 pm

Melvin,

That all sounds great, but with the way the Heat are playing right now, I would MUCH rather see the Bogut-less Bucks. Unless Atlanta fans are even worse than I think, they’ll sell out a playoff game even against the Bucks.

I’ve already told my boss and family that I’m heading home if the Hawks make the ECF…

vava74

April 12th, 2010
10:17 pm

Nire,

There I think you are a bit off mark. Maybe the correct words are “used to be”.

Right now his execution is too slow to be a money play against good teams.

Melvin

April 12th, 2010
10:21 pm

Bibby has 7 rebounds. Who said he doesnt have any lift in those old legs…

Melvin

April 12th, 2010
10:22 pm

Nire,

ECF? You sure when out on a limb on that one…..

Big Ray

April 12th, 2010
10:22 pm

Nire ,

I’ve said it before – Bibby is one of the best pick-and-roll PGs in the NBA, and Horford is a GREAT pick-and-roll big. Why don’t we run that more?

Good point, as usual. My guess is that this isn’t the call all that often, and Joe is probably looking to shoot or something like that every time he comes down teh court.

Considering he can tear the Bucks apart and we need him to be aggressive, I’m not arguing too much. At the same time, that’s such a wonderful option that I think Bibby is just going to have to initiate/enforce it every now and again. It’s what makes him a polarizing force on the court. Change the direction of the overall flow now and again, and let Joe be himself (a predator, when aggressive).

Teague will have to learn to be this way some day.

Big Ray

April 12th, 2010
10:23 pm

Melvin ,

It’s called “wanting it.”

niremetal

April 12th, 2010
10:25 pm

Vava,

The best pick-and-roll PGs are rarely the quickest. Stockton, Mark Jackson, Nash…the pick-and-roll is much, much more about knowing how to create separation, make precise passes, and hit jumpers off the dribble than it is about quickness and speed. By my eyes (and by all the scouting reports I’ve read), Bibby is still among the best pick-and-roll PGs in the league. He certainly isn’t one of the best penetrating PGs anymore, but he still always seems to know exactly how the pick-and-roll will unfold.

niremetal

April 12th, 2010
10:27 pm

Great win!

Now onto the even more playoff-crucial Blazers-Thunder game…

Big Ray

April 12th, 2010
10:28 pm

Win #52 !

Good job by Woody, good job by the team.

Go Hawks!

vava74

April 12th, 2010
10:28 pm

Second game in the last three that Bibby starts hot and then misses all his remaining shots.

And I remember that there were other similar occasions.

vava74

April 12th, 2010
10:34 pm

Nire, I was not talking about speed of penetration. I was talking about his inability to launch shots and make passes quickly (his jump shot is now a slow motion shot and his passing is not crisp enough).

Consequently one of the parts necessary for a PG to play a good pick and roll game – being a dangerous shooter in motion, is no longer present and the othe – his passing – is also diminished.

Nash and Stockton did not have blazing speed but their shot release is/was faster and remained dangerous shooters in moderate traffic until late in their careers.

Bibby is now strictly a spot up shooter with an occasional j off a pick to start the game.

newkid

April 12th, 2010
10:48 pm

Okay, I’m back Nire. Unless you’re playing fantasy basketball, it matters much less how Josh plays at what you (and likely many others) would term the 3, and much more how the Hawks play with Josh in a PF/PF/C configuration (as I’ve termed it elsewhere). I said much earlier that in strictly one-on-one match ups with conventional 3s with quick first steps, Smoove would be at a disadvantage; but since when does a team’s total success sit on such a fulcrum? Bibby gets massacred 9 of 10 nights in one-on-one defensive match-ups with other teams points; how many games have we won with Bibby at the 1 this year? Did someone say 52? Right, our won/loss record isn’t a simple regression with ONE independent variable: that being some measure of Bibby’s defensive effectiveness against the opposing team’s point guard. It’s those simple functions (that really aren’t so simple) that so often result in smart people drawing – with astounding precision – exactly the wrong conclusions.

But this is polemics isn’t it? Let’s see how Sund builds the team from this point forward.

niremetal

April 12th, 2010
11:16 pm

Newkid,

Alright…but who is this mystical jumpshooting big man who will be an equal or better defender at C compared to Al? Because unless you can find one, your proposed lineup would make us weaker defensively at both SF and C. In fact, every jump-shooting big man I can think of is a poor defender at C. No exceptions. Add to that our aforementioned defensive shortcoming at PG. We would be going from having one bad positional defender (PG) to three (PG, SF, C). And we’d be putting our best interior help defender at a position where he’ll be further away from the basket and unable to help and block shots as much as he can now. Yup, sounds like a great plan to me.

Not much point continuing this further. You keep trying to isolate each of Smoove’s weaknesses as an SF and basically say “they aren’t important” or “we can work around them.” Josh is a great PF, for a couple dozen reasons. He would be a bad SF, for a couple dozen reasons. We have one of the top 5 PFs in the NBA and one of the top 5 Cs in the NBA. Why the hell is the answer to have them change position instead of simply bringing in a better SF?

Big Ray

April 12th, 2010
11:44 pm

Nire ,

Not trying to butt into your very engaging conversation with Newkid , but I would like to quibble just a hair:

The one jumpshooting center I can think of who turns out not to be a poor defender is Mehmet Okur. Someone brought this to my attention during a conversation about Horford and other centers. Apparently, according to 82games.com or one of those stat-arific sites, Okur has one of the league’s BEST defensive percentages.

Of course, it’s no coincidence that Okur plays for Sloan, the one man who should have been named COY 5 times already and has yet to be named as such even once (that I can recall), but that’s what I hear.

Side note: I’m not taking on your entire argument or the true target thereof. Just thought I’d throw that in there.

Now back to your regularly scheduled argument….

;)

newkid

April 12th, 2010
11:46 pm

Nire,
Was it yours truly or was it Woody who said he’d start Z if he could convince him to sign with Atlanta after the Washington trade? I didn’t concoct the scheme, nor was I involved in the attempted recruitment of Z (or Sheed for that matter). If you think it was folly for Sund and Woody to consider going that route (and I can certainly imagine that there are several in the Spirit front office with whom you are a kindred spirit – and I wasn’t intending pun), you may yet have a chance to protest that strategy. It’s not my scheme my friend (I can’t even play the game, much less devise such schemes), but I’m perceptive enough (from afar) to recognize that it just may be worth a shot (despite your protestations to the contrary) when you have two PF talents such as Al and Josh. If Sund and Woody (perhaps against the protestations of your brethren among the Spirit Group) decide to pursue a Z-like talent this off-season to complement Al and Josh on the starting front line, we’ll know soon enough who the candidates are. Do I know if this will happen? How would I know that? If it were to happen, do I know who the candidates might be? Right, sure I do.

Oh, and I didn’t say Smoove’s weaknesses weren’t important. I said his weaknesses were less important than the TEAM’s success. I further suggested that if Sund and Woody decided that a PF/PF/C configuration is likely to yield more TEAM success than the current scheme, that’s far more preferable to Smoove achieving some set of fantasy basketball numbers that allowed him individual accolades.

Getting late and I’ve still got to polish a powerpoint.

Buenos noche.

niremetal

April 13th, 2010
12:13 am

Newkid,

Now you’re just off the deep end, addressing arguments I never made All of the weaknesses I mentioned were brought up because of (and explicitly tied to) how they would affect the Hawks as a team, and are things that will NOT necessarily show up in fantasy stats. I care about fantasy stats about as much as I care about American Idol (translation: I DON’T CARE ABOUT FANTASY/BOX SCORE STATS). Seriously, it’s not worth continuing this with you.

Ray,

That’s true of Okur 2-5 years ago that had a spring in his step, but it’s not true of Okur today. I actually used to bring up Okur as the one example of a sweet-shooting center who also could defend well (following in the proud tradition of East Euro centers like Divac and Sabonis), but Okur today is simply too weak to stop big centers and too slow to stop the quick ones. He’s certainly not atrocious defensively, but I would place him below the median as a defensive center. I wouldn’t object to bringing in Okur, but I’d want him in a reserve role in the East, not in the starting 5.

niremetal

April 13th, 2010
12:30 am

Man, Portland and Utah might be two of the NBA’s smallest markets, but I think they are the two toughest arenas in the league for road teams to play in…

doc

April 13th, 2010
8:43 am

melvin, it is all about being scrappy and position, two things neither jj or jamal do around the basket for rebounds by guards.

nire got to go see how our blazers made out after reading your comment. quite a season for the crew with so many injuries. huge coaching and player effort there.

great to see our guys win and by that maybe hold onto milwaukee as a draw in the playoffs. only trouble it might hurt ticket sales because the bucks cant compete with d wade for draw. so proud to see the guys hit two marks i hoped to see from them 52 to 54 wins and third in the conference. they have earned cudos throughout the season aided by the lack of injuries that seem to be piling up here as the playoffs begin. i mean what gives as four of the top seven, including zaza and his hip begin to falter down the stretch and how serious are these injuries?

as we conclude the season let me comment on what a great job our fearless leader big gay has done to handle the information and this motley crew. nice going there ray. ;-)

doc

April 13th, 2010
11:01 am

hard to believe portland joins the elite class with 50 wins with the injuries they had. andre miller a great acquisition for them along with camby. i wonder if he is still so upset over the trade, seems like he came up huge last night.