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?
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?
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!