Okay, everybody refresh me on how many wins you predicted the Hawks would get this season.
I hoped for 55 myself, but I can’t say I’m all that disappointed. Oh sure, we could justify probably about 60 wins (or maybe more, you might think) when we think of certain losses during the season. The Hawks still aren’t a great road team, but they are certainly a better one than they were last year. Not only that, but they are a more potent home team, proven with big wins against the Magic and the Lakers. Speaking of the Lakers, if you get too uptight about some of the losses we’ve had, and I’m not saying you shouldn’t….keep in mind how the Lakers have played down the stretch of the season. Want to hear something crazy? The Lakers have only won four more games than the Hawks have. Yes, yes, I know. They play in the Western Conference. The same conference in which dangerous teams like the Portland Trailblazers, Houston Rockets, among others, have suffered massive injury problems. Am I using this to excuse the Hawks for games they should have won? Absolutely not. But isn’t it nice to know how far the Hawks have come?
THE RACE IS ALMOST OVER
With just one game remaining, the Hawks can do no worse than a season record of 52 wins and 30 losses, and no better than 53 wins and 29 losses. By contrast, the Boston Celtics absolutely must win their last two games to tie the Hawks at 52 and 30, thereby winning the so called tie-breaker and earning the 3rd seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. But for that to happen, they need the Hawks to lose their final game. The Hawks face the Cavaliers at Philips Areans in their final game of the season, most likely with Lebron on the sidelines. While this doesn’t make it an easy game, any game without LBJ is an easier game than with him in it. In the meantime, the Celtics will face the Chicago Bulls in Chicago, a team that is fighing down to the wire for the 8th playoff seed in the East. After that, they’ll face the Milwaukee Bucks. How will this shake out? Will the Hawks win one more at Philips and add to an already sterling home record, or will they lose the finale? The best way to be absolutely assured the 3rd seed is to win the last game. As for the Celtics, it may be just too tough to pull this one out. But I can’t think of a better team for us to knock down to make it into the famed “Big Three.” By the way, if I got any of this wrong, feel free to correct me.
HAWKS VS BUCKS POST GAME
The triple P strikes again, and this time it sticks. Assuming Atlanta holds onto the 3rd seed in the playoffs, the Milwaukee Bucks are their first round opponent, all else being equal (if there are any other ways that this could NOT happen, besides the Hawks losing the 3rd seed as outline above, feel free to correct me).
This definitely has to be a refreshing change. After having watched Atlanta falter down the stretch the last couple of seasons, I don’t know if we appreciate how much this team has grown. The Hawks have gone 6 and 4 in their last 10 games, and will make it 7 out of 11 with a season finale win over the Cavaliers on Wednesday. Talk about finishing things off the right way! In the meantime, some of our Hawks played last night like they were ready for the playoffs to start tomorrow.
JOE JOHNSON- Maybe it was just me, but the man looked like he was playing against the Celtics in 2008, again. Joe has looked good in many (if not most) games this season, and his elevation to starter on the All-Star squad only helped his stock. But it was the level of aggression that he displayed against Milwaukee that got my attention. Johnson is healthy now, even with the sprained thumb, and he looks ready to prove that he’s worth the kind of contract that many say he deserves. You know what, forget that contract. Joe looks like he’s ready to prove that he belongs among the League’s elite. It’s just as well, as the Hawks will need this kind of performance from him in the postseason.
ZAZA PACHULIA- Despite all the noise surrounding Jamal Crawford, Zaza may prove to be more pivotal in the playoffs. While he lacks Horford’s athleticism, Zaza’s ability to play hard, tough, and simply be a big body in the way will get the Hawks far, especially in the second round. Why? No matter what happens, Atlanta will face a bigger team at that point, meaning Al Horford and Josh Smith’s athleticism will be stretched beyond capability in some instances. Pachulia racked up 10 points and 4 assists by simply playing his role and keeping his head about him. It’s his defense and rebounding however, especially on the offensive end, that will make the biggest difference, however. I wonder if anybody in the Bucks organization regrets letting Billy Knight sign him away some years ago?
MARVIN WILLIAMS- I’m admittedly very hestitant to say this, but Marvin might, just might be warming up to the hotter competition that the postseason brings. Maybe he just happened to take advantage of the fact that he wasn’t going to be yanked from the game in favor of Jamal Crawford for once (Crawford did not play against Milwaukee last night, in case you missed it). Maybe it was just one of his “flashes of unfulfilled promise” nights. I don’t really know, as Marvin’s consistency is lacking this season. What I do know is that the Hawks need Marvin to become more efficient and aggressive on offense than he has been for the most part. No, he doesn’t need to score 18 all the time, like he did against Milwaukee. But he does not need to disappear entirely, as has been the case all too often. Of course, this also requires that his teammates get him the ball, and that means Mike Bibby has to call his number at the right times. Every bit as important, Marvin will need to be active on the glass, and on the defensive end, or the Hawks will be stuck trying to get that production out of a bench player. Seeing as how Atlanta does not necessarily have a true backup small forward, this could spell trouble if Marvin is ineffective for large stretches of time. As it stands, Marvin proved that he could score quite well against the Bucks, and the Hawks would do well to encourage the exploitation of such a matchup.
MAURICE EVANS- Undersized at small forward but tough and strong for the shooting guard position, Mo Evans has proven to be a motivated player in the last month or two. Evans has begun to remind us some of what Josh Childress used to bring in the way of hustle and opportunisitic scoring. He’s also provided some much needed toughness and aggression on defense, and has become dangerous both in creating his own shot, and in setting up behind the 3 point line.
JOE SMITH- Don’t let the box score stats from last night’s game fool you. They can’t tell you how much energy Smith brough to the game, something we didn’t see much from him all season long. While I won’t claim that he was playing possum a la Shaquille O’Neal, I do think that Smith was saved in large part for the postseason, where he has a good amount of experience, especially from last season’s run with the Cavaliers. Joe Smith’s defense and hustle (did you see that blocked shot he had? He hasn’t jumped that high all season) is of paramount importance if and when Josh Smith has to sit on the bench due to foul trouble (we can live with that to some extent far better than we could any relapes to pre- ‘09-’10 Josh), which we hope won’t be often. If he can just step in a bit further from the 3 point line and knock down those jumpers, so much the better.
If I missed anybody, don’t be alarmed. Since the playoff brackets aren’t set just yet, I figure there is little point in going over the entire roster right now. We’ll do that after the dust settles, and the regular season is over.
For now, let’s cheer the Hawks on their run to take their highest playoff seeding in over a decade!