You know, the Orlando Magic and the Atlanta Individuals have something in common. Both don’t get the respect they are seeking.
Oh sure, the reasons are different for each team. The Individuals don’t get the respect they want because they simply have not finished earning it. The Magic don’t get respect because they have yet to be challenged in this year’s postseason. Same problem, different reasons, but both teams should come out of this hungrier than ever. Oddly enough, that’s another thing these two teams have in common. Nobody knows yet if either team is hungry enough to accomplish their mission. Can Orlando show that last year’s Finals appearance was no fluke, and that they are the best team in the East? Can Atlanta show that they are more than just a team that can limp through the first round of the playoffs? Orlando’s quest is an ever-brightening adventure, like a summer blockbuster movie. Atlanta’s quest? Should be featured on the hit TV series “Lost.”
The Dreaded Three Oh
No, I’m not talking about being 29 years old with a birthday right around the corner. I’m talking about that death knell that is heard ’round the world when your team is down 3 games to none in the NBA playoffs. Nobody comes back from that in this league. Have you ever gone diving into statistics and come up with something you wished you hadn’t? I just did, and this is what I came up with: The Magic have beaten the Individuals by a total of 87 points over the 3 games the two teams have played in this series. That’s more points than Atlanta has scored in either game 1 or game 3. Significantly more, in fact. Is anybody getting beaten this badly in the playoffs? What, not even the 7th and 8th seeds in each conference? Ouch.
At this point, you have to wonder if the Individuals have much left to give. Game 3 would indicate that this answer is “no”, but the diehard fan in me wants them to get at least one win. Or so I thought a game ago. Now, seeing as how there is obviously not a slaughter rule in effect (okay, there never was), I’m entertaining blasphemous thoughts…of ….a mercy killing. Is it wrong for a fan to say “oh please let it be over in 4, don’t let it stretch any longer” ? What might the Individuals themselves be thinking? Would they rather this be over quickly on Monday, or do they still have an ounce of pride left? How many fans will show up to Philips Arena is anybody’s guess. How many turn on their televisions and watch more than a couple of quarters (depending on what the score looks like) is just as sketchy, I’m thinking.
And that was before team captain and free agent-to-be Joe Johnson made his comments about fans, featured in the column of AJC writer Jeff Schultz (link provided):
If you are looking at the picture objectively, you probably realize Joe was speaking out of frustration and total dejection. On the other hand, he’s the team leader. You’re always responsible for what you say.
The Atlanta Who?
Maybe I sound like a cynical columnist, but what I am is a somewhat depressed and disappointed fan. Yeah, go ahead and tell me what I should have expected. Remind me of your soothsayings from early in the year. We’re going to do this to each other for the next few weeks as we await every ill-conceived piece of repugnant rumor involving Joe Johnson that will be coming this summer.
So, have you been wondering why I’ve been calling our team the Atlanta Individuals? Ehhh, probably not…but I’ll say it anyway. This was no team that we saw out there. Please feel free to correct me, and understand that I’m thinking back through the haze of a 30 point beating. But, I can’t remember more than about 180 seconds of this game in which five guys with the word “Hawks” on their shirts actually played together at the same time. Oh, there were times when we saw two or three guys with the previously described jerseys looking like they knew each other. Other than that, there were a bunch of individuals on the floor. Individuals that looked like they didn’t know what they were doing there, or didn’t want to be there. Individuals, I say. Not a team. There were individuals who made some shots. Some grabbed rebounds. Others played defense on occasion. No group of five Atlanta guys played anything together at once. Except for the aforementioned 180 seconds, and I may have been generous there. We’re past asking how this came to be. We’re done talking about matchups. And we’re finished coming up with solutions. I know it’s not a game 4 loss yet, but it feels like it already. The Atlanta Individuals have not competed in this series, at least not for more than a few minutes or a couple of quarters at a time, and in this latest game, nearly not at all. If there is one thing they are guaranteed to do as a team, it’s lose. And that is a sad commentary in and of itself.
Where did you go, Joe?
Before you go thinking that I’m going to jump on Joe Johnson’s back like the bulk of the national media (well, the ones that care, anyway), just hear me out. There are three guys who really and truly are the most pivotal to this team, in my opinion. If you disagree, then by all means say so and explain why. For me, it’s these three:
Al Horford’s learning curve probably could not be more painful. The young center is making strides as a team leader and as a player. A winner before he came to the League, Horford would probably understand having to work his way up from a losing atmosphere to a winning one. The problem is, he came into this league and enjoyed a playoff berth in his rookie season. A competitive one, at that, against the team that was to be the eventual NBA champion that year. Three years later, he and his team have shown growth in a number of areas, and have added more talent to the roster. So in a way, it’s probably even more painful than losing, for him to watch this team self-destruct in ways that it should not. Horford has not been perfect, learning some tough lessons against Milwaukee, wherein his mettle (and his heart) were tested. Admirably, he got back behind the wheel and has been both more aggressive and more productive against Dwight Howard than he was in the regular season. True leadership is often forged in the hottest fires. Al has to be feeling the burn right now.
Josh Smith still can’t seem to keep the batteries in place. His role is the one of motor, of energy source, of a jolt of power. What he has brought instead has been inconsistency. After acquitting himself to an extent in an up-and-down first round series, Smith knew he had to show up for the second round. His scoring totals went up, while his rebounds and shooting percentage went down (from the 1st round to the 2nd). It’s not all about the stats, though. Rather, it has been the energy level and attitude that Smith has brought to the court. His motor and focus have run hot and cold, hurting the team at times. Post game interviews are neither the time nor the place to remember that you are the tip of the spear when it comes to energy and intensity. On the floor and during the heat of battle…..THAT is the time. Josh still does not seem to get this all of the time, and it will inevitably lead to summer time speculation about his future with the team. Well, who needs to wait for summer?
Joe Johnson is the man of the hour when free agency begins. Too bad he’s been anything but that in the second round of the playoffs. I had thought we’d get to see a different and better Joe, considering he came into this postseason healthier and less fatigued than he did last year. Averaging 20, 5 , and 5 on a not-so-impressive 43% shooting, Johnson still looked the part of top team scorer and #1 guy against Milwaukee. His struggles weren’t so bad against a defensively dogmatic Bucks squad that was determined not to let him torch them. His line against Orlando has been much worse, though. How does 14.5 ppg on 12 for 42 (28.6%) shooting sound? Truth be told, game 4 against Milwaukee was the last time Joe shot over 40%. What do you do when your top offensive option and best player is playing this badly? As much as we’d like to talk about other guys stepping up, Joe is who and what he is to this team. It has to have been frustrating to produce this poorly, but this is also supposed to be a better team, if not just a more talented one. Unfortunately, few have struggled more than Joe has. As if you didn’t hear that a half dozen times from the ESPN commentators.
Disappointed that I didn’t mention Jamal Crawford? Don’t be. Crawford’s shooting percentage is every bit as bad as Johnson’s, and he’s getting scoring, rebounding, and assist numbers that are close to Joe’s in this series. He’s also a sixth man who is tasting the playoffs for the first time in his career. Excuses? Hardly. Jamal should be producing more, clearly. I hold the more veteran starters to a little big higher standard though.
Anyhow, sound off as we wait for what can only be the inevitable…right? Do these guys have it in them to take one, or are they done? One question. One answer. Monday.