Happy New Year to all Hawks fans.
While NBA.com may have been the first basketball web site to start the countdown to the trade deadline, you can bet that things will heat up as usual on all of the others. Can’t wait to see which wild ESPN-driven rumor is next? You won’t have to wait very long. Of course, things won’t really get going until February actually gets here. Until then, we’ll try to blithely ignore all the noise. Oh, who am I kidding? Not only will we watch and see what every other team is “reportedly” doing, but we’ll make bold statements as to which rumor is likely to be true versus which is not, all the while wailing and gnashing our teeth about the fact that the Hawks won’t be involved in almost any of them. Rumors, that is.
The more things change…
….the more they look the same, making Hawks fans wonder if there has been any change at all. Like it or not, Larry Drew is going to be judged in comparison to his predecessor for the simple reason that he has worked for him the last six years. While this is an inevitable persecution at the hands of the fans, what is management thinking? Drew’s offense is certainly different and effective, when the team cares to execute it. So is his defense. And yet, is it? Away went the switch defense schemes, but the Hawks look somehow worse. Are they? Does it have anything to do with the offensive changes? Possibly, what with Josh Smith playing more small forward. Look no further than Friday night, as Smith spent a good deal of the evening chasing Kevin Durant, since Marvin Williams is out with injury. On second thought, why was Smith playing small forward? Why in the world was Collins starting at center when the Thunder aren’t a particularly big team in the frontcourt? What was Larry thinking?
In the meantime, a lot of the boxscore looked familiar. There was Josh, turning the ball over and taking more jumpshots than many are comfortable with. There was Al Horford, limited in minutes due to 2 fouls, then struggling to get into a rhythm once he did return. There was Joe Johnson, making roughly a third of his shots. Yes, I know the man is recovering from injury. But you can’t tell me those 6-20 shooting stats don’t give you a sense of Deja Vu. And there were the Hawks, relying too much on their shooters to get the job done, while lazily going about things on defense.
Of course, those aren’t the only issues. Whatever happened to the development of Jeff Teague? Is Damien Wilkins hurt, and if not, why isn’t he playing?
When are the changes going to come?
Remember all that offseason hype about the Milwaukee Bucks and the Chicago Bulls, and how they were both going to leapfrog the Hawks in the standings? Well, it seems that the pundits were half right, at least so far. The Bucks seemed more likely to take that step based on the way they played the Hawks in the playoffs last season, in addition to their offseason acquisitions. Instead, they’ve struggled with injuries and inconsistency in scoring. The Bulls are another matter. A strong season start by point guard Derrick Rose, the recharged Luol Deng, and the belated arrival of Carlos Boozer’s health have all combined to catapult the Bulls past both Orlando and Atlanta in the Eastern Conference standings. All this despite the injury to starting center and rebound magnet Joakim Noah.
So, here the Hawks sit, in fifth place. It’s a slippery slope, Hawks fans. A very slippery slope. Why? Well, the Celtics will continue their winning ways as long as they can remain as healthy as they are right now. Perhaps no team (outside of the San Antonio Spurs) is able to keep the type of focus that the Celtics have. They feel that they are champions, and they play like it. The Heat? They have a lot of talent, and it seems they are starting to really come together, which is bothersome for everybody else. In the past, I’d say the Bulls could go either way, but now that they have a bonafide 20 and 10 guy down low and Deng is finally looking like the guy they handed $71 million to, it’s not all on Derrick Rose. Barring another major injury or other collapse, Chicago isn’t likely to lose much steam. Then there is Orlando, who is having an identity crisis. What separates them from Atlanta right now is two games. The Magic have played two less games than the Hawks, which means that they could easily have the exact same record right now. However, are the Magic on the verge of no longer being Eastern Conference Elite? Possibly, but don’t bet the farm just yet. Now we come to the Hawks. The problem is simply this – there is no huge drop off after 4th/5th place. In 6th place are the surging New York Knicks, who are struggling to stay winners at home, but are doing better on the road than the Hawks, Magic, and Bulls. Again, there is very little separation between the Hawks and Knicks, as they have the same number of losses (14). The Knicks have three fewer wins, but have also played three fewer games.
The point to all of this? Slipperly slope. Atlanta can’t count on other teams regressing. Losing close games or losing games to inferior teams is going to catch up quickly this year. If the Hawks can’t get it going and keep it going, then the slippage will continue if all else is equal for other teams. So here are a few questions for you:
1) How much longer can Sund talk about patience with the team (and the coaching staff) ? Does a move have to be made by the trade deadline?
2) Can the Hawks get back into the top four of the Eastern Conference Standings, or is the writing already on the wall? How late is too late?
3) After 35 games into the season, who are you picking from the squad to make the all-star team?
4) Will the Hawks ever go on another significant winning streak before the all-star break? Maybe even things up on this road trip, at least?
HAWKS VS. CLIPPERS
The Skinny – The Clips can’t stay healthy to save their poor lives. Fortunately, they can stay exciting with an oft-overlooked Eric Gordon and a flashy-but-very-productive Blake Griffin. However, these two can’t do it all, and when you’re missing a starting center and point guard half the time, things tend to look bleak. Clipper fans have to hang onto the highlights and hope for better days down the road.
The Hawks are running out of things to say after games, but they still have what it takes to beat bad teams, even on the road. With most of their moving parts intact, they’re a formidable bunch of guys for any team to face. Starting small forward Marvin Williams may not be available to play, but the Clippers don’t counter with a potent small forward. And since they are missing the 7′2″ Kaman, there’s no real need to go with a big lineup.
The Prediction – Hawks are sour enough about losing to the Thunder and stay focused long enough to beat the Clippers by no less than 12 points. Big nights for Al Horford (look for 20 and 10 from him), Joe Johnson (23 points, 6 assists), and Mike Bibby (16 points, 5 assists). Off the bench, Zaza Pachulia will play well, along with Jamal Crawford.