The storm, otherwise known as the Hawks’ March schedule, has begun. Up to this point, few fans had any rock solid confidence that the Hawks could weather such a storm, and the record against winning teams up to this point did little to dissuade pessimistic notions. Do we feel different about that now, though?
It’s All About Team
We can complain about having to rally from 19 points down against Chicago (at home, no less) but it probably makes more sense to revel in the fact that it was actually done. Atlanta hadn’t recently shown the ability to rally from that far down in a tough game, or even hold a big lead for that matter. Suddenly, they were able to do it against a team with a better record? While center Al Horford was clearly the hero in that game, there is something else that overshadows it. The Hawks were able to defend….as a team. Not only that, but they did it without Josh Smith, their defensive spark plug. Has the trade that brought Kirk Hinrich to Atlanta really done that much? So it would seem so far, as we’ve seen the Hawks play defense since that day in ways they have hardly done all season.
That has to engender confidence in these guys. Holding down League MVP candidate Derrick Rose was something all by itself. The beauty of it wasn’t just the fact that former teammate Hinrich hounded Rose for three straight quarters. It was the communication between Hinrich and Johnson, who planned to take the job over in the 4th quarter and finish him off. Joe hasn’t had that kind of help before, and judging by the words that came from his own mouth about that strategy, he is very happy to have it now. How about that? The team communicating effectively on defense, then actually executing that strategy to near perfection. I wonder how many are still disgusted or underwhelmed by that trade? Is it too early to give Rick Sund some credit for something that I’m sure a few of us wish he had done 1 or 2 years ago? But hold the phone….this theory will get a second test tonight as the Hawks face another potent point guard.
Thunder in the Distance
Remember how we swept the Boston Celtics during the regular season last year? It was a good feeling until we got the favor returned to us by the Oklahoma City Thunder in the same season. While it’s true that the Thunder are Western Conference team and therefore not an opponent we’ll see often, that doesn’t change the fact that the Hawks shouldn’t want some measure of revenge. Perhaps its not revenge, but instead the need to show another up and coming young/athletic team that they haven’t charged past us in growth. Or have they?
Fact is, the Thunder are going to be harder to deal with, having obtained former Boston Celtics bruiser of a center, Kendrick Perkins. Fortunately, Perkins won’t be playing tonight, leaving Horford to face Nazr Mohammed or someone like that. When Horford attacks the basket quickly and alternates with that dagger of an 18 foot jumper, he’s downright deadly. How will Larry Drew proceed tonight with Josh Smith likely to be on the sidelines again? Jason Collins might get the call, but the real impact guy down low tonight might be none other than Zaza Pachulia. With this tough stretch of games, the Hawks are going to need the level of play he has provided in the last couple of games. Let’s also not forget that the dynamics of the Thunder’s frontcourt changes with Jeff Green being traded away. Green provided defense, hustle, offense, and energy overall. Could his absence result in a Marvin Williams explosion tonight?
Kirk Hinrich will likely get the start tonight, and Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook is on the menu. Or is that the other way around? The physical and forceful point man can dunk it as quickly as he can drain a jumper, and he does a good job of getting the ball to his teammates as well. This could prove to be another good test for Jeff Teague in his role as backup point guard. Let’s all hope he holds his own, as the thought of Jamal Crawford having this task makes me cringe. How about you? On the other side, Kevin Durant isn’t likely to play (and would be limited if he did) due to an ankle injury. While nobody in a Hawks uniform will miss facing the League’s leading scorer, taking the Thunder lightly due to his absence would be a big mistake. This team runs well and hustle well, and they play defense, to boot. As it is, the Hawks can’t afford to take ANYBODY lightly on their remaining schedule.
To ride out the storm, the Hawks will have to fly high. Can they do it? More proof tonight, one way or the other.
You make the pick:
Who is tonight’s potential hero for the Hawks?
Joe returns to form after an ugly shooting performance against Chicago?
Jamal gets his game back on track after a mostly miserable February?
Horford shows there’s more where Wednesday’s performance came from?
Marvin steps up and shines?
You call it…..
Big Ray, Hawks Fan Nest