HAWKSVILLE - The Hawks are running out of chances to show everyone and to prove to everyone that they are the team they think they are, the team we thought they were a couple weeks ago.
Three losses in their last four games, all three to teams among the NBA’s elite, have stirred up the doubters. And rightfully so.
So what can the Hawks do to legitimize their rise?
Just beat the Los Angeles Lakers today.
Just knock off arguably the best team in the league with the best player on the planet (according to most folks that would be one Kobe B. Bryant, though the LeBron James camp has a convincing argument for their guy these days).
In losses in Cleveland and to San Antonio and Boston in the last week, all the Hawks did was prove their doubters right about their inability to rise up to the challenge of facing the league’s best.
They were running on fumes minutes into the game in Cleveland last weekend. And they haven’t played their best since then, not even in a win over Minnesota Monday night and certainly not in the momentary spurts of quality play against the Tim Duncan-less Spurs and Kevin Garnett-less Celtics.
So what happened to the team with all that swagger we saw during that seven-game homestand?
“We’ve got to get that back,” said Hawks swingman Mo Evans. “Because if a team with Kobe on it smells any fear or lack of confidence, Kobe’s going to pounce. He won’t hesitate to take the game over anyway. But for a team that’s trying to stomp with the big boys, he’ll take that as a challenge and try and destroy ‘em”
Evans knows that as well as anyone. He played with the Lakers and saw Bryant’s drive first hand. He also started on an Orlando team last year that made the difficult climb from postseason dreamer to legitimate elite team.
That gives him a unique perspective on the Hawks’ current predicament.
Evans knows it takes a collective mettle that the Hawks have yet to display consistently to join the big boys, having played with a little bit of everyone during his time in the league.
There have been spurts, and nobody can argue with a winning season after a decade of ugliness, but never enough of it on a daily basis to warrant their inclusion into the conversation about the league’s very best teams (and yes, a 3-12 record against the top three teams in the Eastern and Western Conference qualifies as the empirical data needed to prove that point).
Mike Bibby insists that Friday’s game against the Celtics wasn’t a statement game or anything of the sort, because the Hawks want to “win every game.” His reasoning: “We’re are still in the fourth spot and we can’t hang our heads. We just need to keep playing and try to keep the fourth spot.”
That’s exactly why these games against the Cavaliers, Celtics and Lakers are “statement” or “message” games. You win those games and you lock up the fourth spot and legitimize your rise all in the same stroke.
UNDER THE LIGHTS
For those of you that just can’t get enough for these Hawks, there’s an interesting show airing tonight on Fox SportSouth at 6:30, after the Hawks-Lakers game.
It’s a 30-minute snapshot of a NBA life called Under the Lights-Hawks Road Trip. There’s footage that is well worth watching (I know, I saw an advance copy Friday afternoon courtesy of the fine folks – namely Kate Hart – at Fox).
The cameras had access to some things I never get to see in person, like breakfast meetings on the road trip and locker room access at halftime and pregame, long after they jettison those of us in the media.
I spoke Saturday with Keith Wetzler, the producer of original programming for Fox (and also the man who produced that special on Joe Johnson, Dominique Wilkins‘ Hall of Fame induction show and those very helpful A-Town Dancers shows), and we talked about the delicate dance of trying to get behind the scenes without crossing the line.
“We were trying to take the fans into the places they’ve never been before,” Wetzler said. “Fans don’t get to see what goes on in the locker room, on the charter flights and in the breakfast meetings. We were a fly on the wall for the fans. The goal was two fold, take them into the places they’ve never seen before and show them personality they’ve never seen.”
Johnson showed off more of the personality we see from him at practice and in the locker room that is rarely on display during games (when most fans get their only glimpse of him). It’ll be surprising for some people to see him like that.
When I asked Wetzler if he was surprised at all by how comfortable the players were with the cameras constantly in their faces, he said he was not.
“I pretty much knew what to expect,” Wetzler said. “And it wasn’t a ‘get out of my face’ type deal. I explained to the [Hawks] what we were trying to do and they responded. We were there to show the entire experience and to bring the fans along for the ride.”
MS. KERI’S DEBUT
Before I depart for Philips and today’s game, I have to sell out for the First Lady of the Blog (for 2009) and give a rousing endorsement to Atlanta’s own Ms. Keri Hilson.
Her debut CD came out this week and It’s worth the purchase.
I’m an 80s baby and child of the Hip-Hop era, but an unabashed lover of R&B music. And while others love to proclaim most anything new DOA, I happen to dig a lot of the new stuff.
If you drive around this town as much as I do, you’re always looking for something new to listen to (when you’re not on your cell phone like all the thousands of folks that make my back and forth a chore), you’re always on the lookout for something good to listen to.
You might want to check her out, so your next drive to a Hawks’ game is enhanced by her beautiful sounds.