HAWKSVILLE - Actually, the Hawks have already earned the right to host the Miami Heat in their first round playoff series.
But I’ve been waiting three weeks to use that line from Will Smith’s hit song (courtesy of our friends at YouTube. And I promise, this is the last time I use the words “Will Smith” and “hit song” in that order in this space) about one of my favorite hot spots.
And while others were dreading the thought of facing Philadelphia and frightened by the prospect of dealing with a hard-to-figure Chicago team in the first round, the same team that has been on a collision course with the Hawks for months now will be the foe starting this weekend at Philips Arena.
I love the matchup (my main man Chris Perkins of the Palm Beach Post and I discussed as much the last time these two teams played). Who doesn’t want to see the Hawks face one of the league’s most dynamic talents in Dwyane Wade in a best-of-seven series?
You’re worried about playing the refs too, huh? Get over it. Wade is going to get his share of calls. The superstars always do. But that hasn’t ever stopped the better team from handling its business.
And if the Hawks are indeed the better team, as their record and performance all season suggests, we should be in for a treat with this series.
I love the individual matchups. Joe Johnson and Wade, the two All-Stars and national team colleagues trying to see who can one-up each other on the big stage.
Mike Bibby and Mario Chalmers, the old and the new at the point guard position going head-to-head like Bibby and Rajon Rondo did (well … anyway) did last year.
Josh Smith and Mike Beasley, if they’re allowed to match up against each other, is a lefty air-up-there showcase that we should all enjoy.
And Al Horford and Jermaine O’Neal will get a chance to settle any debates about the best center in the Southeast Division not named Dwight Howard.
The subplots are endless, as always with a playoff series.
The bottom line, any way you slice it, this is going to be must-see-basketball for the fans of both teams. And that’s what makes Tuesday’s sneak preview (the Hawks’ regular season home finale) so intriguing.
Do both teams rest their big dogs, knowing that they’re going to each other again in a few days in hand-to-hand combat? Or do they go for broke and pull out all the stops to win the game no matter what, making sure to send a message of what’s to come?
I love it.
But there are other things to discuss this …
AWARDS SEASON IS UPON US - In the NBA, that means teams are sending out swag and propaganda that defies these harsh economic times. The Hawks have opted for a much simpler approach, one that caught the attention of good friend and esteemed colleague Steve Aschburner of si.com, and a recent president and of my crew, the Professional Basketball Writers Association. In this age of multi-media and complex techno-gadgetry, the Hawks went with strictly the facts. And that resonated with Steve, as I’m sure it will with many others who are appreciative but tired of the gimmicky stunts teams pull to impress voters.
“Not only shouldn’t voters be influenced by that sort of persuasion, it flies in the face of true journalism ethics — at least for those newspapers that still abide by that stuff,” Asch wrote in an email to the Mad VP. “Besides, I’ve never figured out what sending an iPod or a GPS system to a voter does to make a stronger case for a player or a coach deserving an award. (Think some team sent the conference coaches a GPS system to lobby for an All-Star berth for somebody.) My theory is, if you want to bribe me, come with cash. Lots of it. Or don’t come at all!”
Classic stuff from one of the very best in the business. And I never did get my iRoy so I had to buy my own iPod.
SPEAKING OF AWARDS - Some of you have weighed in with your own feelings about the Hawks and who on the roster (and coaching staff) should be in the mix. Flips Murray’s a no-brainer for inclusion in the conversation about the Sixth-Man award. And a case could be made for JJ to be included on one of the All-NBA teams as well (per the scouts and league executives si.com’s Ian Thomsen polled for his take on the awards season).
As for our in-house feedback, there was a bigger stir for Hawks coach Mike Woodson than anything or anyone else. I wasn’t surprised that some of you emailed me concerning Woody’s status in the conversation (he’s rarely mentioned by any of the “nation” types despite having a familiar season and profile to one of the recent winners, Sam Mitchell formerly of the Toronto Raptors).
Two items really stuck out for me.
The first was an early morning/late night (how does 3:08 a.m. strike you) message from one of my most trusted voices about all things basketball, you can just call him Pop. “In my opinion,(of course),when you look at all the playoff teams Houston and Atlanta standout as the least likely to have done so well,” he wrote in an email. “Who has gotten more out of their talent? My point, [Houston's Rick] Adelman and Woodson should be at the top of the list of candidates for coach of the year (maybe Chauncey Billups if he had been named player/coach).”
As it stands, few people outside of this space predicted the Hawks would have a winning season, let alone home court advantage. And some of us here weren’t that positive. And to his point, Woody stands fifth on the Hawks’ coaching list for wins, only Richie Guerin (327), Mike Fratello (324), Lenny Wilkens (310) and Hubie Brown (199) have more than Woody’s (152 and counting).
One of our founding members, the one and only Astro Joe, didn’t hesitate to offer up his own fresh take on things Sunday evening. He raised some other interesting points in addition to where Woody stands in this coach of the year discussion (and he wasn’t shy so read his email word for word):
So I was thinking this weekend. One of the cool and refreshing things about Woody is his willingness to state a goal at the beginning of the season and essentially place his career on the line. Last season, he stated that the team needed to make the playoffs. The unstated consequence of failing to meet that goal was likely the end of his run as Hawks coach. After all, he was a lame duck based on his expiring contract. He enters this season, with only the security of a ratty blanket (two year extension) and he declares that the team needs to secure a home court playoff seeding. Again, with a new boss on board, the consequences of failing to meet that goal may have been yet another person visiting the Georgia unemployment office.
Do we see this in other cities and in other sports? It seems we often get generalities … the team needs to take another step toward competing for a title” or “if things break right, we should be able to improve form last year’s performance.” But Woody put it right out there on the line for all the world to see. Last year and again this year. How can a fan of any team in any team sport NOT admire a coach who declares the goal for all the world to hear and then gets it done? Yes, dude has some massive warts, but [expletive], that’s the kind of [gutsy] move that would make other coaches a cult favorite.
Now here’s the but. I hope that this team recognizes the fragility of this achievement, home court advantage. The Hawks are one lethargic first quarter from losing that which they fought 80 games to achieve. One game when they forget to share the ball from seeing this blow-up in their collective faces. They are two first quarter fouls on Horford or Smith from flip-flopping with the fifth seeded team. And because Woody abused his top 7 players with too many minutes, the team is one unfortunate injury from exposing an unprepared bench to maintain the advantage of having Game 7 in front of their sometimes rabid fans.
But all that said, I’m proud of my team and my coach. With five of the top 10 players requiring a new contract (even Marvin needs to agree to some deal or he may be chilling with Chill next season), I’m not taking this for granted and assuming a return to this level of prominence next season. Just like home court can be lost in a few minutes, so can the momentum built in the last two years be gone in a mater of a few weeks this coming summer. Thanks for being the record-keeper of a pleasantly surprising and fulfilling season.