HAWKSVILLE - Mike Woodson has been asking for it since he got here.
He’s was selling the Hawks as a potential prime-time player when they were stuck in the mud of a 26-win season. “Win,” the sixth-year Hawks coach would say often, “and everything else takes care of itself.”
Everything else seems to be falling into place these days. And that includes the Hawks’ position as true “prime-time players” during the 2009-10 season (the schedule was released this afternoon). The Hawks will be on one of the league’s network broadcasts a whopping seven times this season (matching their combined total from the previous 11 years). Six times they’ll play on ESPN and once on TNT.
After going without a single nationally televised regular-season game during his first four seasons at the helm, Woodson’s Hawks clawed out two appearances last season, one that was added after the season was already underway. He admitted to being fired up at the prospect of his team being on display this season. “I do feel a little bit like it’s overdue,” he said. “We thought we were a team worthy last season, but we kept our heads down and kept working. It all comes in time.”
Woodson relished the opportunity for his team steal a little of the spotlight last year, even if they did lose both of those nationally televised games (to Boston and Cleveland). But anyone wondering what kind of boost back-to-back playoff appearances can have on a franchise, need only check out the Hawks rising profile.
Woodson has been gushing about the Philips Arena crowds and the added advantage those home crowds gave his team since the playoff run against Boston two years ago. It seemed laughable then, when the Hawks were still struggling to fill up the place against the undesirables on the schedule. Yet no one can argue that those playoff crowds lacked any of the fervor needed to rile the rest of the feathered masses.
“The first four years we were here we couldn’t have bought our way onto the air,” Woodson said. “But since we’ve made the playoffs in each of the past two seasons you could sense things were turning around for us. And this is huge. This is a huge turnaround and one that I think goes right along with all the strides we’ve made as a team and franchise.”
The Hawks open the season Oct. 28 at Philips Arena against Indiana. The first nationally televised game is Nov. 13 in Boston, while four of the TV games will originate from Philips Arena, starting with the Thanksgiving night contest against the Eastern Conference champion Orlando Magic (8 p.m.). In addition to that Thanksgiving night game, the Hawks will also ring in the New Year by hosting the New York Knicks Jan. 1 at 7:30.
“This is a testament to our players and the work they’ve put in,” Woodson said. “When you turn things around and stick to your plan, good things happen. Right now, I think we’re seeing the rewards of all our hard work.”
It’s certainly a good start.