LOS ANGELES – Jeff Teague’s Halloween costume aside, the Hawks are here in my favorite city for one thing and one thing only; business.
This is a business trip that they’ve been looking forward to since the NBA schedules were released in the summer.
And believe me, I’m as guilty as anyone of falling in love with the sights and sounds of this weather paradise (that’s sunset at Venice Beach above, courtesy of Hawksville’s resident suit man Big Kuntry) and forgetting, even if it is just momentarily, that there’s work to be done first.
The business starts at Staples Center today against the defending champion Lakers and weaves through Portland (Tuesday), Sacramento (Wednesday) and concludes dangerously in Charlotte (Friday), a place the Hawks haven’t played well dating back to last season.
That’s why, in my estimation, this is such a crucial stretch of the early season for the Hawks.
Too many times they’ve departed the friendly confines of Philips Arena and seemingly lost any semblance of order, swagger and just plain know-how that they’ve shown on their home floor.
Seriously, the one thing the Hawks have yet to conquer during this rejuvenated stretch of the Mike Woodson era is their road game. Those 16 road wins from a year ago kept them from being among the league’s elite; by the count of most of those in the know a legitimate big-time squad wins 20-plus away from home. We’ve talked at length around here about the Hawks’ failings on recent attempts on the big stage – from the Cleveland series last year through the preseason finale on ESPN against Orlando.
The Lakers, and to a larger extent this road trip, present an opportunity for the Hawks two right all those recent wrongs. Win two or three of these games and perhaps it’s a bit easier to classify this team among the best (or at least the teams legitimately challenging for that seat at that table).
I am more convinced than ever that the Hawks are on the path to greater things. I don’t know what other conclusion you could make after watching them rise from the depths of their 13-69 ashes of five years ago. But I need something to erase any doubts that may linger. I need to see the Hawks rise up to the challenge that this road trip presents. That doesn’t mean I expect them to breeze through this thing undefeated and pile up six straight wins to start a second straight season. I just need a resolute effort against the two teams they’ll face to start this trip. Compete like a team that’s serious about stomping with the big dogs and it’ll be a lot easier for us all to think of the Hawks in that regard.
THE LAKERS MATCHUP
The Lakers will be without at least one of the main cogs of their championship puzzle for tonight’s game. All-Star big man Pau Gasol was ruled out of the game with that hamstring injury that has plagued him throughout training camp and the early part of this season. I’d suggest that’s a good thing for the Hawks … until realizing that the Lakers are deep enough and talented enough that it’s not going to make a huge difference.
In fact, the Lakers match up just as well against a team like the Hawks because they’ll have a smaller and arguably more athletic lineup to match up against the their visitors from the east with Ron Artest, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum across the frontcourt.
Marvin Williams will have his hands full tonight dealing with Artest, and probably Kobe Bryant at times, on the defensive end. I imagine Joe Johnson will see quite a bit of both of those guys as well, particularly Artest on defense. But Marvin can’t sleepwalk (as he says he did in Friday’s win over Washington) through the first three quarters against the Lakers and the Hawks expect anything but disaster.
They’ll need everyone engaged from start to finish if they’re trying to do what the Mavericks did the other night in knocking off the champs on their own floor – and something tells me the Lakers won’t be interested in suffering consecutive home losses now or at any other time this season.
Again, this is a game full of intriguing matchups that require our magnifying glasses.
FOOTBALL SEASON IS OVER AROUND HERE
Again, football season is over around here folks. It’s done. Finished. Over with.
I’m not just saying that because Michigan has fallen off the cliff (witness the devastation of our latest disaster, a 38-13 waxing at the hands of lowly Illinois) or because Gabriel Smith led the Smyrna Spartans to a smashing finish to their season Saturday in the mud (an 18-12 overtime win over South Paulding in which he opened the Spartans’ scoring with a 90-yard jaunt up the sideline and finished it with 12-yard scamper in the OT. It was a good day and major props to another esteemed colleague and the Spartans’ coach, one D. Orlando Ledicheck). It has nothing to do with the Bulldogs and those black helmets (personally, I thought that was a fresh touch, even if the Gators weren’t particularly impressed) or the fact that Georgia Tech is on a collision course with the BCS (I wish Michigan had hired Paul Johnson).
It’s just time. We’re a week into the NBA season. It’s time to get on the basketball bus.
It is November.
So by decree of the man soon to be formerly known as Blog Z, it is officially basketball season from this day forth … at least around here.
We’re still investigating the Ladybug outfit Teague was forced to fly in on Halloween. There’s no doubt it was part of a rookie ritual that the youngster will never forget. And since there is photo (and rumored video) evidence of this hilarious sight, we won’t allow him to forget it either. As soon as one of his teammates give up the goods … uh, I mean our investigators can locate the footage, it’ll be planted here for the enjoyment of all.
Don’t forget, Hawks-Lakers tonight live from Staples Center. I know you’ve got to work in the morning and you might not stay up to watch the whole thing. But the blog will be live and hopping throughout.