PORTLAND – Pump your brakes.
I’ll do it if you do it.
Because it appears we’ve gone a bit overboard with the panic room act after the Hawks’ loss Sunday in Los Angeles to the Lakers.
More than a couple Hawks reminded me before, during and after practice Monday that we’re still in the first, five-game stint of the season. We’re just three games in, with Game 4 up tonight against a strong Trail Blazers team at the Rose Garden.
“People had us winning the championship last year when we got off to that 6-0 start,” Hawks captain and All-Star Joe Johnson said and then laughed. “Everybody needs to calm down and just keep working. It’s a long season, man. Every coach I’ve ever had tells you that [the season] is a marathon and not a sprint. And that’s true. Don’t get me wrong, you’ve got to play with urgency. But you also have to keep the season in perspective.”
Perspective is something that would come in handy around here, for me and for you.
I’m not in the habit of predicting disasters but I can admit to having a bad feeling about that Lakers game. I knew they’d be hungry to make a point after losing at home the Mavericks a couple nights earlier. And I know the Hawks have a penchant for not fully understanding what it is to be focused, locked and loaded on the road.
JJ erased any fears I had with his outlandish first quarter performance against the Lakers. After he lit Kobe Bryant up for 18 points in nine minutes I started crafting my “Hawks finally show claws at Staples” story. Then the third quarter came along and I hit the delete button.
This game against the Blazers presents a similarly tough challenge; my guess is road teams won’t find this venue much easier to deal with this season than they do Staples Center. It also provides the Hawks with a chance for a little Rip City redemption. Find a way to outwork the Blazers and their All-Star (Brandon Roy)-led crew and maybe we can put file that Lakers debacle away for nit-picking at a later date.
CLOSE TO HOME
For Seattle natives like Jamal Crawford and Marvin Williams, the annual trip here to Portland is closest they’ll get to home. Since the Sonics packed up shop and moved to Oklahoma City (and were renamed the Thunder), there’s been a huge void in the road schedule for teams used to doing the Pacific Northwest two-step between this city and it’s neighbor to the north.
For guys who grew up immersed in the NBA culture that that Sonics provided that void is even more pronounced.
“You grow up your whole life dreaming about making the league and playing for the Sonics,” Williams said. “I was lucky enough to make it and play in Seattle before they [left town]. But it’s brutal, not having them anymore. It still stings for a lot of people and probably always will.”
Marvin’s career-high remains the 33 points he dropped on his hometown team Jan. 25, 2008. In fact, he’s always played well when the Hawks travel to this northwest corridor of the country. Maybe it’s all the family and friends that come to see him. Or maybe it’s just being in familiar territory that gets him going. Whatever it is, don’t be surprised to see both Marvin and Jamal go off tonight against the Blazers.
GOOD JOSH, BAD JOSH
There’s a funny, or not so funny depending on your perspective, debate that happens on press row shortly after the start of most Hawks games about which Josh Smith is in the building.
Is it good Josh (the one averaged 18.5 points and led the Hawks in assists by attacking the paint in the first two games of this season) or bad Josh (the one that showed up for that Lakers game and rarely ventured inside on offense and remained largely ineffective for all but a few minutes)?
The Hawks need good Josh to show up against the Trail Blazers tonight. They need the active Josh, the one that played superbly at home in wins over both the Pacers and Wizards to start the season. They need the Josh that changes games with his defensive presence and triggers and finishes fast breaks like few players in the league can.
What they don’t need is the Josh that spends more time complaining to the referees than he does chasing rebounds and loose balls. They don’t need the Josh that refuses to dive to the basket when JJ has the ball on the wing and is being double teamed and needs a safety valve.
I’ve debated with numerous folks – scouts, agents, executives, other players and just about anyone else you can imagine – this notion that the Hawks go as he Josh goes. I’ve never really bought into that premise. But I’m starting to see the light. When he’s at his best, the Hawks are literally at their best. And when he’s not … you saw the Lakers game.
ALDRIDGE TO PLAY?
The status of Trail Blazers big man LaMarcus Aldridge is no longer uncertain for tonight’s game. The knee injury he suffered during Sunday’s win over Oklahoma City is not expected keep him out of the game, per the Oregonian.
Aldridge has given the Hawks major fits here – averaging 20.0 points and 9.5 rebounds in Portland’s last two games against the Hawks here.
ONE LAST THING
I ran across this link that is required reading from Yahoo! Sports columnist Adrian Wojnarowski. Woj attacks the simmering issue that is Chris Paul’s plight in New Orleans. It’s good stuff. Take a break from work, my treat, and read it. You’ll be glad you did.