Denver – This is a little later than promised (something the editors at my paper have heard more than a few times from me). I thought there’d be Internet access on the plane, but there was not. (I’ve since landed, and am now at a little table finishing up, before going to get my car.)
Anyway, my thoughts on Minnesota.
As I watched the game in the estimable company of Hawks sideline reporter James Verrett and Hawks PR man Arthur Triche, my impression was that the game was a little raggedy, that the Hawks weren’t really sharp and no one, save Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford, played all that well. Minnesota was getting open looks at the basket and had more energy.
But, looking at the box score, and certainly the final score, it would certainly indicate that the Hawks dominated. The Hawks shot 48.9 percent and held Minnnesota to 41.1 and forced 22 turnovers. They were 9 for 20 from 3-point range and assisted on more than half of their baskets (22 of 43). They only turned the ball over 10 times.
So it made me wonder if I’ve come to judge this team with an overly critical eye, or if I was focused on how many fouls the Hawks took (29, their second-highest total of the season) and their free-throw shooting (17 for 25), or if the Hawks actually didn’t play all that great but still managed to deliver a 26-point beatdown, which is the Timberwolves second-worst loss of the year, which, given that it’s the Timberwolves, is saying something.
Anyway, old news. Onto the Nuggets. Don’t know what you remember from last time, but a refresher. The Hawks were coming back to Philips after the West Coast trip that ended with the blowout loss to Charlotte. It was the second night of a back-to-back, while Denver was in Atlanta for a day or two. To that point, it was their biggest win of the season, I’d argue, a 125-100 win. The Hawks shot 54.5 percent from the floor and outrebounded Denver 44-36. Interestingly, the Nuggets shot 41 free throws, making 36, both season highs for Hawks opponents. The Hawks took 33 fouls, a season high.
For what it’s worth, when I did my story about what statistics Mike Woodson and Rick Sund use, I found a story online about how the Nuggets director of qualitative analysis – can you imagine Red Auerbach having one of those? – was helping the team. George Karl sounded what gave like begrudging credit to him for helping shape the strategy to “winning the free-throw line.”
Using stats through Monday, Denver was averaging 32.7 free throws per game, far and away best in the league. The second-best team was Orlando at 28.3. The gap between Denver and Orlando was about the same as the one between Orlando and the No. 20 team in the league. (The Hawks were at 23.6)
Getting to the line, as I imagine Karl himself would say, is only part of the equation. Some of the teams close to the top are Charlotte, Washington and Toronto.
Digression alert: In the pursuit of my own quantitative analysis, I just looked at how the division leaders ranked in a number of statistics in search of “What do all good teams do?” Leaving out point differential, my parameters were to find which statistic has the most division leaders in the top 10.
Two had five of the division leaders – opponents points per game and opponents field goal percentage. Perhaps you might have guessed it.
Opponents PPG top 10 – Boston, Portland, Charlotte, Cleveland, Lakers, Detroit, Oklahoma City, Orlando, Dallas, San Antonio. (Hawks are 11)
Opponents FG pct. top 10 – Lakers, Cleveland, Boston, Dallas, Portland, Indiana, Orlando, Oklahoma City, Charlotte, Chicago. (Hawks are 18) (I guess there is a reason Mike Woodson talks about this all the time. I think it’s his favorite statistic. He wants the team to get to 43, 44 percent. Before Minnesota, the Hawks were 45.9.)
Back to Denver: The thing that I remember most about that game (it was the first game I covered in place of Sekou) was Josh Smith’s block of Chris Andersen, and how he was just all over the floor – 22 points, nine rebounds, seven assists, six blocks and one turnover. Also, Denver was without Kenyon Martin and J.R. Smith. The Nuggets should have them in the lineup, but might not have Chauncey Billups. He was limited in practice Monday and is unsure if he’ll be able to return against the Hawks. That, obviously, is significant.
For what it’s worth, Martin averaged 14.5 points and five rebounds, shooting 56.5 percent from the floor in two games last year against the Hawks.
Two nba.com links on your favorite coach (I guess I’m being literal for some, sarcastic for others).
Woodson as early coach of the year candidate.
Denver Post Nuggets beat writer Ben Hochman reports that Karl, who, along with Woodson and Phil Jackson are the only three coaches in the league (I think) on the last year of their contracts (and Jackson is not at all in the same category as Woodson and Karl because Jackson can just say the word and he can come back) has been offered a three-year extension worth $11 million.
Hawks as role models for the Timberwolves, according to the Star-Tribune.
Dime magazine weighs in on if the Hawks can win a championship.
Don’t know if you saw it, but my story on the Hawks’ leading the league in fewest turnovers. I saw Woodson reading it yesterday before the game. That was kind of a weird experience. Part of me wanted to see what he had to say, but, I suppose, another part of me didn’t. I left.