I admit it: I’ve been in micro-mode too much lately. All this talk about isos, switching D and Woody’s pleas and I’ve neglected the big picture story sitting right there in the standings. So let’s forget examining the Hawks’ warts with a microscope for a minute and acknowledge that it’s March and they are in a good, old-fashioned race for the division title.
The Hawks are two games back of Orlando in the Southeast with 23 games to play. Boston is still hanging around at No. 3 in the East. Toronto has lost four straight and is no longer a concern to rise up. Cleveland is out of reach even with Shaq’s thumb surgery. The Hawks have a real chance to earn homecourt in the playoffs for two rounds. You might get an argument if you say they have a shot at the East finals but at least you wouldn’t be immediately shouted down with ridicule.
This is all supposed to be fun and exciting for you, right? I mean, just look at this bracket and tell me it’s not cool. And I wasn’t even around for the dark years. When D Wade said at All-Star weekend that “my first year in the league, (the Hawks) wasn’t really respected” and now they are, it didn’t resonate as much with me as I’m sure it does with you. Now the Hawks are a good, entertaining team that wins often at home. I’d expect there to be more joy and optimism even among my blog people, who aren’t the casual fans glancing at the standings and saying “Hey, the Hawks are ballin!” but instead wring their hands over all the things they see wrong with their squad. Love ya for that, and I understand this is a place for you to dog your no-good family among family while bitterly defending them against outsiders (that’s not just my family, is it?). But your team is in the East mix so please try to have some fun.
Anyway, back to those standings. It is of course folly to look at an NBA schedule and figure which games are “easy” and which are “hard” because nothing is for certain, injuries and back-to-backs always play a factor and at some point teams are going to start sitting guys. But I’m gonna do it anyway because I’m gonna have fun with or without you.
The Hawks have 12 road games left, the Magic has nine and the Celtics have 10. The Celtics have been the better road team by far while the Hawks and Magic have kind of hovered around .500. A very subjective look at the remaining road schedule among the three with “easy” games (vs. bottom dwellers) and “hard” games (vs. elite teams or pretty good teams desperately trying to stay in playoff race or improve their position):
Easy: two at Wizards, at Jersey, at Philly at Detroit.
Hard: at Toronto , two at Milwaukee , at Cleveland and at Charlotte.
Easy: at Jersey, at Washington, at Philly, at Indiana.
Hard: at Hawks, at Dallas, at San Antonio, at Cleveland.
Easy: at Philly.
Hard: at Milwaukee, at Cleveland, at Houston, at Dallas, at Utah.
The Hawks have 11 homes games to go, the Magic 12 and the Celtics 14. The Hawks and Magic have been good-to-dominant at home while the Celtics are just 16-11.
Easy: Philly, Golden State (yeah, I know), Detroit twice, Indiana.
Hard: Charlotte, San Antonio, Orlando, Lakers, Raptors, Cavs.
Easy: Clippers, T-Wolves, Wizards, Knicks, Philly, Memphis (?).
Hard: Lakers, Bulls, Charlotte, Spurs, Nuggets,.
Easy: Wizards (twice), Memphis (?), Pacers, Pistons, Knicks, Kings.
Hard: Charlotte, Nuggets, Spurs, Thunder, Rockets, Cavs, Bucks.
So my (purely subjective) conclusions about all of that are:
I take this schedule “analysis” into consideration, look at the current standings, consider how the teams are playing, factor in injuries, etc. and pull out of my . . . um, sophisticated handicapping system the following: The Celtics are locked in at No. 4 and the Hawks will finish No. 3 in the East behind the Magic in a tight race.
If you are among those who believe the Hawks would be better off facing the Cavs rather than the Magic in the second round (like the AJC’s Mark Bradley), then hope the Celtics finish strong and the Hawks slip to No. 4 since they wouldn’t have homecourt in the second round as the No. 3, anyway. Of course it would be better for the Hawks to finish No. 2 and at least have homecourt against third-seeded Orlando in the second round. And it would me much, much better for the Hawks to finish No. 2 as Orlando slips all the way to No. 4 and the Hawks get Boston in the second round with homecourt but that’s the longest shot.
If you are among those who think none of this matters because the Hawks are just going to flame out in the first round, anyway, because Woody is the coach and J.J. is the star and ASG is cheap . . . well you are just not having enough fun.
– Big Z wasn’t happy the Cavs traded him and presumably that’s one reason he’s flirted with other teams and made Cleveland wait out his decision. Now the Cavs are doing what they can to assuage any hurt feelings. From the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
Sources said (Danny) Ferry met with Ilgauskas, who has been working out for the past week in New York, where he maintains an off-season home. It is believed Ferry made Ilgauskas an offer to re-sign with the team at that time (Monday).
Then on Tuesday, sources said, several of Ilgauskas’ former and perhaps soon-to-be reunited teammates came to see him after the team flew into town for Wednesday’s game against the New Jersey Nets.
The story goes on to say Big Z might commit to the Cavs today (he can’t sign until March 22). It also says the Hawks are among the teams who have “backed off” Big Z since it looks like he’s headed back to the Cavs. The Hawks still are hopeful but they aren’t optimistic.
– Buried in one of those stories from New York where they reguarly express their frustration with their unrequited love for LeBron is this tidbit:
“Team sources indicated (Mike) D’Antoni would be very pleased to add overshadowed free agent Joe Johnson as a fallback. D’Antoni thinks Johnson is a great piece to build around. But Johnson, the potential re-signing of David Lee and another mid-level free agent, does not put the Knicks in position to compete for a championship.”
– Ken Sugiura is back on the beat for the next few days. I still plan to do a blog or two.
– Talk amongst yourselves, Hawks fans.