It looks like the Hawks’ good fortune with injuries finally has ended.
Joe Johnson (sore Achilles’) is not on the Hawks’ team flight. He’s been ruled out for New Jersey tomorrow and probably is out for
Thursday Wednesday at Toronto, too. Mike Bibby (back) made the flight but is questionable for New Jersey.
J.J. will miss his first game of the season and just his fourth since 2007-08. He wasn’t available for comment because he was getting treatment (and napping, as is his custom).
“I’ve always said when somebody goes down it gives somebody else a chance to step up and play,” Woody said before J.J. was officially ruled out. “That’s why I tell guys they’ve always got to be ready.”
Woody wasn’t ready to say how he’ll adjust the lineup, in part because he wasn’t sure if he’ll be without both J.J. and Bibby. If it’s just J.J., then Jamal Crawford could get his first start of the season at shooting guard. But Woody didn’t rule out bringing Crawford off the bench, in which case Mo would get the call. If both Bibby and J.J. are out and Woody sticks with his preference for bringing Jamal off the bench, then the rookie Teague would get his first start.
– If the Hawks are serious about catching Orlando (and for that matter announcing themselves as contenders) then what you saw against the Pistons is how they need to look like for maybe 12 of their 17 games remaining.
The Hawks got after it on defense. They worked for good shots, controlled the tempo and played with energy. The Hawks jumped an inferior opponent (the standings say they’ve got lots of those left) and when the Pistons tried to make their inevitable run they let them know they weren’t going to rise up on that night.
That’s the blueprint.
“That was the perfect game for us down the line,” Josh said, “except for the turnovers.”
Could it mean the Hawks finally have figured out how to impose their will from the jump?
“If it becomes consistent, then I think so,” Smoove said. “But you really can’t gauge it from one game.”
It’s not easy to stay up in the NBA. The season is long. Bodies are tired and banged up (see J.J. and Bibby). The schedule can be rough (like those four games in six days coming up for the Hawks).
“It’s tough,” Al said. “But you realize every other team is like that as well, and a lot of these other teams aren’t playing for anything. You really have to focus in and get up and get motivated.”
Woody said he understands what it’s like for players at this time of year. He used to be one of them, after all. But as the coach of a team trying to make a breakthrough, Woody wants the kind of effort he saw Saturday more than just here and there.
“It comes down to who wants it the most,” he said. “We’ve shown signs over the last two years how much we really want it. Look back two years ago (in the playoffs), then the jump we made from that point to get to the next round last year. We could have quit in Miami when we lost homecourt advantage but they didn’t’ quit. They wanted to get to the second round and they made it happen.”
Now the Hawks want to win the division. They are 3.5 games back of Orlando with 17 to play so they’ll need Orlando to stagger a bit. And staying in front of Boston for No. 3 is becoming more important because the Bucks are looking like a team the Hawks don’t want to see in the first round.
The Hawks can’t control what the Magic does, except for that final meeting on March 24 at Philips. For that matter, they really can’t worry too much about where they end up in the playoffs bracket when they are still trying to perfect that blueprint.
“We’ve got to just get focused and get through the regular season and we will figure out that (playoffs) part then,” Woody said.
– Pick my Cardinals over Cal in your bracket because they always follow a bad game with a good one. That also means don’t be tempted to pick them to beat Duke, though nothing would make me happier (a first-round loss for that team in Lexington would be a close second).