There’s a feeling in the Hawks organization, from the players up to ownership, that the Eastern Conference playoffs bracket is more wide open than most assume and the Hawks can make a deep run if things come together. If that seems like silly talk from a group that hasn’t even won a second-round game and was a combined 1-6 against the Magic and Cavs in games that mattered this season . . . well, what’s wrong with the Hawks feeling confident? Beats the alternative.
They did win 53 games. They are the No. 3 seed. With those credentials, the Hawks can think big, and so that’s why the Lil’ Larry O’ Brien Trophy sits on the ledge of the eraser board in the locker room.
“That’s what it’s all about at the end of the day,” Woody said. “It’s not about just making the playoffs. These opportunities don’t come along very often. We don’t know what’s going to happen next year. The other 15 teams are thinking the same way, so why shouldn’t we? It’s my job to keep pushing them.”
No doubt the Hawks need to be pushed. They are 16-8 since March 1, a hair better than their overall winning pace this season, so you can’t say they faltered down the stretch. You can say they had issues with keeping their intensity level high and finishing games on the road.
Smoove said the Hawks now are ready to “bottle up their emotions” and bring it every night in the postseason.
“We have a sense of urgency,” Josh said. “Everybody is ready to play and prove we are ready. Everybody on the team has something to prove.”
That’s true. Woody and J.J. are on that list for obvious reasons. Rick Sund and ASG are on it, too. Josh, Marvin, Al, Bibby–all have different question marks to answer.
Don’t forget Jamal–I joked with him that he’s the new guy and if the Hawks flame out, he’ll get the blame. But, seriously, he’s in the playoffs for the first time in 10 years and he knows what critics were saying for those other nine:
“He’s a talented guy, but does he make people better? Does he win? Does he make teams better? Does he play defense? I’ve been screaming from the inside: ‘I am a winner!’ I just needed to be with the right group of guys in the right situation.”
This group of guys and this situation could be it. The Hawks have to show and prove.
“It’s a fun time–fun for the fans who have supported us all season long and now get a chance to watch us in the playoffs,” Woody said. “But for the players and us coaches, this is a serious thing. I think we have a chance to do special things.”
– First thing is first for the Hawks. They have to beat the Bucks before they can ponder their championship dreams.
“You don’t go in with that mindset necessarily,” Al said. “That’s the goal, but I think in the playoffs the margin is so slim you have to focus in on the moment, so the first round would be the most important thing for us and we can kind of move on from there. But you always look ahead as the goal being to win an NBA title.”
The Bucks, not surprisingly, are playing up their underdog status, saying they have nothing to lose, claiming all the pressure is on the Hawks . . . and so on, and so forth. Interesting that John Salmons is drawing on his experience with the 2009 Bulls, who pushed the Celtics to seven games before losing. Sound familiar?
The Hawks say they aren’t taking the Bucks lightly. Really, I can’t see why they would considering they had to go to overtime to beat them at Philips, lost at the Bradley Center when Bogut was in the lineup, and saw on Monday that the Bucks are still going all out without Bogut. All of those memories are fresh, too, since the Hawks and Bucks didn’t play the first time until Feb. 28.
“It’s not going to be an easy series,” Joe Smith said. “But if we go out and take care of business we will be fine.”
“Scott Skiles has them playing hard,” Josh said. “We can’t relax and think it’s going to be an easy series.”
– Hawks blog legend Sekou offers up this nugget in his series preview: “This is the first time in 12 years that the Hawks have entered the playoffs as a clear-cut favorite in a first round series.”
– I saw that some of my blog people jumped on Mo’s quote from before the Bucks game on Monday: “We won 50 games and we still underachieved. That tells you this team has so much potential.”
I know what Mo means and it’s good he feels that way but for anyone saying the Hawks should have won 60 games, slow down. For some perspective, look at this list. Only 40 teams in league history have won 60 games in a season, so if you do it puts you in elite company. Are you saying this Hawks team, playing to its maximum potential, should be included among that group?
Sure, you can go back and tick off all the games the Hawks should have/could have won if this or that had happened. But all teams can do that at the end of the year. And if you do that, you also have to cancel those out with the victories that easily could have gone the other way. The beauty of the 82-game schedule is, barring a catastrophic run of injuries or other unforeseen circumstances, you usually end up being what your record says you are.
The Hawks’ record says they are a very good team. Flawed? Yes. Inconsistent? Sure. That’s why they didn’t win 60 games. But they won 53 while dominating at home and that’s dang good.
“You have to acknowledge 50-pus wins is a good season,” Al said. “We are definitely not taking that for granted. That’s a nice accomplishment. But we now we have to move on to bigger things.”
– hawksdawgs at Peachtree Hoops makes the case for why free agent fans should adopt the Hawks as their playoff team. Nice take, but I immediately noticed a glaring omission. So did hawksdawgs, who shortly after posting that Tweeted: “I can’t believe I forgot to talk about @zaza27 in my reasons to root for the Hawks in the playoffs. I feel like a terrible person.”