When the Hawks started the season hot, J.J. was the one guy who always said he wasn’t impressed because they were beating up on lesser teams.
Now that they are taking regular beat downs from better teams, does he think the Hawks still believe they can get on a roll?
“Definitely,” he said. “We know we can beat any team in the league. It’s just a matter of us bringing our ‘A’ game every night. We can’t play down to our opponents [and] when we play teams on our level or that people think are above us, we have got to take it up two more notches.”
Soon after Hinrich joined the team, he said: “Since I’ve been here we’ve talked about defending and bringing the energy. And when we do that we can be a tough team because of the talent we have and athletes and the shooters. If we can lock down on the defensive end, it will make the game a lot easier for us.”
Now the Hawks are defending better (for the most part) but things haven’t been at all easy because they struggle to score despite the talent and athleticism and shooting hasn’ that Hinrich talked about.
Does he think the Hawks still believe they can be a “tough” team like he said back then?
“I believe that way and I feel like everyone in this room does,” Hinrich said. “We’ve had some bumps, we haven’t played well at times but I think everyone believes if we put our minds to it [we can do it]. That’s kind of what we are trying to focus on these last 12 games: every game going out there and gearing up for the playoffs and play playoff basketball and hopefully be ready for the playoffs.”
J.J. and Hinrich aren’t talking about intangibles, not talent. Ken S. had a nice story the other day on the leadership void in the locker room. It was an issue last season, too, and it’s an issue again with the same mix of guys (now notably minus Bibby’s silly influence since the deadline).
But I still think it’s too simple to blame Atlanta’s struggles on intangible things like a lack of leadership. There are so many tangible, quantifiable and observable issues with this team that it’s no great mystery why they are struggling now that the competition has gotten tougher at the same time the calendar says it’s time for the real teams get serious.
For instance, do the Hawks take too many jump shots because they lack leadership? Or, is it like J.J. says, do they not work the post and drive to the basket for scores or fouls because they just aren’t built that way? Remember, the Hawks have been a jump-shooting team all season but L.D. didn’t really start harping on that until the jump shots stopped falling (and, in fact, he’s pretty much encouraged them in Smoove’s case).
Similarly, does the lack of leadership prevent the Hawks from getting back to defend in transition? Or is it just that they aren’t good at it because all those missed shots from a jump-shooting team, combined with no consistent rebounding outside of Smoove and Al, leading to easy chances on the break for their opponents?
All of this is not to say the Hawks don’t sometimes give in too easily when things get tough. But I think they give in because they realize they aren’t good enough to do what’s necessary to win when Plan A doesn’t work. The Hawks are a pretty good team. They could try harder, be tougher, show more heart or whatever and I still don’t think they can overcome their shortcomings to become a very good or great team.
But that’s somewhat speculative on my part, and I understand the frustration of fans who believe the Hawks could be much better if they had more leadership, heart, toughness, etc. And it would be a nice change of pace to see the Hawks at least try to consistently minimize their weaknesses, exploit their strengths, use all of their bona fide rotation players in roles suited for them and see what happens.
Time is running our for the Hawks to figure it out but they insist they still can do it.
“I still think there’s a belief in that,” L.D. said. “Everybody is aware we haven’t had a great March but we are still in position with 12 games left. It’s just a matter of getting on a roll. There are some teams that have struggled in the East and some still struggling. Chicago is the one team that has been the most consistent. Everyone else has had ups and downs.
“I still think it’s wide open. I really hope that our guys still believe they can get on a roll and anything can happen.”
The Hawks can start against the Bulls.
“I think we are still a confident group,” Al said. “Tonight is a big game.”
Damien has an interesting perspective on all of this. I asked him if he’s ever played on a team that struggled and then got it together in the final month and made a run. Soon after the question was out of my mouth I realized he hasn’t been on a good team since he was a rookie in Seattle.
Now he’s on a team that’s struggling but that he still thinks has a shot.
“That’s why, to me, it was never really a big panic or as big of a deal as it seemed,” he said. “Because, I’m like, everyone is panicking around here and I know we lost a couple games we should have won and didn’t play as well as we should have but at the end of the day we are still the fifth seed. So to me I am still excited.
“I think our effort against Miami, it was almost as if we packed in the season it looked like. Looking back, I can understand why the panic has set in for everybody, or it seemed like it. They know we are a better team than this. But at the end of day I am still excited because I have a chance to get in the playoffs and once you get there the seeds and the records go out the window. It’s about execution and adjustments. We will see what happens when we get there.”
Michael Cunningham, Hawks beat