C-Viv filling in for Michael Cunningham as he makes his way to Philadelphia for Friday night’s battle of division leaders – the Hawks (11-4) vs. the 76ers (10-4).
I will have a preview of the matchup later. I wanted to share one of the interesting things coach Larry Drew said after Thursday’s practice. Asked about areas the Hawks need to improve upon, even during this stretch of four straight wins and seven of eight games, Drew pointed to the start of the second half in games. He said it has been an issue this season, as it was last season.
Here is what he said:
“The one thing I really want to improve on is how we start the third quarter. We’ve had a problem with that, this goes back to last year, coming out and not starting the third quarter with a lot of energy. One of the last things I say to the players after they come back on the floor after halftime is we want to force our opponent to call the first time out. If we come out with energy and we are doing the things we are supposed to do, we get on a little bit of a run. They are going to have to call a timeout. If there is an area where we really need to improve on, it is that. We’ve done a good job of rebounding. We’ve done a good job of moving the basketball. Defensively we’ve done a good job of executing our coverages. It’s just those spots where we have a little bit of a let down, we just have to get better at.”
Also, I asked Drew and Joe Johnson about the notion that the team has been able to ease into life without Al Horford considering their schedule – with four home wins against Charlotte (two wins), Minnesota (four), Toronto (four) and Portland (eight).
“Minnesota came into this building and everybody looks at the name on the front and the first thing they are not a very good ball club,” Drew said. “And yet, they had us down by 18 with three and half minutes left in the third quarter. We respect all opponents. Yeah, if you look at the win-loss record of some of the teams that have come in here some people might say the games have been easy for us. But by no stretch of the imagination have the games been easy.”
“The fact that we played those teams doesn’t matter,” Johnson said. “We all still have a job to do. It’s been tough without him even though we’ve won a few games convincingly. We’ve all managed to step up in a different way than normal.”
Here is an All-Star voting update: Joe Johnson is 10th among Eastern Conference guards with 40,718 votes. Horford, despite the injury, is sixth among Eastern Conference centers with 35,860 votes.
I hope this gives you something to talk about while I set to work on the preview story.