The Hawks’ spirits were noticeably high at practice today, and that was true even before rookie Ivan Johnson (belatedly) sang “Happy Birthday” (badly) to Larry Drew.
Jannero Pargo was back at practice 17 days after his appendectomy. Al Horford participated in non-contact team drills for the first time since his Jan. 17 pectoral surgery. Everyone seemed refreshed and rejuvenated after two days off–even Tracy McGrady was laughing, joking and engaged.
Maybe it was the convergence of rest, better health and the easing of the schedule that had the Hawks (mostly) ditching the “one game at a time” mantra and actually casting an eye on the East standings to contemplate where they might finish.
“Everybody is right there,” Drew said. “As I told the coaches, this thing is going to jump around from now until the end the way we are all bunched up. Some schedules are favorable, some guys are out on the road quite a bit. Some are home. Some are half and half. It’s going to be interesting how this thing shakes loose.”
Joe Johnson, normally among his team’s toughest critics, allowed that he “feels pretty good” about their chances.
“We’ve managed to hold our own,” he said.
In fact, Joe went so far as to declare the Hawks have the easiest path to a strong finish among the teams vying for playoff positioning behind the Bulls and Heat.
“I think we are in favor coming down the stretch as far as other teams we are competing with,” he said. “We just have to come out and take care of business.”
He’s probably right about that. A breakdown of the finishing schedules for the top eight in the East:
|Team (record)||Games left (home)||Opponent win %|
|Bulls (42-13)||11 (6)||.516|
|Heat (37-14)||15 (10)||.486|
|Magic (32-21)||13 (5)||.491|
|Celtics (30-22)||14 (6)||.545|
|Pacers (31-21)||14 (10)||.482|
|Hawks (31-23)||12 (8)||.429|
|Sixers (29-23)||13 (4)||.471|
|Knicks (27-26)||13 (5)||.521|
The Hawks might finally be in relatively good health the rest of the way.
Pargo said he expects to play against Charlotte tomorrow. Vladimir Radmanovic (back) is doubtful tomorrow after participating in a portion of practice today but Drew reports: “I spoke to him said this is the best back has felt in a while.” Jerry Stackhouse (personal) is expected to be available tomorrow.
Pargo was relentlessly cheery as always even a couple days after his emergency surgery so you can imagine his mood today. He said he’d been working out on his own the last three days.
“I’m trying to get my legs underneath me and get my wind back,” he said. “It will probably take a couple games to get my rhythm back and into the flow of the game. I think the main thing is to get back into playing shape.”
With both Pargo and Willie Green back in the fold, Drew can stabilize the backcourt rotation.
“It gives us a little bit more flexibility,” Drew said. “I don’t have to pile up the minutes on both Kirk [Hinrich] and Jeff [Teague]. We are really happy we get [Pargo] back.”
There’s no change in Horford’s status from what he said a few days ago: He won’t return until the playoffs, if that, and he doubts he would be at full strength if he does play.
Horford was watching practice from the sidelines by the time media types were allowed in and later had ice on the surgically-repaired area. But his presence, along with Pargo’s return and the days off, seemed to contribute to the overall positive vibe.
“It feels great, man,” Joe said. “To see Al out here competing and having fun, I think it gives everybody some energy and some hope and hopefully we can get him back.”
Michael Cunningham, Hawks beat