Vivlamore reporting from Oklahoma City. Sorry for the latest of the blog but news broke about Josh Smith as I was literally boarding my (delayed) flight.
Oklahoma City — An already tough task just got tougher.
The Hawks play their first road game of the season, against defending Western Conference champion Oklahoma City Sunday, without star Josh Smith. The forward sprained his right ankle in the Hawks’ season-opening loss to Houston Friday and did not travel with the team Saturday. According to a team statement, Smith’s status will be updated as appropriate.
Smith was the Hawks leading scorer last season, appearing in all 66 games. In the loss to the Rockets, Smith had 18 points and 10 rebounds. The Hawks were outrebounded 58-36 against the Rockets with Smith accounting for nearly a third of their boards.
Johan Petro, the 7-foot backup center also did not travel with the team due to a sore back. Petro was inactive against the Rockets.
Already at a size disadvantage, the absence of the 6-foot-9 Smith will present further rebounding problems for the Hawks. Coach Larry Drew did not pin the Friday’s woes on his big men alone.
“There are areas of this game I thought we weren’t very good or polished, particularly on the boards,” Drew said of the loss. “We didn’t do a good job on the boards. And it wasn’t just our big guys. Our perimeters were not in position to chase down long rebounds. Therefore it allowed them second opportunities. They are a big team, (center Omer) Asik he is a task because of his size, but there were a lot of rebounds we didn’t chase them down. That’s not on our big guys. That’s on our perimeters.”
Of particular concern wer the 58 Rockets rebounds, 23 were on the offensive end. That included 17 offensive boards in the first half.
Without Smith, even more will be expected of Al Horford. The center did not have any offensive touches down low in the first half against the Rockets. He finished with 14 points and five rebounds.
According to Horford, it’s going to take time for the new-look roster to get in sync.
“No, I didn’t,” Horford said Friday about his lack of first-half chances. “I’m going to just say it was our first game and our guys are just trying to feel things out and get used to things. I was there. I just need to make myself more available but that was something that I noticed as well. I wasn’t getting the touches.
“We have to do a better job of trusting our offense and running it. It is the first game but we have some work ahead of us.”
There were other issues against the Rockets that will need correcting.
* The Rockets went to the free-throw line 29 times, converting 25 of the chances. By stark contrast, the Hawks went to the free-throw line just 17 times, converting 15 of their chances.
* Drew said his team settled for too many jump shots after some early success.
* There were far too many defensive lapses, especially after a Hawks basket. James Harden, who finished with 45 points for the Rockets, converted many baskets over the top of the Hawks defense.
With all the deficiencies, and a third-quarter deficit that reached 16 points, the Hawks stormed back and briefly took a fourth-quarter lead. The new up-tempo offense led to 33 fast-break points. That is the positive they take from opening night.
“We were able to give up that many offensive rebounds and get outrebound by that wide a margin and still have a shot to win the basketball game,” Smith said Friday. “That shows big resiliency in the team. We have a lot of fight in us. We just have to tweak some things. It’s still early. This is the first game. We are not going to panic. We are going to go back to the drawing back and see what we need to do to succeed.”
The Hawks seek their first road win of the new campaign after losing all four of their exhibitions away from home. A high quality opponent in the Thunder leaves less of a margin for error Sunday.
- Chris Vivlamore
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