Josh Smith likened this week to “a tidal wave,” which of course led to the obvious question: Are the Hawks standing on high enough ground?
They are assured of a postseason berth for the second straight season. They are moving closer to a home playoff series for the first time in 10 years. They have displayed chemistry and resolve by sweeping a seven-game homestand, which had followed a 13-18 stretch, which had followed a 21-10 start.
None of that suggests they’ll soon be spitting out seaweed any time soon.
But on Wednesday night, the Hawks played the first of three games against teams — San Antonio, Boston and Los Angeles — that have won eight of the past 10 NBA titles.
The tidal wave reference: completely understandable.
“When we played those seven games at home, we were tested against some pretty good teams,” Smith said Wednesday. “But this will test our competitiveness. This will show how hard we’re playing and whether we’re ready for the playoffs. It’s definitely a chance to see how good we are.”
Boston comes to town Friday. Maybe we’ll see it then.
Playing without Tim Duncan seemingly did little to hurt San Antonio — or help Atlanta. The Spurs won 102-92. They shot better than the Hawks. They certainly defended better than the Hawks.
In short, they looked more April-ready than the Hawks.
“It’s definitely disappointing because we had come so far,” Mo Evans said. “Now we’ve lost to two elite teams [in the past three games], Cleveland and San Antonio. That’s the true test. This hurts because we had been playing so well.”
It’s late March. This is when great teams come together. Nobody went into the week expecting the Hawks to beat the Spurs, Celtics and Lakers in five days. But this is a time for them to gauge where they really stand.
Early results: not pretty. Manu Ginobili was back after missing 19 games with an ankle injury and wasn’t a factor (two points in six minutes). Duncan probably could’ve played. But the Spurs played Tuesday; his knees aren’t fond of back-to-backs, and coach Gregg Popovich is thinking of the playoff.
Didn’t matter. Tony Parker (42 points) couldn’t be stopped. Coach Mike Woodson said the team tried to double-team him more often but couldn’t get there in time.
“There was some slippage,” he said.
Slippage — in intensity, in execution and in results.
One game is not foreshadowing. How the Hawks bounce back against Boston could be.
“Our team has grown, and these guys in the locker room are hungry because they’re trying to secure a spot that allows you to host a round,” Woodson said before the game.
He doesn’t have the luxury of resting players. The Hawks are still trying to secure the No. 4 seed (their fortune: Miami also lost).
But, yes — this was a night for slippage. Smith went 3-for-12 with four turnovers. Even worse, there was this bit of slapstick: In one 51-second span of the first quarter, Smith had the ball stolen, was called for traveling, missed a slam dunk at one end and called for goaltending at the other.
“He had a bad night,” Woodson said.
They all did. The got hit by the first wave.
Jeff Schultz, fighting to stay relevant with peeps under 40, can be reached via email (firstname.lastname@example.org), Facebook, Tweeter (SchultzAJC) or carrier pigeon (make a right off 400).