Archive for April, 2009

Hawks send a message, and an elbow

Zaza Pachulia connects with Jermaine O'Neal. (Brant Sanderlin/bsanderlin@ajc.com)

Behold, how to win a playoff game: Zaza Pachulia connects with Miami's Jermaine O'Neal in Game 5. (Brant Sanderlin/bsanderlin@ajc.com)

They’re missing two starters. They’re playing on the road. Franchise history blows against them like a typhoon.

As a general rule, this is just this kind of backdrop that’s led the average Hawks fan to take a sledgehammer to their television before tip-off, or at least keep mind-numbing substances somewhere near the remote.

But this time, you might be safe.

“You’ve seen us all year,” Josh Smith said Thursday. “We’ve been fighting through adversity all season. We’re different now.”

Watch tonight. The Hawks have a chance to win a playoff series against Miami. They have a chance despite the fact Al Horford (ankle) and Marvin Williams (wrist) may be in street clothes. They have a chance even though history says they haven’t won a playoff series in 10 years, nor a best-of-seven series in 39.

They have a chance because, …

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Hawks surviving despite an ordinary Joe

It seems like Joe Johnson has been fighting for control of the ball the entire playoffs.

Joe Johnson seemingly has been fighting for control of the ball the entire playoffs. (AP photo)

There he was before the playoffs, saying all the right things. He wanted to be viewed as an elite player. He wanted to be known as a difference-maker. He wanted to be the guy who stood out in a postseason series, not blend like flowers on wallpaper.

“Everybody wants to be the guy,” Joe Johnson said last week. “This is the time when the great players step up.”

It’s Game 5 of the NBA playoffs, and we’re still waiting for Joe Johnson to step up. The degree of his greatness remains up for debate.

The Hawks are even in their series with Miami at two wins apiece despite Johnson, not because of him. They’ve received great games from Josh Smith and Zaza Pachulia and solid play from Mike Bibby.

But their captain and expected leading scorer has been relatively pedestrian.

Johnson is averaging 13.8 points. He has made only 37.9 percent of his field-goal attempts. He is …

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So the best coach in America is in … Boise?

 

The fact this woman is in the picture with Chris Peterson is mere coincidence.

The fact I'm using a picture of Erin Andrews interviewing Chris Peterson is mere coincidence. I just couldn't find one with Roseanne Barr. Honest.

After the first player taken in the NFL draft was from Georgia, and the 12th player taken in the NFL draft was from Georgia, and five players who were taken in the first three rounds of the NFL draft were from Georgia, something occurred to me. Again.

Relatively speaking, Georgia really kinda stunk last season.

Now, I know there’s not always a correlation between NFL prospects and the success of a college team. But it seems to me there’s strength in numbers. And in this case, the numbers say Boise State coach Chris Peterson — he’s the guy in the picture, if you can take your eyes off Erin — might have done a better coaching job than anybody last season.

We explain, in this week’s Tuesday Countdown:

10. Final score: USC 11, Boise State 0.

Below you will find a chart, showing the final Associated Press football rankings last …

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Falcons suddenly have a present, a future — and a window

Thomas Dimitroff, Tony Gonzalez and Mike Smith are all smiling for the same reason -- the sudden opportunity the Falcons have to do something special. (Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com)

Thomas Dimitroff, Tony Gonzalez and Mike Smith are all smiling for the same reason: It's the unexpected opportunity suddenly facing the Falcons. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

Flowery Branch – In the past 16 months, the Falcons have gone from one of the most beat-up, put-down, staggered, dazed, lost and certainly humiliated franchises in pro sports history to one viewed as possibly just this side of Eden.

When that happens, plans change.

Windows open.

Tomorrow becomes today.

Hall-of-Fame-in-waiting tight ends are acquired for second-round draft picks.

On Sunday, the Falcons completed their second draft under Thomas Dimitroff. Screaming Twitters and ESPN’s mock-till-you-drop coverage notwithstanding, the names really don’t mean much yet. Nobody has played an NFL game. The fact that the Falcons took two defensive linemen and three defensive backs in their first five picks said something about their objectives.

But the transaction that tells you the most about where …

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OK, so maybe it won’t be so easy

 

Here's Dwayne Wade buried the Hawks Wednesday, hitting one of his six three-pointers on the way to 33 points.

Here's how Dwyane Wade buried the Hawks, hitting one of his six three-point shots on the way to 33 points. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

It’s so easy to get drunk off one game, isn’t it?

A young team runs and defends like a title contender, Josh Smith looks like some lab creation, Dwyane Wade looks just ordinary — suddenly you find yourself drifting and wondering: “Can LeBron handle this in the next round?”

Welcome to sobriety.

If what happened Wednesday night wasn’t a market correction, it at least was a wakeup call for everybody. It won’t be easy. It won’t short. And any assumptions that seemingly could be drawn after one game were blown to bits in Game 2.

Three days after crushing Miami by 26 points, the Hawks were dropped by the Heat 108-93 to even the playoff series at one humbling apiece.

  Nothing went right. Even “Spirit” the hawk (the real one) got loose early in the game, and circled the arena a few times, moving from scoreboard to …

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Hawks look for a win, Heat look for a pulse

Dwyane Wade surrounded.

If Miami guard Dwyane Wade felt somewhat surrounded in game one against the Hawks, it's only because he was. (Brant Sanderlin / bsanderlin@ajc.com)

Winnersville — Thought I’d check in early today because I went to the shoot-around (basketball term) and didn’t want to drive back home outside the perimeter, which would necessitate me turning back around to go to the game in a few hours and, given 400 traffic, would get me to my seat with approximately two minutes left in the first quarter.

The themes this morning were about what you would’ve expected.

1.) The Hawks do not want to take a step back.

2.) The Heat are determined not to play to the tempo of dirge again.

The most pointed comments probably came from Miami coach Erik Spoelstra, who, after briefly addressing potential adjustments and player rotations, said: “The most important thing is we come out with the right mentality, physicality and intensity. The way we were scrapping to get that fifth seed in the last three …

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Lions fans start early, boo Stafford BEFORE the pick

 

Hey, Boss. Can Stafford lead Detroit to the Promised Land? (Photo courtesy of Southern Tracks.)

Hey, Bruce: Can Stafford lead the Lions to the Promised Land?

First, my apologies. I did not file a Countdown last week. I was still recuperating from the Masters, when one of Angel Cabrera’s playoff shots bounced off two trees, a moose, a rooftop, a drain pipe, two Democrats (how did they get through the gates?) and then off the side of my head just before rolling into the hole, just as Bobby Jones envisioned.

 Sometimes things don’t go as expected. Like NFL drafts. Early picks for splat. Late picks turn into Pro Bowlers. And whatever the Detroit Lions do usually ends up a punchline.

  Which leads me to Matthew Stafford. Did you know Lions fans apparently don’t want him?

  I dunno. Maybe they saw the Florida game.

  Details follow. But first, a disclaimer: This Countdown is a tribute to Bruce Springsteen, who plays Philips Arena on Sunday. I’ve seen him countless times over the last 28 years. Really. I don’t count. Somehow, it makes me seem less obsessive.

Did I …

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Finally, the Josh Smith we’ve been waiting for

 

Josh Smith and the Hawks were on one level, the Heat were on another. (Brant Sanderlin/bsanderlin@ajc.com)

A telling snapshot from game one: Josh Smith and the Hawks were on one level, and Miami was on another. (Brant Sanderlin/bsanderlin@ajc.com)

It was all there. Everything you’ve wanted. Everything you’ve envisioned on the other side of potential. Everything that can’t be illustrated in a few spliced highlights of two flying Wallenda dunks and a rebound.

Intensity. Enjoyment. Maturity.

Let me repeat that last one: maturity.

“It felt perfect,” Josh Smith said Monday. “Like a perfect day.”

It’s impossible to accurately project what the Hawks’ opening-game dismembering of the Miami Heat means for the rest of this playoff series or the post-season. But this much is certain: If Josh Smith continues to run and attack and defend like he did Sunday night, Miami has no chance in this series and Cleveland has something to worry about in the next one.

He scored 23 points — 17 in the first half, when the Heat was still in the game, at least theoretically. He added …

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Smith: Win or it’s a “wasted season”

 

This was the scene last year against Boston, but three playoff wins won't satisfy the masses this time. (AJC photo.)

This was the scene after a win over Boston in the first round last year in Philips Arena. But three playoff wins won't satisfy Josh Smith — or the masses — this time around. (AJC photo.)

 

The last time the Hawks won a playoff series was 10 years ago. We could not have known then that it was a signal for impending doom.

A first-round win over Detroit was followed by four straight losses to New York, which was followed by management’s decision to go in a new direction, which was followed by presumed dementia by general manager Pete Babcock, because that’s the only possible explanation for his next decision — trading Steve Smith for Isaiah Rider and a giant flushing sound to be named later.

Welcome to recovery.

The Hawks open the playoffs Sunday night against Miami. They are the better team. They have the home-court advantage. They should win. If they don’t, it certainly doesn’t mean the franchise will circle the drain for the next several years. But what …

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Once again, a Masters to remember

  Augusta – This makes up for the last two years.

  This makes up for a celebrated golf course’s bizarre late-life growth spurt. It makes up for the bad weather and the dry finishes and for Zach Johnson and Trevor Immelman, not that there’s anything wrong with Zach Johnson or Trevor Immelman, so long as we’re talking about the Shell Houston Open.

  This was the Masters again.

  We felt the drama on Sunday. We watched a scoreboard covered with red numbers, but impressive and proper red numbers, not the kind that made us believe we were in Wally World. We saw Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson paired together for a seeming ratings grab, only to collectively produce a thrilling fourth-round charge that seemed so implausible after three rounds of relative mediocrity.

 

Kenny Perry reacts after his birdie chip just misses the cup on the first playoff hole -- one of several memorable moments in Sunday's Masters. (BRANT SANDERLIN/ bsanderlin@ajc.com)

Kenny Perry reacts after his birdie chip just misses the cup on the first playoff hole — one of several memorable moments in Sunday. (Brant Sanderlin/bsanderlin@AJC.com)

   In the end, we even got a …

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