Two games into their playoff series against LeBron James and his slightly closer-to-mortal teammates, the Hawks are about where most expected they would be: down 2-0, with three injured starters classified as game-time decisions, and the rest merely struggling with self-esteem issues.
At this point, they might want to re-evaluate their strategy and expand the roster to include all creatures in the animal kingdom. Maybe let “Spirit” the Hawk loose again in Philips Arena. He can even bring his friends this time.
“Yeah, hopefully this time we can train him to fly into their bench,” said Josh Smith.
“Scratch their eyes out!” said Randolph Morris. “We need to get zookeepers to bring 10 of those things.”
They need something. The Cleveland Cavaliers have won their first six playoff games by an average of 18 points. They have won the first two games of this series by 27 and 20. The worst part: That actually makes the series look closer than it’s been.
The initial objective was to make a series of this. Now everybody is just trying to escape with all major organs intact.
If nothing else – and there may be nothing else – they can try to draw on history for inspiration in Game 3. They responded well to humiliation in last year’s playoffs. They followed two lopsided losses in Boston with two wins at home and, implausibly, ended up taking the eventual league champion Celtics to seven games.
But seeing three starters — Joe Johnson, Al Horford, Marvin Williams – leave practice early Friday because of ankle or wrist injuries and schlep into the training room for treatment, didn’t create much in the way of positive foreshadowing.
“You can talk about what happened last year,” Smith said. “But in the end, you have to be able to bring it.”
Game 1 was bad. Game 2 was scorched earth. The Hawks trailed by 24 points at halftime and 36 in the third quarter.
Smith was 2-for-13. He spent part of practice Friday working on his three-point shot. We’re not sure if that’s good news or bad news.
Johnson, Smith and Mike Bibby — the team’s three biggest offensive threats — combined for only 29 points. Johnson, who has had a mostly miserable post-season, left Game 2 in the third quarter with an ankle sprain. He later was wheeled into and out of an X-ray room in a wheelchair.
On Friday, he lumbered around in a walking boot.
“We’re excited,” Mo Evans maintained. “We’re in the hunt. We still feel like we’ve got a great chance of winning this series.”
Everybody waited for the punch line.
As for the first two lopsided games, Evans said: “No matter how big the losses are, we didn’t do so great in Miami, either. And they didn’t do so great here.”
But the Hawks acknowledge Cleveland is on a different level than Miami. Finding offense is only part of the problem. The other is slowing an opponent that’s averaging only 96 points per game and hasn’t even been pushed yet.
They could use some help. But it won’t likely come from “Spirit” the mascot. He has been tethered to his handler since going for a joy ride in the Miami series.
But somebody going by “SpiritTheHawk” on Twitter did respond to a message Friday. He said his game plan “may include chewing through scoreboard wires or LeBron’s new shoes. And Cavs may want to wear precautionary beakguards.”
Any help would be welcome.