Hawks still hoping for No. 2 seed (and a little attention)

Josh Smith and the Hawks hope for a welcoming party at two weekend home games. (AP photo).

Josh Smith and the Hawks hope for a welcoming party in two weekend home games. (AP photo)

The third best team in the NBA’s Eastern Conference, which is based in one of the league’s top markets, returns home to Philips Arena Friday night. Their hope is that somebody notices.

The Hawks are doing their part. They’ve had a chance to fizzle and haven’t. OK, there was that collapse Wednesday night in Toronto when a 12-point lead evaporated in the fourth-quarter and they lost in the final seconds on a jumper by Chris Bosh. But here’s the pass: The loss came with their leading scorer (Joe Johnson) sitting out. It was their second game in two nights on the road against a team (Toronto) fighting for a playoff spot. There are worse ways to go splat.

Four weeks ago, the Hawks lost consecutive games at Phoenix and Golden State. There were signs of settling. At 34-20, they basically were  a .500 team (15-14) after a meteoric 19-6 start. But since then, they’ve won nine of 13. A win at New Jersey actually put them 20 games over .500 for the first time in 13 years. Can’t remember seeing that in any headlines.

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They’re doing it in ways you want to see, particularly in March. When Johnson missed consecutive games with an injury, others stepped up their game, particularly at the offensive end. Even Jeff Teague played. Remember Jeff Teague?

“I like the fact that everybody is making a contribution,” general manager Rick Sund said. “I like our chemistry.”

So here’s the question: Has anybody noticed?

The Hawks rank 20th in the NBA in home attendance at 16,092. Of the 10 teams behind them entering Thursday’s games, seven have losing records. Eight are out of the playoff picture. The two exceptions: Charlotte and Milwaukee. Both play in significantly smaller markets.

The fact the Hawks draw pretty well on weekends should help Friday (Charlotte) and Sunday (San Antonio). But shouldn’t the overall picture be better? Players can’t help but notice the half-empty arena, but they aren’t going to say much about it publicly, beyond, “All we can do is win.” And then maybe they roll their eyes.

Sund, who for a long time worked for one of the NBA’s most-vibrant franchises in Seattle, said: “I haven’t lived here long enough to comment. I don’t know.”

It’s not anybody’s business to tell people how to spend their money. But the bad-economy argument goes only so far. Chicago, Portland, Dallas, New York and Salt Lake City are in the same economy. Nobody can play the economy card more than Detroit, and the Pistons are averaging over 18,000 — and they’re a 23-45 team.

Maybe this will get people’s attention: The race for the Southeast Division title and the No. 2 seed in the East isn’t dead yet. Nobody is catching Cleveland. But the Hawks play four games in the next six days, the last one coming against the Magic. They have only 15 games left. It’s safe to say if they’re going to make a move on Orlando, it’s now.

Sund speculates that to catch the Magic, “We need to beat Orlando and then win seven out of eight or something like that.”

Even if the Hawks fall short, it’s a worthy product, a fun team to watch even if sometimes aggravating. It’s a team that lost four straight earlier in the season – two of those to Cleveland – but otherwise has not dropped more than two in a row all year.

“The good thing is we’ve been through some highs and lows like every club, but we’ve come out of it,” Sund said. “We’ve shown some resiliency.”

Teams sell out games when enough fans believe there’s a reason to go.

When LeBron and Kobe come to town, the games sell out.

When the playoffs start, the games sell out.

Until then, the Hawks may have to settle for being just north of curiosity, even if in relative anonymity.

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC and on Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

111 comments Add your comment

Rimfire

March 18th, 2010
2:17 pm

Go Hawks, win,win,win!

Magnum

March 18th, 2010
2:19 pm

WalterEgo

March 18th, 2010
2:22 pm

Does FIRST count in horseshoes? If I’m not first I’m close. Go Hawks.

Reid Adair

March 18th, 2010
2:24 pm

The Hawks desperately need to finish no worse than third. They do not need to be on the same side of the bracket as the Cavaliers.

Dr. Warren

March 18th, 2010
2:26 pm

2nd loss in a row on the road to a team fighting for a playoff spot? Didn’t they beat the Nets in the game before Toronto?? Confusing sentence structure, my friend.

Dr. Warren

March 18th, 2010
2:35 pm

It’s been an uplifting season, true. But the attendance problem should not be blamed on the fans. Customer needs come first. The Spirit has not filled those needs adequately. So naturally, the laws of business are interceding, and if yesterday’s NY Times article is correct, the ship is finally sinking. 2 years of winning basketball don’t cancel out 9 years of horrible losing. If the Hawks had a bankable major star–read: draft incompetency; If the Hawks had had a big name coach–read: cheapness; if the Hawks gotten rid of those boring red uniforms and dated logo much earlier–read: lack of imagination; if the Hawks had overhauled the fan experience a la Arthur Blank–read: putting the customer first. if the lower level wasn’t sold out to companies whose tickets are often not used during the weekday games, making the lower level like a ghostown–read: quick-fix solutions devoid of strategy; If the Spirit had done better in these areas and more, they wouldn’t be in trouble. Let’s not blame Atlanta’s customer base, transients or natives. It’s a business–and it’s been poorly run. This is first-year MBA stuff.

Kelleysrightnow

March 18th, 2010
2:36 pm

The Hawks are nothing but a curiosity because there is no tradition. The Pistons have won a lot and that gives the fans a reason to feel connected to “their” team. We have had nothing but personnel changes and management nightmares. Give the public what they want~ Winners that keep their mouths shut or are at least entertaining when they open their mouths. I still say BORING to the whole lot of them.

That Guy

March 18th, 2010
2:38 pm

Dr. Warren, the Nets are definitely not fighting for a playoff spot.

gmoney

March 18th, 2010
2:38 pm

Two reasons people dont show up…

1) major hassle to get to the game
2) way to expensive to get a good seat and a good seat is a must to enjoy a game

and 3) the foods sucks at Phillips and is way to expensive

that simple…doesnt make any difference how good they are

Dr. Warren

March 18th, 2010
2:40 pm

That Guy–I know that. That is my point. His sentence reads like both of the past two games were against playoff-contending teams.

That Guy

March 18th, 2010
2:48 pm

DW-I’m pretty sure JS meant that their last two road losses were to playoff contending teams.

That Guy

March 18th, 2010
2:50 pm

DW-I did enjoy your MBA post. Good points on all fronts.

Resign or Resign?

March 18th, 2010
2:52 pm

Guilty as charged!! I’m a Hawks fan, but don’t spend my money to attend the games. You have made me feel so bad! Excuse me while I slit my wrists!

Gilley

March 18th, 2010
2:54 pm

Yeah its not the economy all the time. Atlanta has traffic issues and fair weathered fans. It makes a difference. Also, not a lot of natives who come to the games because Kobe and Lebron fans be from different cities and just live here. Hawks are also a frustrating team. We would probably be tied or in front of Orlando if not for these leads we give up but despite all of that, we still have a chance. Imagine if we closed games and took care of business. The what ifs will continually be the reason why we don’t have the respect we deserve.

Tron5000

March 18th, 2010
2:56 pm

Now I’m no NBA expert, but isn’t it the case that the 3 division winners get the top 3 playoff spots? As in, the Hawks could finish 3rd behind Cleveland and Orlando, but Boston would have the 3rd seed for winning their division? Someone please correct me if I’m wrong on this.

Gilley

March 18th, 2010
2:59 pm

THE GOSPEL. Even though I am a Hawks fan regardless (Homer) Everyone else isn’t as loyal as me. RT @Dr. Warren It’s been an uplifting season, true. But the attendance problem should not be blamed on the fans. Customer needs come first. The Spirit has not filled those needs adequately. So naturally, the laws of business are interceding, and if yesterday’s NY Times article is correct, the ship is finally sinking. 2 years of winning basketball don’t cancel out 9 years of horrible losing. If the Hawks had a bankable major star–read: draft incompetency; If the Hawks had had a big name coach–read: cheapness; if the Hawks gotten rid of those boring red uniforms and dated logo much earlier–read: lack of imagination; if the Hawks had overhauled the fan experience a la Arthur Blank–read: putting the customer first. if the lower level wasn’t sold out to companies whose tickets are often not used during the weekday games, making the lower level like a ghostown–read: quick-fix solutions devoid of strategy; If the Spirit had done better in these areas and more, they wouldn’t be in trouble. Let’s not blame Atlanta’s customer base, transients or natives. It’s a business–and it’s been poorly run. This is first-year MBA stuff.

Gilley

March 18th, 2010
3:02 pm

Tron5000 I want to say if Boston and Atlanta are tied, Boston gets the tie-breaker because they are the division winner. But if ATL has the better record then they have the 3rd seed. Double check that though

Art Vandelay

March 18th, 2010
3:06 pm

Attendance at Hawks games will always be an issue because nobody actually lives downtown in this city. The majority of the fan base lives in the suburbs and can’t be bothered to drive 45-60 minutes each way on a school/work night for a 2.5 hour game that costs $300 for a family of four. Yes, the Hawks are enormously entertaining and talented. Yes, they deserve better. But after 33 years in Atlanta, I’m pretty confident that nothing will change until someone has the good sense to build an arena in a location that is accessible to the fans.

Oh, and nobody really wants to give a dime to the Anti-Spirit Group, but I don’t think that’s the primary issue. Attendance has always been a problem, even during the ’80s when Dominique and Spud were here.

Zimmerman

March 18th, 2010
3:16 pm

OK, enough with the attendance whining. I have a family of 5. To go to a sporting event downtown is expenisve. But lets put that aside, and consider the REAL reason I don’t take my family to Atlanta sporting events.

ITS DANGEROUS. Last time I went to a game we saw upwards of 50 “homeless” just wandering the streets. I don’t want my daughter to get shot walking down the sidewalk. You can’t count on the cops in this town because most of them are criminals themselves.

Jamaaliver

March 18th, 2010
3:18 pm

It’s plain and simple. Atlanta just isn’t much of a pro sports town.

Even when the Braves were perennial contenders, i remember far too mnay first round series that didn’t sell out for the playoffs.

Steve

March 18th, 2010
3:20 pm

I think the reason is that Atlanta is just not a basketball town. People are not going but they are not watching either. I believe I read that their rating is like 2.2 when the games are on TV. Atlanta is a baseball and college football town only. When the Braves got good, look how the city embraced them. The Hawks got good and nobody cares (unless it’s the playoffs against Boston). Another reason is that we don’t have a superstar like when we had Wilkins, Willis, and Webb. The high cost for tickets is another reason. If the Braves can average 25,000 a game 81 times a year, the Hawks should be able to fill up the arena 41 times but it’s just not a basketball town.

jon

March 18th, 2010
3:22 pm

A number 2 seed! You’re kidding right? You have to have heart to do that! Mr. Schultz pay attention to this bad pattern: CAN’T CLOSE OUT TEAMS! EVEN BOSTON CAN DO THAT.

Jeff Schultz

March 18th, 2010
3:23 pm

Rimfire — Mazel tov.

Jeff Schultz

March 18th, 2010
3:24 pm

Magnum — Silver.

jon

March 18th, 2010
3:24 pm

TRON5000 YOUR ARE RIGHT BUT THEY DO RE-SEED IN THE NEXT ROUND!

Jeff Schultz

March 18th, 2010
3:24 pm

Reid — Agreed. Don’t know how good chances are against Magic in second round, but certainly better than facing Cleveland.

Khao$

March 18th, 2010
3:25 pm

Unreal. This city always has an excuse. Jeff, it doesn’t matter what argument you put forward, someone will always put forward a “well thought out” argument on why fans don’t attend the games. Just take out Hawks and put Braves or Falcons in the header and the excuse will be the same. You’re right, people are free to spend their money however they choose to. True, we have inept management running a few of our teams. However, other teams have similiar complaints and worst records. And they draw better than us. As a native of this city, I can no longer argue against the national media. Our fanbase for the pro-teams (and Tech) are dreadful. That said, kudos to all the Hawks fans that have stuck with this team through thick (Nique, recent resurgence) and thin (Belkin, 13 wins, Danny Manning).

Jeff Schultz

March 18th, 2010
3:27 pm

Dr. Warren — that’s second GAME in a row on the road, not loss.

C. Tampa Ironworse

March 18th, 2010
3:28 pm

Hawks WILL be in the conference finals.

PS: JS…What, no Obama mention? Does he not have an opinion on the NBA?

Jeff Schultz

March 18th, 2010
3:29 pm

Dr. Warren (again): I’ve heard about this customer needs stuff a lot. Honestly, it’s a pretty reasonably priced ticket, especially with all of the discount nights. Outside of perceptions of ownership, etc., if there anything specific about game-night experience you don’t like? Just curious?

Khao$

March 18th, 2010
3:29 pm

I disagree Steve. When Nique was with the Hawks, the city supported the team. I think we are a college football/superstar/bandwagon team. We love Georgia. We’ll support the team if it has a superstar (Nique, Vick, and Murphy before 1985). We’ll jump on the bandwagon for a good story (Braves worst to first), drafting for Vick, Hawks vs.Boston).

Jeff Schultz

March 18th, 2010
3:30 pm

Kellyrightnow — Certainly correct about history over last 10-15 years.

Dr. Warren

March 18th, 2010
3:33 pm

My bad, Jeff. Sorry. It’s way too late over here in Shanghai. And thanks, GILLEY and THAT GUY, for appreciating my thoughts about the Spirit.

Jeff Schultz

March 18th, 2010
3:33 pm

Tron — If the Hawks pass Orlando in the Southeast, that’s not an issue. They would be second.

bali

March 18th, 2010
3:37 pm

i do not think Atlanta is a pro Basketball town. I can understand poor attendance 2 or 3 years ago, but now……come on man. Week day attendance is a joke. I reall y do not know what can be don

Steve

March 18th, 2010
3:42 pm

Maybe they really should try putting a stadium or arena in the burbs. I think if Turner Field was where the Gwinnett stadium is or maybe somewhere like the old Ford Plant they would average closer to 35,000 per game. Downtown is just too far for many people. Especially during the week.

PMC

March 18th, 2010
3:48 pm

In the past they could rely on corporate money. They can’t do that anymore.

It might be that for the most part it’s just more expensive than it’s worth to people. We don’t have generations of families who have grown up around Atlanta sports. It’s not a priority to go to the stadium. It’s just something to do if it interests us. The opportunity and or experience of going to the game while it is a good time and a great experience for those of us who partake… just might not be worth it to other folks. Especially to sit in the upper deck or a long way away from the court. Lower level will set you back 150 bucks for 2 seats on average. That’s not worth it to a lot of people in a down economy no matter how good they are. I bet the TV numbers have been great though.

jon

March 18th, 2010
3:49 pm

The Hawks are not going to get past Orlando for the division! They would have to finish a full game up on them to win division, and we just don’t match up with them, we just don’t….

Jeff Schultz

March 18th, 2010
3:54 pm

Gilley — To be clear: Even if Hawks finish in second place in the division but have a better record than Boston, they will be seeded ahead of Boston. I believe the “safety net” for division winners is that they can’t be seeded lower than fourth.

Jeff Schultz

March 18th, 2010
3:56 pm

Ironworse — Let it go. (go check comments on previous blog)

Delbert D.

March 18th, 2010
3:57 pm

Last time I attended a Hawks game was the one against Detroit in the ’80s, when the media guys later said “Everybody was yelling about Laimbeer’s socks.”

Sadly, affordability is down, and crime downtown is up. TV is cheap.

Dr. Warren

March 18th, 2010
4:10 pm

Jeff–remember, though, I was not just referring to bad marketing or the at-the-arena peripheral experience when I wrote “customer needs.” I’m talking about all-around bad management. Ideally, almost every practice within a company, from hiring to logistics to product development to marketing to fill-in-the blank is focused on meeting their customers’ particular needs. Our most basic need as customers is a reasonably consistent winner and a big name star player and an excellent coach, preferably with some charisma. Atlanta is definitely an anomalous market, an outlier for a variety of reasons. But that shouldn’t and doesn’t preclude success. Very sharp ownership and innovative management (see: Theo Epstein or Sam Presti) with strong financials could pull it off. As for your question about the game-day experience, I’d say as a guy in his early 40’s, the music and manufactured noise gets annoyingly loud there during the games, and especially during time-outs. It’s very distracting, too. I’ve had several friends complain about this, too. Also, there are many bad seats there, usually the cheaper ones. The starting times can be difficult, too. But as a lifelong fan, I’d say it comes down to poor management decisions about personnel. The fans aren’t just happy to have a 2nd-tier winning team like they were in the 70’s Eddie Johnson-John Drew era. We’ve seen the Braves’ success, we’ve seen the Falcons go to the Super Bowl and 2 NFC championships, at least, and we’ve hosted Super Bowls, Olympics, etc. The Hawks have never, ever gotten out of the 2nd round, and anyone who might care about the Hawks pretty much knows it probably ain’t gonna happen anytime soon. So, even when they are very good, they are still 2nd tier, as it has been since ‘68. Look, they need a superstar and better coach. Then watch the fans come.

shawn

March 18th, 2010
4:10 pm

Hawks look good this season but there is no way that they are going to beat King James or Superman, Dwight Howard. hope that I am wrong…

A long time fan

March 18th, 2010
4:24 pm

I agree with Dr. Warren’s points, very well said. One good season doe snot make up for a decade of inept management. As for Jeff’s rebuttal, also a valid point, but discount nights are usually for bad seats on a weeknight. In addition, we are in the middle of the worst recession in thirty years and GA is one the hardest hit states. Even with discounts tickets are not cheap for a family of four once you add parking and a snack for the kids. There is such a thing as rpice equilibrium and clearly they have not found it.

D Hawk

March 18th, 2010
4:26 pm

The Hawks are having a nice season, and I will be attending at least 2 of the remaining home games; however, they can’t keep dropping games to the bottom-feeders in the East and expect the fans to ignore that. You earn your home crowds from playing good road basketball on television (I realize home games are televised too, but every decent team in the league wins at home). They had a good chance to get to 2 over .500 on the road last night and flat out blew it. That’s unacceptable for this stage of the season when they can make a serious run at the #2 seed.

The Real Hawk

March 18th, 2010
4:29 pm

Big Hawks fan but no chance. 3rd if they stop playing lesser teams in their sleep.

Dr. Warren

March 18th, 2010
4:32 pm

Thanks A LONG TIME FAN. For us long-timers, the truth about the Hawks is intuitive and easy-to-nail.

Najeh Davenpoop

March 18th, 2010
4:44 pm

There are a lot of reasons why Hawks attendance isn’t what it should be, and I think most of us are familiar with these by now. But here’s one incredibly simple way to increase attendance — get rid of the 7 PM starts. Every Hawks game should start at 7:30 or later. With Atlanta’s traffic and the blind opposition suburbanites have to riding MARTA, there’s no way they can expect people to show up to Hawks games at 7 PM.

Russ4Heisman.net

March 18th, 2010
4:50 pm

I think one of the problems with attendance is traffic-particularly from the northside. Two interstates and the most heavily traveled highway in Georgia all merge within less than a mile on the downtown connector. This creates miserable backups on the connector southbound which in turn causes problems for all traffic trying to go southbound into downtown. I know I-85 southbound is often (I’m tempted to say always) backed up to the Lenox road exit as late as 6:45 p.m. on weeknights. I can’t imagine how long it must take to get to downtown from I-85 on such nights. Unfortunately, this is one problem that doesn’t seem to have any ready solution.

LA Dawg

March 18th, 2010
4:50 pm

Tron, Gilley…someone posted this link last week regarding playoff seeding. The rules changed a couple of years ago
http://www.nba.com/features/seedingprimer07.html