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.
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.