Archive for April, 2010

Hawks find a perfect playoff pairing: victory and humility

Josh Smith congratulates Joe Johnson after his jumper helped seal a win (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Josh Smith congratulates Joe Johnson after his jumper helped seal a win. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Maybe this is a good thing. Maybe if a team comes out and blows the doors off an opponent in the playoff opener, it gets lulled into a false sense of security. It takes a 22-point lead at the end of the first half, makes a sandwich in the second, rolls to an easy victory and starts to think, “Bucks, Magic, Cavaliers: You are mere specks of dust on my cashmere on the way to the finals. Away with you.”

Well, there is good news. The Hawks are 1-0 in this postseason — and there is no chance of them getting cocky before Game 2.

They led Milwaukee (minus Andrew Bogut) by as much as 23 points in the second quarter, only to see that spread shrink to seven in the fourth. They settled for a 102-92 win at Philips Arena.

Victory and humility can be a wonderful pairing in the playoffs.

“It’s a good thing,” Al Horford said later. “It keeps us on edge. Last year against Miami we blew …

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We’re LIVE from Hawks-Bucks (and tickets for 98 cents?) (Update: make that 89 cents)

It appears the wagon train from Milwaukee made it in time for the game. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

And another thing: There will be no Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

For those of you not preoccupied with the Dogwood Festival, Freaknik, Braves-Colorado, the Sweetwater 420 Festival or general vegging on an absolutely perfect Saturday, welcome to what many of us look forward to most: playoffs. (Actually, vegging on a Saturday is nice, too. But I wasn’t given that option.)

The Hawks and Milwaukee tip off at 5:30. This is their third straight season in the playoffs but it’s the first time since the late 1990s that expectations have been this high. Two years ago, most were just happy the Hawks reached the postseason. Last year there was some question whether they would make it past Miami in the first round. (Indeed, the series, went seven games.)

These playoffs are different. Players genuinely feel they can go on a memorable run to the finals. That includes getting past probably Orlando in round two and Cleveland in the Eastern Conference finals.

Longshot? …

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Falcons incorporating MMA into offseason workouts (noooo!)

Here's a behind-the-scenes look at Falcons' workouts. Wait a minute ...

A behind-the-scenes look at Falcon workouts. Wait a minute …

As an Atlanta resident who covers Atlanta sports teams, I can admit to stepping outside the lines of objectivity and wanting to see three things when it comes to the Falcons:

♦ 1.) Have an exciting product that ignites the city and their fanbase.

♦ 2.) Win a Super Bowl.

♦ 3.) Don’t let Matt Ryan get his head ripped off by Brock Lesnar, Randy Couture or Chuck Liddell.

May have to settle for two out of three.

The Falcons apparently have become the first NFL team to begin an MMA training program. The story was given a big spread on FoxSports.com, which isn’t surprising considering the company running the workouts, MMAthletics, was started by Fox’s Jay Glazer and an Ultimate Fighting champion, Couture.

I’m sure the workouts are torturous. When Herschel Walker was training for his first bout recently (click link to watch the video), he referred to it as “the hardest thing I’ve done in my life.”

But you know what …

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Hawks apparently have some convincing to do (UPDATED)

Mike Woodson laughs at your odds, Mr. Bodog. (Jason Getz/AJC)

Mike Woodson laughs at your odds, Mr. Bodog. (Jason Getz/AJC)

(Updated with more odds below)

After speaking to a few players in the Hawks’ locker room Thursday, it became apparent to me that their confidence is at an all-time high, not just to defeat Milwaukee in the first round of the playoffs but to make it to at least the Eastern Conference finals.

But oddsmakers aren’t in agreement.

According to the online sportsbook, Bodog.com, the Hawks are overwhelming favorites to defeat Milwaukee in their opening round series, which begins Saturday at Philips Arena. But they’re only fourth among teams to win the Eastern Conference finals – behind even the Boston Celtics, whom Atlanta finished ahead of in the standings and swept this season.

Here are the numbers. Do you agree, or do you think the Hawks are being short-changed?

Eastern Conference title odds

♦ Cleveland: 1-2
♦ Orlando: 10-3
♦ Boston  13-2
Hawks: 10-1
♦ Miami: 40-1
♦ Milwaukee: 65-1
♦ Charlotte: …

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Joe Johnson says playoffs need to be his time to shine

Joe Johnson was all smiles after the Hawks upset the Lakers a few weeks ago, and wants to come up big in the playoffs. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Joe Johnson wants to be the difference-maker for the Hawks in the playoffs. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Good players play great. Great players play great when it matters most. They start rallies. They decide games. They take over when the casual fan starts paying attention and television networks mandate prime time starts.

The Hawks open the playoffs Saturday night against Milwaukee. This needs to be Joe Johnson’s time.

Not just because his play will help determine how far the Hawks go this postseason. Not just because he is nearing free agency and potential bidding teams (including the Hawks) will ask, “What did he do in the playoffs?” But because Johnson needs to prove something – and he’ll be the first to tell you.

“I’m going into these playoffs with a chip on my shoulder,” he said. “Not only do I want to prove I’m one of the best players in the league but that we have one of the best teams in the league. Honestly, I’m really not trying to prove it to …

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As Hawks start playoffs, what’s acceptable to you?

Josh Smith and the Hawks had some big wins down the stretch. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Josh Smith and the Hawks had some big wins down the stretch. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Two years ago, we were happy just that the Hawks made the playoffs.

Last year, we were happy that they just won a playoff series.

What now?

What’s an acceptable Hawks playoff run for you?

  • Just making playoffs was enough.
  • Win one round.
  • Win two rounds.
  • Make it to the finals.
  • Win it all — nothing less.

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The consensus expectations for the Hawks this postseason is that they will have an easy time against Milwaukee in the first round and lose to Orlando in the second. Looking at the standings and the rosters — the Hawks don’t have an answer for Dwight Howard — that’s understandable.

But two things from my perspective:

♦ 1) The Hawks were a strong team down the stretch. They proved something to themselves when they beat the Magic at Philips Arena three weeks ago, as well as the Lakers a week later. Prior to the win over Orlando, they had been 0-5 …

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Thrashers’ search: Pondering Chicago assistant (and Hartley)

Rick Dudley has an important decision to make: Who will coach his team? (Hyosub Shin/AJC)

Rick Dudley has an important decision to make: Who will coach his team? (Hyosub Shin/AJC)

Given the sports landscape, I don’t expect the masses to obsess over Rick Dudley’s head coaching search the way most did Mark Richt’s search for a defensive coordinator. (Could Kirby Smart fix goals-against?).  But this will be arguably the biggest decision Dudley makes. So for what it’s worth, here are five names to consider:

John Torchetti is a popular assistant coach with Chicago.

John Torchetti is a popular assistant coach with Chicago.

John Torchetti: Some around hockey already consider him the favorite. He’s an assistant with the Chicago Blackhawks, where Dudley worked before coming to Atlanta last year. Torchetti also worked with Dudley at two other NHL stops, Tampa Bay and Florida. His strength is as a teacher and working with young players. He has never been a full-fledged NHL head coach but did have two interim stints with Florida and Los Angeles.

Craig MacTavish: He had a pretty solid first five seasons as Edmonton coach …

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Thrashers make changes, but did they go far enough? (UPDATED)

Hiring John Anderson was one of Don Waddell's many miscalculations. (Jessica McGowan/AJC)

Hiring John Anderson was one of Don Waddell's many miscalculations. (Jessica McGowan/AJC)

(Updated below with Rick Dudley quotes)

The man who has been in charge of hockey in Atlanta from day one (and failed) now has an even better title with less responsibility.

His close friend is now the general manager.

Together, they will try to set direction and hire a new coach.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Change is good. Change is needed. Change is the only thing that gives the Thrashers a chance for success and hockey an extended lifeline in Atlanta.

But did the Atlanta Spirit go far enough? Or did ownership just make the easiest, most convenient and least expensive fixes it could make, hoping that this all works out?

Let me start with this: Rick Dudley has a pretty solid reputation as a personnel guy. He acquired several of the players in Tampa Bay that ultimately led to the Lightning winning the Stanley Cup (though he wanted to trade Vincent Lecavalier, which ultimately led to …

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If Roethlisberger skates, Goodell will face a race debate

Ben Roethlisberger read a statement Monday, giving a generic apology for his behavior.

Ben Roethlisberger read a statement Monday, giving a generic apology for his behavior.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has shown little tolerance for players who don’t walk the line like good little clones. So I’m going to assume he will treat the NFL’s latest “suspected” felon the same way as he has others. Otherwise, he’s setting himself up for a mini race riot.

Ben Roethlisberger is innocent of sexual assault. Or, I should say, the district attorney in Milledgeville announced he won’t bring charges because he doesn’t believe he can prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. (Often in cases like this, the alleged victim also was drinking so it makes things difficult to prove. And sometimes, the alleged victim also gets an envelope full of cash to suddenly not cooperate with police. I’m not saying that’s what happened. I’m just saying that happens.)

Back to Goodell. He has suspended players in the past who were arrested but not convicted of crimes. Most notable …

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Mickelson gives us a Masters’ moment to remember

Phil Mickelson said he felt "jubulation" Sunday, but largely because his family was with him in Augusta. (Brant Sanderlin/AJC)

Phil Mickelson felt "jubulation" because his family was with him in Augusta. (Brant Sanderlin/AJC)

AUGUSTA– This is how scripts are supposed to unfold. The carnival act, complete with airplane banners and a daily SWAT team, dominates early in the week. Sanity and sport slowly take over. By the end of a drama-filled Sunday, complete with an episode of “When Pine Trees Attack,” the Masters has its perfect storyline and certainly its perfect ending.

Phil Mickelson won the Masters. He was met walking off the 18th green by his wife, Amy, who had traveled to her first tournament since being diagnosed with breast cancer 11 months ago. She had spent the entire week at the family’s rented Augusta home.

Some moments in sports lift us more than others. This was one of them.

“I really want to recognize my family and my wife,” Mickelson said at the awards ceremony, his voice cracking. “We’ve been through a lot this year. It means a lot to share some joy together. It’s …

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