(UPDATED: 10:10 p.m.)
Two days ago, Larry Drew declared the Hawks were “in disarray.” The good thing about being in disarray is that, while everybody might be running in the wrong direction, and possibly into a wall, there’s at least a certain degree of actual existence.
That’s an assumption we can’t make any more.
The Los Angeles Lakers came to town Tuesday night. They didn’t really do anything that special, and they still led the Hawks by 20 points in the third quarter. The final score was believed to be 101-87, although most fans would have a difficult time confirming that because they were running around Philips Arena looking for any unsold Kobe Bryant T-shirt. (More on that shortly).
After a long stretch of road games and the All-Star break, the Hawks needed to establish some kind of direction, preferably upward. They returned home and teased us with a win over Chicago. Then they dropped three straight to Oklahoma City, New York and L.A., dropping engine parts along the way.
Drew wanted his players to run more. They didn’t. He wanted them to attack the basket instead of settling for jump shots. They didn’t. He wanted them to play with more aggression on defense, and by the way, if you want to knock somebody down, really, it’s OK. They didn’t (and didn’t).
So much for the message and maybe the messenger.
“I don’t think we were running hard enough,” Al Horford said. “We started out at the beginning with some energy, but as the game wore on, we didn’t run with that intensity that we needed. Then we struggled in the half court.”
They were coming off a bad loss to the Knicks and playing the defending league champions. How much motivation does one team need?
It’s one thing to lose to the Lakers. It’s another to welcome them into your home and fix them a sandwich.
Then again, Philips Arena is starting to resemble at best a neutral site. Loud, drunk and obnoxious Knicks fans (triple redundancy?) took over Sunday. Slightly less drunk, loud and obnoxious Lakers fans (but strong in numbers) took over Tuesday.
Hawks players don’t like this, nor does management. Neither does ownership. But they’re seizing on the economic possibilities. Kobe Bryant T-shirts were being sold for $30 a pop at the Hawks Team Gear store. You couldn’t miss them because they sat on a table, right next to the Al Horford shirts that were being sold for $25.
The Bryant T-shirts sold out before the game. Selling a hockey team should be so easy. It’s a good thing the Lakers weren’t in town for a three-game series or the Atlanta Spirit might open a Lakers Team Gear store.
When told the team was selling Bryant shirts, guard Jamal Crawford responded: “In the arena? Are you serious? Unbelievable.”
I took that to mean he did not sit in the marketing meeting.
Team vice president Arthur Triche said the decision to start selling opponent’s merchandise was announced at a staff meeting last week. “I can see where people would be upset about it,” he said.
It could have been worse. It’s not like the Hawks flew in Jack Nicholson and gave him a courtside seat.
This might not seem like that big of a deal, except for the fact the Hawks are having difficulty establishing much of a home-court advantage. They’re the third-best road team in the Eastern Conference (19-15), but their home record (18-12) ranks only sixth and sinking.
This performance did nothing to alter the perception of the team or future merchandising of their own jerseys.
“Defensively we have to bring a grind-it-out mentality,” Drew said.
“Offensively we have to get back to running,” he said. We have to get back to getting easy baskets, attacking the rim, getting to the free-throw line instead of just settling for jump shots.”
Until they do, the opponent will remain the attraction.
By Jeff Schultz