Archive for April, 2011

Hawks surprise us again — this time by stunning Magic

It didn't matter what Dwight Howard did Saturday because Joe Johnson and the Hawks collectively did more, winning game one over Orlando.

It didn't matter what Dwight Howard did Saturday because Joe Johnson and the Hawks collectively did more in upset win.

(Updated: 10:45 p.m.)

ORLANDO – The Hawks have played like a case study for an abnormal psychology class all season, so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised by this.

They watched the opposing center beat them up for 31 points in the first half but didn’t blink. They hit only 8 of 22 shots in the first quarter, then morphed into something unfamiliar and wondrous (24 for 33 in the next two quarters). They took an 18-point lead on the road against a favored team that humiliated them a year ago and didn’t fold, like they had so often this year.

OK. Maybe you can be a little surprised.

In coach Larry Drew’s first playoff game as head coach, the Hawks took game one of their playoff series with the Orlando Magic 103-93 before a stunned Magic crowd at the Amway Center, and probably a stunned crowd of Hawks fans watched on television back in Atlanta.

Turns out there is hope …

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LIVE: Hawks open playoffs against Magic, try to quiet critics

Joe Johnson is one of Hawks' playoff keys (whether he wants to admit it or not).

Joe Johnson (left) is one of Hawks' playoff keys — whether he wants to admit it or not.

ORLANDO — Welcome to the NBA playoffs. Trying to project how long the Hawks stay here is sort of like guessing which direction a ping-pong ball will fly in a wind tunnel.

They started the season with six straight wins and ended the season with six straight losses. In between, they defeated tonight’s playoff opponent, Orlando, three out of four times. They also defeated the likes of Chicago and Boston. But they also lost nine games by at least 21 points (five of those games at home).

The Magic are not a great team. They are certainly beatable. But the Hawks have excelled at folding and beating themselves often this season. So flip a coin.

Here are a few obvious keys:

♦ Toughness (physical and mentally): The Hawks will go with their “big” lineup, which means Jason Collins at center, Al Horford and Josh Smith sliding down to power forward and small forward, respectively, and Marvin Williams

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Like magic, Jameer Nelson suddenly not talking about Hawks

This is what Jameer Nelson looks like when his mouth is open.

This is what Jameer Nelson looks like when his mouth is open.

I’m off for Orlando in the morning. I’ll see if I can find out who stripped Jameer Nelson of his bravado.

A few days ago, we brought you video of the Magic guard whispering to Chicago’s Derrick Rose, “I’ll catch you in the second round,” which was Latin for: “The Hawks won’t be a problem in the first round.”

That didn’t go over well in the Atlanta locker room. Nor apparently did it go over well in Orlando because Nelson suddenly is saying little on the topic. Our Michael Cunningham alerted me to an interview Nelson did with the Scott Van Pelt Show on ESPN radio. Here’s the excerpt of the interview that you’ll find amusing:

On the first-round matchup with Atlanta:

“They’re a good team; we know they’re a good team. They’ve definitely improved. They’re really well-prepared by their coaching staff and … we have a lot of respect for those guys over there in that locker room. It’s going to be a good series. That’s all …

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This would be good time for Hawks to knock somebody down

If the Hawks are going to upset Orlando, they'll need to make things difficult on Dwight Howard like this. (Jason Getz/AJC)

If the Hawks are going to upset Orlando in the playoffs, they'll need to make things difficult on Dwight Howard. (Jason Getz/jgetz@ajc.com)

They nearly lost a playoff series to Milwaukee, which was missing starting center Andrew Bogut. They certainly lost their dignity in a second-round sweep by Orlando, which won four straight by an NBA playoff-record 101 points (give or take a major organ).

That’s not about strategy. That’s not about intelligence. That’s not about speed or size or length.

On the eve of the NBA playoffs, the Hawks need to locate all of the intangibles they too often lack: desire, heart, toughness.

People doubt them because too often they play small. Or soft. They fold quickly, quietly, comfortably — as if knowing it doesn’t matter because they’re on direct deposit.

If they want to change that perception, this would be a good time to knock somebody down.

In the first round of the playoffs, the Hawks go against the eminently beatable Magic. The series opens …

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Poll time: What chance do you give Hawks vs. Magic?

Can Hawks pull off a first-round upset against the Orlando Magic? (Jason Getz/AJC)

Can Hawks pull off a first-round upset against the Orlando Magic? (Jason Getz/AJC)

Off to Hawks practice this morning to put together a preview column for their playoff series against Orlando.

What’s your prediction?

  • Hawks in 4.
  • Hawks in 5.
  • Hawks in 6.
  • Hawks in 7.
  • Magic in 4.
  • Magic in 5.
  • Magic in 6.
  • Magic in 7.

View Results

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To say most people believe the outcome of this is series is a foregone conclusion — starting with Orlando guard Jameer Nelson — would be an understatement. I haven’t sensed a ton of confidence among the fan base, and the national media appears fairly universal in the belief that the Magic will win.

Took a very brief tour around the internet and this is what I found:

ESPN has a panel of 10 NBA writers/analysts making predictions on all of the playoff series. All 10 picked Orlando, most predicting the series will go six or seven games. Chris Sheridan predicts a sweep.

The Sporting News predicts a physical …

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Barry Bonds’ guilt, legacy had already been decided

Barry Bonds didn't hit 73 homers in 2001 because he started eating granola.

There's an obvious reason Barry Bonds hit 258 homers in five years.

Legacies aren’t always determined by jury verdicts.

The words, “guilty” or “not guilty” can be written in indelible ink on court documents. We can see pictures of a defendant embracing his attorney in a courtrooms and read screaming headlines in newspapers, suitable for framing.

But it doesn’t really change what we think. What we know. What we’ll remember.

All evidence, all logic and certainly the age timeline — 258 home runs in five years from the ages of 36 to 40? Seriously? — pointed to one obvious conclusion: Barry Bonds juiced, he cheated, he put up artificial numbers. That’s something the heroes of baseball, Hall of Fame voters and fans will always know.

After four days of deliberation in Bonds’ perjury trial, the jury has come back with a guilty verdict on obstruction of justice. They failed to reach a verdict on three other counts of perjury related to the federal investigation into the Bay Area …

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Hanson back in control (and this time Braves give him help)

The Braves gave Tommy Hanson some rare run support against Florida. (AP photo)

The Braves gave Tommy Hanson some rare run support, and he took care of the rest against Florida on Tuesday night. (AP photo)

(Updated: 10:45 p.m.)

At some point, Tommy Hanson probably started wondering if he was doing something wrong. Didn’t his teammates like him? Was it the way he dressed? Was he not using enough soap? Was it his breath? His politics?

OK, so maybe every Hanson start hasn’t left scorched earth in opposing clubhouses like some projected after his rookie season. But he has been pretty good, and the thing keeping him from winning more games has been relative abandonment from teammates.

“No, I don’t take it personally,” Hanson said laughing Tuesday night. “I know they’re out there trying.”

The Braves played “the perfect game” (Chipper Jones’ analysis) Tuesday. An offense that had gone 17 consecutive innings without scoring put up five runs by the fifth inning against Florida. There was defensive wizardry, particularly by shortstop Alex Gonzalez, leading manager …

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LIVE: Braves, Hanson try to turn it around against Marlins

Tommy Hanson looks for his first victory tonight. (AP photo)

Tommy Hanson looks for his first victory tonight.

Some have suggested that the Braves have had a tough grind, starting the season with seven road games after spring training and then coming home to play a three-game series against Philadelphia. If that’s true, let’s see what a day off does for them.

After losing a pair of weekend games to the Phillies and having Monday off, the Braves (4-5), open a three-game series tonight against the Florida Marlins at Turner Field. They have lost five of their last six games. Their most noteworthy problems remain on offense, led by No. 2 hitter Nate McLouth (.229), No. 5 hitter Dan Uggla (.158) and rookie Freddie Freeman (.188).

This series has a couple of nice subplots. It’s the first for former Florida manager Fredi Gonzalez and Uggla, the ex-Marlin who came over in a winter trade for Mike Dunn and Omar Infante, against their former team.

But the most focus may be on pitcher Tommy Hanson. He’s off to a shaky start (0-2, 6.00). He also has …

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Countdown prison tales: Masters, Sterger — and Cowboy Monkeys!

The winner of The Count Classic will get a black cape, not a green jacket.

The winner of The Count Classic will get a black cape, not a green jacket.

The Count is back from Augusta, and he is happy to report he avoided getting arrested. Not the case last year. True story (which never made it into the pages or online at AJC Inc.). A year ago The Count did two Digi-Blogs from the Augusta National Golf Club and Penal Colony before the Masters started (which is allowed) and started taking pictures of Tiger Woods at the driving range for a blog on the day the tournament started (which apparently is not allowed). The Augusta Commandants have very specific rules about what you can do and what can get you thrown into timeout in their little toonamint. So fans aren’t allowed to take pictures once the Masters starts. Newspaper photographers are allowed to take pictures but the mutants like The Count who sometimes write and also take pictures apparently don’t qualify as a photographer. The reason for this is Augusta is stuck in 1957 and if you say “blog” in the …

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Magic’s Nelson thinks win over Hawks is foregone conclusion

If the Hawks needed bulletin board material, Jameer Nelson just provided it. (AP photo)

If the Hawks needed bulletin board material, Jameer Nelson just provided it. (AP photo)

There are legitimate reasons to not be confident about the Hawks in the upcoming NBA playoffs, not the least of which is the fact that they just lost to the Washington Wizards by 32 points. Also, they’re 11-18 over the last two months.

But is it wise for the starting point guard on the Orlando Magic to just be assuming victory over Atlanta in the first round?

The Magic lost to Chicago 102-99 Sunday. It was a game some were building up as a possible second-round playoff preview. It’s fine for the media to do that. But afterward, there appears to be video evidence that Orlando’s Jameer Nelson whispered to Chicago’s Derrick Rose, “I’ll catch you in the second round” — which means there’s a built-in assumption by Nelson that the Magic will eliminate the Hawks in their first-round series.

This quote was sent out on Twitter by both Chris Palmer and Arash Markazi of ESPN. Also, this video of …

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