Archive for May, 2011

LIVE BLOG: Braves look for series win, Uggla looks for hope

Commissioner Bud Selig and the real home run champion, Hank Aaron, are among those in attendance for the Civil Rights Game.

Commissioner Bud Selig and the real home run champion, Hank Aaron, are among those in attendance for the Civil Rights Game.

Welcome to round nine.

The Braves and Philadelphia, expected to battle for the National League East lead all season, meet for the ninth time today at Turner Field. They’ve split the first eight games, which says as much as you need to know about how even the teams are.

It’s another throwback day on baseball’s Civil Rights Weekend. The Braves and Phillies will wear replica uniforms from the 1974 season, when Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s career home run record.

There have been times this season when Aaron probably could’ve helped the Braves’ lineup — and, yes, I realize he’s 77 years old. But the Braves have picked it up a bit offensively, hitting .273 in May after struggling at .229 in April.

The most notable exception is Dan Uggla. He is still batting fifth despite a .196 batting average. He is 0-for-7 in this series with four strikeouts and for the …

Continue reading LIVE BLOG: Braves look for series win, Uggla looks for hope »

Is NHL abandoning Thrashers, Atlanta after rescuing others? (UPDATED with Bill Daly Q-and-A)

Gary Bettman was high profile in Atlanta prior to 2008 All-Star Game but not much since.

Gary Bettman was high profile in Atlanta prior to the NHL All-Star Game but not much since.

(UPDATED at 4:50 p.m. after my Q-and-A with NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly. Full transcript follows the column.)

This isn’t to absolve the Atlanta Spirit of responsibility for all this because, as we’ve come to learn, stability and agenda of ownership almost always dictate whether or not a sports franchise succeeds — and the Spirit has long had different agendas for the  Hawks and Thrashers.

This certainly isn’t to absolve Don Waddell, the Thrashers’ former long-time general manager and current team president, of responsibility because as the only executive who has been on campus from day one, he had the biggest hand in putting an inferior product on the ice for too many seasons.

But where is the NHL in all this?

Has Gary Bettman, the commissioner, stood at a pulpit on the corner of Marietta and Centennial Olympic Park Drive the way he did in the desert outpost of Glendale, …

Continue reading Is NHL abandoning Thrashers, Atlanta after rescuing others? (UPDATED with Bill Daly Q-and-A) »

Hawks have late-game wilt but show some fight in loss

Josh Smith took exception to Carlos Boozer's forearm to jaw after Smith had a third-quarter dunk. (AP photo)

Josh Smith took exception to Carlos Boozer's forearm to jaw following Smith's dunk. (AP photo)

(Updated: 11:50 p.m.)

CHICAGO – For all but one game in this series, the Hawks have played a 62-win team like few imagined they could or would.

That counts for something. It means that even with the Hawks returning home with a 3-2 deficit in this playoff series, there is some reason to hope for what comes next.

The Hawks lost to Chicago 95-83 on Tuesday night at the United Center, bringing them to within one loss of postseason extinction. But they battled back from an early 15-point deficit and threw a significant scare into the home team, leading early in the fourth quarter before a fade.

No losses are swallowed easily. But if the Hawks played with this kind of passion, effort and cohesion all season, they wouldn’t have been a fifth seed in the Eastern Conference.

Can they win at home Thursday? Yes. Can they win a Game 7 back in Chicago? That would be difficult, but suddenly it …

Continue reading Hawks have late-game wilt but show some fight in loss »

LIVE BLOG: Hawks look to keep momentum vs. Bulls

Start spreading the news: The Bulls were upset with their last defensive effort.

Start spreading the news: The Bulls were upset with their defense against Hawks in Game 4.

CHICAGO — They are angry here. Ever notice how when the Hawks win, the media in the other city gets really angry. I’m sure glad we’re not like that in Atlanta.

(Pause for effect.)

The Chicago Bulls finished the regular season with the NBA’s best record (62-20), but here they are tied in a second-round series with the Hawks through four games and, as the back page of the Chicago Sun-Times read, they are, “Mad Men.” They’re blaming themselves for letting up defensively and going soft in the Hawks’ 100-88 win in Game 4, similar to how the Hawks’ blamed themselves for falling flat in Game 3.

Hawks players say they will not let down this time after the high of winning Sunday.  But we’ve learned not to assume anything.

Important warmup picture: Jeff Teague in foreground and Chicago Luvabulls in background.

Important warmup picture: Hawks guard Jeff Teague in the foreground and the Chicago Luvabulls in the background.

So who’s feeling more pressure this game? A case could be made …

Continue reading LIVE BLOG: Hawks look to keep momentum vs. Bulls »

NBA playoffs: Hawks say they won’t relax this time

The Hawks are back in the United Center, where they split the first two games.

The Hawks are back in the United Center, where they split the first two games.

CHICAGO — There was one comedic moment in the Hawks’ locker room before their shootaround this morning when I asked guard Jamal Crawford if he was confident about how the team will come out in tonight’s Game 5.

“Honestly, I’ve stopped guessing,” he said, smiling.

That’s probably the safe route. But at least in theory, the Hawks’ mindset tonight should be helped by the fact the last time they felt really good about things and relaxed, they got smoked. They left Chicago after two games with an impressive split, then came out flat at home in Game 3 and lost. Stung by that, they played one of their best games of the postseason and beat the Bulls Sunday to tie the series at 2-2.

Larry Drew said he likely will stick with the same lineup, which includes Jason Collins at center.

Larry Drew said he likely will stick with the same lineup, which includes Jason Collins at center.

So what’s the mood two days after a great success?

“We’re confident but we’re on edge,” Al Horford said this morning. “Their …

Continue reading NBA playoffs: Hawks say they won’t relax this time »

Hawks may have finally found their point guard: Jeff Teague

Jeff Teague has been remarkable as emergency starter in this series since replacing the injured Kirk Hinrich.

Jeff Teague has been solid as the Hawks' emergency starter at point guard this series since replacing the injured Kirk Hinrich.

After an inspiring win over Chicago on Sunday night, the Hawks are all even in their second-round playoff series against the top-seeded Bulls going into Game 5 in Chicago. But regardless of how the rest of this series plays out, there’s one important positive that is being overshadowed when it comes their future: They may have found a legitimate starting point guard in Jeff Teague.

Teague couldn’t get off the bench for Mike Woodson. He couldn’t get off the bench for Larry Drew either, which prompted the Hawks to deal for Kirk Hinrich when they sent away Mike Bibby. When Hinrich was injured at the end of the Orlando series and scratched for the second round, few expected Teague would be a competent replacement.

But through four games in this series, Teague probably has been the Hawks’ best and most consistent player. He has used his speed and is …

Continue reading Hawks may have finally found their point guard: Jeff Teague »

Hawks, Josh Smith bounce back in major way over Bulls

Evidence of the Hawks' improved defense in Game 4: four guys surround the Bulls' Derrick Rose. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Evidence of improved defense: Derrick Rose is surrounded. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

(UPDATED: 11:45 p.m.)

This is what effort looks like. This is what defense looks like. This is what Josh Smith taking over in the fourth quarter with his feet in the paint and not near the three-point line looks like (quick, somebody take a picture!).

Imagine if every game was like this.

The Hawks rebounded from a miserable performance again Sunday night, and the only reason to see it coming was because there was no reason to see it coming. Throw a whiffle ball in a wind tunnel and guess which direction that sucker will fly. That’s sort of like predicting the Hawks. But they showed us something again: potential.

After flopping in Game 3 and failing to lead after any quarter in consecutive games, the Hawks’ 100-88 win over Chicago at Philips Arena showed us how good they can be. They showed us what happens when an occasionally dysfunctional bunch plays hard and plays smart.

Remarkably, they have …

Continue reading Hawks, Josh Smith bounce back in major way over Bulls »

LIVE BLOG: Collins starts, but will Hawks show up?

If Hawks lose tonight, it could be the last time you see this sign.

If the Hawks lose tonight, it could be the last time you see this sign in Philips Arena.

First, a little perspective. Most folks didn’t believe the Hawks would defeat Orlando in the first round of the playoffs, but they took out the Magic in six games. Most certainly believed they had no chance in this series against Chicago, especially without point guard Kirk Hinrich.

But maybe the Hawks can start tonight with this: effort and intelligence. If they show those two things in Game 4 against the Bulls, they’ll be way ahead of what we saw in Game 3.

This team’s multiple personalities have been well-chronicled this season. Coach Larry Drew referred to it in an amusing way: “I will admit — I do have an interesting group.”

Joe Johnson needs to find a way to get open. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Joe Johnson needs to find ways to get open, coach Larry Drew said. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

This interesting group stunned Chicago in the series opener, tailed off in Game 2 and never really competed in Friday’s 99-82 loss at home. Derrick Rose scored 44 points. But …

Continue reading LIVE BLOG: Collins starts, but will Hawks show up? »

Hawks’ constant Sybil act reaffirms changes are needed

There were too many times on the court in Game 3 when the Hawks looked about this interested.

There were too many times in the game when this reflected the Hawks' interest level.

Welcome back to the tin-foil hat brigade. Hawks players don’t just show up for games — they wait for signals from their home planet (where unicorns and perfect Billy Knight-drafted point guards frolic in the fields).

Shouldn’t they be past this by now?

“I thought we were,” Jamal Crawford said. “But I thought we were past it before Game 5 [in Orlando], also.”

He speculated it was part of the “growth process.” It would be a wonderful theory, except for that there are 3,000-year-old giant sequoia trees in California with shorter growth processes than the Hawks.

At some point, you come to the realization that certain teams don’t grow, they just forever mutate into a new, unexpected and possibly really ugly life form.

The Hawks resume their playoff series against Chicago on Sunday night. They could win by 10 or lose by 30. There’s something wrong with that. Just when you allowed …

Continue reading Hawks’ constant Sybil act reaffirms changes are needed »

This is what happens when right Bulls meet wrong Hawks

Chicago's Derrick Rose went around, over and through three Hawks players on the way to 21 first-half points. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Chicago's Derrick Rose went around, over and through three Hawks on the way to his 44 points. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

(Updated: 10:40 p.m.)

Sensing problems early, Hawks coach Larry Drew called his first timeout a mere 49 seconds into the game. Had there been a defibrillator in the huddle, it might have made a difference.

Those Hawks who turned home court into an advantage in the Orlando series? They didn’t show up Friday night. There’s a temptation to wonder if they even made it through the doors at Philips Arena, where there were increased security measures, but that would suggest the home team represented some kind of threat.

The Chicago Bulls were considered the better team before this playoff series. They finally looked like it. They led from 4-0 (timeout!) on. They led by 19 in the second quarter, 13 at halftime and 17 after three. It was never really competitive.

The final score was Bulls 99, Hawks 82, and the only reason it wasn’t worse was that Chicago had to save its …

Continue reading This is what happens when right Bulls meet wrong Hawks »