Archive for February, 2012

How they really stand, from Braves (1) to Weasels (12)

Hey look, the Braves have new uniforms. So how about a new finish? (AP photo)

Hey look, the Braves have new uniforms. So how about a new finish? (AP photo)

Welcome to this year’s edition of “How They Really Stand,” my ranking of all area sports teams, taking into account wins, losses, direction, potential, coaches, general managers, owners, recruiting coordinators and whether anybody provides us with more civic pride than, say, The Big Chicken (the bar is low).

I’m unveiling this a month earlier than usual because it seemed like a natural break in the sports schedule with the Braves getting ready to start spring training and the Hawks taking an off day between personalities. Two tweaks this year: I’m adding Georgia State football and basketball and replacing the Thrashers with a new entry. (Last year’s ranking in parenthesis.)

1. Braves (1): The best team in town lost 20 of its last 30 games. How about a nice embalming smoothie to go with those chicken fingers? But the Braves looked like a potential World Series team on paper last season until the paper …

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Braves’ spring warm-up: 5 concerns, starting with Heyward

Jason Heyward hopes to rebound in year three. (AP photo)

Can Braves' Jason Heyward rebound in Year 3? (AP photo)

(Updated: 5 p.m.)

It wasn’t my intention to spend another day analyzing the Braves until I actually arrived on site in Florida at Camp Please Don’t Fold This Season. (Pitchers and catchers report Sunday. The balance of the squad and columnists with non-guaranteed contracts report a week from Friday).

But because there is absolutely nothing else worth discussing these days, especially given the depressing local college basketball landscape, here we go.

I’m on the record as believing the Braves did not need to make a significant move this past winter, despite last season’s collapse. Nor did I expect them to. Despite all rumors to the contrary, their two most likely tradeable assets, Jair Jurrjens and Martin Prado, both were coming off injuries. General manager Frank Wren no doubt tried to stir the trade market, but we can assume he never got a reasonable offer (or he would’ve made the deal). Not a shock.

As currently …

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Georgia could be dead zone for NCAA’s March Madness

Mark Fox's team reached the NCAA tournament in his second season but the loss of Travis Leslie and Trey Thompkins pushed the reset button. (AP photo)

Georgia's Mark Fox reached NCAA tournament in year two but his third team is young and thin.

Brian Gregory inherited a down and vagabond program this year. (Johnny Crawford)

Brian Gregory inherited a down and vagabond program at Georgia Tech. (Johnny Crawford)

As a general rule, February is when the sports world morphs from rock to elevator music.

College football is over. The NFL is over. Baseball’s spring gates haven’t swung open. It’s too early to get excited about NBA playoff races (and, if you’re a Hawks fan, February isn’t providing a wonderful tease for March and April, anyway). The local NHL team – blown up by careless owners and an invertebrate of a league commissioner.

So in February, we turn to college basketball.

Help.

Here in the state of Georgia, which produces some of the finer high school talent in the country for seemingly every university in the other 49 states, college basketball is relatively off the landscape.

There is a chance that no team from the state will reach the NCAA tournament field, and that’s not even the most …

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If Falcons lose Grimes and Abraham, how about Mathis?

The Colts' Robert Mathis can still pressure the quarterback. (AP photo)

Robert Mathis can still pressure the quarterback and is younger than John Abraham. (AP photo)

In my third off-season blog on “Fixing the Falcons,” I referenced their 17 impending unrestricted free agents and suggested that the top priority should be re-signing cornerback Brent Grimes. I had defensive end John Abraham slotted fourth, behind Grimes, linebacker Curtis Lofton and center Todd McClure.

But for the first time, I’m starting to think they may lose both Grimes and Abraham.

The website ProFootballFocus, which keeps a nice statistical database, this morning came out with its list of the NFL’s projected top 50 free agents. The site’s breakdown may not necessarily jibe with opinions of the league’s general managers. But this is interesting, nonetheless: Grimes and Abraham are listed as the Nos. 2 and 3 would-be free agents, behind only the Houston Texans’ Mario Williams.

You can find the entire list  by clicking this link. But here are the top 10 with commentary on …

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NBA now paying for shortsightedness with injuries

The Hawks' Al Horford is one of two NBA players who've suffered a torn pectoral muscle this season. (AP photo)

Al Horford is one of two NBA players who've suffered a torn pectoral this season. (AP photo)

We have seen sprained ankles and strained groins, torn ACLs and shredded Achilles tendons. We have seen Al Horford and Kwame Brown go down with injuries normally reserved for offensive linemen (torn pectorals) and Danilo Gallinari crumble to the ground with a sprained ankle and foot, thereby giving the Denver Nuggets their own little HMO nightmare (four starters down).

If the NBA altered its iconic logo right now, it would be a silhouette of Jerry West with, a crutch under one arm, a sling around the other, ice bags taped to both knees, ankles the size of cantelopes and a red light bulb on his nose, just like the poor schlep on the “Operation” game.

With only one-third of the season complete, at least seven players already appear done for the season: the Hawks’ Horford, Golden State’s Brown, the Los Angeles Clippers’ Chauncey Billups (Achilles), Memphis’s Darrell Arthur …

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Josh Smith gets snubbed big-time for All-Star team (updated)

Josh Smith is averaging 15.6 points, nine rebounds and two blocks. (Hyosub Shin/AJC)

Josh Smith has averaged 15.6 points, nine rebounds and two blocks during Hawks' 17-9 start. (Hyosub Shin/AJC)

Josh Smith showed up at training camp with a changed body (a career-slim 225 pounds) and a seemingly changed attitude (“I’m seeing and hearing a passion I haven’t seen before,” observed his coach, Larry Drew).

The difference has been apparent to anybody who has watched him for most of this season — but apparently not to the coaches who select NBA All-Star reserves.

Smith wasn’t named to the Eastern Conference All-Star team Thursday night. That makes eight consecutive years he hasn’t been honored. Most of those seasons, nobody could argue. But this season’s omission is a huge injustice.

Smith has been a consistent performer this season, with only a few hiccups. He has been forced to take on a bigger role with the loss of center Al Horford to injury. He has been more of a team player, more under control — and, yes, smarter.

In fact, a case could be made that Smith …

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Georgia-Auburn game could be sacrificed in SEC scheduling

The Georgia-Auburn rivalry includes this memorable matchup: Uga vs. Robert Baker. (Montgomery Advertiser)

The Georgia-Auburn rivalry includes this battle: Uga vs. Robert Baker. (Montgomery Advertiser)

There is a chance that SEC conference expansion will claim one significant victim: The Georgia-Auburn series.

Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity said Wednesday that SEC athletic directors will meet near the end of the month to discuss future football scheduling. With the conference’s addition of Texas A&M and Missouri, the two biggest questions: 1) Will the SEC go to a nine-game conference schedule? 2) Will expansion force for the end of the SEC’s annual East-West rivalry games of Georgia-Auburn and Alabama-Tennessee?

Answer to No. 1: Probably not.

Answer to No. 2: Possibly.

Georgia-Auburn is known as the “Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry,” dating back to 1892. They have played every year since 1898, with three exceptions: 1917, 1918 and 1943. The reasons: World War I and World War II. It appears “Conference Armageddon” may have an equal impact.

The ACC recently announced that teams …

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Hawks can’t take on world when they look like Munchkins

Joe Johnson, Josh Smith and the Hawks are looking smaller by the game. (Hyosub Shin/AJC)

Joe Johnson, Josh Smith and the Hawks are looking smaller by the game. (Hyosub Shin/AJC)

It would be unfair to assume that the Hawks are crumbling after three consecutive home debacles, just as it would’ve been presumptuous to believe that a team without Al Horford (and his backup) could maintain a 16-6 pace for the rest of the NBA season.

But at the very least, this basketball team has slipped into that uncomfortable zone between concern and panic. I call it: trouble.

They look fatigued. They look disinterested or lost or, worst of all, hopeless. They certainly look short. A team loses the 6-foot-10 Horford and the 7-0 Jason Collins, and suddenly you half-expect 6-8 “center” Ivan Johnson and two members of the Lollipop Guild to run on to the court wearing colored shorts and striped leggings and start singing to Dorothy.

Yes. It’s only three games. If the Hawks can rebound and defeat Indiana on Wednesday night in their half-empty home of Philips Arena, they will be 17-9 …

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Hawks lose again — and it’s clear they need some help

Joe Johnson and the Hawks have fallen flat the last three games after a 16-6 start. (AP photo)

Joe Johnson and the Hawks have fallen flat the last three games after a 16-6 start. (AP photo)

One week ago, the Hawks won a game by 23 points in Toronto. They went 4-1 on a road trip — their most successful trip in 43 years — and held one of the best records in the NBA at 16-6.

Then the team came home, and it was like watching Sybil change personalities.

The Hawks lost to the 9-14 Phoenix Suns, 99-90, on Monday night at Philips Arena. That makes three straight home losses to Memphis, Philadelphia and Phoenix. They’ve trailed by 20-plus points in all three games.

The one thread in the three losses has been a mixed effort.

There are several reasons why this may have happened. The most obvious: Being undersized without two centers, Al Horford (potentially out for the season) and Jason Collins (sidelined for two weeks), has led to physical fatigue, which has led to mental fatigue.

Players are not nearly as aggressive as they were earlier in the season. They’re not sharing the …

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Falcons’ fixes (part 3): Sign Grimes, Lofton; balk on Abe

Brent Grimes has proven to be the best cornerbacks on Falcons' roster. (Johnny Crawford/AJC)

Brent Grimes has proven to be the best cornerback on Falcons' roster. (Johnny Crawford/AJC)

(This is the third in a series of blogs in which I’ll focus on some high-profile Falcons’ veterans and their respective uncertain future with the team.)

The Falcons might try to find some solace in the fact that they lost in the playoffs two straight years to the ultimate Super Bowl champion.But that somewhat falls into the lipstick-on-a-pig category. That defense would carry more weight if the team had played like a legitimate contender in the playoffs and not lost by lopsided scores of 48-21 (Green Bay) and 24-2 (New York).

In this corner in the past few weeks, we’ve focused on a few possible ways the Falcons can fix their roster. We debated the future of running back Michael Turner and whether his salary ($5 million) and his age (30) next season and signs of wear merited him being brought back.

We also focused on five high-profile acquisitions (two draft, three free agency) …

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