One guy has a strained hamstring. Another guy has a bad hip. Another has a bad back.
Another somehow found a way to make a road trip to Cleveland worse than even the usual road trip to Cleveland: He had an appendectomy.
These are your Hawks — or at least what’s left of them — after 46 games that seemingly should be wrapped in medical gauze and a mutant schedule created in David Stern’s nickel-squeezing torture chamber that has seen the team play nine consecutive games in nine different cities (two games were at home, but not in a row).
“Two or three years ago, we would’ve just quit — we would’ve folded,” general manager Rick Sund said Tuesday. “This year we seem to have more resilience. Frankly, before the game [Monday] night, it was amazing to me that we were seven games over .500.”
And that really is what’s worth talking about with the Hawks.
Are they flawed? Of course. A wrecking ball will do that. The Hawks this season have been hit by everything from a torn pectoral in Game 11 (Al Horford) to appendicitis Sunday (Jannero Pargo), with everything in between.
The unfortunate thing about this team is we’ll never really know how good it might have been.
Look around the league. Certainly, look around the Eastern Conference. After Miami and Chicago, is there an intimidating bunch? Is Orlando a bandwagon you really want to jump on, even with Dwight Howard?
The Hawks are 26-20. Seldom has that record looked so impressive. The team has played the most road games in the league (26), including recent stretches of 11 out of 15. It’s no wonder coach Larry Drew gave everybody the day off Tuesday.
They still have their share of “oy” moments. (Jeff Teague firing up an air ball on a wide-open, potential game-tying, 3-point attempt late against Boston on Monday was such a head-slapper.)
But they’re not melting down in close games. They’re not folding when they fall behind by double-digits. They’re certainly not looking down at the end of the bench, seeing so many of their teammates sitting idle in silk suits and then just mentally checking out.
That’s progress. It says something about the players. It certainly says something about Drew’s ability to motivate. (Sund: “The most important thing with coaches is making sure [players] compete and play hard every night.”)
They played the Boston game Monday night without five roster players: Horford, Pargo, Willie Green, Marvin Williams, Vladimir Radmanovic. Remember, they’ve played 18 games without Kirk Hinrich and by regular season’s end will have played 55 out of 66 without Horford.
“By the All-Star break in a shortened season, we had already lost more games to injury than we did all of last year,” Sund said. And that could be the stat of the year.
This newfound resilience doesn’t mean the Hawks are destined to pancake teams in the postseason. But it does make you wonder what the ceiling is, especially if they can get just a little bit healthier.
Drew’s three-guard lineup of Hinrich, Jeff Teague and Joe Johnson (who is starting at small forward) is paying dividends. Johnson, despite knee tendinitis that forced him to miss six of seven games, has averaged 28 points in the past five and is shooting 13-for-17 from three-point range in the past three. That’s kind of sick. (The good kind, as opposed to appendicitis.)
When the season started, the Hawks had reasonable expectations that, with a deeper bench and despite the loss of Jamal Crawford, they could finish at least third in the East. Horford’s injury changed that. “We still had a realistic goal of making the playoffs,” Sund said. “Then we thought, once we get to the playoffs we’ll see where we are then.”
With 20 games left, they’re sitting in the sixth spot. If the playoffs opened today, they would be going to Orlando. But they’re only 2½ games behind the third-seeded Magic and are in a three-team battle (with Philadelphia and Indiana) for fourth. They certainly could win a round of playoffs. A second-round win, which likely would come against Miami or Chicago, seems unlikely.
Either way, they’re giving people something to talk about, other than survival techniques.
We’re seeing something new: They can take a punch.
By Jeff Schultz