Hawks showing us something new — they can take a punch

Larry Drew never quite knows who is going to be in his huddle. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Hawks coach Larry Drew never quite knows who is going to be in his huddle. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

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

49 comments Add your comment

RecentWreck

March 20th, 2012
4:55 pm

Good piece, Jeff… nice to see a little heart out of this team in a tough situation. Better than the prima donnas of years past that plague much of the NBA.

Benjamin

March 20th, 2012
5:12 pm

Agreed. I really like the makeup of this Hawks team. And Drew deserves a large part of the credit…

Daily Stinger

March 20th, 2012
5:19 pm

There are some nights that are just brutal to watch but for the most part these Hawks have played hard and well enough to win. Its hard to imagine this team advancing deep into the playoffs considering the injuries and failure to address the Center position (Dampier is a joke). It would have been nice to throw Kaman (13.3 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 1.3 BPG) into mix after N.O. made it clear they wanted to trade him. Pachulia battles nightly and has really stepped up lately with his production but the Hawks need him off the bench. Teams attack the basket knowing he can’t play much defense which kills the team when Smith isn’t there to back him up.

Let’s hope Pargo can recover soon and play at the high level we saw the past couple of weeks.

STRETCH

March 20th, 2012
5:23 pm

Kevin Garnett, when asked if the dunk by #Hawks guard Jeff Teague fired up the team. “I don’t know who you talking about. That guy’s a nobody.” Sulia

Just thought i would bring that up. Hope Jeff reads this and get pumped up. Might add a little something into the two teams next meeting.

tyger

March 20th, 2012
5:33 pm

Schultz finds silver lining…

I can barely type for holding back the tears…so sweet…

So what’s to make of this season?
Setting the table for another early playoff exit…
Injuries, injuries…Boston w/o Oneal/Wilcox for year…

You dont hear them whining….

Pargo, Green are a kick in the _____….
Team has adjusted w/o Al, that’s not news…
Marvin addition by subtraction….
Vladi shows up 2x a month…

Hawks minus warm bodies, not difference makers (sans Al)…
Others would sign a player, not us…see Fisher, Arenas..
So, you either get what you need or shut up…
After that airball, for mgt. not to act, is malpractice…

Dont try and convince us mgt. is doing a great job…
LD is doing a great job, JSmoove, ZaZa are doing great jobs…
JJohnson, Hinrich, Teague, Pargo are holding the line…

When is mgt going to step-up to salvage the season?

Or as always – wait till next year? You’ll see…blah, blah, blah…

Hummon

March 20th, 2012
5:58 pm

Thanks, Jeff. Hawks bashing has become too routine. If you let go of being mad at this team for not being the Heat, there are some things to actually like.

mountain_jim

March 20th, 2012
6:11 pm

Have the owners sold next year’s 1st rounder for cash yet?

I like the players and wish Josh wanted to stay, but the ownership tells me not to get too invested, they will just screw it up.

Harry Hawk

March 20th, 2012
6:15 pm

The Hawks can take a punch, which will always surprise you a bit because you’ll set the bar low and expect a glass jaw. In the end, though, they’ll fail you like they always do.

this guy

March 20th, 2012
6:18 pm

a guy who deserves tremendous credit for how the hawks have held up this year is zaza! big #27 has performed awesome as a role player who has been thrust into the starting lineup in the absence of horford. he’s got 6 double doubles this month and is averaging just a hair shy of 10 rpg for the month of march thus far. plays with effort and intensity night in and night out and this team may well have been lost this year without his presence

KevinM

March 20th, 2012
6:30 pm

All I hear from Sund is justification for any moves he makes. He is a lower end GM who takes credit for not making any moves.
My opinion: we have a team who has scrapped together some good wins, and missed on other games they should have won. We lose an all-star and Sund replaces him with Dampier, and he doesn’t even play. Nice strategy.
Our struggle with teams over .500 continue with a couple of games against ORL and IND, but we still are far from being a team that can beat CHI, ORL, BOS, and probably even PHI in a 7 game series.
That means we can hang the banner that says we’re one of 3 teams the last years that has made it to the 2nd round. There’s plenty of room for basketball related banners at Philips. We can put it right next to Ted Turners…..ugh.

Excited!

March 20th, 2012
6:41 pm

I’m pumped to watch the Hawks get bounced in the first or second round of the playoffs for the 39th consecutive year. Not only will this guarantee that we miss out on what is shaping up to be a really talented draft pool, but we assure ourselves of getting to enjoy the same slightly above average basketball team again next year. Lather, rinse, repeat.

kbb

March 20th, 2012
6:48 pm

Ive had enough of this Dollar General team. We have our ever present “core” of Marvin, Josh, Al, and Joe and players off of the scrap heap. One and done players on their last legs or a step away from the D-league. Tmac, Stackhouse, Hinrich, Dampier, Vlad Rad, and Willie Green sounds like a good bench….if this were 2001. The ASG needs to sell this team, i cant continue to watch a team thats run on rolls of quarters and food stamps

tyger

March 20th, 2012
7:39 pm

Gilbert Arenas signs with Memphis for $300k

JJohnson could’ve signed him and loanded him to ASG…

he would’ve at least hit the backboard on the last shot.

hawks21

March 20th, 2012
7:40 pm

I agree to this column, LD is making lemonade out of lemons. He has not been fortune to have a full team this year. What other NBA coach would have done BETTER? He also work for a lousy EMPLOYER!!!

Big Lou

March 20th, 2012
8:03 pm

Jason Collins put in last night over Ivan shows how good LD’s ’skills’ are. LD cost that game. Yet, the owner is already making excuses of injuries, and giving this loser coach credit. Great. Excuses for another mediocre year and first round exit.

#6 w/ a dr pepper

March 20th, 2012
8:22 pm

id rather have a team that punches…not a team that can take a punch.

J-Bone

March 20th, 2012
8:30 pm

Contrary to what Sir Charles has consistently claimed, this team has shown a ton of heart and bucketloads of guts this season, Just the fact that they haven’t folded up shop and phoned it in early due to the overload of injuries shows some true grit that has been lacking the past few years. I’m proud of this team, but the management just plain SUCKS!!! These guys are playing their hearts out and playing every night short handed, and most of you so-called Hawks fans want to bash them and scream for a total scrapping of the team. If you want to throw blame somewhere, aim it the ownership. They are the ones who could not possibly care any less about the fans or winning a championship. Maybe we get Big Al back for the playoffs, but its likely that he wont be able to contribute much because he probably wont be in game shape. With that being said, an early exit from the playoffs seems a certainty (round 2 perhaps). Still, I’m proud of this team, and these coaches. They are making lemonade from the lemon peels they have, since ownership wont even provide them with lemons. Lets get behing this team and give them some real support! They deserve it!

J-Bone

March 20th, 2012
8:32 pm

Lets get *behind* this team. Sorry…..

indyhawk12

March 20th, 2012
8:42 pm

i love my hawks, always have and always will.limp into the playoffs gettin healthy then turn the switch on, have a goo rotation of players and get on fire during the playoffs..would make hotlantas year and breathe life back in the city!!!!!! go atl! go hawks!!!!

indyhawk12

March 20th, 2012
8:46 pm

quit worrying about who to blame and just support em thru and thru no matter what..go hawks…keep up the fight and get even more intense as you get more healthy….along with keeping the 21 foot one and done shots to a minimum…..go ATL!!!!! I LOVE MY CITY!!!!

JSS

March 20th, 2012
8:47 pm

Who kidnapped Jeff Schultz?

Ha ha, just kidding… That Bisher tribute was a fine piece… But that comment section is (last 4 pages) is a hot mess!

Ever wonder what the comment have been like the day after Gandhi or Dr. King died?

The Hawks really need to get on that Chicago side of the playoff seedings… They have a punchers chance… Miami is a nightmare matchup in a 7 game series…

OldTimer

March 20th, 2012
9:14 pm

Things I learned today..
1, The Hawks like punch.
2. What firefighters do in their off time.

Najeh Davenpoop

March 20th, 2012
9:23 pm

Not melting down is progress compared to last year. It’s not enough progress, though, considering this team’s salary situation. Josh Smith’s contract expires a year from now and Joe Johnson’s salary increases as his production declines. If the Hawks are ever going to break through the 2nd round glass ceiling with the current core, they have to do it this year or next year. Baby steps are not enough.

Nothing But The Truth

March 20th, 2012
9:42 pm

First round exit. Progress?

Arnold Ziffel

March 20th, 2012
10:11 pm

The time to rebuild this team came and went 2 years ago. JJ gave the home fans the finger and his contract was up. Instead of saying sayonara, ASG resigned him to a well documented overblown contract. Somewhere along the line Marvin got resigned as well. In the end the ASG are getting exactly what they deserve- zero respect. Serves them right for all the pitiful moves and lies.

and

March 20th, 2012
11:36 pm

An announcement was made last Friday of the NCAA’s upholding of the sanctions it levied against Georgia Tech due to the alleged illegal benefits allegedly received by Demaryius Thomas and Morgan Burnett….allegedly. It is unfortunate, and Tech fans everywhere are less than thrilled over the punishment that included the return of our 2009 ACC Championship trophy. Honestly, I can’t stand the fact that we were given such nasty punishments. Here are my top 5 reasons as to why this sucks so bad.

1) The Actions Investigated Were Never Proven Illegal

The initial reason for investigating Demaryius Thomas was his receiving $312 worth of clothes from who was believed to be an agent by the NCAA, but turned out to be his cousin’s roommate. Also, he never wore the clothes and returned them to the NCAA with the tags intact. So basically, at the end of the day, the NCAA had no real reason to investigate us in the first place. It’s like being pulled over for driving a car that’s licensed to someone with a suspended license (even though you haven’t stolen the car and have a valid license) and getting a ticket for not wearing a seat belt — the reason for initial contact with authorities has nothing to do with the reason you were punished, and in reality you weren’t doing anything wrong to begin with. That sucks.

2) The Investigation Was Conducted By A UNC Alumnus

At first glance, you may wonder the relevance of this. Why would someone who came out of a fellow ACC school have it out for us? We’re not rivals with UNC and there’s no reason that he would have ill will towards us, right? Well, partially. Keep in mind that UNC has been under investigations themselves, which ended in the firing of their head coach Butch Davis prior to the 2011 season, and more recently a 2012 postseason ban and the loss of 15 scholarships over the next 3 years. Needless to say, the NCAA was going to come down hard on them, and I’m sure someone on the inside saw the storm brewing. So now you have someone on the inside who is likely aware that his alma mater is in hot water with the NCAA, and to make matters more interesting, he’s conducting an investigation of his own. Now, I’m not going to suggest that he wanted revenge or wanted to make his school look a little less bad through giving us ridiculous sanctions, but I WILL say that it was very, very poor judgment by the NCAA to put someone into power who could possibly have any incentive to not be 100% impartial and objective. If they really knew what they were doing, they would have taken someone with no affiliation whatsoever with Tech (i.e. not affiliated with an ACC school or georgie), and whose alma mater has not been affected by major sanctions any time recently. Again, it’s not that he wasn’t impartial, but the problem I have is that there’s a legitimate reason to call into question whether his judgment could have been impaired, which is enough to make his appointment a poor move by the NCAA.

Reasons 3-5 after the jump!

Star-divide

3) The Punishment Is Inconsistent With Precedents

One of the most glaring issues with the punishment Tech received was how harsh it was in relation to the infractions committed. I understand that the NCAA wanted to punish us for noncompliance, but between our athletic department calling into serious question that accused level of compliance and the fact that the infraction was never fully proven in the first place, the punishments levied were very excessive. Ohio State beat Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl a few weeks after 5 of their star players were proven to have blatantly broken NCAA rules on numerous occasions, while those players were still allowed to play. Another recent Heisman winner (hint: rhymes with Scam Tootin’) was allegedly not paid to go to an SEC school in Auburn, AL, and was not reprimanded even after it was proven with an audio recording that his father had been demanding close to $200,000 for him to play at Mississippi State…which is illegal whether he received said payments or not. Based off of the punishments given to Tech for a $312 infraction, by my calculations, this should cause Auburn to forfeit 641 wins, leaving them at 77-405-47 all-time (good for a 16% winning percentage). Instead they got a National Title and a Heisman Trophy, because fair is fair right?

E8jgo_medium

Looks legit. (via)

4) The NCAA’s Instructions To The Athletic Department Made No Sense

When they received word from the NCAA that they were under investigation for some shady stuff surrounding Thomas and Burnett, Tech was given instructions to not tell the coaches or athletes that they were under investigation. No harm, no foul, right? Well sure, except that it makes no sense as to why they can’t know what’s going on. Let me clarify what was happening. It was the bye week before the georgie game in 2010. The team was working hard on preparations for the game, and during practice there were a number of players (Thomas, Burnett, Derrick Morgan, Jonathan Dwyer, Cord Howard, and all of Burnett’s roommates) were being pulled away during practice for the biggest game of the year to do interviews. Yet nobody was expected to be suspicious or looking for answers? I want to summarize how the NCAA apparently wanted this conversation to go using a quote from our very own Atlanta’s original team on the link to the story last week:

tree rollins

March 21st, 2012
12:40 am

Just goes to prove these guys are average with great players or lousy players – so let’s not waste our money and go see them!

tree rollins

March 21st, 2012
12:42 am

Is Marvin hurt? I hadn’t noticed Jeff – thanks for telling me. Let me know if he returns – will you please?

Sundeep

March 21st, 2012
7:41 am

You write a story about the Hawks this year and don’t mention Josh Smith. That’s a joke. He is carrying this team on his back the entire season. Should be 3rd team All-NBA. Deserves it.

Rothschild

March 21st, 2012
8:30 am

Gid fir tgen,

Rothschild

March 21st, 2012
8:31 am

rob

March 21st, 2012
8:43 am

I am tired of reading these sad stories about our lack of players. Other teams make trades right up to the deadline & Rick Sund sits on his pat hand. Does this mean he was comortable with it this year and next?
As bad as we need a center, Denver trades away NENE for next to nothing. Did we even talk to them?
We are just going to keep MARVIN forever? All he should be is a bad memory of what we passed up to take his big BUTT! He should have been gone already but NO ONE wants him.

What’s the scoop Jeff?

PMC

March 21st, 2012
9:32 am

I’ve liked this team all year. If they can get healthy going into the playoffs I wouldn’t be shocked if they could beat anyone when they play well. It’s just that the more you invest emotionally, the more you have the ominous feeling that if everything started to fall in place….they simply would have a bad series.

PMC

March 21st, 2012
9:34 am

They’ll be in the 2nd round if Horford makes it back. When relatively healthy they are the 3rd best team in the east behind the Heat and Bulls and it’s really not close.

KevinM

March 21st, 2012
9:39 am

I guess when JS writes about the Hawks, people click to another link. A day later and still less the 1 blog page?

Sund has built in excuses to bring back the same group of guys and provide a reason why a coach who is in his 8th season with this team can manage to be 6 games over .500 and is now a lemonade salesman.
They can beat IND and ORL, but can’t beat anyone else. He has already shown his pleasure that we’re 6 games above .500 with LD at the helm.
If you want mediocrity, keep the same core, and keep the same leadership.
The only guy with any championship understanding is Al. The rest have no clue what it takes to be a championship contender. Marvin didn’t even start for his championship. That should say enough about Marvin’s career.

STRETCH

March 21st, 2012
10:05 am

Rob,

I feel your frustration man, but it is what it is and we are stuck with it.

Im just doing the same thing i did last year and that is waiting for the poison to take over and take me out of my misery. Thats whats happening with this group. Then in the offseason, see what happens.

Getting better is what they did do this season by fixing the bench and i love that group. Were Sund did NOT do any better was run the same CORE back out there.

1. I would have went hard after another Center when Al went down.

2. They could have gotten two quality players plus a draft pick for Josh. His stock had soared since the All-star snub. (But im starting to get the feeling he is losing focus again, and its going to hurt the teams momentum down the stretch.)

3. I would have traded Marvin Williams almost for anything!

But with the type of management we have, we always know that by the 40th game of the season that the offseason is once again where the fans start looking to for hope.

PMC

March 21st, 2012
10:17 am

I disagree, I think Joe has the skill but lacks the fire generally to win series. He shrinks when he should be taking over. Josh and Al both can be championship players when they play well. The problem with the entire team is that they lack consistency from game to game. They rarely play with the needed intensity in the playoffs from game to game.

Then there are the Marvins of the world who have no intensity on thier best day.

True Hawks Fan

March 21st, 2012
12:27 pm

Nice to see some positive print on the Hawks. Sund put together a great bench to help us ride out these injuries and LD has done a great job keeping everybody together and playing hard. Let’s enjoy J-Smoove version 2.0 and be thankful that Z-Pach has stepped up his game. Candidly, we’re really not losing much between Z and Al. Z is averaging about 8 and 8 in 27 mpg, while Al averages 13 and 9 in 33 mpg. If Joe stays hot and we can get a little healthier, we could make a decent run in the playoffs. Stop bashing and start cheering

The Truth

March 21st, 2012
12:51 pm

“Hawks showing us something new — they can take a punch” – JS

Nicely done

steven a smith

March 21st, 2012
12:55 pm

Ryan Hollins was waived by Cleveland. Great pick-up for Hawks.

tom

March 21st, 2012
3:51 pm

hope drew sticks with the 3 guard lineup.

Wink

March 21st, 2012
4:29 pm

Enter your comments here

Wink

March 21st, 2012
4:53 pm

They can take a punch, especially ZaZa, Boston beat him about the head with no repercussions & consequences!

Joe faded against good competition until that fourth quarter surge…basically went Iso Joe, we got close and he gave the shot to Josh at the 3 line and Teague airballs 3 attempt….why does Joes fade away from the responsibility…Why? Josh did not have it going either against Boston…why do they do the same crap against good teams. So basically they can take a punch and they refuse to get up!!

The best coaching move of the season for Drew…going with the 3 guard lineup and Joe playing small forward…as a result his production has increased.

The best GM move this season for Sund…with a short season & rapid fire games…adding Vets to the Bench…The Bench Mob was getting it Done!!!

Worst coaching move of the season for Drew…Inserting Hinrich back in the starting lineup…messing up the rotation & production of the Bench Mob and destroying team chemistry!!

Worst GM move of the season for Sund…Coming to Work after AL got hurt…has not done ANYTHING since the season started…Dampier really???

Summary…Sund happy to be 6 games above 500, excited he plays in the East instead of the West and hoping Drew does not pull a Gonzalez and miss the playoffs…because that would be our championship in his eyes, with a ready made excuse, of “we don’t really know our ceiling because we have had a ton of injuries”. “See if my Core had stayed in tact and my Bench Mob was healthy…maybe we get to the second round…there is always next season!!!

steven A.

March 21st, 2012
5:58 pm

Hawks need to act now and get their “FUTURE” starting Center!!!

steven A.

March 21st, 2012
5:58 pm

Hawks need to act now and get their “FUTURE” starting Center!!!

steven A.

March 21st, 2012
6:50 pm

Sign Ryan Hollins By Any Means Necessary…

The Monger

March 21st, 2012
8:17 pm

THIS is the reason I HATE Atlanta sportswriters in general. This article is SO far from the truth it is not even funny. Hey Jeff, since when do the Hawks play hard? When do they actually even mentally show up to the game?? They give ZERO effort in about 80 percent of their games… Right now as I am writing this….they have given up 37 first quarter points to Cleveland, yes the Cleveland Cavaliers of 2012 have put up 37 first quarter points to the Hawks 21…This does not occur with a team that is truly “trying” as you state. The Hawks have No heart, no passion, give no effort on a nightly basis, loads of selfish players, and alot of whining and complaining in the clubhouse, not to mention the fact they are the least fundamentally sound team in the NBA, lead by the worst, least-knowledgable coach in the league. Why not write an article on that??? Hey Jeff, why not write an article on the fact the Hawks have some of the most individual talent in the league, with Joe, Al, and Josh, but don’t know what a team concept is, and consistently get outcoached, outhustled, and outclassed in almost every game, and never seem to beat teams above .500 in the NBA?? Why not do some articles with some actual truth in them??

The Monger

March 21st, 2012
8:22 pm

Jeff you realize EVERY other NBA team has dozens of injuries every year, just like the Hawks. It is basketball after all. Do you think other teams played the excuse game. Do you think the Bulls made excuses when D-Rose went out? No, they just won. Do you think L.A. made excuses when Bynum went down? No. They just won. This is a ridiculous article, that would be laughed at by true sports fans in New York, Philly, and Chicago.

m man

March 25th, 2012
1:59 am

Monger hates Atlanta sports writers, hates the hawks ……maybe needs a good antidepressant…definitely a kind of scary, very unhappy guy.