Archive for April, 2012

Loss aside, these Braves look way ahead of last season

Chipper Jones sees something in these Braves that was absent in 2011. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Chipper Jones sees something in these Braves that was absent in 2011. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

(Updated: 10:05 p.m.)

When the Braves started this season 0-4, a number of thoughts went through the minds of fans, not a single one of which was: “Do you realize that we could still go 158-4? That would be a record.”

But when the first month of the season ended Monday, the Braves were operating in relative bliss. (Well, bliss interrupted by the implausible wrecking ball of the Pittsburgh Pirates, but bliss nonetheless.) Until a 9-3 loss to the Pirates, they were 14-4 following that 0-4 hiccup, a nice place to be with the Philadelphia Phillies coming to town.

It’s not merely that the Braves suddenly found themselves winning games but that they were winning them in ways that suggested this stretch won’t be viewed as some aberration at season’s end.

That projection may seem just as knee-jerk as those who were panicking at 0-4. But consider the words of Chipper Jones when he …

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Hawks do it their way to take Game 1 over Celtics (updated)

Josh Smith takes it to the hoops against Boston's Greg Stiemsma, as the Hawks started impressively against the Celtics. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Josh Smith, here taking it to hoop against Greg Stiemsma, paced the Hawks with 22 points, 18 rebounds (Curtis Compton/AJC)

(Updated: 10:50 p.m.)

If they win this series, if the Hawks somehow manage to bury the Boston demon one postseason after burying the Orlando demon, it can’t be the Josh-and-Joe show. It has to be this guy, or that guy, the other guy or … wait, which guy was banned in Korea again?

It has to be like what happened Sunday night.

Boston cuts a 19-point lead to 10. What happens? Kirk Hinich hits a three-pointer. Jason Collins hits a pair of shots (wait, Jason Collins?). So starts an 11-2 run that re-inflates the lead to 19.

Later in the fourth quarter, Boston cuts the lead to eight. What happens? Jannero Pargo drives for a hoop. Tracy McGrady sneaks past three seemingly comatose Celtics for a rebound and a jam. Suddenly the lead is back up to 12.

This is how you win a playoff series. The Hawks won only one game Sunday night, not a series, but Game 1 was …

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LIVE: Can Hawks continue to overcome odds vs. Celtics?

Any predictions what scoreboard will say at the end? List them below.

Any predictions on how this scoreboard will read at the end? List them below.

(Updated: 6:10 p.m. with Ray Allen’s status and Hawks’ lineup.)

No Al Horford. No Zaza Pachulia. No chance?

Not quite.

Maybe you wouldn’t know it by looking at some of the series predictions. On ESPN’s “expert picks,” 12 pick the Celtics and one who didn’t get the memo took the Hawks. The biggest reason is that the Hawks look like an entry in a 6-foot-and-under league (relatively speaking). Center Al Horford (pectoral) likely out for the whole series. Backup Zaza Pachulia (foot) is doubtful. (Coach Larry Drew after the morning shoot around: “He’s sitting out there with a boot on his foot, so that’s not a good sign.”)

But it’s worth noting this is not a dominant Celtics team. They grind out wins. Their average per-game point differential of plus-2.52 ranked only 11th in the league. Their best three-point shooter, Ray Allen, is out with an ankle injury tonight and is questionable for the series.

What …

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Drew deserves some credit for holding Hawks together

Larry Drew has been a nurturing coach this season for Jeff Teague and the Hawks. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Larry Drew has kept messages positive for players such as Jeff Teague. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

For a guy considered an afterthought of a candidate, a guy who some figured was hired because he lobbied so hard, wouldn’t make demands and certainly came cheap, Larry Drew keeps passing tests.

It’s one thing for a team to play hard for a coach in his first season, when everybody in the locker room is just happy that the previous guy is out of town. It’s another to keep that same team from derailing in Season 2, particularly when the coach has no real resume for how he responds to landmines.

Al Horford went down 11 games into the season. Still, this Hawks team, wrapped in gauze much of the season, managed to go 40-26, the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference. The Hawks overcame injuries. They used lineups resembling the Lollipop Guild. They endured Tracy McGrady publicly whining about his playing time and Ivan “The Ticking Time Bomb” Johnson getting sent home off a road trip …

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Hawks overcame injuries during season, so why not now?

Can Joe Johnson, Josh Smith and the Hawks pull off a playoff surprise? (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Can Joe Johnson, Josh Smith and the Hawks pull off a playoff surprise? (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Larry Drew walked into the Hawks’ practice gym early last week and saw a herd of unicorns frolicking in a field of purple daisies. Or possibly a crowd of players. They seem to be one and the same.

“I saw all of these bodies — it looked weird,” the Hawks’ coach said. “I think Al [Horford] had just been cleared for non-contact, and I walked out and everybody was there. I thought maybe they had let some people in the gym who shouldn’t have been there.”

It has been that kind of a year. Imagine an NBA team playing a full regular season and not having its starting lineup together even once. Only two players, Josh Smith and Jeff Teague, have played in every game. Drew has used 11 different starting lineups, and 10 of the roster’s 15 players have combined to miss 111 games with everything from a torn pectoral to an appendectomy.

Guard Kirk Hinrich missed the first 18. Center Horford missed the …

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Falcons can have new building — as long as they pay for it

The only thing wrong with this building is it doesn't make Arthur Blank enough money. (AJC photo)

The Georgia Dome is only 20 years old and just fine as a sports venue. (AJC photo)

This is the way it used to work in sports: Build a stadium for a sports team. Decades later, when it grew old and weathered and shingles began to fall from the roof and maybe the rats began to build condominiums, there would be discussion about tearing it down and starting over.

This is the way it works now in sports: Build a stadium for a sports team. A decade or two later (maybe), when the building ceases in its perceived ability to generate enough revenue for the sports owner, then it’s time to build a new one to make him happy.

There is an increasing likelihood that the Georgia Dome, which opened 20 years ago, is going to be torn down, giving way to a retractable roof stadium. The cost of the new palace: $947 million. This assumes it doesn’t go up (which it will) or Groupon doesn’t run a special on stadium seats and drink holders.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank has long ago expressed his desire …

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Falcons would send right message with Asante Samuel trade

Is Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel pointed for the Falcons? (AP photo)

Is cornerback Asante Samuel pointed for Atlanta? (AP photo)

(Update: The Asante Samuel trade is complete. The Falcons will send a low-round draft pick to Philadelphia for Samuel and the cornerback signed a salary cap-friendly three-year, $18.5 million contract. The team has not yet announced any other moves regarding potential restructuring of contracts of other players.)

Even if some would debate the success of their ventures, there is one undeniable reality of the Falcons’ rebuilding efforts in the past four years: Their offseasons haven’t been short of wow moments

A team doesn’t draft, sign or trade for the likes of Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Tony Gonzalez, Dunta Robinson, Ray Edwards and Julio Jones unless there is some degree of aggressiveness in the front office. It’s why these past several weeks of mere re-signings have been met with a collective yawn. As if the Falcons suddenly are settling.

General manager Thomas Dimitroff views that perception as harsh. But maybe he …

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Al Horford may be near return — and Hawks need him

If Al Horford could provide just a little defense like this, it would go a long way for the Hawks. (AP photo)

If Al Horford could provide just a little defense like this in playoffs, it would go a long way. (AP)

There were good signs, things you want to see before the playoffs: Marvin Williams channeling, well, somebody other than Marvin Williams (29 points, including three straight possessions in which he hit two three-pointers and then drove to the hoop for an and-one); Jeff Teague scoring and then smack-talking with Carmelo Anthony (impressive); the 6-1 Jannero Pargo going nose-to-belly button with the 6-11 Amar’e Stoudemire (funny).

Then there were things Hawks coach Larry Drew would have preferred not seeing from an NBA team in a late April game: An extended halftime slumber that enabled the New York Knicks to go on a 12-1 run to open the second half; defensive breakdowns (like forgetting to cover Carmelo Anthony in transition); 19 turnovers (for the second straight game).

So let’s reaffirm with this when it comes to the Hawks: Nobody really knows what to expect when they open …

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Hawks barely hang on to defeat Celtics Lite (Updated)

Josh Smith and the Hawks found the second-string Celtics a little more difficult to handle than expected. (Hyosub Shin/AJC)

Josh Smith and the Hawks found the second-string Celtics a little more difficult to handle than expected. (Hyosub Shin/AJC)

(Last update: 10:17 p.m.)

Dwight Howard, once again reaffirming that there is no “team” in “I,” decided this week to have back surgery now rather than get an injection, bite a bullet, look away from the vanity mirror and wait until after the NBA playoffs to have his procedure.

This decision will not only submarine Orlando’s postseason aspirations, it fairly cemented that the Hawks and Boston will finish as the Eastern Conference’s Nos. 4 and 5 seeds and ensure they will meet in the first round of the playoffs. So at least in some sense, Friday’s Hawks-Celtics game was a postseason preview.

But the Hawks had better hope what we just witnessed will bear little resemblance to what happens next week.

The Celtics played their second string. The Hawks merely looked second-rate.

Facing a Boston lineup that was missing Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Ray …

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Falcons’ draft focus needs to be on offensive line

The Falcons need to do something to improve this crew (left to right: Justin Blalock, Sam Baker, Todd McClure, Tyson Clabo).

Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff needs to do something to improve this crew in the draft. Left to right: Justin Blalock, Sam Baker, Todd McClure, Tyson Clabo. (Curtis Compton)

FLOWERY BRANCH – It’s believed that Chuck Bednarik went into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the mutant dinosaur division, with Godzilla and Monster Zero, largely because of words like these: “You get into that sort of cannibalistic feeling. All you want to do is go out there and, like I say, kill somebody. I’m going to get him. I’m going to kill ‘em. Not like you are going to put them into the ground after, but you just want to kill a guy.”

Bednarik was a two-way player with Philadelphia in the 1960s. He is 86 now, which is I suppose eliminates the possibility of any comeback with the Falcons. But there were a few times last season when he might’ve been an improvement on the team’s offensive line.

Thomas Dimitroff’s fifth draft as Falcons general manager is next week. If the focus isn’t on …

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