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 the playoffs next weekend against the Boston Celtics. Their direction is as clearly defined as a ping-pong ball in wind tunnel.
But we can reasonably assume this: If the Hawks can get center Al Horford back for even a few minutes a game, it would be of some help. That’s starting to look like a strong possibility.
When asked Sunday where he would rate his chance of playing in the playoffs on a scale of 1 to 10, Horford responded, “I would say a 7. I really want to play. I don’t know if it’s the smartest thing for me physically but I want to be out there and I feel like it’s realistic.”
He also hopes to play in the regular season finale against Dallas on Thursday night.
Should we expect much? No. But anything is something. Anything means fewer minutes that Josh Smith is asked to drop into the middle or the smallish Ivan Johnson has to play more elbow ball.
Anything ensures that Erick Dampier never makes it out street clothes.
“Just his presence alone would give this team a big lift,” coach Larry Drew said. “His presence on the floor would be humongous. Him on the bench in a uniform would be humongous.”
The Hawks lost to the Knicks 113-112 Sunday at Philips Arena. There were a number of reasons why, but here’s a significant one: New York got 22 points and 12 rebounds from Stoudemire, at least in part because the Hawks again were forced to go with their lineup of Lilliputians (no Horford, no Zaza Pachulia, who’s also injured). The Hawks have held together remarkably well, which says something about the resolve of the players, the roster’s improved depth and Drew. But bigger is still better.
Watching hasn’t been easy on Horford. He suffered a torn pectoral muscle in the 11th game of the season. He was projected to be out three-to-four-months. We’re right at 3½ months.
“This is a big week for me,” he said.
The fact that the injury came in a post-lockout condensed season means he has little time to practice and scrimmage with teammates because there are so few days off (and consequently, few full practices). Horford even considered “going to Georgia Tech or somewhere” this week to find a pickup game to get some work in. Instead, he has had to resort to having an assistant coach like Tyrone Hill pound against him in practice.
“I told him, ‘You’ve got to hit me,’” he said. “That [contact] is something I need to feel good about.”
He played in a three-on-three with teammates the other day, but said, “I got a little frustrated. I was struggling. I just wasn’t feeling right. I’m supposed to be fully healed but I’m not all there yet. But I’m putting a lot of pressure on myself to come back.”
Smith said when Horford left, “It changed matchups and what we could do down the stretch of games.” His minutes in a return would be limited. But limited would be better than nothing — and it also could be the difference in winning a playoff series.
By Jeff Schultz