Consider the Hawks. They’re on pace to win 53 games, six better than last season, and yet some among us are starting to regard them as a disappointment. Fight the temptation. The only thing disappointing about this team is that it’s not perfect, not that any team ever is.
The Orlando Magic finished 12 games ahead of the Hawks last season and added Vince Carter over the summer. Today the Hawks are a game out of first place in the NBA South. Yes, the Hawks have lost twice to the Magic, most recently a wipeout in Orlando on Saturday, but they’re about to emerge from an arduous stretch — eight games against Cleveland, Orlando, Boston, Denver, Miami and Phoenix in 3 1/2 weeks, five of them on the road — with their pride and standing intact.
Once the Hawks can slog through this month, they’ll find a kinder slate awaiting in February. And by beating Boston home-and-home, the Hawks have arrested the slide on which 2009 ended. They’re OK again. They’re better than OK. They’re just fine.
No, Boston’s Kevin Garnett didn’t play in either game. Too bad. This is pro sports. You go with who’s available. Fact is, the Hawks just whipped the aging Celtics twice in four days. After the latter loss, a reporter was moved to ask Glen Davis if the Hawks, now 3-0 against Boston, are in the Celtics’ heads. “Next question,” sniffed Big Baby.
Less than a month ago the Hawks were on track to win not 50-some but 60-some games, but that wasn’t apt to last. A team that didn’t add a starter — the Hawks last modified their first five in February 2008 — doesn’t jump from 47 wins to 60. But we’re again seeing clear and consistent improvement, and the Hawks’ success against the Celtics suggests they’ll again be a tough out come spring.
And that could well be your Round 2 pairing. The Hawks are fourth in the East; the Celtics are two games back of first-place Cleveland. Assuming both advance beyond the first round, No. 1 would play No. 4 in the conference semis. The Hawks are already guaranteed to have a winning record against Boston, which could be one reason the former Hawk Doc Rivers was so frazzled he got himself ejected Monday night.
I know it was no fun watching the Hawks lose back-to-back games to Cleveland before New Year’s or seeing the teensy Nate Robinson light them up for 41, but the NBA season is loooonnnngggg. Bad nights happen. The bottom line is that the Hawks are nearing the midpoint having had roughly twice as many good nights as bad. This isn’t the best team you’ve ever seen, but it’s the best bunch of Hawks any of us has seen in two decades.