Archive for March, 2010

The Lakers came in mad; the Hawks made them madder

See that fellow in the background? His team got pounded. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

See that guy in the background? His team got pounded. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

The defending NBA champions wanted this one. They had gone 2-2 on their road swing, and they needed to beat the Hawks, according to the Zen master Phil Jackson, to “redeem this trip.” Instead the regal Lakers were rebuffed, and rudely.

The Hawks beat the Lakers in every quarter. “That doesn’t happen much against that team,” Mike Woodson said afterward, but it happened for his team.

Down 10 points at the half, the Lakers figured to make a run. (It’s the NBA. Everybody makes a run.) The defending champions never broke out of a trot. The closest they came over the final 24 minutes — the closest, mind you — was seven points. The Hawks led by as many as 19 points, and this wasn’t a case of a road-weary opponent mailing one in.

“We got a focused L.A. team,” said Mo Evans, the sub who scored 18 essential points. “You could see it in Kobe’s eyes. But we matched their emotion and intensity.”

Matched …

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Live from Hawks-Lakers: Zen Master Phil is not pleased

Yesterday’s news was that the Lakers canceled a practice scheduled for Georgia Tech. Turns out it wasn’t entirely canceled. Just sort of.

“An unofficial practice,” was how Phil Jackson — the Zen Master, or Big Chief Triangle, as Jeff Van Gundy once dubbed him — put it tonight. And we writers eat this stuff up. Intrigue on the hardwood … love it!

The back story: The Lakers aren’t happy with the way they’ve been playing. This is the final stop on a five-game road trip, and they’ve lost two of the past three. They managed but 75 points in Oklahoma City — after which Jackson told reporters, “If they’re not going to respond to your coaching, why do you want to come back [next season] and coach them?” — and on Monday they were beaten in New Orleans by the sub-.500 Hornets. So the Zen Master took the unusual step of canceling practice, then holding one. Sort of.

“Select players” were invited. Just guessing, we can assume they were the Lakers’ subs, who were outscored 42-12 by the …

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Beating the Lakers in 2008 helped light the Hawks’ fuse

Feb. 6, 2008: Al Horford gets forceful. (AJC photo by Rich Addicks)

Feb. 6, 2008: Al Horford gets forceful. (AJC photo by Rich Addicks)

Even before the Hawks took Boston to a Game 7, it was a Laker game that served subtle notice. The date was Feb. 6, 2008 — National Signing Day in football, which meant Hawks-Lakers at Philips Arena that night wasn’t the local story of the moment. And it wasn’t exactly a clash of titans: The Hawks entered at 21-24.

But they showed something that night, something that made you sit up and say, “Hmmm.” They showedthey could outduel Kobe Bryant and his mates in a tight game. (The final was 98-95.) They showed their rookie center was more than a match for the Lakers’ just-acquired Pau Gasol. (Al Horford had 15 points and 20 rebounds to Gasol’s 12 and seven.)

Afterward Ed Peskowitz, one of the Hawks’ several owners, said to Sekou Smith, then of the ol’ AJC and now of NBA.com: “We have arrived.”

True confession: Sekou and I giggled over that one. These being the Hawks, they lost their next six games.

But that victory …

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Still another sunny Braves forecast? ‘Bah, humbug,’ I say

I'm sorry. This is still my favorite picture ever. (AJC photo by Phil Skinner)

I'm sorry to keep using this, but it's my favorite picture ever. (AJC photo by Phil Skinner)

Comes now another in our daily series of the-Braves-look-great articles. This is from Phil Sheridan of the Philadelphia Inquirer, and he sees the Braves as the team that could dislodge the Phillies from the National League East summit. And here I sit, starting to wonder if I underrated these guys and undervalued the offseason work of Frank Wren.

But let me say a couple of things: First, I haven’t been to Lake Buena Vista to see the team firsthand, so I’m having to rely on dispatches; second, I remember the first time I really covered a team up close and personal. It was the 1980 Kentucky Wildcats, and standing at practice every day for a month convinced me a breakthrough football season was at hand.

Impressed by what I’d beheld, I told Russell Rice, the UK publicist, “There’s no way you’ll be as bad as 3-8.” (That being the consensus on how the Big Blue would do.)

Long story short: The …

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A blast from the past: Josh Childress and his NBA future

The Hawks are fighting for playoff position. The Lakers play at Philips Arena tomorrow night. And today we concern ourselves with … the Euroleague?

Why, yes. It might have escaped your notice that Olympiacos — sometimes spelled “Olympiakos” — of Greece has reached the quarterfinals of the European basketball playoffs and is leading Asseco Prokom of Poland 2-0 in its best-of-five series. (Game 3 is tonight in Gdynia, Poland.) This is noteworthy because Josh Childress, once a Hawk, has scored 13 and 11 points for Olympiacos in Games 1 and 2.

Even if you don’t follow basketball outside the U.S., you know Childress. He was the sixth player drafted in June 2004 — Josh Smith was the 17th — and he serve the Hawks well for four seasons. Then, rather than re-sign here or jump to another NBA team as a free agent, he left the country. He signed with Olympiacos for $20 million over three seasons — this is the second — but has the option of terminating his contract after each season should …

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Shocker! An actual basketball coach wins the Bracket Fiasco!

Your new Bracket Fiasco champion. (Photo courtesy of Ryan Koudele)

Your new Bracket Fiasco champion. (Photo courtesy of Ryan Koudele)

In the first 22 years of Bradley’s Bracket Fiasco, we’d had an actual rock star — Mike Mills, bassist/keyboardist/vocalist for R.E.M., 1999 — win our contest but never anyone who makes his living coaching basketball. In Year 23, things changed. Our new champion and recipient of the coveted Final Four sweatshirt is Ryan Koudele (pronounced Koo-DELL), and he’s the boys’ basketball coach at North Springs High in Sandy Springs.

Given the permutations of this NCAA tournament, it makes sense that our winner had inside knowledge. Koudele, who’s 36 and who just finished his third season as the Spartans’ coach, served as a student coach at Kansas State, from which he graduated in 1996. He worked under head coaches Dana Altman and Tom Asbury and alongside a young assistant named Mark Fox, who has since found gainful employment in Athens, Ga.

The Fiasco drew 5,376 entries. Not one contestant picked the correct Final Four. …

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Attention: The anti-Michael Adams crowd will love this one

Here’s a submission from an unexpected source: The famous Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe loosed a screed against Georgia president Michael Adams on Sunday. Bobby’s point — I’ve known him since 1978, when I was a cub reporter at the Lexington Leader and he’d gotten snowed in on an assignment to write about the Kentucky Wildcats — was that Adams is unfit to be president of the NCAA.

A couple of things here: First, Adams insists he’s not interested in the NCAA, and second, almost nobody believes him. That said, here are the highlights from Bobby’s blast:

Former NCAA president Myles Brand lost a battle with pancreatic cancer last September. A search committee is at work to choose his successor, and while I do not know for sure who should be that person, I have little hesitation in saying that I know who most definitely should not be that individual. That would be Michael Adams, president of the University of Georgia since 1997 and, from all indications, a leading contender for the …

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Bradley’s Buzz: Optimism abounds around the Braves!

Billy Wagner: He's not a new closer, but he's the new Braves closer. (AP photo)

Billy Wagner: He's not exactly a new closer, but he's the new Braves closer. (AP photo)

They’re the feel-good team of the Grapefruit League. They’re the Atlanta Braves, and everywhere you turn someone else is gushing about them.

Buster Olney of ESPN.com picks them to finish second in the National League East and to win the wild card. (Link requires registration.) Writes Olney: “The Braves look tremendous this spring. Jason Heyward looks great; Tim Hudson looks great. ‘The two best teams I saw this spring — the two teams that looked the most crisp — were the Braves and Rays,’ one evaluator said.”

And here’s Albert Chen of SI.com giving his reasons why the Braves can finish ahead of Philadelphia:

The Braves can overtake Philly if 23-year-old starter Tommy Hanson establishes himself as one of the league’s elite pitchers; if outfielder Jason Heyward has the kind of rookie year Albert Pujols had in 2001; if the old guys (Troy Glaus, Chipper Jones and Billy Wagner ) stay …

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In RF on Opening Day, Jason Heyward! Hip, hip, hooray!

Jason Heyward smiles. And so do we. (AJC photo by Phil Skinner)

Jason Heyward smiles. So do we. (AJC photo by Phil Skinner)

Let’s hear it for the cheapskate Braves, and let’s, in honor of the occasion, remove the adjective. Down the road, it would have made monetary sense to park Jason Heyward in Gwinnett for two weeks. But dollars and cents would have been the only reason for not having Heyward in right field at Turner Field on Opening Day, and credit the Braves for grasping that they weren’t reason enough.

There have been other stories in Lake Buena Vista this spring, but there was only one real story: Jason Heyward. Guy shows up and goes demolition derby on the cars parked behind the right-field fence. Guy gets a hit almost every time out. Guy gives all of us marooned here in Atlanta cause to say, “I’ve got to see this guy.”

Indeed, that’s pretty much what Frank Wren said to an inquiring correspondent last August, when Heyward was tearing up the minors. The correspondent noted that the Mississippi Braves were due to come through …

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How Hewitt can win back Tech fans – and win games, too

Yes! There's still a chance win friends and influence people. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Yes! There's still a chance for Paul Hewitt to win friends and influence people. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Paul Hewitt is still Georgia Tech’s coach. At issue is whether Hewitt can again be the people’s choice. His dialogue with St. John’s extended hope to many disgruntled Tech fans — and there are many disgruntled Tech fans — that they might not have to witness the same underperformance next season. Those folks are now in a curious position: They’re sorry their coach is still their coach.

The onus is now on Hewitt to win back his constituency. For that to happen, these steps need to be taken:

Stop the excuses: Hewitt often acts as if circumstances are beyond his control. He’s paid to control circumstances. If somebody gets hurt, coach up the next guy on the bench. If a talented player leaves after a year, find someone to replace him. If your guards can’t feed the post, teach them how. Tech people no longer want to hear about point guard Austin Jackson choosing the Yankees …

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