Crazy, man: Why the uninspiring Hawks can win in Round 1

Jeff Teague was among the Hawks' JVs who scared the Heat. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

Jeff Teague was among the Hawks' JVs who scared the Heat. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

This is the strangest Hawks’ team I’ve ever covered, and I’ve seen some doozies. It got the head coach it wanted — Larry Drew, who’d been Mike Woodson’s kinder, gentler assistant for six seasons — and has performed as if it wants him to become an ex-head coach very soon.

Example: On March 2 the Hawks surged from 19 points down to beat Chicago. Afterward they spouted the usual this-proves-we-can-beat-anybody platitudes. They lost their next four games.

Another: On April 1 the Hawks beat the Celtics, prompting Al Horford to suggest his team has started to “figure things out.” They’ve since lost five in a row, the latest coming Monday against the star-spangled Miami Heat in a game the Hawks didn’t try to win but almost did anyway.

Did I mention that this is an odd team?

The playoffs begin this weekend. Drew acts as if he doesn’t know what to do with his club, which isn’t surprising. Dr. Jack Ramsay crossed with Dr. Sigmund Freud wouldn’t know, either. The Hawks have suffered so many egregious losses — Saturday’s loss to 22-win Washington was the fourth of the season by 30-plus points — that you’d swear they can’t play a lick. But sometimes, for reasons unclear, they do.

This is essentially the same team that won 53 games last season. It’s 44-37 with one to go, and even near its end Drew has seemed unsure how to proceed. Speaking before Monday’s game, he said: “When we got in the situation of being locked in as the No. 5 seed, I had every intention of limiting guys’ minutes.”

On the other hand: “I don’t care who the opponent is — I want to see us come out with energy and focus after the way we’ve played the last two games.”

On yet another hand, regarding the riddle of how a resting team can then re-light its fire: “I don’t know if we are good enough to do that.”

Maybe Drew found what he sought in Monday’s fourth quarter. The Hawks’ B-team — no starter worked a fourth-quarter minute — surged from 12 points down and rattled Miami, which was obviously trying to win. (LeBron James played the entire second half.) With 3:28 left the game was tied. Was this VCU-Kansas or what?

Nope. James Jones converted a four-point play and then made a trey. The Hawks lost again. But can you begrudge such an effort from the likes of Josh Powell and Damien Wilkins? Which prompts another question: Why don’t all the Hawks play this hard all the time?

It’s clear that most of whatever message Drew has sought to impart as head coach hasn’t gotten through. He inherited a roster of gifted players, and under his stewardship this has become just another bunch of jump shooters. The Drew-designed cutback on isolations for Joe Johnson have seen the $120 million man go from being the NBA’s 11th-leading scorer last season to 26th-best now.

Worst of all, there has been no consistency of effort. The Hawks can still play when they’re of a mind, but their response to Drew — or, more precisely, the lack of same — is indicative of a team that has tuned out a long-time head coach, not someone who has worked only 81 games.

And yet … Drew has done one thing that gives this uninspiring and uninspired team a chance to play beyond Round 1. He has done what Woodson would not: Chosen to guard Orlando’s Dwight Howard one-on-one, the result being that the Magic’s gaggle of shooters remains covered. “We’ve kept ourselves out of so many rotations,” Drew said.

As luck would have it, the Hawks will play Orlando in Round 1, and this Magic team isn’t half as potent as it was. (Orlando dismissed the Hawks by an aggregate 101 points over four games in the 2010 playoffs; the Hawks won three times in four this season.) Jason Collins isn’t much of a player, but he doesn’t need to be. He just needs to pester Dwight Howard so the other four Hawks can keep guarding the other four Magic men.

This will likewise make no sense, but here it is: There’s not much about these Hawks I like, but I like their chances of beating Orlando.

By Mark Bradley

226 comments Add your comment

Dyan

April 11th, 2011
6:35 pm

Mark Bradley

April 11th, 2011
6:36 pm

Kudos to Dyan, whose last name might or might not be Cannon.

JeJe

April 11th, 2011
6:38 pm

jbdrs

April 11th, 2011
6:41 pm

The Thrashers have a better chance of winning the Cup.

Benjamin

April 11th, 2011
6:42 pm

Top three? I was gunning for my second first in two days.

The Hawks are toast. They’ll win a game or two, but don’t stand a real shot at winning the series.

Najeh Davenpoop

April 11th, 2011
6:45 pm

If there was any chance of the Hawks pulling the first round upset, they are now officially gone thanks to the Bradley Curse.

Benjamin

April 11th, 2011
6:47 pm

I have something else to say, too. A two-fer, if you will…

I don’t mean this as a knock against Drew, but I never understood how, with all the coaching possibilities on the table this past offseason, we fired a guy and hired his top assistant. If you’re wanting to reshape the way your coaching staff looks at a team, don’t hire the man who helped put it all in place. Common sense would tell you that, no?

I didn’t disagree with Woodson’s firing at the time, in spite of the crazy streak of consecutive improving seasons he’d amassed, in large part because every time I saw Atlanta play the past couple seasons, it didn’t seem like they were winning games because they were the better coached team. Instead, Iso-Joe and Smoove-for-three drove me nuts.

I think we’re a seed — maybe two seeds — higher if we land Thibodeau as our guy the past offseason, and I think we’re a better team with Avery Johnson. Drew is just Woodson in a softer shell, and that’s not what we needed.

Mark Bradley

April 11th, 2011
6:47 pm

I like the Thrashers to win two rounds, BTW.

Mark Bradley

April 11th, 2011
6:48 pm

Can’t argue, Benjamin. I disagreed strongly with this hire. As strongly as I’ve ever disagreed with any hire. (Except maybe June Jones to succeed Jerry Glanville. Or Glanville himself.)

Benjamin

April 11th, 2011
6:57 pm

Lon Kruger was a worse hire, then and now, in my opinion than Drew, but that’s not saying much.

One was a D, the other a D-minus.

Beast from the East

April 11th, 2011
7:01 pm

I can’t watch this team anymore. I gave up when THEYcontinually gave up time after time during the season. If they want me to attend games or even watch on television then just blow the whole dang thing up and start over. At least I would have some hope for the future. With the contract they gave Marvin and now Joe this franchise is TOAST and coached by a cheap hire that was made soley with a budget in mind.

Mark Bradley

April 11th, 2011
7:03 pm

As I noted, Beast from the East: This is a difficult team to watch.

Dyan

April 11th, 2011
7:05 pm

Same old Hawks can’t beat the elite teams come playoff time

Luke Cage

April 11th, 2011
7:10 pm

Imma start it off, PLAY JEFF TEAGUE LOL

James on Pharr Rd

April 11th, 2011
7:11 pm

The Cox Family should reinstate the drug testing policy at AJC in regards to Mr Bradley-with all due respect.

Luke Cage

April 11th, 2011
7:12 pm

Watching Heat games are kinda boring because all they do is get alot of call and get too many FT attempts, but yet they get to be extra eggressive on Defense because of their status.

Mark Bradley

April 11th, 2011
7:12 pm

Mike Bibby starts for Miami.

Beast from the East

April 11th, 2011
7:12 pm

Mark,
I know you did. Just venting. I won’t pretend to know near as much about hoops as you do so I’ll ask your opinion. What must this franchise do in order to put together a team that can compete for a title? I know that it’s not realistic to expect a dynasty, but every fan wants to know that their team can compete over a 7 game series. Your thoughts?

Luke Cage

April 11th, 2011
7:13 pm

sorry about the typo’s, i’m at work sneaking peeks at the game lol

Mark Bradley

April 11th, 2011
7:13 pm

Well, actually they’ve won two seven-games series over the past two years. We tend to forget those, though.

Luke Cage

April 11th, 2011
7:13 pm

Bibby?? Cmon Kirk

Mark Bradley

April 11th, 2011
7:14 pm

But to the bigger question: They have to find a point guard. (They’re not going to find a true center because they’re aren’t any available.)

Luke Cage

April 11th, 2011
7:15 pm

LOL, same ole refs when the Heat play

Luke Cage

April 11th, 2011
7:16 pm

Beast from the East

April 11th, 2011
7:16 pm

We sure do when they get their @$$e$ handed to them like they did last year and they have several times this year. Can anyone ever remember a playoff team that lost by over 30 that many times in a season? I can’t.

Luke Cage

April 11th, 2011
7:17 pm

Question is Mark, would LD shorten up his bench even more than he does now in the playoffs?

Beast from the East

April 11th, 2011
7:17 pm

Mark Bradley

April 11th, 2011
7:18 pm

Be hard to get any shorter, Luke C

Luke Cage

April 11th, 2011
7:19 pm

At least these guys look more active with more energy

Ole Hawks Fan

April 11th, 2011
7:20 pm

Capt Kirk get abused By BIBBY! Come On MAN!

Mark Bradley

April 11th, 2011
7:20 pm

The Hawks actually seem to be trying here.

Mark Bradley

April 11th, 2011
7:20 pm

Bibby hits a 3 off a Big Z pass

Luke Cage

April 11th, 2011
7:21 pm

Phillips Arena fans suck lol

Ole Hawks Fan

April 11th, 2011
7:21 pm

Teague should have started this game in place of Kirk. Push the ball and use old man Bibby.

Luke Cage

April 11th, 2011
7:21 pm

I wanna see Teague, is that wishful thinking?

Mark Bradley

April 11th, 2011
7:21 pm

And now LeBron hits. Miami up 12-7.

Joe11

April 11th, 2011
7:22 pm

We want Teague, We want Teague, We want Teague, We want Teague!!

Mark Bradley

April 11th, 2011
7:22 pm

Place isn’t nearly full, I must note.

Ole Hawks Fan

April 11th, 2011
7:23 pm

Mark what is the Deal with Atlanta not playing young player? Woody didn’t believe in the younger guys nor do LD> I said last year if Rondo was on the Hawks, he would be DNP-CD!

James on Pharr Rd

April 11th, 2011
7:23 pm

Again, as crazy as this sounds, The Magic are a better team than the one that swept the Hawks last year. Dwight is more dominant and disciplined, Jameer has improved his game management, and Bass who many believed should have played instead of Lewis last year is putting up decent numbers. I hate to say it, but if the Hawks win 1 game and stay close in a few other games, they can count the series as a success.

Also, expect the Magic to be in the Eastern Conference Finals, not the Bulls.( The Bulls are where we were as a regular season machine 2 years ago) with a better coach.

LD sounded prophetic in describing our league reputation: we fold when the pressure is on us, it will be interesting to watch how things unfold.

Mark Bradley

April 11th, 2011
7:24 pm

I’m not as high on Teague as others are, let me say. I think he’s too sloppy with the ball to run a team — at least at this stage.

Mark Bradley

April 11th, 2011
7:25 pm

If the Hawks lose in five to Orlando, this season will have been a flop.

Luke Cage

April 11th, 2011
7:26 pm

I agree Mark with your assesment on Teague, but I like his Defense way better

Luke Cage

April 11th, 2011
7:27 pm

An idea that I’ve been thinking about for the Orlando series is why not use Wilkins on Nelson at certain times in the game? A tough & bigger defender that will stop him from breaking down the D.

Mark Bradley

April 11th, 2011
7:30 pm

Not sure Wilkins can guard Nelson. He’s about a foot taller and much quicker

Mark Bradley

April 11th, 2011
7:30 pm

LeBron scores on a break. Pumps his fist

todd grantham

April 11th, 2011
7:31 pm

Mark, what if the Hawks lose to Orlando in 4?

old devil

April 11th, 2011
7:31 pm

I have not been able to watch these individuals play more than three quarters at a time this year. Call me when they get a TEAM…just sayin

Brandon

April 11th, 2011
7:31 pm

At what point do we stop blaming the coaches and start on the players…two coaches, same problem and the players are the same means that’s where the blame lies. Aside from Horford this team just has no heart and you can’t coach that.

Mark Bradley

April 11th, 2011
7:32 pm

If the Hawks lose to Orlando in four, they’ll have repeated a non-feat.