Archive for May, 2011

Down 3-2, the Hawks fully believe they can take this series

It's not as if the top-seeded Chi crew hasn't had to exert itself. (AP photo)

You know, it's not as if the top-seeded Chitown crew hasn't had to exert itself. (AP photo)

For the trailing team playing at home, Game 6 is a measure of belief. Of real believing, as opposed to lip service. For the trailing team playing at home, Game 6 brings this mighty question: Do you believe you can win not just this game but the one after that?

A Game 7 on the road is no day at the races. There was a time when winning Game 7 in the other team’s building was nigh-impossible — from 1982 through 1999, it happened twice — but such is no longer the case. Eight road teams have won a Game 7 since 2000. At issue is whether the Hawks might join the list.

If anything, they look more robust down 3-2 than they did 2-1, and there’s a reason: The Hawks have seen everything the Bulls can do. The No. 1 seed has been stout enough to nose  in front but not to lap its pursuer. Except for Game 3, the Hawks have run alongside the purported big dog.

The Bulls played the league’s most …

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The imploding Lakers make the Hawks look relatively stable

Pau Gasol, shown here defending Josh Smith in March. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Pau Gasol, shown here defending Josh Smith in March. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Just when we were thinking the Hawks were the strangest team in the world, along come the Lakers to remind us that there’s no weirdness like Hollywood weirdness.

The Lakers got swept by Dallas, which was odd enough, and now Pau Gasol, L.A.’s second-best player, is responding to rumors that he stunk in the series because he broke up with his girlfriend. And that the wife of Kobe Bryant, L.A.’s best player, somehow precipitated the breakup. And that Gasol and Bryant had stopped speaking to one another.

Gasol has denied the reports, calling them “absolutely false.” But when a team as good as this — the Lakers had won the past NBA championships — collapses so utterly, it’s human nature to suspect there might be something amiss beyond missed jump shots.

Gasol wasn’t the only Laker who lacked luster. Ron Artest was suspended for Game 3 for a hit on J.J. Barea. Andruw Bynum has been suspended for the …

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A UGA question: Is Richt getting tougher or more pragmatic?

Could it be? A less kind, less gentle Mark Richt? (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Here we see a tight-lipped Mark Richt. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Georgia enters a put-up-or-shut-up season without its best holdover tailback. Had not the Bulldogs signed Isaiah Crowell, Washaun Ealey would constitute a major loss. But they did, and now skeptics have suggested Mark Richt might have been less inclined to let Ealey leave had Crowell not been inbound.

And here’s where I take up for Richt — you’ll have to excuse me if I wheeze; I’ve gotten out of practice — and say: Don’t think so.

I also say: Remember Zach Mettenberger.

There have been times when Richt’s famous patience seemed unending. (We think of Odell Thurman, the gifted-but-erring linebacker.) There have been years where Georgia’s arrest total approached — and last year even surpassed — double figures. We add those together to reach the obvious conclusion:  Richt is too easy on his players.

But we’ve seen signs that Mr. Softee is casting a colder eye. Maybe this is a response to the direction of his …

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Washaun Ealey: From UGA freshman star to yesterday’s man

Washaun Ealey on his big night against Georgia Tech. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Washaun Ealey at work against Georgia Tech in 2010. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

A year ago, Washaun Ealey’s departure from Georgia would have been big news. Today it’s news, but not nearly so big. A year ago, Ealey was the freshman who ran down a Top 10 Georgia Tech team at Bobby Dodd Stadium. In the days since he’d become the guy who kept getting suspended, and then, not incidentally, the guy who’d been rendered almost irrelevant by the tide of time.

Ealey led Georgia in rushing last season, which guaranteed him nothing once Isaiah Crowell signed his letter of intent. In a cruel way, a 21-year-old junior-to-be had already become yesterday’s man.

There were moments when you thought Ealey would be, if not the next Herschel Walker, then maybe the new Musa Smith. Ealey can hit a hole and break a tackle. But he became more a liability than an asset last season by fumbling twice on the goal line and via his vehicular misadventure in the parking garage.

Then he managed to get …

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A wonder: The stubborn Hawks are finally figuring things out

Appearances aside, this is a Josh Smith happy face. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

This is a Josh Smith happy face. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

They’re two games from the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 1994, and even then they weren’t that close. (They trailed 3-1, won Game 5 here but returned to Indianapolis for Game 6. The end.) For a real antecedent, we flash back to the most famous playoff series in Atlanta Hawks annals, to Round 2 in 1988.

The Hawks trailed the Celtics 2-0 and appeared bound for the usual Boston beatdown, whereupon they won Games 3 and 4 here and, wonder of wonders, took Game 5 in the old Boston Garden. They had two chances to win once, and they lost each — the first, at the old Omni, was a whiff; the second, back in Boston, was a classic — by two points.

Twenty-three years later, the Hawks again have a real Round 2 shot. They’ve surprised the No. 1 seed twice already, first by stealing a march in Game 1, again by refusing to succumb in Sunday’s Game 4. Coming into the series minus Kirk Hinrich, winning one game …

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A significant Hawks question: What is Josh Smith doing?

It's tempting to write a caption. But do we really need one? (AP photo)

It's tempting to write a caption for this photo. But do we really need one? (AP photo)

Chicago – It was one moment in a lost Game 2, but it was what we Atlantans have come to regard as a  Josh Smith Moment. The Hawks had taken a rebound and pushed the ball, which came to Smith in the left corner. With 21 seconds remaining on the shot clock, he hoisted a 3-pointer.

Yes, he was open. The Hawks’ swift transition had left the Bulls scattered. But no, it wasn’t a good shot. Even had it fallen — and it didn’t — it was a lousy shot. Watching, the only response was: “What are you doing?”

A stipulation: I like Josh Smith a lot. He’s among my favorite contemporary Atlanta athletes, and there was a time when I’d have said he was my absolute fave. But I have no idea what he’s doing anymore.

To say he’s killing the Hawks would be inaccurate. They won Round 1 and are level in Round 2. But they’ve done it while their most talented player has, over the past three games, missed 29 of 39 …

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Even in a tepid Game 2, the Hawks make the No. 1 seed work

On cue, the Bulls defended harder in Game 2. (AP photo)

On cue, the Bulls defended harder in Game 2. (AP photo)

Chicago – Once again the Hawks had seized a series lead, and once again the opponent was essentially calling them front-runners. After Wednesday morning’s shootaround, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said: “That’s who they are. When they shoot the ball well, they’re a very confident team.”

The flip side: If you feel good about yourself only when you’re hitting, what happens when you miss? Do you melt into a little round puddle, like the Wicked Witch of the West, with only your sneakers left as residue?

The Bulls believed their Game 1 loss was a function not of what the Hawks did, but what they were allowed to do. Thibodeau again: “They made some shots early, and it gave them confidence. When a team does that, it’s hard to slow down.”

That’s true. And the Hawks are pretty good at getting ahead: In the first seven games of this postseason, they had a double-figure lead in six. (This surely trumps falling behind by 30, which the …

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Live from Round 2, Game 2: Will the Hawks go bullistic again?

Hawks fans, rejoice! Josh Smith was out early working on post moves! (Photo by M. Bradley)

Hawks fans, rejoice! Josh Smith was out early working on post moves! (Photo by M. Bradley)

Chicago — Tricky game upcoming. The Hawks are feeling great about themselves after winning Game 1, but sometimes when the Hawks are feeling great they forget to play. (See Game 5 of Round 1.)

The Bulls are miffed. After this morning’s shootaround at their practice facility, coach Tom Thibodeau was still peeved. “They beat us to loose balls,” he said. “They beat us to second shots.”

Then he said: “Give them credit — they’re playing at a high level.”

Only it didn’t sound as if Thibodeau was in a credit-giving mood. He thought his team’s D — and he’s a defensive man — was wretched. Someone asked if the Bulls would seek to applay more pressure on the fill-in guard Jeff Teague.

Thibodeau: “Some would be good.”

Some injury updates: Derrick Rose looked fine to me this morning. And the Bulls insist Carlos Boozer’s tender tootsie is coming around nicely. So they should have no excuses if they …

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Heading into Game 2, the burden of proof falls all on the Bulls

The Bulls are practicing behind the shades. I can hear them. (Photo by M. Bradley)

The Bulls are practicing behind the shades. I can hear them. (Photo by M. Bradley)

Deerfield, Ill. – I’m here at the Berto Center, where the Chicago Bulls are holding their shootaround today. On Tuesday the Bulls staged their second awards presentation in three days, this one to hand Derrick Rose his trophy as the NBA’s most valuable player. (On Sunday they’d had a similar shindig for Tom Thibodeau, just voted the league’s coach the year.)

Very soon, the honored Bulls will need to win an actual game. They trail the Hawks 1-0 in the Eastern semis, and a team can override such a deficit. It would be difficult for any team to rally from an 2-0 hole.

The Bulls aren’t your typical No. 1 seed. They got good fast. They were 41-41 last season, and they went 62-20 in the regular season just completed. And Rose, as terrific as he is, isn’t a full-grown NBA star on the order of Kobe Bryant. At 22, Rose is the NBA’s youngest MVP. He’s three years out of college. He has never before played …

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Tech’s Shumpert stays in the draft but might not get drafted

This performance by Iman Shumpert against Virginia Tech was terrific. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

Iman Shumpert's January outing against Virginia Tech was terrific. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

Here’s one of those times I hope I’m wrong. Because I like Iman Shumpert and I like the way he plays. But I think he’s making a mistake. By choosing to stay in this NBA draft, he has left himself open to the possibility of not being drafted.

I have to say I’m surprised. I thought he’d explore his options and remove his name from NBA consideration, thereby returning to Georgia Tech for his senior season. But it was Paul Hewitt, the man who signed and coached Shumpert, who once said it’s hard for a guy who enters the process of professional basketball to step away. (That’s why Hewitt, and most everyone else, was surprised Gani Lawal removed his name two years ago.)

At Tech, Shumpert was known for being a fierce defender and a one-on-one offensive operator. In the eyes of NBA scouts, he’ll be viewed more critically. He’s a big guard — he’s 6-foot-5 — and that never hurts, but this part …

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