Archive for May, 2011

The Hawks are playing great. So what the heck happened?

Al Horford menaces Carlos Boozer. So who's got the upper hand now? (AP photo)

Al Horford menaces Carlos Boozer. So who's got the upper hand now? (AP photo)

Chicago — More than just disappointing, the way the Hawks played this regular season was maddening. A team of such talent shouldn’t lose 38 games, shouldn’t be beaten so badly at home, shouldn’t be outscored over an 82-game schedule. But that’s in the past, and that team is not this team.

In the 17 days since the playoffs began, the Hawks have become something else. They’ve become the team we suspected was there all along — a team of surpassing skill and depth, a team that understands, as Joe Johnson said before practice Tuesday, “we can beat any team in this league.”

Yeah, we’ve heard that before. We’ve heard it since the Hawks forced the champs-to-be Boston Celtics to the wall in 2008. But now, for the first time in a while, we’re seeing it. We’ve been reminded that the gushing opposing coaches keep doing over the Hawks’ personnel isn’t just lip service.

Not many teams can put more good players on …

Continue reading The Hawks are playing great. So what the heck happened? »

Just how great were the Hawks in Game 1? Very, I say

A flying start by Jeff Teague sent the Hawks into the lead in Round 2. (AP photo)

A flying start by Jeff Teague helped send the Hawks into the Round 2 lead. (AP photo)

Chicago – Well, I give up. (Almost.)

Without Kirk Hinrich, I said the Hawks would do well to win a game in Round 2, and they’ve already won one and they looked good enough to win more. The NBA’s most efficient defensive team couldn’t guard Joe Johnson or Jamal Crawford or even Jeff Teague. As happened against Orlando, the Hawks were the aggressor from the opening tip.

And now I ask yet again: Where was this team from October through April 15?

To recap: The Hawks lost 20 of their final 31 games; they were 6-18 against opponents that finished as 50-game winners; they were outscored over the 82 games of the regular season. And now …

They’re leading the team that finished with the league’s best record.

I’m headed to practice soon, and I plan to address this strange crew at greater length this afternoon. But I just want to say: I’ve been watching the Hawks for a long, long time, and I don’t know …

Continue reading Just how great were the Hawks in Game 1? Very, I say »

With Teague at the tiller, the Hawks take a stunning Game 1

Talk about point-guard poise under pressure: Jeff Teague in Game 1. (AP photo)

Talk about point-guard poise under pressure: Jeff Teague lifts the Hawks past the Bulls in a shocking Game 1. (AP photo)

Chicago – One man’s misstep is another man’s opportunity: That’s the way of sports. Kirk Hinrich was imported at weighty cost to be the Hawks’ postseason defensive stopper, but one vital basket with three minutes left in Round 1 left Hinrich with an iffy hamstring and the Hawks with a massive dilemma.

Derrick Rose is the Bulls’ point guard. He’ll soon be announced as the NBA’s most valuable player. Hinrich was supposed to guard him, but Hinrich might not play this series. And unto the breach steps …

Jeff Teague, who didn’t work 10 minutes in Round 1.

Two years out of Wake Forest, Teague has become a flash point for Hawks’ fans. Some feel he’s the point guard of the future and has been poorly served by two different head coaches. Pragmatists ask instead: If the dissimilar  Mike Woodson and Larry Drew were both loath to play Teague, is he an NBA guard at …

Continue reading With Teague at the tiller, the Hawks take a stunning Game 1 »

Live from Round 2: Is this winna-Bull for the hurtin’ Hawks?

Jeff Teague, who didn't play 10 minutes in Round 1, will be a big man in Round 2. (Photo by M. Bradley)

Jeff Teague, who didn't play 10 minutes in Round 1, will be a big man in Round 2. (Photo by M. Bradley)

Chicago – Not many folks gave the Hawks a chance against Orlando. I was among the minority. Even fewer observers are giving them a prayer against the Bulls, and I admit I’ve joined them. I was prepared to pick Chicago in six, but without Kirk Hinrich I’m not sure the Hawks take a game.

The Hawks were 3-1 against the Magic in the regular season, 1-2 against the Bulls. The three Atlanta-Chicago games were played in March. The Hawks won the first, surging from 19 points behind on a night Josh Smith left injured. It was the season’s most impressive performance, but there was no follow-through. The Hawks then lost to the Bulls by 18 here and, in the season’s least impressive performance, lost by 31 points at Philips Arena after trailing by 47.

That’s right. The Hawks trailed the team they’re about to play by 47 points on their own floor. That prompted this writer to opine that …

Continue reading Live from Round 2: Is this winna-Bull for the hurtin’ Hawks? »

Another Monday morning at the airport, 9 1/2 years later

For some reason, I felt like buying newspapers today. (Photo by M. Bradley)

For some reason, I felt like buying a bunch of newspapers today. (Photo by M. Bradley)

Chicago — It was a Monday morning at the airport, and I was recalling a Monday morning at the same airport. The date was Sept. 17, 2001.

It was the day commercial air traffic resumed in this country, and I was headed to Philadelphia for a Braves’ series. (Baseball had stopped playing, too.) It was a morning when no one knew what to expect. There wasn’t much conversation at the gate. My flight was half-full. Everyone aboard eyed those nearby very closely.

That trip would eventually take me to New York (via train) and to Ground Zero — the immensity of which could not be conveyed via TV — and ultimately to the old Shea Stadium where the Braves faced the Mets in the first sporting event in New York after Sept. 11.

As grim as the ruins of Lower Manhattan were, everything after was somehow uplifting. Just seeing a firefighter on the subway made me gawk as if he was Michael Jordan. Seeing the …

Continue reading Another Monday morning at the airport, 9 1/2 years later »

The Falcons’ No. 1 choice: Julio Jones or the eighth-best DE

"We did get the right name, didn't we? You're not Mr. Carimi, are you?"

"We did get the right name, didn't we? You're not Mr. Carimi, are you?" (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Before we leave the NFL draft, we need ask a simple question: Were you the Falcons, would you rather have had the second-best-at-worst receiver in this class or the eighth-best defensive end? Because the rationale for trading up to take Julio Jones lies therein.

The Falcons entered the draft needing — pardon the repetition — an explosive player either on offense or defense. On defense, the target was a pass rusher. On offense, it was a pass catcher. If the Falcons were ranking their needs, DE might have been 1-A to WR’s 1-B. The point being: It was that close.

But the Falcons were picking 27th, not first. They weren’t going to get the best defensive end. Indeed, had they kept their pick they could have had the eighth-rated DE on their board, and the eighth-best defensive end of a given draft crop isn’t guaranteed to be an immediate starter, let alone a explosive force.

Julio …

Continue reading The Falcons’ No. 1 choice: Julio Jones or the eighth-best DE »

Draft grades: Mel still isn’t crazy about what the Falcons did

"You better be good, Julio. You're killing my GPA." (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

"You'd better be good, Julio. You're killing my GPA." (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Nobody who works in the NFL likes to admit he reads draft grades, but everybody does. The Falcons weren’t thrilled last season when the famous Mel Kiper of ESPN awarded them a C-minus for their work, and it’s a fair guess they won’t be planning any ticker-tape parades for Mr. Kiper’s next visit to Flowery Branch.

Because Mel has handed them a C-plus. (Link requires registration.)

A word of explanation: Draft analysts hate it when teams trade away trade picks — there’s less to analyze. The Falcons traded several hundred picks (slight exaggeration) to move up 21 spots to grab Julio Jones, the Alabama receiver. Draft analysts also tend to hate it when one player costs a team that much. That said, we turn to Mel:

They gave a boatload of high-value picks for him, and you get a sense that this a team that really views the immediate future as a title window it needs to pursue. I do like the …

Continue reading Draft grades: Mel still isn’t crazy about what the Falcons did »