The Hawks end a sour stretch with a rather sweet victory

Zaza Pachulia pushes Dwight Howard out of his comfort zone. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Zaza Pachulia pushes Dwight Howard out of his comfort zone. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Before Thursday’s game, Larry Drew was asked to characterize the first half of what has been, even by the Hawks’ schizo standards, a strange season. “Given what the schedule was and our situation with injuries,” the coach said, “I have to be pleased overall.”

And you know what? He’s right. Sort of.

The Hawks hit the All-Star break third in the Southeast Division and sixth in the Eastern Conference, and if , before this truncated season began, you’d where this team might rank, third and sixth would have seemed reasonable responses. But, these being the Hawks, they didn’t track a path anyone would have predicted.

They started hot, saw Al Hoford lost to injury and somehow got hotter. On the morning of Feb. 2, no Eastern team had fewer losses than the Hawks. Then, as if on cue, this plucky bunch lost all semblance of pluck.

The Hawks reported for work Thursday having lost eight of their past 11 games, and the eight losses weren’t a string of heartbreaks. They were, to be blunt, a series of heartless non-efforts that you wouldn’t expect from any professional aggregation, let alone a team holding a winning record. In only one of the eight losses had the Hawks not trailed by 20 points, and in three they’d fallen behind by 30.

“We’ll never position ourselves to be making excuses,” Drew said, and then he mentioned the injuries and the schedule again, which made it sound as if he was … er, making excuses. And it’s true that this latest five-game road swing was a bear, and it’s true that it ended with the Hawks missing not just Horford but Joe Johnson, too.  (Still, Hawks were getting blown out before they ceded Philips Arena to the circus and before Johnson was scratched with tendinitis.)

The three-week plunge from 16-6 to 19-14 took the edge off the season’s first half. Yet again, the Hawks had run into quality opposition and done their incredible shrinking act. Yet again, we were given cause to doubt this team and its bona fides. Were the Hawks as good as their record? If so, why do they get blown out so often?

Asked if, without Horford and Johnson, his team simply doesn’t have enough players, Drew said: “We’ve got plenty of guys to compete.” Then his guys went out and proved two key points:

Yes, they do still have enough players.

Yes, they do possess more than a dollop of professional pride.

The team that had trailed at the half of its past three games by an aggregate 58 points led this one by 17. Josh Smith (14 first-half points) and sub Jannero Pargo (15) had nearly matched the Magic (30) by themselves. The Hawks had defended smartly — even without Jason Collins to pester him, Dwight Howard only mustered four points in the half — and banked 21 fast-break points to Orlando’s two.

Said Smith: “We played like a desperate team … We played the way we’re capable of playing.”

As quick as you could say, “Where has this effort been?”, you were wondering where it went. Twenty seconds into the fourth quarter, the game was tied. (That’s the thing about the NBA — not all blowouts remain blowouts.) Were the Hawks about to close the season’s first half by throwing away a game at the end, as opposed to the beginning?

Nope. They rebuilt the lead to eight points, saw it dwindle to one, then put it away. The game’s key sequence: Smith missed a jumper, but Zaza Pachulia outfought Howard, who the league’s leading rebounder, and fed Willie Green in the corner. Green’s 3-pointer made it 72-68. The Magic would get no closer than three thereafter.

Speaking before the game, Drew had said, “Going into the all-star break, this would be really big.” And, even if it was technically only a Thursday night game in February, it seemed rather essential in the grand scheme.

“We still have to limit those [blowout losses],” Smith said, “but it was definitely good not to lose by double digits — or to lose, period.”

The Hawks, who’ve mostly lost to plus-.500 teams this season, beat one of those. (Albeit the only one the Hawks have come to own.) After three lousy weeks, they gave themselves a warm and fuzzy memory to mull over the five-day hiatus, and they gave their questioning audience reason to think there might be hope for this strange team after all.

By Mark Bradley

67 comments Add your comment

James Adams

February 23rd, 2012
10:48 pm

Reggie Ball

February 23rd, 2012
10:49 pm

Atleast it wasnt Linbarrassing

Mark Bradley

February 23rd, 2012
10:50 pm

Kudos, James Adams.

You’re the first, unlike John Adams, who was second behind George Washington.

James Adams

February 23rd, 2012
10:52 pm

John Adams was only second due to dial-up connection, most assuredly.

doc

February 23rd, 2012
11:08 pm

was there, not pretty, but a relief to se them win again. figured this to be a tough month and to see them not compete was worrying and frustrating. as bad as february looked i see march even more difficult because of the way yh ames come at them.

mark, did dwight look like he was saving himself for a run at the end of the season to you too? he was no where to be found on many plays and may have gotten a few goal tending calls over looked by the refs to boot.

Ra'mon

February 23rd, 2012
11:14 pm

Mark, would you allow LD to finish out this season if you were the GM?

Also could you do a story of 4-5 players who the Hawks should make a run at on the trade front?

falCANS

February 23rd, 2012
11:42 pm

all hail JSmoove

SNU

February 23rd, 2012
11:55 pm

Marvin wanted to spread his “offensive wings” and put up a big 2 points. Sund should trade him for parking spaces.

Mark Bradley

February 23rd, 2012
11:56 pm

I don’t think there’s any chance Drew gets fired in-season. His team is 20-14.

As for Howard: I’ve never seen him do less.

ugakev

February 24th, 2012
12:07 am

Mark, it just gives me the hope that maybe we can trade 2 of our good players for a superstar and become elite. I know its easier said than done though with Joes contract and Horford being injured.

Grandmaster JeJe

February 24th, 2012
12:15 am

Marvin 2 points in last 49 game minutes

GT Alum

February 24th, 2012
12:16 am

The Hawks have to be so grateful for Orlando. Even when they can’t beat any other winning teams, they know they’ve got Orlando in their back pockets. The worst thing about this season is it basically guarantees another season next year with almost all the same faces and almost all the same results.

Funny how that didn’t bother me with the Hawks of the 90s. I think it’s because I really believed they were limited by their talent. And management actually tried to improve the talent level. Sure, they failed, and their attempts ended up plunging the Hawks into basketball hell for about a decade, but at least it seemed like everyone in the organization was reacing for the brass ring, even if their reach did exceed their grasp. With these Hawks, you get the feeling that everyone is satisfied with the status quo, or at least happy enough to not try tor something better.

Mark Bradley

February 24th, 2012
12:16 am

I’m not sure the Hawks have anyone to trade other than Josh Smith. Nobody wants Marvin. Nobody wants Hinrich. Nobody wants Joe’s contract. And Horfy’s hurt.

GT Alum

February 24th, 2012
12:20 am

I kniw no one wants Capt Kirk for him, but you don’t think his expiring contract has any value?

Mark Bradley

February 24th, 2012
12:24 am

Not to a good team it wouldn’t. And I’m not sure you’d want anything a bad team has.

Atl teams = CHOKE

February 24th, 2012
12:27 am

But Mark, can they win in the playoffs?

Mark Bradley is a hater

February 24th, 2012
12:30 am

Y do u make excuses for the falcons lousy play but always kill this team? I knw they have played lousy lately but if this was the falcons u would be giving us every excuse in the world. The fact remains the falcons have YET TO WIN A DAMN PLAYOFF GAME and Matt Ryan is not a rookie

Mark Bradley

February 24th, 2012
12:32 am

If they draw Orlando in Round 1, the Hawks can win.

Spyro

February 24th, 2012
12:33 am

That last stretch sucked, but to be 20-14 before the break with Horford is something.

And to think about it, Smoove not being an all-star may be a good thing. He finally gets to rest up for an extended period.

Atl teams = CHOKE

February 24th, 2012
12:38 am

Orlando is the ONLY team that the Hawks can beat. It seems after the 2010 playoffs debacle, they built this team for the sole purpose of beating Orlando and no one else.

J.J.M.

February 24th, 2012
12:38 am

can we trade marvin for angel mccoughtry

GT Alum

February 24th, 2012
12:38 am

Bad teams generally have some quality players. I’m sure we could find someone who would be an improvement over Marvin. The problem would be finding a team that’s bad, has a player we want, and is desperate enough for cap space to trade that player without getting much other than an expiring contract in return. The bigger question is would the Hawks be willing to take equal salary back, considering they’d probably have an even harder time filling out the bench without going into the luxury tax than they did this year.

Atl teams = CHOKE

February 24th, 2012
12:41 am

@ Mark Bradley is a hater

This is not about the Falcons. The Falcons are the only Atl team that has a legit shot at a title. But in the end they are still an Atlanta team. The Braves, Falcons, Hawks are all postseason CHOKERS. Sadly, we will always have a team thats good, but not good enough.

Atl teams = CHOKE

February 24th, 2012
12:42 am

Marvin for Trevor Ariza?

Najeh Davenpoop

February 24th, 2012
12:46 am

Kirk’s expiring contract would have value to any team that wants to shed salary, and that encompasses most of the league’s teams. The only catch is that the Hawks would likely have to take back a multi-year deal if they trade Kirk for someone. But if they get creative with some team with a desperate enough guard situation where Kirk would be a short term upgrade, they may be able to get someone of value in return who helps bolster their currently abysmal front court depth.

Najeh Davenpoop

February 24th, 2012
12:48 am

“The Falcons are the only Atl team that has a legit shot at a title”

On what basis do you conclude that they have a legit shot at a title? What have they shown you in four years to make you think a title is in their future?

Joe

February 24th, 2012
12:48 am

Went to the game and it was worth it. Initially wanted to stay home and watch Heat-Knicks but thanks to the dvr, watching now, decided to go. Hawks came out playing well although it appeared neither team could hit a shot. Heinrich started and was pretty awful. The fun started when Pargo came in and started lighting it up. Which brings up a point. The rotations early in the season looked good. However when Kirk came back, things started going south. Teague and Pargo lost minutes and Kirk wasn’t bringing much to the table.
The other thing bothersome is some of Teagues’ decisions. While the Hawks were still up big in the 2nd half, Teague had a wide open three but decided to drive instead causing a turnover which allowed the Magic to come down and make there own 3. At the least 5 point swing. From there the Magic were able to get back in the game. Teague should have taken the shot. These are the kind of plays that have plagued the Hawks most of this swoon.
Fortunately they got it together and the fans went home happy. Which is all we folks that go to the games want.
Let’s hope the break gets most of the guys healthy and ready to close strong. Hell, I love going to the games especially when the crowd is behind the home team and I’ve got tickets to about eight more games.

Joe

February 24th, 2012
12:54 am

Oh yeah and Marvin is an absolute waste of flesh as an NBA player. Anybody that thinks the Hawks can get any value for him, needs to put down the crack pipe. Ain’t happening!

Atl teams = CHOKE

February 24th, 2012
12:54 am

Najeh

I didn’t say that a title is in the future of the Falcons. Im just saying that out of our 3 professional men’s teams, the Falcons are the only one that have the ability to win one. Why? Because anything can happen in the NFL. You cant predict the NFL. The MLB and NBA are somewhat predictable.

Atl teams = CHOKE

February 24th, 2012
12:56 am

As of now, NONE of our teams are title contenders. But if you had to choose the closest, its the Falcons. The Hawks aren’t gonna get out of the second round, until Joe leaves. The Braves will just choke if they make the playoffs.

JSS

February 24th, 2012
12:57 am

Atl teams = CHOKE
February 24th, 2012
12:41 am
“@ Mark Bradley is a hater This is not about the Falcons. The Falcons are the only Atl team that has a legit shot at a title.”

Is J.J. Abrams directing this alternate universe version of reality? Cause only in the world of fiction is that statement true! SMDH!

Atl teams = CHOKE

February 24th, 2012
12:58 am

JSS, so you think the Braves or the Hawks will one before the Falcons do?

Joe

February 24th, 2012
12:59 am

Watching this heat-Knicks. Freaking like the flying Wallendas.

Najeh Davenpoop

February 24th, 2012
1:13 am

“anything can happen in the NFL. You cant predict the NFL. The MLB and NBA are somewhat predictable.”

Fair enough. I can agree with that part.

JSS

February 24th, 2012
1:18 am

It only takes 3 players hot to get you to a NBA Finals… You can get to an NBA Finals with a flawed Super Star (Remember the Iverson Sixers, the Howard Magic, and the LeBron Cavs)?

The Braves and the Falcons need a perfect storm to even get out of a first round… So heck ya, that is state of the game…

Mark Bradley

February 24th, 2012
1:19 am

I think the baseball postseason is the least predictable of all sports.

Mark Bradley is a hater

February 24th, 2012
1:22 am

It may not be about the falcons but I’m so tired of this falcons team getting a pass because of what yall golden boy who chokes in the playoffs just like most of yall like to say about Joe. I just call a spade a spade. The falcons also get a pass because of the love affair with Arthur Blank. The eagles are not going anywhere,the giants are not going anywhere, the panthers are just gonna get better with cam and we Knw what the packers and saints can do and so on and so forth. B4 we talk about SB with the falcons WIN A DAMN PLAYOFFF GAME FIRST crawl b4 u walk.

Mark Bradley is a hater

February 24th, 2012
1:25 am

well the NY Giants,eagles,NO, Panthers etc are not going anywhere either it is not going to be as easy as this city thinks for the falcons.

Atl teams = CHOKE

February 24th, 2012
1:28 am

Joe Johnson isn’t a superstar, he isn’t even a flawed superstar. He can’t accidentally carry the Hawks to the Finals. I would be glad if he decides to show up in the postseason.

Atl teams = CHOKE

February 24th, 2012
1:30 am

The truth is, the city of Atlanta won’t be seeing a NFL, NBA, or MLB title anytime soon.

Atl teams = CHOKE

February 24th, 2012
1:35 am

@ Mark Bradely is a hater.

Don’t you think that Arthur Blank is the only one at least making an effort to bring a tittle to this city? the other two owners aren’t doing anything. Thats why the people of Atlanta support Blank. Blank is spend money, making big moves, taking risks. Granted those risks have yielded any positive results, but the man is trying.

JSS

February 24th, 2012
1:39 am

Atl teams = CHOKE
February 24th, 2012
1:28 am
“Joe Johnson isn’t a superstar”

Who said Joe Johnson? I’m not a propaganda mouthpiece… I’ll take the Dollar Tree Flawed 3 of Smith, Johnson, and the Invisible Ghosts (Marvin or Horford, they interchangable because they are both capable of being Casper) over Matt Ryan and the pray, hope, and wish crew… And as long as Chipper Jones is around and no one named young John Smoltz, young Tom Glavine, Greg Maddox, and Clutch David Justice around when the rest of the slumpers go silent in September, then the Braves wouldn’t be doing diddly!

Atl teams = CHOKE

February 24th, 2012
1:43 am

The Hawks are a good team with a terrible ownership. Like a previous MB article stated, at least they have done this much with a group of incompetent owners running them.

Buddy Grizzard

February 24th, 2012
2:01 am

If you watched Orlando beat the Lakers on Jan. 20th, you saw Dwight completely dominate Andrew Bynum, the All-Star starter at center for the Western Conference. That was Dwight Howard when he’s trying.

James Adams

February 24th, 2012
3:01 am

I think the only teams the Hawks can’t beat in a best of 7 are the Heat and Bulls. Indiana is sloppy, the Knicks are going to overuse Jeremy Lin and Philly is coached by Doug Collins. If Horford comes back before playoff time, I think the Hawks will advance as long as they are a 4-6 seed.

Dr. Warren

February 24th, 2012
4:25 am

Even if Horford comes back, he won’t be in playoff shape. And it seems highly unlikely he will come back. But I like the way you think, nonetheless.

superiorblogman

February 24th, 2012
5:58 am

Marvin Williams+Kirk Hinrich+ next year, not this year’s 1st rd pick+a 2nd rd pick for Al Jefferson.

Marvin Williams+Kirk for Antwan Jamison straight up.

I don’t see anything else shaking up for the Hawks. We are stuck with this team but I think we finsih 37-29 and get the 5th or 6th seed as constructed.

I guess we just have to hope that Drummond falls like De-Andre Jordan, or Perry Jones just gets a crazy amount of hate and falls to us so we get finally get that Marvin taste out of our mouths.

Owners Tank

February 24th, 2012
6:22 am

Any way we could get Chris Paul or Deron Williams for Marvin? Surely we could just explain that we were confused in the draft room and made a mistake. I mean, we did have Speedy Claxton as our starting point guard as well as like 4 small forwards on the roster at the time. No, we can’t. And its because of that draft, the one that comes along every 20 years where you have a chance to get a hall of fame player but you draft a Marvin Williams, the Hawks will be mediocre for the next 20 years.

Owners Tank

February 24th, 2012
6:34 am

Then to top it off, these idiots actually paid Big Booty Boy(a.k.a. Marvin Williams) another $40+ mil. to stay around even longer. Was this out of spite or are you really just that dumb?

WestEndAtlantaHawks

February 24th, 2012
6:53 am

@Dr. Warren

“Even if Horford comes back, he won’t be in playoff shape. And it seems highly unlikely he will come back. But I like the way you think, nonetheless.”

Now this I can’t agree with because this happen to one future HOF in Tim Duncan. Different injuries but when you talk about if he returns in the playoff, me personally, I think he could put this off (Horford). Think about this, in the 1999-2000 season it was a short season due to the lockout. However, the Spurs had a disappointing post-season. Duncan injured his meniscus shortly before the end of the regular season and was unable to play in even one post-season game. My point is if its a will then its a way and if Al Horford returns with a healthy Hawks squad, I don’t see why they can’t at least be in conference finals against the BULLS because I can stand Miami even with three guys in there prime leading the way, yeah last I checked we beat them once and yeah they’ve gotten two over us but that first game was when both squads were healthy and we won that battle..