Archive for April, 2012

The Hawks’ Game 2 task: Win when they’re supposed to win

Josh Smith in exulation after the Hawks won Game 1 Sunday night. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Josh Smith exults in the Hawks' emphatic Game 1 victory. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

The greatest favor you can do the Atlanta Hawks is to discount them. They hate that, which is to say they love it.

“[Pundits] help us out a lot by counting us out,” Josh Smith said Monday. “We like to prove people wrong. [Being summarily dismissed] is disrespectful.”

The Hawks are playing the Boston Celtics in a 4-versus-5 series, which by definition should be seen as a coin flip. This one was projected to be a Boston walkover — even though the Hawks held the homecourt edge in the sport where playing at home matters most.

It was as if these were still the callow Hawks of 2008 — the No. 8 seed lugging a losing record — and their opponent was an in-its-prime  Boston team that had won 66 games. Neither of those things is true. These Hawks lost Al Horford, heretofore considered indispensable, in the season’s 11th game and still won more than the Celtics.

To the chattering class, that mattered …

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With Rose out, the Hawks have a path to the Eastern finals

Derrick Rose goes down, and the NBA playoffs go up for grabs. (AP photo)

With Derrick Rose gone, the Eastern Conference has been thrown wide open (AP photo)

The Hawks moved to Atlanta in 1968. While based here, they’ve never won two playoff series in a single season. They may never have a better chance than they do now.

They hold the homecourt edge over Boston in Round 1. (Never mind that the Celtics are favored to win.) Should the Hawks beat the C’s, their Round 2 opponent will be Philadelphia, which has the worst record of any postseason qualifier, or Chicago, which just lost its best player for the duration.

Yes, the Bulls have had ample opportunity to get used to being without Derrick Rose this season, but always before they believed he’d be back for the playoffs. In Game 1 against Philly, with Chicago leading by 12 points with 1:20 remaining, Rose tore his ACL. With him, the Bulls might have won the NBA championship. Without him, they might lose to the 76ers. (Though probably not.)

If you’re the Hawks, you can’t put the cart before its equine …

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Konz: A big man from the Big Ten could fill a big Falcons need

A soaring career path? Once a Badger, Peter Konz will be a Falcon. (AP Photo)

An ascendant career path? Once a Badger, Peter Konz will become a Falcon. (AP Photo)

Flowery Branch – It was the aerialist Karl Wallenda who (supposedly) said: “To be on the wire is life; the rest is waiting.” For an NFL general manager, the essence of vocational life is the draft. It’s the time when a GM, who ordinarily works behind the scenes, takes center stage.

Pick a winner, and you’re the most sagacious human since Socrates. Pick a bum — or pick somebody your constituency doesn’t like — and you’re the bum. The draft is the equivalent of opening night on Broadway, and Thomas Dimitroff of the Falcons had to sit out this opener.

Granted, he had himself to blame. The five-for-one Julio Jones trade last spring shipped the Falcons’ 2012 first-round pick to Cleveland. Asked last week if it felt weird being sidelined for the draft’s Round 1, which is held on a Thursday night to much fanfare, Dimitroff said this:

“I’m not sure if ‘weird’ is the word. It’s something that we have …

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Remember how the Braves needed to get going? They have

Chipper puts the Braves ahead. He's done that before. (AP photo)

Chipper puts the Braves ahead. He's done that before. (AP photo)

It wasn’t so long ago — 17 days, to be precise — that we noted that the 2012 Atlanta Braves’ window of opportunity mightn’t be as panoramic as that of most teams embarking on a six-month season. The Braves, as we know, were coming off a regrettable September, and they’d started 0-4 against teams slotted to finish last in their respective divisions. To which we said: Yikes.

Today we say: That window has grown so broad that on a clear day you almost can see October.

The Braves have won 12 of 15, taking five consecutive series in the process. They’re tied with St. Louis as having the third-best record in the National League and the fourth-best in baseball. Yes, they’re 2 1/2 games behind Washington, which has caught a flying start, but they’re three games ahead of Philadelphia and four up on Miami. And — get this — they’ve scored the most runs of any NL club.

The team that couldn’t hit is hitting .261, up from last …

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The Samuel trade: Another validation of Falcons management

I believe these men know what they're doing. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

I firmly believe these men know what they're doing. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

I understand that not winning is disappointing. What I couldn’t understand was the amount of vitriol directed toward the Falcons this offseason. They were Doing Nothing. (As if keeping eight key free agents was tantamount to nothing.) They were Content With Mediocrity. (As if four consecutive winning seasons could be deemed mediocre.) They needed — this is always a personal favorite — to Show More Urgency. (As if hyperventilation is a hallmark of clever management.)

I understand that we as a society demand instant gratification at all times. What I couldn’t understand was the utter misreading of the Falcons as an organization. Being a member of the media offers access that the general public doesn’t get, so I can excuse the masses for not knowing better. But anyone who has been around the Falcons since January 2008 surely must know that Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith are not men who spend their …

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Video: On Jair Jurrjens’ demotion – a crisis of confidence?

Continue reading Video: On Jair Jurrjens’ demotion – a crisis of confidence? »

Jurrjens to the minors: How does a good pitcher go so bad?

Jair Jurrjens on a dark Monday in L.A. (AP photo)

Jair Jurrjens on a dark Monday in L.A. (AP photo)

I wonder if this would have happened in the days before pitch speed became a measurement available on ballpark scoreboards and TV broadcasts. I wonder if Jair Jurrjens would be headed for the minor leagues if those on the periphery didn’t keep harping about his velocity, or lack of same.

By any measure, Jurrjens has been awful over his four starts. He has lasted five innings in only one of them, and the reason he’s 0-2 and not 0-4 is that his team scored 10 runs for him in Start No. 2 and 14 in No. 3. His ERA is 9.37. Opponents are hitting .411 against him. On Monday in Los Angeles he faced 17 batters; 10 reached, five scored.

Jurrjens is pitching so badly that it can’t be called pitching at all. At issue is why he’s not pitching. Speculation continues to swirl that he’s hurt, although he and the Braves deny it. By sending him to Class AAA Gwinnett, as opposed to parking him on the disabled list, the Braves have sent a powerful …

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Tony Parker picks UCLA over UGA, which needed him more

This isn't football. Georgia doesn't get everybody it wants. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

This isn't football. Georgia doesn't get everybody it wants. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

The most accomplished player in the history of Georgia high school basketball announced Monday that he would play collegiately three time zones away. He’d been recruited hard by the flagship university of the state he’d dominated, but Tony Parker declined to remain, to use his phrase, “a hometown hero.”

Then Parker said this: “That would have been the easy way out.”

If you’re Mark Fox, who coaches the Georgia Bulldogs, you’re surely wondering if there will be an easy way. Fox has signed two of Parker’s Miller Grove teammates, and through force of will he elbowed his way onto a short list that was essentially a Mount Rushmore of college hoops. And still: No sale.

“They got in there,” said Norman Parker (no relation), who’s president of the AAU Georgia Stars, for whom Tony Parker played summer ball. “Just to be in that lineup sends the message that Georgia is getting there.”

Trouble is, …

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Tech’s spring game does nothing to change its QB rotation

Paul Johnson in a festive Friday mood. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Paul Johnson in a festive Friday mood. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Georgia Tech wrapped it in a nice new package — a spring football game on a Friday night in the big city — but inside was still a spring football game. There was live music (and not just the pep-band stuff) before and after, and there were postgame fireworks, and an announced crowd of 18,125 was on hand to see …

Spring football. Which meant nothing much was revealed.

If you’re a Tech fan and you were hoping for a quarterback to unseat incumbent Tevin Washington, you left disappointed. If you’re a Washington fan and you were rooting for your man to lap the field, you didn’t get your wish. The QB situation at GT remained SQ (status quo): Washington is surely the starter unless/until Synjyn Days or Vad Lee snatches the job from him, and it’s unthinkable that any such theft will occur before the Jackets open at Virginia Tech on Labor Day night.

Let’s be honest: Days, who’ll be a redshirt sophomore, has played …

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Why the Julio Jones trade made – and still makes – sense

We haven't yet seen the best of Julio Jones, but this was a hint. (AP photo)

We haven't yet seen the best of Julio Jones, but this touchdown was a hint. (AP photo)

Flowery Branch – Reaction to the Falcons’ leap of 21 slots to grab Julio Jones last April was swift and damning, and the criticism has regained traction as the team approaches the 2012 draft without a first-round pick. Now as then, the argument against the move can be stated this way: “You can’t trade five picks for a wide receiver.”

And here’s where I make like Michael Corleone in “The Godfather” when his older (and dumber) brother Sonny insists you can’t shoot a New York City police captain even if he is in cahoots with the knife-wielding Sollozzo. Patiently Michael lays out the reasons why, just this once, you could. Here’s where I tell you why dealing for Julio Jones was, contrary to popular belief, altogether right and proper.

1. Because the Falcons didn’t want just “a” wide receiver. General manager Thomas Dimitroff coveted either A.J. Green of Georgia, taken by Cincinnati with the …

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