HOU 100 ATL 103: Consistency. It can be evasive. Or when you’re the Spurs it can be as reliable as a six year old’s favorite blanket – always there, ready to wrap itself around you to commandeer you through some of life’s most inglorious moments. For the Hawks, consistency is a word too unfamiliar for a professional basketball team, at least when the term is used positively. Not anymore. After a decade of impotence on the basketball court, Hawks basketball is back and with a vengeance.
Don’t look now but the Hawks sit at 22-11, 3.5 games behind the Southeast Division leading Orlando Magic. With a home and home upcoming this Wednesday and Friday against those division leaders, the Hawks could slice that lead down to a game and a half. For those who don’t remember, the Hawks torched the Magic in the season opener in Orlando. The Magic won’t be so kind as to dish out a repeat performance this week. Not at all. Orlando currently sits within the NBA’s “elite four,” joined by L.A., Cleveland and Boston. Expect two battles which should go a long way towards setting the tone for the race to the top of the division this year.
But let’s take a step back. How did these young Hawks get to this point? In one word: consistency. Something clicked on the Hawks most recent eight game home stretch. They shared the ball and established the requisite “flow” on offense. Joe Johnson decided he needed to put even more trust in his teammates, and that he has done, culminating in a ridiculous 14 assists in Saturday’s win vs. Houston. (In the last 12 games, Johnson has averaged 7.1 assists/game.) Josh Smith realized 99% of the time he’s the most talented athlete on the court and decided to use that athleticism to his advantage by attacking the rim (don’t tell me you missed his thunderous dunk off that putback vs. Houston). And how can we forget the work Mike Bibby has put in. The dude looks like he did in those deep playoff run days in Sac-town, where he was the only one man enough to take a shot with time expiring. Bibby is the second clutch shooter the Hawks need, and one Joe Johnson can defer to when he’s double teamed down the stretch.
Even Zaza Pachulia, the international man of mystery is getting into the act, posting quality efforts in his last eight games. Pachulia has always been a load on the offensive boards, but his game has surprisingly round into shape offensively. The Georgian center has established a comfort level with using his left hand on drives to the hoop. Moreover, he’s spotting up on offensive positions in locations where he can make a difference in the scoring column. Pachulia has also been helped by consistent minutes, which (gulp) are a product of Woody’s now dependable rotation. Now if Woody can only find a way to introduce Acie Law to the rotation…
I’m as big a stat geek as any. Statistics generally don’t lie, and I view Hollinger’s PER as a strong indicator of the general value of an NBA player. But stats aside, the Hawks performance on the court through the view of the naked eye has simply looked different. Numbers cannot quantify “flow” and “rhythm.” They cannot measure trust and familiarity. Those, however, are the traits which have the Hawks on the rise. Traits, which if the Hawks continue to exhibit, will have them consistently rising to the top of playoff seeding.