Category Archives: December (Atlanta Hawks)

dirty bullets

 

The Bulls forgot about Joe Johnson and he made them pay.  (AP Photo/Gregory Smith)

The Bulls forgot about Joe Johnson and he made them pay. (AP Photo/Gregory Smith)

CHI 117 ATL 129: Here are some game notes from the first half of Saturday night’s game.  (I missed the second half due to a previously scheduled engagement.)  

  • Joe Johnson got a lot of open looks, including a couple of wide open threes which he buried.  This was as “in rhythm” as I have seen Joe in a while.  It was a little surprising to see some of the Bulls’ defenders forget about him on defense.  If I were the opposing coach, my game plan would be to double team Joe and let everyone else beat me.  The Bulls apparently did not go with that strategy. 
  • Josh Smith played one of his best games of the season.  I was hard on him in my previous post, but against the Bulls he really attacked the rim.  Smith constantly drove the basketball and was able to draw a number of fouls from Nocioni (who in my opinion is a slow but underrated defender).  You could see “Noc” get under Smith’s skin at times, but Josh held his on and kept battling.  On one play in particular, Josh had the ball about 15 feet out, thought about the long jumper, pump faked and drew the foul on the way to the rim.  A perfect play on that possession. 
  • Pachulia came off the bench and provided some key minutes.  He especially looked comfortable on offense and has started to use his left hand more to finish at the rim.  Assuming the Hawks don’t trade for another big, he’s going to play a huge role down the stretch for this team. 
  • The Bulls set the tempo and Hawks matched it with no problem.  I think its a mistake to tempt these Hawks to run (as the Bulls found out).  There aren’t many teams as athletic as the Hawks who can match their game speed.  
  • Derrick Rose is the next superstar.  No doubt about it.  The dude attacks the rim better than anyone not named Kobe, Lebron and D-Wade.  I saw Marvin at times try to guard him, but Rose was simply to quick to the hoop.  It’s almost as though he’s capable of getting to the rim whenever he sets his mind to it.  If he had a supporting cast – he doesn’t – the Bulls would be legitimate contenders for the 8 seed in the East.  
  • Marvin Williams is quietly improving his game.  While I think his “aggressiveness” meter is turned up to about a 7 (out of 10), he’s playing with increased enthusiasm.  Moreover, he’s distinguished himself as the third scorer on this team.  I think there’s plenty of room for improvement in his game, which is scary given that he’s a pretty good player as is.  
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dee-troit baasketball

A quick note before I delve into this blog post.  Congratulations to the Atlanta Falcons, who have defied all odds by advancing into the NFL playoffs.  Proving all the critics – ahem, Sporting News – wrong, the Dirty Birds have helped get the city of Atlanta excited about professional football again.  While I still think they are a year away from truly being capable of playing for the hardware, I would be stupid to think they didn’t at least have a shot this year.  And a shot, my friends, is sometimes all you need. 

DET 78 ATL 85: Did the Detroit Pistons fall asleep on their way to Atlanta?  While the Pistons started red hot in the first six minutes of the first quarter, they stalled quickly and by the third quarter resembled a Ford Pinto begging to be kicked to the curb.  The Pistons did nothing to resemble the former crew which challenged for the Eastern Conference championship on a yearly basis.  Their proverbial “window” has indeed closed, and it could end up being a sad spectacle as the team races towards the finish line.  Was anyone else shocked to see A.I. disciplined on the bench in crunch time (only to be re-inserted after the Hamilton ejection)?  I guess that’s what happens when you don’t practice.  

While the score indicates a fairly close contest, the Pistons were truthfully never really in the game.  At times they looked lost on offense, not really having a go-to guy to attack the Hawks defense.  While Rasheed Wallace provided a spark down the stretch, he was the end all be all.  (Speaking of Wallace, I have no clue how Joe D. snagged the militant power forward for a mere first round pick from the Hawks; if you have that Rasheed Hawks replica from his one game stint, hold onto it and maybe you can trade it for a second mortgage.)  

What I noticed was simply a younger, better Hawks team running circles around an aging Pistons squad.  Mike Bibby was terrific, hitting a high percentage from deep and attacking the rim on occasion.  For Bibby, on occasion is significantly more than usual.  Anyone questioning Bibby’s importance need only look at his shooting percentage from three point land (.433; good for second best in the league) and the teams’ reliance on him down the stretch (if not Joe, then Bibby).  

While the Hawks really struggled in the fourth quarter, they played a flawless first half.  They played defense, shared the ball, and dominated what amounted to a lethargic Pistons team.  Granted, the Hawks were once again doing their damage at home, where they are 10-2 and for the most part on a tear.  But I think its fair to say the Hawks are here to stay and will challenge for a top 4 seed in the East for the rest of the season.  They could potentially give Orlando a run for their money, although Dwight Howard might have something to say about that.  As for catching Boston and Cleveland, I think it is fair to say that for now, they are in a league of their own. 

BENCH ME: Aside from Murray’s scintillating performance on Friday vs. Golden State, the Hawks bench has been practically non-existent and at times resembled a motley crew of NBDL’ers.  Specifically, Maurice Evans has struggled mightily, shooting 28% from the field and a disgusting 12.9% (4 for 31) from the three point line in the month of December.  I’m starting to think I might have to backtrack on my earlier post about Bill Worrell and his awful announcing for Rocket games (for those that don’t remember, Worrell criticized Evans’ shooting ability).  Murray hasn’t been much better, posting a paultry 6.8 PPG average in December with a .6 assist/turnover ratio.  That’s an atrocious ratio for a guy who plays point guard off the bench and tries to instigate the offense.  For those that were wondering, Acie Law has been permanently planted at the end of the bench next to Harry the Hawk.  In fact, I sometimes I wonder if he’s the one in that stupid Hawks outfit.

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upper echelon?

 

The Hawks still won despite an off night from Mike Bibby.

The Hawks still won despite an off night from Mike Bibby.

GS 99 ATL 115: It wasn’t the prettiest game ever, but the Hawks took care of business against the defensively challenged Warriors on Friday night.  This was my first real look at the Warriors and I was amazed with their non-chalant approach to playing the game.  They take poor shots, play absolutely no defense, and rarely try to contest shots.  

Despite the Warriors poor play, the Hawks were still scratching and clawing their way to the victory mark late in the third quarter before making a breakaway.  A breakaway that was in fact fueled by a bench player.  (Surprise)  Flip Murray came off the bench to drop 20 and help push the Hawks to a 16-10 mark. 

The Warriors were fielding what looked like a JV team Friday.  Starters Stephen Jackson and Corey Maggette were out of action due to injury and former starter Monta Ellis is still recovering from a devastating off-season injury.  That left heavy minutes for the likes of Marco Bellinelli, Kelenna Azubuike and Anthony Morrow.  Bellinelli and Morrow played surprisingly well, each showing strong outside shooting.  Bellinelli dropped a game high 27 points, but didn’t do it solely from long distance.  He was able to attack the rim and in one instance went right at Marvin Williams for a one handed reversal. 

Perhaps the Warriors remind some of the Hawks of old, but I’m not sure I quite see it.  Even in the first couple of years of the rebuilding process under Woody, the Hawks at least tried to play defense.  Moreover, the Hawks had a go to offensive player in Joe Johnson after the Phoenix trade.  I’m not sure the same can be said of the Warriors, although Stephen Jackson could arguably come close.  My point being while the brand of basketball the Warriors play may be fan pleasing and exciting to watch, I question whether it can ever be successful long term.  The Hawks are finally in the upper echelon in the East; I doubt we will the say the same of the Warriors in three years. 

RONDO’S LEGITIMACY: Watching the Hawks-Celtics game Wednesday night, the one player that really stuck out at me was Rajon Rondo.  He is a game changer and a humongous part of what the Celtics do on both offense and defense.  Although the big three are clearly aging, they have received a strong boost from their young point guard, whose uncanny ability to attack the basket on offense and disrupt plays on defense remains a perfect fit for the defending champions.  The Celtics are definitely beatable this season.  But they have all the makings of a seasoned, playoff tested team who can will themselves to win – on the home or on the road.  The last three minutes of Wednesday’s game resembled a boxing match in the 12th round, with each fighter exchanging blows again and again.  Kevin Garnett was nearly unstoppable, while Joe Johnson nearly proved to be his equal match until his final missed free throw.  Say what you want about Joe missing that shot, but I wouldn’t want anyone else on that line.  I guarantee you Joe will be back on the line in the final moments of another game this season: he won’t miss that same shot again.

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chopped and screwed

ATL vs. SA game update: It’s midway through the second quarter and the Hawks yet again have come out of the gate like wounded ducks.  If the Hawks have been consistent at anything, its lethargy early in the game and there are stats to prove it.  Some game thoughts:

  • The Hawks so far have been outhustled on the boards.   The Spurs doubled the Hawks in rebounding and that merely spells one thing: a lack of effort.
  • Jumpshots, jumpshots, and more jumpshots.  Instead of trying to attack the rim, the Hawks have continually settled for outside shots, especially at the beginning of the second.  Play by play man Bob Rathbun pointed out that the Hawks have not been to the line in over three quarters (including the last half of the Houston game), a stat which screams a lack of desire to get to the rim.
  • For once, the bench has seen an increase in minutes.  Acie Law,  specifically is getting an extended run and is making the most of it.  He’s making an effort to penetrate and is suiting up on defense.  He’s had at least one steal I have accounted for and almost just made another.
  • Smith just made a beautiful lob pass to Horford for the slam.  I didn’t think Horford would be able to size the pass up to dunk it in time.  Smith has struggled again early in the game, but at least he’s making an active effort to attack the rim.
  • If I talk any more about Pachulia, this blog may have to renamed.  But he continues to be the most mind-boggling player on this roster.   Perhaps Pachulia is a “space cadet” to steal the words of Phil Jackson, who used them to aptly describe Vladimir Radmanovic.  I simply don’t understand Pachulia.  As an aside, he needs to protect the ball better on offense.  Instead of taking two steps, leaving the ball unprotected and driving to the rim, he needs to dribble, use his body to protect the ball and attack the rim.
  • Bobcats just acquired J-Rich for Diaw and Bell.  I love Bell, but he’s old and past his prime.  Diaw is an enigma who I do not see thriving in Charlotte.  This deal has the potential to really help Phoenix, especially if Terry Porter decides to turn up the tempo at some point.

I’m going to put up a post in the near future on Woody, and whether or not he should be canned before this season progresses any further.  He may be the most divisive figure in Atlanta sports outside of MV7, and since Mike’s in jail, Woody’s future is more relevant.

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drinking the kool-aid

Hawks 84 Rockets 92: Sometimes you have to wonder if this Hawks team is perhaps too cocky for its own good.  What else can explain the team’s lethargic starts on a semi-regular basis?  Could they be drinking too much of their own Kool-Aid?

To steal Sekou Smith’s description of the opening quarter, the Hawks started off the game like “zombies” as the Rockets ran circles around them and built up a 13-0 lead.  The Hawks were slowly able to chip away at the lead, eventually leading by the third quarter and posting a solid 8 point lead with six minutes to play in the fourth, only to see everything fall apart.

While its easy to be critical of Josh Smith mainly because his game is so “maddening,” the fifth year power forward has still yet to learn how to play the game “under control.”  Smith shot a horrendous 5 of 19 and committed a key turnover down the stretch overthrowing Joe Johnson on a lead pass as the Rockets came roaring back.  Woodson eventually benched Smith, opting to go with Pachulia who was no better.  (Pachulia, by the way, may be even more maddening than Smith given his up and down output from game to game.)

Look, Smith is a fine player.  He’s arguably the most athletic player in the game right now and his contributions to this team are immeasurable.   But Woody needs to sit him down and explain to him that the NBA game does not need to be played at 95 mph.  Slow it down young fella.  Let the game come to you.  Don’t let defenders tempt you into 18 foot jump shots  and three’s when you can soar by them and dunk it in their face or get fouled.  The sooner Smith realizes his unique talents – his full plethora of unique talents that is – he will be an even greater force to be reckoned with.

BROADCAST WOES: For those who had to digest the Rockets broadcast team, I apologize on their behalf.  The team of Bill Worrell and Clyde Drexler may have been the worst I have heard all season (and that’s having heard the Celtics home team with Tommy Heinsohn).  Worrell went on record as saying Maurice Evans was an “awful” outside shooter.  Drexler, to his credit, tried to correct Worrell by pointing out Evans’ shooting percentage of 44% from behind the arc.  Even with those stats presented to him, Worrell still disagreed, pointing out that Evans was a terrible outside shooter at the University of Texas.

Bill, I hate to see people lose jobs, especially during these rough economic times, but you sir should just give yours up.  Either do your homework, and know the strengths of opposing team’s players or admit your mistakes.  It’s one or the other.  Evans shot nearly 40% from three point land last season and is up past 44% this season.  That – in no way – qualifies as a “horrible” outside shooter.   If anything, those are solid numbers.  Moreover, judging a player’s game based on what he did in college seven years before entering the league is non-sensical.  Chris Bosh didn’t have an amazing post up game at Georgia Tech nor did he have a great 15 footer.  Now look at him.  Worrell, do us all a favor and quit while you’re ahead.   Your broadcasting skills are beyond horrendous.

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playing with fire

It didn’t make headlines, but Zaza Pachulia’s DNP on Saturday night vs. the Wizards definitely bears at least a blog discussion. For those who missed it, Pachulia logged his first DNP of the season, even though the Hawks were still without the injured Josh Smith. That’s right, Zaza played exactly zero minutes. What makes Woody’s decision even more confusing is that Zaza was coming off arguably his best game of the season, logging 17 rebounds vs. the Raptors. (I wrote about Woody’s decision not to play Pachulia in the fourth quarter of that game, which also did not make sense at the time) Zaza dominated against the Raptors, piling up more than half of his rebounds on the offensive end.

Perhaps I’m reading too much into Woody’s decision to sit Pachulia in favor of Solomon Jones and a smaller line-up against the Wizards. (Sekou Smith disagrees with my take) But, really, are we supposed to believe that it’s just coincidence Pachulia got benched for five consecutive quarters? It’s not like Antonio McDyess was playing in front of him. It was Solomon Jones – a guy who has been a benchwarmer for most of his time in his league and although more effective this season, still lacks the necessary seasoning to see regular minutes.

Adding more fuel to the fire is Woody’s already dicey relationship with Pachulia. The two have not agreed on Pachulia’s inconsistent minutes, and it showed in the big man’s at times lacksidasical performances last season. Pachulia was able to turn it on in the heat of the playoffs, but that fire was missing for the better half of the 07-08 season.

Even if I’m wrong, and Woody really just wanted to play the matchups vs. the Wizards, doesn’t this seem like an odd coaching move if not for anything other than pure chemistry reasons? Pachulia has already proven that he needs positive reinforcement from his head coach to maintain his fragile psyche. But what does it say to a player when he comes off a dominating performance only to ride the pine for an entire contest? While I’m not the biggest Pachulia fan, so long as the Hawks roster doesn’t change, he occupies a large role on a squad which simply put, lacks depth. Woody may be getting a little too cute for his own good and soon could start to lose the confidence (and loyalty) of a key player.

BIBBY MAXING OUT: Lost in the Hawks 11-6 start has been the improved play of point guard Mike Bibby, who in a contract year is seeing his dollar figures rise by the minute (Bibby might not get $14+million/year again, but the dude can try can’t he?) Bibby never seemed to fully get it together last year, struggling soon after his trade to the Hawks and into the playoffs. Perhaps his reduced output had something to do with a multitude of injuries, including a sore thumb which kept him out for months in Sac-town and a bruised heel which he suffered in his first game as a Hawk in a blowout loss to the Lakers. Bibby’s injuries and lukewater play were exposed vs. the Celtics, where the “longer” Rajon Rondo (along with the Boston crowd) terrorized the playoff vet.

After using the off-season to recuperate, however, Bibby has come back blazing. He’s shooting 47% from the field and almost 45% from behind the three point arc. Moreover, he has significantly reduced his turnovers, averaging nearly one less a game in the same amount of minutes (2.5 vs. 1.5 a game). Bibby has been so strong at the point, in fact, that only five in the league rank ahead of him according to Hollinger’s PER (one being Jason Terry, who is more of a SG than a PG). Paul, Parker, Harris and Billups all rank ahead of Bibby, and all – except Harris – are considered “elite” point guards. (People – including the point guard’s own GM – are starting to take notice of Harris’ play by the way, who torced the Hawks in back to back nights.) While Bibby may never be considered a “true” point, perhaps it wouldn’t be out of the question to categorize his play as “elite” this season.

NFL PICKS: This blog isn’t about the NFL, but I thought I would throw out some picks for this Sunday’s games. I put some money down in Vegas on the following three games:

Baltimore -6 OVER Ravens

NY Giants -8.5 OVER Philly

New England – 4.5 OVER Seattle

And just for good measure, let’s not forget about those Falcons, who are rising from the ashes to alleviate all the pain from seasons’ past. They are three point dogs in New Orleans, and at this point, isn’t it hard to bet against Matt Ryan?

Atlanta +3 OVER New Orleans

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