HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Zaza Pachulia and his Hawks teammates were tired of being bullied by their division rivals in Orlando, namely Dwight Howard.
The Magic swept the Hawks in the Eastern Conference semifinals last season, administering one of the worst beatings (physically and otherwise) in playoff history during the process.
So it wasn’t surprising to see the Hawks (Pachulia and All-Star center Al Horford were spotted at a local gym working out) hitting the heavy bag in the offseason with the Magic on the brain. They rebounded this season by winning the regular-season series 3-1, which may or may not mean anything when the two teams square off in their first round series, which begins Saturday night in Orlando.
To a man, the Hawks vow to put up much more of a fight than they did during the playoffs last season, per Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
Players say they expect a physical series. But when it unfolds that way, will the response echo the line from the pledge in Animal House: “Thank you sir, may I have another?”
Quoth Pachulia: “We need to have that blue-collar mentality. We’re more dangerous when we play that way.”
He spent a little extra time in the weight room after practice Thursday.
Not a coincidence.
When asked if he expected bodies to be hitting the floor, he said: “Sure. That’s the history of the playoffs. You’ll watch all of the highlights on TV, and there’s always some blood.”
[veteran center Jason] Collins has more playoff experience (78 games) than anybody on the Hawks’ roster. It seems strange to cast a guy averaging two points and two rebounds as a key to the series, but that’s the case.
If the Hawks can successfully rotate Collins, Pachulia and Horford against Howard, that’s 18 fouls to work with. Less double-teaming inside theoretically means better defense on the perimeter.
“You’re obviously not trying to go out there and hurt anybody, but you definitely want to set a tone,” Collins said. “Keep body contact on him.”
Collins has been the designated hit man before in his career, against the likes of Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan and David Robinson.
“I don’t think Shaq likes me too much,” he said.
Collins and the Hawks don’t have to worry about Shaq, not yet at least. Right now they have to be concerned with Howard, who has battled to keep his emotions in check all season.
Howard has taken a physical pounding all season, while dishing out just as much punishment. He’s generally had his way with the Hawks and anyone else that tries to use bullying tactics to take him out of his game.
But the Hawks think they already have the blueprint for success against Howard, and perhaps the Magic.