HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Just because he was cleared to return to the practice floor last week did not mean that Hawks All-Star center Al Horford was definitely coming back for the first round of the playoffs.
It only meant there was a chance he might return from the torn pectoral muscle injury and surgery that cost him all but 11 games during this abbreviated regular season. And that chances appears to be slipping away.
“I don’t feel like it is realistic that I can play for the playoffs. Obviously, if we advance and start going we will see. But as of right now the way I feel I think I am out for the playoffs.”
There have been rumblings all along that a potential return for Horford was being blown way out of proportion and that he wasn’t nearly as comfortable with returning after this type of injury as some within the organization were.
The Hawks overachieved without Horford, battling all season for a top four spot in the Eastern Conference playoff chase with a player most observers felt was indispensable to their cause. Between Josh Smith, All-Star guard Joe Johnson, Jeff Teague and a deeper than expected supporting cast, the Hawks have managed to stay in contention for home court advantage in the first round
Why anyone would just assume that having him back in the lineup would drastically alter the Hawks’ postseason fate, without any time during the regular season for Horford to get back in game shape and a rhythm, is beyond me. That’s asking way too much of a player that’s missed that kind of time, even a player as good and as important as Horford. And if he doesn’t feel comfortable coming back, no
More pressing for the Hawks is the status of Horford’s replacement in the starting lineup, Zaza Pachulia, who has missed five straight games with a foot injury. His work this season has gone largely under the radar outside of Atlanta. He’ll be sorely missed if he cannot play, there has been no official word on his availability for the playoffs. In 44 games this season as a starter the nine-year veteran has averaged 8.7 points, 8.8 rebounds and shot 51 percent from the floor. Horford averaged 12.4 points, 7.0 rebounds and shot 55 percent from the floor in his 11 starts.
Hawks coach Larry Drew was cautiously optimistic about Horford returning anyway, making it clear every single time I asked him about it, that he was not hitching his team’s postseason fate to something that may or may not happen.
That might turn out to be the wisest move of all this season for the Hawks.