Posts Tagged ‘Al Hoford’

Morning shootaround — Jan. 31


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

January fuels belief in Hawks | Love ready for rough return to Minnesota | Pistons players, fans bracing for Josh Smith’s return | Be careful what you say about DeMarcus Cousins

No. 1: January fuels belief in Hawks — The franchise-record 18 straight wins did it. Finally, the belief in the Atlanta Hawks has officially taken over the city. It’s inspired memories of a great times in Atlanta sports history — yes, there have been great times — a generation ago in another sport (baseball), when the imagination of an entire city became fans of a team that captured its fan base. It feels like 1991 all over again in Atlanta, according to longtime Atlanta Journal Constitution columnist Mark Bradley:

Ten years from now, we may recall this January the way we do the summer of 1991, when a team none of us had paid much heed grabbed us by our collars and made us watch. Ten years from now, we may remember these Hawks growing into a colossus – what other word fits an aggregation that’s 32-2 since Thanksgiving? – the way we beheld the Braves’s ascent from worst to first.

Ten years from now, we may look back on games like Friday’s in the manner we pressed that September series against the hated Dodgers into our memory books. Ten years from now, we could point to Friday as one of the moments when we knew – knew, as opposed to hoped – that all things were really and truly possible.

For the first time in 33 days and 17 games, the Hawks faced a fourth-quarter deficit. (That’s among the astonishing stats of this or any millennium.) Nothing was coming easy against an excellent Portland team, and matters were getting more difficult by the minute.

The splendid forward LaMarcus Aldridge was en route to scoring 37 points. The Hawks were missing free throws. DeMarre Carroll, their best perimeter defender, was too sore to play. Thabo Sefolosha, his replacement in the starting five, lasted 141 seconds before tweaking a hamstring. A team that has become a beautiful machine had developed a cough, and you couldn’t see all of the above and not think, “This could be the night the streak ends.”

But no. Five points down after three quarters, the Hawks won 105-99. Over those final 12 minutes, they outscored the Trail Blazers 15 baskets to seven, outshot them 71.4 percent to 30.4 percent. In their stiffest test since MLK Day, the Hawks played their best offense and their best defense in the fourth quarter, which is the time to do it.

We’ve spent the past month trying to identify the reasons the Hawks have done nothing but win, and here’s another: They trust themselves and their system. They know Mike Budenholzer’s offense will avail them of good shots if only they go where they’re supposed to go. They know they’re good enough shooters to make those shots. They also know – here’s the part that’s different from last season – that they can guard the opposition better than they’re being guarded.

There’s power in such faith. There’s the power that flows from believing you’re going to get better looks over 48 minutes than the other team, that you pass and shoot and defend too well to be cornered for long. At halftime the Blazers had made 55.1 percent of their shots to the Hawks’ 44.4 percent – and Portland’s lead was a skinny point. By game’s end the Hawks had shot the better percentage and driven the ball often enough to earn twice as many free throws. (Not a small consideration on a night when you miss eight of 22.)

Down to cases. On the first possession of the fourth quarter, Dennis Schroder drove for a layup. The 21-year-old had some moments when he looked his age, but he changed the game when it needed changing. He found Mike Scott on the left wing for the tying 3-pointer and found Kyle Korver at the top for the trey that made it 81-76. The Blazers would never lead again.


VIDEO: Kent Bazemore stepped up in a major way for the Hawks as they snagged their franchise-record 18th straight win

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Morning shootaround — Jan. 19



VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 18

NEWS OF THE MORNING
KD, Thunder hit reset button | LeBron feeling fresh as ever | Cousins All-Star testimonials | Larry Sanders has every intention of resuming his NBA career | What makes the Hawks work at the top?

 

No. 1: Reset button pushed in Oklahoma City — The first half of this NBA season couldn’t have gone any worse for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Injuries to superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, for starters, derailed the normal plans. But at .500 near the halfway mark of their season and the main characters finally back in regular form, the Thunder have mashed the reset button with one of their toughest stretches of the season ahead. They are prepared as they could be for the gauntlet, writes Michael Wallace of ESPN.com:

By the time the Thunder put the finishing touches on a 127-99 rout of the Magic — after setting a franchise record with 79 points in the first half — the night was long done for the rotation regulars. But the reality is Oklahoma City’s work, essentially, is just beginning.

“Anytime you get a chance to sit out the fourth quarter, it feels good,” Durant said of the festive atmosphere around the Thunder’s bench down the stretch. “It’s good for us and great to see everyone smiling and happy after a win coming into the locker room.”

Durant, who had 21 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists through three quarters, enjoyed the scene from the bench too much to even think about coming back into the game to chase the two additional assists he needed to secure his first triple-double of the season.

But the reigning league MVP didn’t hesitate to make his strongest point of the night before he exited the visitors’ locker room at Amway Arena: “We have to keep fighting.”

The Magic didn’t put up much of a fight from the outset, which allowed the Thunder to cruise in the second half. That certainly won’t be the case over the course of the second half of the season. After posting their most dominant offensive performances in consecutive wins against Golden State and Orlando, the Thunder improved to 20-20 as they hit the midpoint of the schedule Tuesday in Miami.

The next four games on this five-game trip — at the Heat, Wizards, Hawks and Cavaliers — could either propel the Thunder firmly back into the playoff picture for the first time this season or push them into a sizable deficit that might be too steep to overcome in the ultra-competitive West.

Durant and the Thunder don’t need 20-20 vision to see that though a .500 record might be sufficient to garner the sixth seed in the East, it’ll land you in the lottery in the conference in which they compete. It’s why Durant left Sunday’s game delivering fighting words, considering what his squad is facing.

Now that they’ve endured the worst and have broken even, the Thunder seeks to hit the reset button.

Hampered by injuries to Durant (foot, ankle) and Westbrook (hand) that caused the two catalysts to miss a combined 37 games, Oklahoma City has gone from a team that struggled to find seven healthy players for a game to the healthiest the team has been all season.

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(Supposedly) Stumbling Knicks Somehow Find A Way To Recover




VIDEO: Knicks handled the Hawks at Philips Arena in a “must-win” game

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Is this what passes for pressure these days in the NBA? This is desperation mode?

You couldn’t tell from watching the New York Knicks in the lead up to their “must-win” victory over the Atlanta Hawks Wednesday night at Philips Arena, a game that was overshadowed by loads of off-court drama and the guarantee from Knicks owner Jim Dolan that his team would prevail on this night.

Not when the rookies, led by Tim Hardaway Jr., show up with a chocolate cake (lit candles and all) for Metta World Peace on his birthday at the post-shootaround team luncheon in a hotel ballroom. (That rousing rendition of Happy Birthday won’t get any of the Knicks’ youngsters or veterans on The Voice, by the way.)

Not when your current trade rumors swirl around Iman Shumpert and he and his coach, Mike Woodson, brush them aside and move on to the business at hand like nothing’s going on.

It’s not that the Knicks weren’t smarting from their sluggish start to this season or their humiliating home loss to the San Antonio Spurs Sunday at MSG. They were and they still are and will continue to do so with another test tonight against the Houston Rockets at the Garden (8 p.m. ET, TNT).

But they’re not going to let the drama consume them. They issued their own guarantee with their win over the Hawks, a game they led at one time by 17 points, only to have to come back in the fourth quarter to secure the win. They’ll find a way out of this current rut, even if it takes a little longer than the outside world (mainly Knicks fans and Knicks haters) can stomach, guarantee from the owner or not.

“He said what he said but we had to come out here and play,” Carmelo Anthony said after leading the Knicks with 25 points, which included a six-point spurt in the fourth quarter that helped preserve the win. “We had to win for ourselves first and foremost. But now that we’ve won, we can give him that satisfaction.”


VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony on the Knicks’ win in Atlanta

The Knicks are taking their cues from Woodson, who has spent as much time in the pressure cooker this season as any coach in the league. But Woodson has done some of the best work under pressure at Philips Arena over the past decade (including his six seasons as the Hawks’ coach) than most any coach anywhere.

There’s no sense in driving his team to the brink when everyone outside of it assumes they are already there. Sure, he tweaked his starting lineup, inserting J.R. Smith in just his second game back from a five-game suspension. His lineup tweak also served Andrea Bargnani well. Bargnani will never be able to replace the defensive presence that Tyson Chandler (broken fibula) is for the Knicks. But Bargnani played well, finishing with 20 points and a season-high 11 rebounds while knocking down two critical fourth-quarter 3-pointers.

Anthony, in particular, seemed surprisingly at ease after the game.

“This was a great way to kind of get back on track,” he said. “Anytime you can win on the road, it’s always a big win. We came through with a much better effort than we had against San Antonio. I’m glad to see how we responded and put that game behind us.”

The drama won’t go away, of course. It never does in New York. The trade rumors, the overreaction after every stumble, the seemingly never-ending speculation about Woodson’s job security, it’ll all be there again in the next 24-hour cycle of panic.

It’s how they handle it that matters.

The Knicks’ renewed focus on defense and a return to their low turnover ways (just three against the Hawks) plus Woodson’s unwavering approach will help the Knicks find a way.

“Bottom line,” Woodson said, “we’re here to win. And when we step on the floor I expect guys to play to help us win.”


VIDEO: Knicks coach Mike Woodson pleased with team’s effort vs. Hawks

Hawks’ Smith Headlines Trade Deadline Rumblings





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Josh Smith‘s days of playing before an ambivalent crowd at Philips Arena are numbered. If we’re reading the trade deadline tea leaves correctly, he might even be down to his final 48 minutes there on Wednesday night when the Hawks host the Heat.

The Hawks’ attempts to convince Smith to stick around until the summer, when he’d be a free agent, have not slowed a number of teams pursuing the versatile power forward.

In fact, the list of teams with reported interest in Smith seems to grow with every tick of the trade deadline clock. The Hawks have let it be known that they are willing to move the Atlanta native by Thursday’s 3 p.m. ET deadline. And a player with his unique arsenal of skills can fit in any system.

The Brooklyn Nets, Washington Wizards, Milwaukee Bucks, Phoenix Suns, Boston Celtics, Houston Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers are all either in full-blown pursuit or monitoring the situation closely in the hopes of landing Smith via trade … or perhaps later via free agency. That leaves the Hawks in the position of being very selective with their decision, while also needing to act now. There will be fewer potential trade partners to work with in July, courtesy of the particulars of the new collective bargaining agreement.

The max-deal conversation that has raged for weeks was, like many things in the Twitter era, not fully understood by most of the people. They were simply repeating the stories of Smith and the Hawks agreeing to disagree about his value to the team that drafted him with the 17th pick overall in the 2004 Draft.

Smith never said he demanded a max deal or else from the Hawks. A source close to Smith confirmed that the conversation between the two sides never ventured into that realm. Smith simply answered a question the way you’d expect any competitive NBA player to answer it when presented with the premise of “Do you think you are worth max money?”

The funny thing is the Hawks, spanning two different front office regimes, have never really made clear what monetary value they have assigned to Smith. His current deal — he’s in the final year of a five-year, $58 million contract — was one the Hawks had to match after the Memphis Grizzlies made a play for him as a restricted free agent in 2008. It’s a bargain for a player who has been as productive as he has during that time.

Since basically his first season, Smith has been on the proverbial trade market every February. And the Hawks have drafted player after player (Marvin Williams, Shelden Williams, Al Horford) who were supposed to supplant Smith as the team’s best option at his position. Yet Smith has been steady. For every knock on his game — the ill-advised jump shots no one wants him to take, the spotty decision-making and the well-publicized dust-ups with coaches Mike Woodson and Larry Drew — there are things Smith and only a handful of other players can do on a given night.

Two players in the entire league average better than 17 points, eight rebounds and four assists. Reigning league MVP LeBron James is one of them and Smith is the other. Smith is the only player averaging better than 17, 8, 4 and one block (he actually averages 2.1).

When the Hawks traded six-time All-Star Joe Johnson to the Nets last summer, the playoff forecast for the franchise changed dramatically. Smith and Horford were left to lead a team of good role players that few people expected to be among the Eastern Conference’s best teams early this season.

There is a high probability that Hawks fans who have grown disenchanted with Smith’s game over the nearly nine years he’s played before hometown crowds. That throng will get their wish and see him move on. It’s up to Hawks general manager Danny Ferry to sort through the mess and find the right deal (with the most assets — players, draft picks, etc. — they can get for their best player).

And all indications are that’s exactly what he’ll do by Thursday’s deadline. (more…)

Time For The Hawks To Turn The Page?





HANG TIME PLAYOFF HEADQUARTERS – When the playoff pairings came into focus late in the regular season, we knew there was the potential for this when the Boston Celtics and Atlanta Hawks got locked into the No. 4-5 battle in the Eastern Conference.

An era was coming to an end. A five-year run for one of these two franchises would continue on for at least another series and that same five-year run (that began in their epic first-round series in 2008) for the other franchise would have run its course.

Well, it’s time for the Hawks to face the reality of their own situation and turn the page. The Hawks are facing more than just elimination after their disastrous 101-79 Game 4 showing in Boston Sunday night. Most compassionate observers turned away from when the Celtics’ lead grew to 37 points … with more than a quarter and a half to play remaining.

How many times can you hear about a team talk about “not responding” or “we just didn’t have it” or “our energy and effort was nonexistent” in a big game situation before it sinks in?

The Hawks have dropped 12 playoff games by 20-plus points since 2008, a staggering number that does not include all of the games they lost by 16, 17, 18 and 19 points.

They’d fight back with stats of their own — such as along with the Celtics and Lakers, they are one of just three teams to reach the second round in each of the past three seasons. But that would foolishly suggest that the Hawks belong in the same sentence with two franchises that have won championships in the past four seasons.

The Celtics won it all in 2008 while the Lakers won back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010. The Hawks, for all of their accomplishments during this same stretch, have been escorted from the postseason in an ugly fashion each and every time, without once truly breaking through with this current core group.

They’ll tell anyone willing to listen that this series is far from over at 3-1 with Game 5 Tuesday night at Philips Arena. And with their history against these Celtics, it might be worth a listen. They played seven games in 2008, with each team taking turns ruling their home floors all the way through to Game 7.

But this time is different. As much as you’d like to believe these limping Hawks have a chance to make a series out of this one, the stench of inevitability is floating in the air after that Game 4 debacle in Boston.

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Don’t Write Off The Hawks Just Yet

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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Hawks All-Star Joe Johnson is either crazy or a man of serious basketball faith when he says his team “still has enough talent” to be one of the Eastern Conference elites after losing Al Horford for the remainder of the regular season with a torn pectoral muscle.

No one was sure they were “elite” even with a healthy Horford. And no team in the league causes more head-scratching than the Hawks. Who else follows a rousing road win in Miami, handing the Heat their first defeat of the season, with two of the more remarkable meltdowns of this young season in back-to-back losses to the Bulls and Heat? And then they rebound by the weekend and run the Bulls off the floor in Atlanta?

While most everyone assumes that the Hawks will struggle just to make the playoffs without their two-time All-Star center, I think the Hawks become an infinitely more dangerous team without him. Before you spit that coffee all over your computer screen, walk with me for a minute (and remember that this is the Hawks we’re talking about, a team that has found a way to become a postseason staple the past four years in spite of all of their Draft gaffes, enigmatic play and general dysfunction).

Despite Johnson’s belief in the Hawks’ elite status, I can promise him they wouldn’t have been considered elite by outsiders even if they did finish in the top three or four of the standings this season. Honestly, that might not matter anyway. To succeed in the playoffs during an abbreviated season such as this one, a team’s regular-season finish might not be the most telling factor.

The Hawks proved that last season, faltering during the regular season and then surprising with a win over the Magic in the first round and pushing the Bulls to the brink in the conference semifinals.

What the Hawks do have that can’t be measured is the undeniable ability to defy all expectations and common sense. They’ve been doing it since Horford entered the league, backing into the playoffs during his rookie season and then pushing the eventual champion Celtics to seven games in a first-round series.

Every season since then, the Hawks were supposed to stumble and fall back to the pack or fall out of the playoffs completely … and each time they’ve made a mockery of those predictions. Every metric, measurement and statistical analysis designed to study this team has been turned inside out.

For better or worse, the Hawks never follow the script.

Never!

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