HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The locals will talk about it forever.
What would the Hawks have been like with Chris Paul or Deron Williams instead of Marvin Williams? Or Rudy Gay or Brandon Roy instead of Shelden Williams orbasically anyone other than Speedy Claxton?
Conference finals appearances instead of first round exits? Global recognition of a basketball brand reborn with superstar talent instead of a league laughingstock (after a 13-win season in 2004-05) and the team that can always be counted on not to come through when they should?
Hypothetical questions with no clear-cut answers make the Hawks’ past every bit as murky as their immediate future. They enter free agency this summer with only six players under contract, four Draft picks (two in each round) and approximately $33.1 million in cap space for their GM, Danny Ferry, to work with in rebuilding the roster.
The Hawks choices in the Draft and free agency have come to define the franchise over the past eight years more so than anything they have actually done on the court. They ended an eight-year playoff drought after the 2007-08 season with a core group of Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Al Horford, Mike Bibby, Josh Childress, Marvin Williams, Zaza Pachulia, Shelden Williams and Acie Law. That group kicked off a run of six straight playoff appearance that came crashing to an ugly end Friday night at Philips Arena in a Game 6 loss to the Indiana Pacers in their first round series.
It was the official end to not only their season but also an era for the Hawks, who have just three players — Horford, Lou Williams and rookie John Jenkins – under guaranteed contacts for next season. Even Hawks coach Larry Drew, who has been on staff (the last three as head coach) throughout this entire era, does not have a contract for next season.
We’ve seen the last of these Hawks as we know them, Drew acknowledged as much after the Game 6 loss.
“Even with the injuries to Zaza and Lou, we were able to juggle some things around, move people around,” Drew said. “And we stayed together. We did not fragment. We stayed together even when it got tough. A lot of people didn’t predict us to make the playoffs. No one gave us a chance, but this group hung in there. They persevered and I’m really proud of them.”
It was an honorable finish to a tumultuous season for all involved. A team loaded with three times as many pending free agents as players under guaranteed contracts, has issues that go above and beyond the professionalism required to do the job under those circumstances.
That said, Ferry is sticking to his plan. He’s going to be rebuilding basically from scratch, with nine players heading into free agency July 1.
Smith, one of the only remaining building blocks from the franchise’s last rebuild and a long-time source of division within the franchise (some folks loved the hometown kid who flashed signs of being an All-Star caliber player over the years while others loathed the enigmatic performer who clashed with his coaches and drove fans nuts with his play), going into the summer as one of the marquee names on the market.
It’s time for Smith and the Hawks to go their separate ways, amicably, of course. Everyone involved knows that it’s time for a mutual parting of the ways for the good of all involved.
Point guard Jeff Teague is a restricted free agent and while he’s shown loads of improvement since Drew took over for Woodson, there remain questions about whether or not he is best suited as the starting point guard for this team.
Ferry can make a clean break from the Hawks’ recent past, from all of the second-guessing, head-scratching and eye-rolling that has surrounded the Hawks for years. No one will vilify him for cleaning up the mess made before he arrived last summer, the one he started clean up himself by moving both Johnson and Marvin Williams in trades last summer.
It’s the uncertainty of what’s to come, however, that makes skeptical Hawks fans nervous. There will be big fish on the free agent market, guys like Los Angeles Lakers’ big man and Atlanta native Dwight Howard and the Los Angeles Clippers’ Paul, stars capable of turning an uncertain situation around by signing their names on the dotted line.
The Hawks have the necessary resources to pursue those two, who will be first and second, in whatever order, on every free agent wish list of a team with money to spend this summer.
The summer of 2013 is the Hawks’ biggest since the summer of 2005, when Johnson (sign-and-trade) and Marvin Williams (No. 2 pick overall in the Draft) were added to the mix. That was the beginning of a painstaking rebuilding process that ultimately led to six straight playoff appearances, the second-best stretch of its kind in the Hawks’ Atlanta history.
For a franchise that has endured a recent stretch of complete insignificance during that playoff drought, followed by the past six postseason runs, a return to the non-playoff abyss is a bit frightening.
That’s what made the end of Friday night so bittersweet for Horford, who has only known the playoffs during his time with the Hawks and in the league.
“I feel for our fans,” he said. “I know they wanted us to do better. I felt like, as a team, we did about as much as we could. We had some adversity and we handled it well. We had a good season, looking at the big picture. One thing I appreciate about these guys was how they competed. Even tonight, we could’ve gone the other way. That is something I’m proud of the guys for.”
The “guys” will look a lot different next season.
In fact, Horford might be one of the only truly familiar faces around if Ferry carries out his master plan.
“People love to throw dirt on us after one game,” Smith said. “It never fails.”
The Hawks struggled mightily in Indiana, getting worked over and physically whipped by a bigger and much more rugged Pacers team en route to the 0-2 deficit they carry into Game 3 Saturday night at Philips Arena.
“We tend to be at our best when people are doubting us,” Smith said. “There’s no other way around it really. It’s who we’ve been for years now. Just when you are ready to count us out, we’ll surprise you.”
The only problem is, they are not those same ol’ predictably unpredictable Hawks we’re used to. That team was dismantled last summer when new general manager Danny Ferry took over and traded Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams before he got his new business cards printed up.
The roster gumbo Hawks coach Larry Drew has had to stir to keep this team afloat this season didn’t look anything like the mismatched crew that rolled to five straight playoff appearance prior to this season with a core of Smith, Horford, Johnson, Williams and Zaza Pachulia, who played in just 52 games this season before an Achilles injury that required surgery ended his season.
That the Hawks made it six straight is a testament to Drew and his staff and the guys healthy enough to finish a tumultuous and injury-plagued regular season that also sacked Lou Williams (torn ACL) on Jan. 18, after he’d played just 39 games in his first season with his hometown team.
So no, these are not necessarily those same ol’ Hawks we’re all used to, not with nine free agents on the roster and a head coach whose contract is up this summer as well. This is a team in transition, not the young up and coming Hawks from three or four years ago..
“It’s very different, very different. There’s no question it’s totally different,” Horford said. “I think that Josh and I and even Jeff [Teague], we’ve had to deal with major adjustments this year. It even goes back to last year with me going down, the team adjusted and played well. And then this year, we’ve dealt with injuries throughout the year, Zaza, Lou and a number of other guys have missed time. We use something crazy like 40 different [starting] lineups and through everything we’ve been able to adjust. That’s one of our strengths, actually, that we’re able to play through injuries and whatever adversity comes our way.”
Horford and Smith earned their postseason stripes battling back from adversity in their first playoff series, an epic seven-game tussle with the No. 1 seed and eventual champion Boston Celtics in the first round in 2008. The Hawks got their noses bloodied in two games in Boston but rebounded at Philips Arena with two huge wins to even the series.
The home teams went on to win each of the next three games with the Celtics winning big in Game 7. But the Hawks had established themselves on a national stage. They played 33 playoff games in the three seasons that followed, taking two steps back for every three steps forward.
The Pacers present an intriguing problem for the Hawks in that they are big and physical, deep and athletic, with a mix of young talent (Paul George) and veteran leadership (David West) that makes them extremely difficult for the Hawks to counter in a series.
Still, the Hawks are not the least bit deterred by their current predicament (blame it on that experience from the Boston series six years ago).
“This is not doom and gloom at all for our group,” Drew said. “We’ve done some good things in this series. There are certainly some things we have to do better in order to get a win. But we’re coming into [Game 3] with a lot of confidence and knowing the importance of the game and we’ll come out and play our best basketball. Anything is possible in the playoffs. Home court is very important. You look around the league at the different playoff series and that point is made night after night. We know we’re in a situation where this game has tremendous importance and we know how well we have to play tomorrow and I’m expecting our guys to come out and do that.”
More importantly, they need no prompting to realize the gravity of what awaits them if they can’t hold off the Pacers on their home floor. The next team to come back from an 0-3 deficit to win a series will be the first.
“We all know what’s at stake,” Smith said. “That’s what made this postseason really special for us. We had so many new faces getting acclimated to this team and to this franchise, and that goes from the front office on down to the team. It’s a special group to have fought through the injuries and all of the drama, not knowing who was going to be here after the [February] trade deadline and all of the stuff that has comes along with it. And here we are, still right smack in the middle of this series.”
If you let these guys tell it, they’ve got the Pacers exactly where they want them to be, within reach.
“The way the first two games have gone … you know better than I do, a 2-0 series is nothing to us,” Horford said. “Game 3 is the biggest game for us. It’s going to define what will happen in this series, not anything that happened in those first two games and not anything that anyone says about us can do that. We’re still in a good position because we’re right in the middle of it like we always are.”
Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.
The one recap to watch: The Rockets are three games up on the Lakers for the No. 7 seed, so it doesn’t look like Houston will have to face San Antonio in the first round if everything holds tight. As we all know, that can change between now and season’s end … and maybe it would be great if it did. After the Rockets and Spurs hooked up last night in Houston with a classic down-to-the-wire showdown, a Texas tussle in the first round might be a great new chapter in these teams’ rivalry. James Harden put on the hero’s cape last night, hitting a game-winning leaner with 4.5 seconds left to clinch the victory. Here’s hoping the Spurs (or Rockets) make the movement necessary to make this first-round series a possibility.
Nets’ Johnson banged up — The Nets are two games behind the Knicks for the Atlantic Division lead and have gotten improved play from Deron Williams in the last month or so. As close as Brooklyn is to a division crown, it’s hard to imagine where they’d be were it not for the play of Williams — especially considering that his backcourt mate, Joe Johnson, has been struggling of late. Johnson is averaging just 13.3 ppg in March and has struggled with his shot and is now suffering from a bruised quadriceps he suffered in a loss to the Clippers. He sat out Sunday’s win over the Suns, but as Roderick Boone of Newsday reports, the Nets are worried about Johnson’s long-term prognosis:
As for Joe Johnson, he suffered the bruised quadriceps when he bumped into Blake Griffin in the third quarter of the Nets’ 101-95 loss to the Clippers. He said it was swollen and tight Sunday, so the Nets made the decision to sit him out, starting Keith Bogans in his place.
Johnson was unsure if he’ll be able to play when the Nets face the Trail Blazers on Wednesday.
“It’s frustrating for me because all these little knick-knacks are starting to happen with me down the stretch of the season,” Johnson said before the game, “and this is the most important part of the season at this point right now. So that’s probably the most frustrating thing. It’s not about where we are playing and who we are playing. I always want to be out there with the guys. I hate sitting out and watching. That’s the hardest part.”
Since the All-Star break, Johnson hasn’t been the same explosive player. He’s averaging 13.8 points, down from the 17.0 he posted before the break, and his three-point percentage has taken a serious dip, dropping by nearly 8 percent.
“Yeah, I’m concerned, because he’s come back and he’s not healthy yet,” coach P.J. Carlesimo said. “I just think it’s very similar to what we were talking about with Deron. You saw the difference when Deron came back and felt good and was close to — 100 percent is the wrong word, but when he’s the best he’s felt all year, it made a big difference.
“Every time I ask Joe how it feels, he says he’s OK. Again, he wants to play. But I think that if you look at the numbers and you look at what Joe’s done since the injury, it’s not the same Joe. So yeah, we need to get Joe Johnson back healthy. If he’s healthy, then he’ll play the way Joe Johnson plays.”
That’s why Johnson didn’t shoot down the possibility of taking some time off to make sure he doesn’t play until he’s as close to normal. Last thing he wants to do is jeopardize his status for the playoffs.
“I think my health is more important right now at this point,” he said. “Just to heal up the little wounds because obviously, man, we want to do something major in the postseason, so I don’t want to go into the postseason with these things bothering me.”
In other words, he doesn’t want to find himself in uncharted territory.
“Every year going into the playoffs, man,” Johnson said, “I’ve been extremely injury-free, healthy and ready. This is a little different, but I will definitely be ready when I’m supposed to.”
Is it frustrating for Williams that he and Johnson can’t be together and healthy?
“Yeah,” he said, “but if we are still winning, then everything is all right. We won today without him, so that’s good. But we are going to need him. There’s no doubt about that. We are going to need him and we are going to need him healthy, so the most important thing for him is for him to get rest and for him to get healthy. He’s been battling. He’s been playing through a lot of pain. You can see it, you can tell. So he’s been a warrior out here in the games he has played.”
Report: Blazers to let Maynor test market — So far, the Eric Maynor-Portland Trail Blazers marriage has been a successful one. Portland picked up the steady backup point guard from the Thunder at the trade deadline for Georgios Printezis and a trade exception, and Maynor has done a solid job of spelling presumptive Rookie of the Year winner Damian Lillard since arriving in Oregon. Maynor, an unrestricted free agent this summer, is someone whom the Blazers would like to retain, but they’re also willing to let him test the market. Joe Freeman of The Oregonian has more on what might be next for Maynor and the Blazers:
In the 14 games since Maynor joined the Blazers, Lillard’s scoring has improved by nearly three points, from 18.4 to 21.2 per game, and his shooting numbers have soared. Lillard is shooting 7.1 percentage points better from the field (41.8 to 48.9) and almost 10 percentage points better from three-point range (34.9 to 44.6 percent) with Maynor on the roster.
Maynor will return to Chesapeake Energy Arena as a visitor for the first time in 3 1/2 seasons on Sunday. And he’ll do so with an appreciative group of new teammates that have embraced his arrival as exactly the jolt they needed for the stretch run.
Maynor says he carries no animosity or added motivation into Sunday’s matchup against his former teammates. But he admits it will be “weird” to walk into Chesapeake Energy Arena a visitor and go at his long-time friends.
When Reggie Jackson emerged as a capable backup while Maynor rehabilitated from his injury, he lost his job. And as the trade deadline approached, Maynor was looking for a chance to play, so Oklahoma City granted his wish. He said the sides parted amicably.
“I appreciate everything they did for me for the 3 1/2 years that I was there,” Maynor said. “It was a great 3 1/2 years. But I wanted to go somewhere else and play, get some more minutes. We parted ways. Everything was good while I was there and I always still keep in touch with people there. But I’m happy to get a chance to play.”
And the Blazers — who are 8-6 since his arrival — are happy to have him. Perhaps no one more so than Lillard.
And perhaps the best part of it all is that both Maynor and coach Terry Stotts insist Maynor isn’t 100 percent in sync with his new teammates just yet.
“I think it’s still a work in progress,” Stotts said. “I’m getting more comfortable with how I can help him from an offensive standpoint. He’s getting more comfortable with our defensive system. He’s still understanding the dynamics of our team.”
How much time he will get to learn those dynamics remains unclear. Maynor will be a free agent at the end of the season and while the Blazers can guarantee he stays by extending him a qualifying offer this summer — making him a restricted free agent — it would come at a price. Maynor’s qualifying offer is $3.4 million, with a hefty $5.85 million cap hold that would eat a substantial amount of the Blazers’ offseason spending money.
Early reviews suggest that the Blazers and Maynor are a good match. But it seems unlikely the team would mortgage so much of its offseason spending power on a backup point guard. It seems more likely the Blazers will allow Maynor to become an unrestricted free agent and pursue him with the rest of the NBA. It’s the same move the Blazers made last offseason with JJHickson and he ended up returning.
Pachulia done for season? — With their win in Milwaukee in yesterday’s matinee, the Atlanta Hawks are maintaining their grip on the No. 5 seed in the East and have won five of their last seven games. While Atlanta is merely .500 in March, they’re holding things together without key reserve big man Zaza Pachulia, who has been out the last 15 games. Chris Vivalamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has more on when Pachulia may (or may not) return:
Zaza Pachulia did not accompany the Hawks on the road trip as he continues to rehabilitate a sore right Achilles. Pachulia remains out indefinitely with the injury that will have cost him 21 games, including the past 15, by the time the Hawks return home.
A decision on Pachulia’s status for the remainder of the regular-season could come next week.
Report: Teams interested in Iowa State’s Hoiberg — Fred Hoiberg the NBA player spent 10 seasons in the league, carving out a solid niche as a 3-point marksman, most notably for the Kevin Garnett-era Minnesota Timberwolves. After his playing days were cut short by a heart condition, Hoiberg had a front-office role with Minnesota before returning to his alma mater, Iowa State, where he eventually became coach. In three seasons as coach of the Cyclones, Hoiberg has taken them to two consecutive NCAA tournament berths, ending a seven-season drought of postseason play. His work in Ames hasn’t gone unnoticed by NBA types, writes Adrian Wojnarowskiof Yahoo! Sports, and some teams are showing interest in Hoiberg as an NBA coach:
Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg has emerged as an intriguing NBA head-coaching candidate, multiple front-office executives told Yahoo! Sports.
After resurrecting the Cyclones program and nearly pushing them into the Sweet 16 of the 2013 NCAA tournament, Hoiberg’s college coaching success, combined with his pro pedigree, has convinced league officials he’s the ideal college coach to make the transition to pro basketball.
”If I had to make a hire this year, [Hoiberg] would be one of the first calls I’d make,” one NBA general manager told Yahoo! Sports on Sunday. “He is a natural for our league.”
Among seven GMs contacted on Sunday, there wasn’t a single one who expressed skepticism about Hoiberg’s ability to make an immediate leap to an NBA coaching job should he have a desire to do so.
Two GMs who expect to have openings told Yahoo! Sports that they planned to feel out Hoiberg’s interest in the NBA once they begin search processes.
Prying Hoiberg out of Ames, Iowa, won’t be easy. He grew up in Ames, graduated from Iowa State and has shown a strong inclination to coach his alma mater for the long term. Long ago, his popularity and loyalty in the community gave him his nickname of “The Mayor.” Hoiberg has long expressed a desire for his children to have a similar upbringing in Ames as he did.
Eight years ago, Hoiberg’s NBA career ended prematurely with heart surgery for an enlarged aortic root. Doctors inserted a pacemaker into Hoiberg and future heart procedures haven’t been ruled out.
Nevertheless, Hoiberg has the perfect disposition, proven Xs-and-Os acumen and understanding of the NBA to make himself an attractive candidate. The Cyclones play a fast, pro-style offense.
“It would need to be a long-term commitment, because he could stay at Iowa State forever,” says one assistant GM who stays in contact with Hoiberg.
ICYMI of the night: A little bit of point guard-on-point guard rejection makes for a nice Monday morning treat … :
Bryant landed awkwardly with Hawks swingman Dahntay Jones underneath him after his baseline jumper that could have tied the game bounced off the rim. The way the crowd (which was a raucous pro-Lakers group a la Staples Center Southeast) went silent, you’d have thought it happened in Los Angeles.
A severely sprained left ankle will sideline Bryant indefinitely. X-rays of the injury were negative, but Bryant was clearly in pain and limped to the sideline for the final 1.5 seconds of the shorthanded Hawks’ 96-92 win. The Lakers’ chances of finishing off their miraculous reversal of playoff fortunes might also have to be a limp to the finish if Bryant is out for an extended period.
Much was and will be made of the play that Bryant was injured on, with the initial shot fired by Bryant.
“As defensive players, you can contest shots, but you can’t walk underneath players,” Bryant said. “That’s dangerous for the shooter.”
Steve Aschburner: I’m the wrong person to opine on this because I was in the building Monday night when the Hawks scored just 20 points by halftime against Chicago at United Center. Hey, the entire Atlanta team, in the second quarter, scored five more points than I did. So I’m prone, as they say, to throw the baby out with the bath water – and then slap the baby’s parents. But I’ll focus on one possible change: Josh Smith. Before the game, Drew talked about Smith being overdue for All-Star selection. But in the game, the talented but temperamental player sulked, jawed with referees and got T’d up for throwing the ball hard at ref Ken Mauer. Nice enough guy and supremely skilled, but the Hawks should not commit on a max deal to him and dare not lose him in free agency for nothing. Trade him before the Feb. 21 deadline.
Fran Blinebury: What’s he going to do — put Zaza Pachulia in the starting lineup for Al Horford, Devin Harris in for Jeff Teague and expect everything to change? Despite what Drew said, it is very much his job to coach effort, to have his players inspired and motivated every night. As soon as a coach throws up his hands and says it’s not, he’s inviting himself to be the change.
Jeff Caplan: Sign up on LinkedIn and get your resume up to snuff. Look, this team had a nice start, but it doesn’t have the pieces to make a deep playoff run. It didn’t with Joe Johnson and it doesn’t know. There’s been a sense ever since Danny Ferry took over as GM that Drew was a short-timer. Ferry’s done a great job clearing out salary and making room to add more pieces, but that process likely won’t start until the summer when Drew will likely be hitting the pavement.
Scott Howard-Cooper: Score more than 58 points. Change that. Assuming you mean ideas for changes with the team he is given, since that is LD’s department, not trades, there aren’t many changes to make. Tell Josh Smith to lay off the jumpers? Good luck with that conversation.
John Schuhmann: I’m not sure why he put Lou Williams back on the bench in the first place. They were having some success with a starting lineup of Jeff Teague, Williams, Kyle Korver, Josh Smith and Al Horford. Then they lost a few games in a row and Drew went away from it, even though that lineup wasn’t really the problem. Lineup change or not, I think they’re just coming back down to earth a bit. They’re not as good as they were when they were No. 3 in the East, and they’re not as bad as they’ve been over the last seven games.
Sekou Smith: Larry Drew, who’s done a fine job as the Hawks’ coach, better be careful. He doesn’t have a contract beyond this season and is working under a general manager who didn’t hire him. The easiest change to make for a team with a roster full of guys on one-year or expiring deals is a coaching change. The rumors of the Hawks trading Josh Smith have been rumbling for five years. Ignore them. He’s not going anywhere. The stunner, the move that would really shake things up is if the Hawks were to consider it, would be to entertain offers for Al Horford, whose trade value would be sky-high (young and productive power forward with a reasonable contract).
ATLANTA –Josh Smith considers himself a realist. And he’s never been one to hold his tongue where his team is concerned.
So while you might hear championship talk from someone in every single training camp around the league this time of year, the Hawks’ forward refuses to play that game in a situation where name tags were actually necessary like they were at media day Monday at Philips Arena.
Only five of the 18 players the Hawks will suit up for their first practice Tuesday were a part of the organization last year. The Hawks jettisoned six-time All-Star Joe Johnson (Brooklyn Nets) and starting small forward and former No. 2 overall Draft pick Marvin Williams (Utah Jazz) as two of the nine players sent packing during a summer makeover/fire sale engineered by new general manager Danny Ferry.
That leaves Smith, All-Star center Al Horford, starting point guard Jeff Teague and back up big men Zaza Pachulia and Ivan Johnson as the returning nucleus of a team that made five straight trips to the playoffs. A sixth is as far as Smith is willing to go with his preseason hype before seeing this new group, complete with as many as in action.
“Every summer I take a look at my team and try to make an educated guess about where we fit,” Smith said. “It’s going to be a challenge, going against some of the top-notch teams in the East when you consider Miami comes back strong as ever. Boston went out and got better, got a couple of steals late in the draft to go with what they already had. Basically, all of the teams that were up there made moves to stay in that mix. I’m not going to lie, it is going to be a challenge. But it’s always been a challenge for us. And we always seem to find our way into the playoff mix. This season is no different.”
Why that would be needed for a team that’s made five straight playoff appearances is not the point. With five core players (Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Al Horford, Jeff Teague and Zaza Pachulia) on the roster for the 2012-13 season chewing up the bulk of the salary cap space, the Hawks are in need of a mini-makeover.
Ferry, the vice president of basketball operations for the San Antonio Spurs (and the former general manager in Cleveland) – until he was announced as the Hawks new GM this morning – has proved capable of mastering the mini-makeover. He did it several times in Cleveland when he had to put together the right supporting cast for LeBron James.
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.
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 directive was simple for the Slovenia, win or go home. They did exactly what had to be done against Finland, aesthetics be darned. Sure, it wasn’t one of the prettier games played in this competition. But it was a win. And those have been tough to come by for Slovenia lately. Uros Slokar turned in a near-flawless effort off the bench with 13 points, eight rebounds and no turnovers in 22 minutes to spark Slovenia. Erazem Lorbek (14 points and six rebounds) and Zoran Dragic (10 points and four rebounds) delivered as well.
“Before the game we just told ourselves to relax and think how we can enjoy the game again,” Slokar said. “Go on the floor and try to be more relaxed. I think that’s something we managed to do. Finland played good but we kept them on a low score and that’s the key for our wins. Spain is favorite against any team in this tournament, but our goals are different than theirs. We will try to win and give 100 percent to win. If that would be enough it’s great, and if not we’re still going to be happy with the result because we gave 100 percent.”
With the win Slovenia earned a date against defending champion Spain, winners of Group E. So the challenge for Slovenia remains. And they’ll have to stay focused the entire way to have a chance against Spain, something they struggled to do against Finland. It took six straight points from Lorbek to hold off a Finland rally in the fourth quarter.