As the HHB was on the award-winning Bill Shanks Show on Macon's ESPN 105.5 Friday, we talked about how the team had established itself as a definite playoff team and likely to win 50 games and hold onto home court advantage for the first round of the playoffs.
Now, you might ask, after the Hawks humiliating 121-87 loss in Orlando, would we like to have a mulligan on that prediction?
After the Hawks lost to Orlando in Atlanta Wednesday, the team was convicted that they simply had started playing basketball too late in the game to overcome 3 quarters of passive play. The Hawks did indeed clamp down in the fourth quarter and got the game to a potential comeback win, but alas they fell short. They emerged determined to show they had learned their lesson by returning the favor immediately in Orlando.
The Magic, however, were equally frustrated that, in a game they had ruled for 3 quarters, they allowed the Birds to have life late in the game, and in their own lapse almost lost the game. They also vowed to show they had learned their lesson.
It was easy to see early who was up to the task. Orlando came out and picked up where they had left off after those (3) 50+ FG% shooting quarters in Atlanta. They moved without the ball and shot fearlessly, racing out to a laughable 22-4 lead before half the first quarter was up.
Then, unlike the game in Atlanta where the Hawks might have played passively but still kept their heads in the game allowing them the chance to make that late game run, the young team did something it hadn't done all year----lost their collective heads.
It was as if the entire team slipped into the Josh-Smith-shooting-just-for-the-heck-of-it-from-wherever mode.
Any semblance of effort on defense or contesting shots was not shown. Offensive "sets" were reduced to one pass, dribble for a few seconds, and then take whatever shot you have.
Wait, it's worse. They let the officials dictate their mental mood, getting frustrated so much, that they picked up 3 technical fouls in addition to the one by Mike Woodson before the first half even ended.
In short, they lost their poise, their heads, and their will to compete----and the end result was the message that the Magic had every intention of delivering.
So while we are in concert with the obvious opinion that this is the worst game of the season for the Hawks, we are not ready to say that this has any far reaching implications of the team, coach, or end of season record. It was a loss, and the standings will record it as only one loss, not penalize the team with extra losses for it's Friday night transgressions.
However, the HHB has to note these troubling items from the game:
Once again, Al Horford played with passiveness, not passion.
We love the fellow Gator (Championship!), but we have been saying for weeks now that he is not playing with the same energy, fire, and passion that he played with last season. Whether it's a fear of fouls or the night-in, night-out rigor of playing against monsters like Dwight Howard inside is getting to him mentally, he is not asserting his will onto the game, he is accepting the will of others. We will keep saying it: Less Alan Henderson, More Al Horford.
Nobody stepped up on the team to stop the mental bleeding.
Nobody stepped up as a leader to calm things down when the game began to really spiral, to get better shots as a team, to rally the crew defensively. Instead, everybody seemed to try to take things into their own hands offensively and derailed any semblance of an offense.
Woodson might have tried to go back to Mike Bibby sooner. Yes, Bibby was part of some of the problem early on, but when he left the game with 3:30 or so left in the first quarter, it was an 18 point deficit. When he returned eight minutes later, it was 34 points down. Joe Johnson and Josh Smith got their technicals with Bibby on the bench. We're not saying Bibby would definitely have made a difference in the team's demeanor, but it might have calmed things down a little and the game was free falling.
While Dwight Howard is a beast inside, the Hawks were downright fraidy-cat to get near the paint.
Everybody was shooting fadeaways against the entire Magic squad, large and small. Combine that with letting the Magic get to any spot on the floor they wanted on the other end, and the team became like the shots they preferred---fadeaway.
Dwight Howard plays somewhat dirty.
On screens, even though he is as wide as the Mississippi, he lifts his leg up to impede the player working around his pick. Lifts his leg. As if to trip or set up some toll (hey, maybe that's it---It is Orlando, where tolling tourists and residents helps rake in the doughboy) for opponents to pay before they pass. Inside, he holds, pushes---it's really a shame. Maybe we just caught him on two nights were he was doing his best Arvidas Sabonis impressions---but we'd like not to get a third show of those shenanigans. Or maybe he really wants to be Karl Malone.
Silver lining---Coach Woodson finally found a way to get Acie Law 25+ minutes in a game.
So despite all of this "greatness" the Hawks were showing Friday night, we're still willing to say this was an aberration that teams suffer throughout the grind of the season. We also still say that they need to bring the energy and sense of urgency from the first minute of the game and say that both Horford and Smith need to protect the paint and send a message early with that defensive energy.
However, the team can't let this loss get them into a funk, not with a significant bit of games on the road immediately coming. If they do, then this game will serve as a symbol to how the Hawks took a major step back. But, should they string together a few wins, it will be "bad day" that folks have and soon forget. We're crossing all of our fingers that they prove it's the latter.
All of them.
The HHB decided to stick toothpicks in their eyes instead of attending Friday's game in Orlando. It was a good call. Comments and BCS Championship kudos are always welcome in the Comments Area.