Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The 2009 HHB Hawks Blogging Awards!!

Ladies and gentlemen, take your seats for the cavalcade of self-congratulation that is the 2009 Human Highlight Blog Hawks Blogging Awards!

Let's roll out the red carpet for all of our stars who made a difference out there in the Hawks news, opinion, and other "important" Hawks related material.

Ah yes, only the glare of being near our mighty sun can surpass the majesty of this day---the pageantry of the awards, the recognition of one's (largely unpaid) contribution to the Bird Watching of an entire season, the thrill of victory and the ambivalence of not-victory.

Without further ado, let's get to the first award:

Best Supporting Blogger:

This award goes to the blog that, while not necessarily focusing on the Hawks, added value to those who wished to get more Hawks related information.

And the winner is---Lang Whitaker of SLAM! Magazine.

Lang is an unabashed Hawks fan, but has credibility when he speaks (through the written/typed word) about the Hawks. Yes, Lang has a section on the Hawks official website, but through his space on SLAM! and through Twitter and other source (including radio this year w/Steve Holman), Whitaker provided a national voice with real Hawks cred for the people.

We also want to add that we saw a strong late season push by Bradley's Buzz from the Mark Bradley---as he is the rare newspaper veteran that will link independent blogs in his "Net Buzz".

Best Costumes:

This award goes to the blog that sports the best wardrobe when on assignment, which automatically rules out ESPN's John Hollinger, who we believe wears the same combo to every game (well, that's what we heard!).

And the winner is----Peachtree Hoops!

Drew chooses from an array of Hawks jerseys when attending the game, must wear attire for the true Hawks blogger.

Set Design:

This award goes to the blog that sports---get it---the best design--the most fun. This would involve having the blog be more than just the standard Blogger template, with simple font and nothing under the title---kind of like--oh, wait---

And the winner is----The Vent!

Any blog that can work in the color pink and make it look good in an NBA blog is tough to beat.

Best Player Contribution:

Acknowledging the player that directly gave the best information to an independent sports blog.

And the winner is---Speedy Claxton!

The (if you believe him) soon to be former Hawk provided the HHB and others worldwide with his take on him not being active even though healthy and a heads up as to being active for the final two games of the season in his Twitter contributions.

Most Upbeat:

The blog who is most optimistic and cheerful about the Hawks, providing a refuge from those who may have perused the HHB, Hoopinion, or Hawk Str8Talk.

And the winner is---Hawks BasketBlog!

Led under the direction of Micah Hart, the BasketBlog was a constant stream of Hawks information and a positive take on the team, even after some difficult stretches. Not all blogs should be doom and gloom after losses---and Hart's Hawks BasketBlog delivers the refreshing alternative while not losing any credibility in doing so.

Most Missed:

This recognizes the blogger whose gifts were most missed throughout the season--for one reason or another.

And the winner is---The Vent!

She may say that all angles are being covered by the rest of the Hawks Blogging World, but CoCo is wrong. Financial disagreements regarding the value of an Internet connection and other reasons aside, her voice and opinion, while being seen in the Comment Areas of fellow bloggers, were missed on her own forum.

The People's Choice Award:

The people file in, they read, and on this category's blog, they comment--and comment---and comment. This award recognizes the blog that has the most interaction with its readers.

And the winner is---Peachtree Hoops!

Led by the best in game comments area and the most fervent, frequent commentors, Peachtree Hoops has easily become the go-to place for the Hawks Nation to be themselves and get their own opinion out to the world.

Drew's entertaining, everyfan's approach to his blog has obviously been noticed as a safe haven for these folks, and the numbers and activity support it.

Best Information:

The best real information coming from a blog.

And the winner is---Hawks Blog!

Sekou Smith does a sensational job bringing the beat writer to the blog in his space. Sekou provides inside information on the areas we want to read about.

Best Ranting:

Appreciating the core blogging art of ranting about their craft, hobby, or in this genre's case---the Hawks.

And the winner is---Hawk Str8Talk!

To rant and be cohesive in your thoughts, that's good. To do that over the span of 3,000 words, that's true ranting and what you can find on the Str8Talk express. The HHB can't hardly get to 1,000 words without run-on sentences and limericks.

And now the big awards (aka--the ones given in the last hour of the overblown, six hours too long TV award shows):

Best Writing:

Acknowledging the best writing in a blog over the course of the season. This includes best analysis, sharp observations, and entertaining material.

And the winner is---Hoopinion!

More so than other blogs who do this very well, Hoopinion provides relevant information in an easy flowing, quote and footnote style without being too wordy and without missing many angles or burying any key info.

Most Philanthropic:

Awarding the blog that has given away the most time and recognition over the course of the season.

And the winner is---Hoopinion!

Bret consistently and unabashedly has given time in his forum, one that is likely more read than any independent Hawks blogs, to other writers such as us. He doesn't seek out any this for that--he simply links and quotes from others, often giving them credibility they don't necessarily deserve (such as our humble area).

Blog Entry of the Year:

Best Single Blog Entry of the season.

And the winner is---State of the Hawks Nation, Peachtree Hoops!

This entry delicately balances the desire to want to celebrate the accomplishments of the Hawks to date, while wanting permission to be able to critique the current to deliver the hope for the future. It's a position that all fans want to resolve internally and this post delivered the ability to bring out those internal tug-of-wars.

Blog of the Year:

Best Blog over the course of the season.

And the winner is---Hoopinion!

Bret LaGree doesn't take much time off, being as dependable as AC Green in terms of providing content at all times for the Hawks faithful. His site is always informative and provides the statistical analysis that the rest of us either avoid or don't have time to chase down.

In short, Hoopinion is the first place Hawks fans should go to begin their Hawks day.

This season, the Hoopinion blog has been anointed as an ESPN affiliate and has begun to infiltrate even the mother site itself in the Daily Dime offerings during the Hawks' playoff jog. In the meantime he left his other habitat, Peachtree Hoops in the hands of the excellent Drew Ditzel, and thus provided the Hawks fan base with (2) places to find good Hawks material.

Congratulations to all who took home awards tonight! Gift bags, the afterparty, and any feedback from this season's gala can be found in the Comments Area.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Official HHB Hawks Season Recap

47 wins, most since 1997-98.

Second round of the playoffs for the first time since 1999.

A 6-0 start to the season, with wins on the road against New Orleans and Orlando that would serve notice that the Hawks competitiveness in the previous season's playoffs was more proof than fluke.

At first pass, one would say that the 2008-2009 season was a successful one for the Hawks and their young core.

Still, the HHB has spent a week on the sports psychiatrist's coach asking this question:

Why, given the simple data that shows improvement, does it feel like such a letdown?

What follows are the (formerly) confidential notes from those sessions:

When (10) Wins Doesn't Feel Like Improvement

As the Hawks were being ushered out of the previous year's post season festivities by the eventual champs, while celebrating the areas that the Hawks had been good at by making the playoff experience the longest it could have been for a first round exit, it was clear there were some areas that the Hawks needed to focus on to improve and build on the playoff berth.

Then the new season started and the Hawks came out with all guns blazing, bursting a 6-0 start that only the heralded Los Angeles Lakers could match. Included in these games were a rousing opening night win in Orlando and a surprising road win against New Orleans. In these games, the Hawks played strong as a unit and seemed intent on making the case that they were serious about taking a step forward from the season before.

Then, Josh Smith got hurt, the streak ended, and the Hawks played six games above .500 the rest of the way. The rest of the way we saw a team that was strong at home, inconsistent at best on the road, and mired in their ways.

Read any blog about the Hawks for this past season and you will see what the HHB is referring to here. Their ways. This would include:

Josh Smith and His Many Ways to Confound, Frustrate, and Entertain (and produce).

Constant slow starts at the beginning of games as the Hawks would try to take the other team's basketball temperature to see how hard they would have to play for that night. This would be commonly referred to by the team themselves as "coming out flat".

Offensive game plans that amounted to little more than dribble down, make a pass, and then stand around and watch that chosen player break his man down one-on-one and see what happens. At the end of games, this would be referred to as "Watching Joe Johnson".

Poor defensive efforts that would start with Mike Bibby struggling to maintain his man or, worse still, constant switching that would create whatever matchup the other team wanted to see. It's no Rubik's Cube when everybody knows how to solve that little mystery.

The Atlanta Hawks feature a talented young roster that on some nights can out-athleticize and out-shoot most teams in the NBA. This works against less talented teams in the league, but it doesn't scale to good teams, or on the road, and certainly not when both those factors are in play.

Second Round and Bust

To advance past the Miami Heat (w/Dwyane Wade!) and move into the second round seems like good progress, but nothing about the first round victory seemed impressive, especially given that all the points above reared their ugly heads continuously through that seven game series.

The Hawks had way more talent ready to win than Miami did, yet allowed all their bad habits to stretch the series to the limit.

Then came the series against Cleveland, or as Cavs fans call it "Did We Play A Second Round?". Whereas the Hawks surprised the Celtics the season before and were able to jump the better team at home, this sound team was ready and took all the Hawks best shots before tossing them aside. The Hawks had used home court and the energy Philips Arena provided as a crutch and a way to hide the glaring issues that lingered throughout the season. The Cavs came along and pulled back the curtain on the Hawks and showed just how far mentally and strategically the team had to go to really be anything more than a participant in the NBA's glory season.

When Do You Know That It's Love?

That's how you can go from a quick look at the simple data and see success to feeling underwhelmed by the whole finish.

When a team seems like they peaked in the sixth game of the year, the rest of the season will have that anti-climactic feeling to it. Add in the annoying, obvious, and continuous problems that were never addressed for the remainder of the season, and one might see how Frequent Bird Watchers can carry this opinion about a 47 win, second round playoff team--even given the recent history.

Looking at the statistics, most everything improved about the team, especially compared with the rest of the league---their offensive rating (per 100 possessions) improved from 16th to 10th, and their defensive rating made a similar improvement (18th to 11th).

Marvin Williams and Al Horford both made strides towards being more efficient in the PER model (The HHB will address players individually in greater detail throughout the offseason), Mike Bibby greatly improved the play from the point guard position from the season before, and even Joe Johnson proved to be slightly more productive than in the previous season.

And by the way, you know, when you're telling these little stories? Here's a good idea - have a POINT. It makes it SO much more interesting for the listener!

Our bottom line is this---there is no disputing the productive improvement over the course of the season, 10 games more won, moving forward in the playoffs, home court advantage---all of these definitely point to an improvement and a step forward for a franchise that had no forward movement at all for this decade.

However, when feeling positive about this team, it's hard not to be concerned about the areas which plagued the team all season long, without correction. It's those problems that caused a disaster of a second round series and prolonged a first round series against an inferior team, in which home court was, at one point, lost.

This offseason will be dotted with drafts, free agency, and a probable "Where in the World is Josh Childress" story arc at some point.

But, in our opinion, the most important and influential area that the Hawks can address are the ways in which they lost the season before. We can always use more talent---and that was made clear as well throughout the year, especially in the case of many injuries---but all the talent in the world can't mask some of the systemic problems we've noted here often and above, and if the goal is to move beyond the benchmark of this season, then these have got to be corrected.

Or so says our therapist.

The HHB will be offering player reviews throughout the offseason, but also has a 5th child on the way, creating a devastating Starting Five in about (20) years. Thoughts and Diapers can be left in the Comments Area.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Get to the Point

ATL fans, since Jeff Denberg lost his life to cancer the city did not have a finer beat writer (no offense, Michael Lee) than today's Sekou Smith.

He is everything you want a beat writer to be; informative, timely, and candid. Smith delicately balances keeping-it-real with the fact that his livelihood comes from gaining access/information from the very people he might be straight with the readers about.

His blog is a good read, it's located on our Bird Feeds and today features some takes on Josh Smith, offseason patience (like we don't know how that is), and the thorn in the flesh of the Atlanta Hawks franchise, the point guard position.

His take is one part defense of Bibby and one part calling out the franchise for a lack of a long term plan at the position.

Our take on Bibby is well known: The Hawks are better off for having stolen him from SAC and a large part of why they are (10) games better comes from having his shotmaking ability and competency at playmaking. Just having those two things brought the Hawks from an almost decade long exile at the position to stability.

However, Bibby is miscast (common theme) as a 35-40 minute a game player at this stage in his career. Yes, he is only (31), but there are eleven NBA years on those legs, ankles, hips, etc--and it shows on the defensive end. We don't advocate letting Bibby walk, especially given the extreme negligence in developing a younger alternative/supplement over the years by the franchise. But to bring him back and continuing to run him in any longer than a 25-30 minute game; to maximize his effectiveness, is misguided and sure to show the same sorts of problems defensively next season.

The Hawks have to present some alternative next year that will be a compliment to Bibby's skills at the point guard position as well as give Bibby some strategic games off, should he be back next year. The fact that the Hawks are no closer to understanding what Acie Law might provide at that position after (2) seasons is a failure.

If the Hawks don't believe that Law can provide what we are suggesting for next season then they need to get on it quick, and by it we mean bring in that slasher type who can make plays, understands distributing the ball, and also get after it defensively. There are a few options out there that fit our description, and Sekou does a nice job in listing them out on that blog entry, and Mark Bradley lets us know what his pet project would be through the draft channel (VCU's Eric Maynor).

Sekou absolutely sticks it with this quote:

Either you have a veteran hand capable of orchestrating almost any situation, a guy that can make everything run smoothly (Kurt Warner anyone) or you have the young phenom (the Falcons’ Matt Ryan comes to mind) that simply will not be denied. If you get caught between those two extremes, you’re gambling with your team’s future.
Whatever the Hawks do with this critical decision, it must be with both next year and the future in mind. Otherwise, as Sekou says, it's a gamble---and it's a wager with immediate consequences.

The HHB wrote a post about the horrors of the past when it comes to this position---so we're extra sensitive when this subject is at hand. Thoughts and Ideas can be offered in the safety of the Comments Area.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Dwight Howard's Problems Sound Familiar

Sometimes, it's just nice to know you aren't alone.

Down the road, in Orlando, there is a problem. Dwight Howard is frustrated at the offensive philosophy of his team as it is making the post, and therefore himself, an afterthought.

You can read about it very well in the Sporting News' new basketball blog, The Baseline.

The piece makes the comparisons between the Magic's systematic exclusion of the post as a bloodstream source of offense and the nurturing, developmental way that the Lakers are taking on Andrew Bynum's role in the Laker offense.

Read the article and you might get that it's the same feeling the HHB gets when looking at the First Two Years of the restricted role Al Horford has taken offensively in the Hawks gameplan and the development of many young big selected after him, Glen Davis being the most obvious example right now.

In Orlando, this will definitely be dealt with, as Dwight Howard's frustrations will surely be cause for change---but in Atlanta, what is the future for Horford offensively, if he is never developed into a stronger post player? With his quickness, explosiveness, and good hands, there is no reason why the offense can't flow through him. But what is happening instead is he's looks like he's being asked to be a more European center, knocking down jump shots, cleaning the glass, and basically taking the scraps of the offense.

For coaches to ignore the role of the post in the offensive efficiency of the offensive is one thing is a matter of philosophy---to do it at the expense of your high draft picks and/or superstars with post skill sets seems more than a bit inflexible and deigns to threaten either the growth of those players on that end or the end of your existence as "coach".

Any thoughts or discussion on the matter are welcomed eagerly in the Comments Area.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

HHB Playoff Review/Hawks Review on the Bill Shanks Show

The HHB was on the Bill Shanks Show on Fox Sports 1670 in Macon on Tuesday. We reviewed the Hawks series against the Cavs, what might be coming in the offseason, and who and what's to blame for it all.

You can listen to it right here!

Caution: Listening to the HHB on Radio can cause serious drowsiness--Mountain Dews or Jolt Cola are recommended as well as a serious psychiatric exam after listening. Complaints can be registered in the Comments Area.

Get The Picture

While others may be making their final summations of the Atlanta Hawks 2008-2009 season, we still feel like making the argument.

When looking for where to improve the team, examples have been abundant in this "series" with the Cleveland Cavaliers, who wrapped up the Hawks' bouquet of second round futility by tossing them aside 84-74 to sweep in (4) games, none of which even creased single digits in margin of defeat.

We ask you, the people of the NBA court, to look at the facts that surround the Game Four loss and hear our argument one more time, points that have been made all season long, in this space and in others (better, even) like it.

As if needing another fish-in-the-face reminder, the Hawks offense was again woeful, scoring (74) points on a night when they were way above average from the free throw line (26-30). Brick after brick, contested and uncontested, the Hawks literally shot themselves dead Monday night. Mike Bibby (1-6), Flip Murray (4-15), Marvin Williams (1-7), and Joe Johnson (7-18) contributed to the miserable (31) percent shooting night.

As the Hawks launched their defensive effort to limit the visitors, they found that there were no amount of stops that could overcome their pitiful offense. During the two main stretches of the second half, when the Cavs were unable to get things going offensively, the Hawks failed to gain any ground.

When CLE made (2) shots in the first four minutes of the third quarter, the Hawks countered by hitting none. And then when CLE scored a measly (11) points in the first nine minutes of the fourth quarter, including the gift of five turnovers (w/THREE shot clock violations), the Hawks could only muster a push of the same: (11) points.

As we continue to build the case against the offense for the season, Game Four once again showed that a team can not live by jump shots and one-on-one moves. Inside presence is needed, in the post, on the drive/penetration, and then back out. Breaking down your opponents on the majority of possession works when you face lesser competition---but playing that way in the playoffs makes you the inferior team.

We will hear about the injuries, but as we have shown, even when healthy this pattern has held true, resonating in both the road record and the record against the top teams in the league.

Losing Al Horford hurts on the defensive glass, but that argument doesn't hold even a drop of water on the offensive end, where the Hawks routinely chose to avoid Horford in favor of the isolation game--and as such have relegated the former #3 pick in the draft to towel boy status on that end in most games. There wasn't even a consistent effort this season to zip the ball up the court to the often sprinting Horford when healthy, so we're not optimistic the spinner would have landed on The Godfather's number at all even if he had been (100) percent for Game Four.

With so many errant shots by the Birds, it's no wonder that the Cavs smushed the Hawks against the glass again, outrebounding the gracious hosts 48-33. CLE had no game in this run against ATL in which they didn't outpace the Hawks by at least (8) boards.

It was fitting that, as the Hawks were trying desperately with (2) minutes left to make a final stand and cut the then-five point lead down, they got beat to the defensive rebound three straight times and then got buried underneath a Mo Williams three. That one possession ate up half the remaining time on the season, all hope of obtaining even a single win, and showed how far the Hawks have to go to understand the fundamental value of positioning oneself to protect the defensive glass.

Finally, the HHB honors the work that Mike Bibby has done in a season and a half with the Hawks. To a franchise that has been saddled with less-than-stellar (feeling generous!) players logging major minutes at the game's pivotal position, having Bibby's offensive and playmaking acumen has been a big reason why the Hawks realized a (10) game improvement this season.


The major flaw in Bibby's game has been his man defense---and CLE (as most bonafide teams will do) exploited it to the hilt. Bibby's "team high" (-16) in only (30) minutes of floor time is a good indicator of what we all have observed and commented on for the same season and a half Mike has been here. It's not a matter of desire with Bibby--at this point, it's ability. Such a strain on a defense will expose it if the team isn't particularly adroit at rotation, which the Hawks are not.

We can appreciate that a team like Cleveland is very good and they have made many teams look as feeble as the Hawks did over the last (4) games. However, to bow to excellence does not vindicate or validate a flawed approach to the fundamental tenets of good team basketball. The Hawks have borderline flaunted these almost to a man (that's coaches, too) in the organ-i-zation throughout the season and should see that in order to really "improve", a change in approach is needed in these key areas.

If we are to believe, and by the sheer volume of time it was referenced--they really want us to, that the team learned many great things from their (7) game loss in last year's Boston series, then we must hope that lessons will be taken from this experience as well. To continue to stick the franchise's collective head in the sand will only bring these issues out again next year, as we're not particularly good at ignoring the obvious and no matter how much older this young core will get, the results, if unchecked, will remain the same.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Rest In Peace, Playoff Memory

It was as expected as the Atlanta Hawks returned home to play Game Three:

The crowd was loud, the team was pumped, and the Hawks took the lead late into the third quarter. They moved without the ball, explored the theory of offensive ball movement, and got after loose balls and rebounds. Heck, they even got the stingy Cavs to turn the ball over.

It played out exactly as we're sure the Hawks believed it would once they got back to their more comfortable surroundings, where they magically snap together to win the game and defy their doubters.

Nope, guess again.

After a bizarre farewell from the game from Zaza Pachulia, the Cleveland Cavaliers went on a game-finishing 31-17 run to take Game Three and likely the series.

With a minute and a half left in the third quarter, with the Hawks only trailing by a point, Pachulia attempted to take a charge in the lane, but was clearly in the restricted area, and a block was called. Pachulia, obviously feeling wronged, berated the officials from afar, but obviously said some magic words, as they quickly showed him where the bathrooms were.

Whereas in last year's Boston series Pachulia's fire brought the Hawks and the crowd to life, it backfired this time for the Hawks, who had just completed a 13-2 run to really energize the team and get control of their playoff lives. When it happened, the rest of the team looked baffled as to Zaza's tantrum and stunned by his sudden exit. After Pachulia's exit, Al Horford--who had asked to be limited due to his sore ankle in order to be somewhat effective for the team, was forced to check right back into the game.

With the crowd wondering how they should feel and becoming silent during the (4) free throws which followed, LeBron James took it upon himself to make sure the crowd's silence was permanent.

James scored (18) of his (47) points in his last (13) minutes after the ejection, scoring from long range, short range, free range---even tossing in an oh-give-me-a-break bank shot from (22) feet while looking like my uncle, who jumps in the air is if an amphibian.

A player like James is like a very bright light---they expose every one of the flaws on the face of your team. He takes advantage of not being able to keep him outside by driving to the hoop. Once he beats you off the dribble, he makes you pay by over-committing to him by making great passes. Don't want to over-commit? Then he finishes strong or gets to the line. Make him shoot the "3"? He made 5-10 on the Hawks in Game Three---how many of those would you like him to take?

In this series James has has exposed the Hawks lack of defensive rotation, their lack of strong perimeter D, and Mike Woodson's stubborn reluctance to force someone else to shoot the last shots of quarters for the Cavs.

He and his teammates came into the ATL and took everyone's best shot----and still won by (15).

Checkmate, Atlanta.

Franks and Beans Make Great Leftovers

Not to put a stinky lining on the game, but the HHB hopes (and we know we are not alone) that this will FINALLY put to rest the Boston Celtics series from last year. Yes, it was nice to fight back and show we had improved last season. However---It was not a blueprint for future playoff victories nor should it be counted on for any future performance.

We don't believe that anyone in Atlanta can go back to that well now, unless you are going to also reference how crappy you can be at home and away in a series by looking at this particular stinkfest of a second round showing.

A tip of the ol' Jason Terry hat to Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, and Al. There is no doubt that all three of these guys were well below (100) percent, but they gave what they had. Horford has to be surprised to finish at (35) minutes, while Joe almost pitched the complete game, took on LeBron defensively at times---and led the team in scoring.

We have long noted that the goal the Hawks typically shoot on in the first half always seems especially tight. Even the Official Dad of the HHB noted it in watching games throughout the season--not that you would know it by the Cavs' shooting in the fourth quarter in Game Three. In the first quarter, the Hawks were attacking the rim and getting great shots with the ball movement---yet couldn't get the ball to fall, even on layups.

Josh Smith Giveth, and Josh Smith Taketh Away. Not a title---it's the roller coaster this talent puts everyone through. And as much as the people love him, he drove them to booing him when he selfishly launched shot after shot instead of going to the basket in the second half. His freelancing and sagging defensively overwhelms the times he makes a terrific play. If he is part of this core players that the team wants to improve with---the team needs to find a veteran or somebody to keep Josh in the right frame of mind at all times. We're looking forward to the offseason where we don't feel like we have to point out the same old, same old about Smith's game---it was so obvious tonight that he forced our fingers---not that it forced the coaching staff to do anything about it.

After the Break, Wacky Willie Wallace with the Weather

We're not saying we're preparing a post mortem on the 2008-2009 season yet (What's that? Go ahead?), but we were pretty sure that ESPN/ABC was going to put a poker-like percentage on the Hawks chances to win the series beside the final score. The Cavs have a royal flush and the Hawks have a six high right now. Not sure what card could save them unless LeBron decides he wants to play baseball full time starting tomorrow.

You just can't count on circumstances to win ball games for you, it takes talent, execution, and mental strength to make it happen. Sure you can get by with first one when you play lesser teams, but to win against the caliber of teams that are left, you gotta have all three and you need 'em better than the other guys' got them.

That's not this team at this time---so it's best that those past playoff "glories" are left back there and they can look to how they can get themselves in better position to beat these types of teams.

And by they, we mean everyone in the organ-i-zation---top to bottom.

The HHB was proud of the crowd booing LeBron, which probably incited snobbery among the national talking heads---Screw 'ems and other thoughts can be left tastefully in the Comments Area.

Friday, May 8, 2009

There Is No Candy From Strangers

Boo-hoo, Atlanta Hawks.

Playoff time is a time to make your own results, not wait for them to be offered to you and, if you are willing, accept.

Too often in these games in Cleve-land the Hawks have postured and pouted, wanting someone else to bail them out; Officials, coaches, their opposition, and too often somebody else on their own team.

It's a mark of not only a young team, but an immature one as well. There is everyone to look at for the source of this problem, but everyone is more than willing to look at the speck in somebody else's eyes than to attempt to remove the plank from their own.

In Games One and now Two, the Hawks have looked defeated before they have taken the court. They have begun these games knowingly below full strength, and this has seemed to serve as a crutch that would allow a less-than-stellar effort to play team basketball. You can't blame a single person for this issue, because while change begins with each individual, it takes everyone to buy in for the change to take hold.

These are just the mental aspects of the issues. The basketball side of things is weak as well.

After promising a more ball-movement friendly after Game One, the Hawks employed the same offense we have seen for the majority of the season--and by majority, we mean landslide. This is a flawed offensive approach that preaches individualism and lends itself suspect to teams that play good halfcourt defense (see Celtics, Boston). We have said and the Hawks have shown that they will only travel as far through the playoffs as this style will allow, and we are seeing the signs of the end of the road.

The defensive end is just as exposed by good teams and is less defendable--as this is based on trust and effort. Too often opponents execute anything they want. Sure, part of the problem is a point guard that can't be hidden unless benched, but there are other issues as well. Josh Smith freelancing, rebounds not being procured, defense late in rotating, and loose balls going to the other team as their 7'3 center with creaky everythings outhustles the team for possession.

It's the individualism inherent on both ends of the court that feeds this isolationism and causes the inefficiency on this team.

As Game Two took shape, and it wasn't long before that happened, the Hawks wore the expression of someone sitting on a long, international flight, and the person in front of them has bad gas.

There was little excitement, little camaraderie, and thus little emotion from the Hawks, as they took their whipping as if they expected to get it.

As for the coaches, we saw the following adjustments:

1. Protect Josh Smith from fouling out by benching him with foul trouble in the first half, and then watching him be irrelevant and petulant when he returned; the outcome already decided by the Hawks.
2. Put the second team in late in the fourth quarter to narrow the margin to (20).
3. Pick up a technical foul.

It was not surprising that, after Coach Woodson got his technical foul, that Smith went ahead and got one for himself as well. When the coach allows himself to express his focus through frustration about the officiating, on what do you expect the team to focus?

If the coach says one thing about the offense, yet offers no changes, why is it surprising that none of the players change as well?

Nobody expects a team that is short 60 percent of their starting rotation to win, but folks should expect a team to look desperate to win, eager to execute---and some of those folks should be the ones on the court. The Cavaliers dove, ran, and hustled all over the court--and loved every minute of it. The Hawks looked at these tasks as exciting as changing a dirty diaper.

Sure, we expect we'll see a different level of enthusiasm Saturday back home in Atlanta, again, there is a strong track record of this---but what does it say about a team when they only want to execute when the circumstances are perfect, when adversity has no avenue to intervene?

It likely says that this is a group that still isn't ready to do anything other than get by on their individual talents---and this will always leave them short as a team.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Under No Illusions

For what seemed like all season long the Atlanta Hawks sat in the fourth place position in the East, giving them access to the Home Court Club, but only technically belonging to that group.

Against the top teams in the East (Magic, Celtics, and Tuesday Night's hosts, Cleveland), the Hawks routinely looked over matched (2-10, 1-5 on the road) and wilted in the glare of better basketball. In Game One against the Cavs, the Hawks again looked the part of the hitter who can smash bad pitching, but strikes out against the good.

The Hawks actually got off to a good start, taking an 11-4 lead early on with an offense based on ball movement and a defense that would control the glass. But as the Hawks are want to do, the ball stopped offensively, the Cavs defense tightened, and the Birds eventually wore out, posting a feeble 99-72 effort to lose Game One.

To win against the best home team in basketball at their place, the margin for error is slight. Perhaps being pioneers, the Hawks seemed to try a looser approach to the upset, turning the ball over (17) times to the Cavs (7)--some of which would make even the riskiest of passers blush.

Atlanta also failed to take care of the glass on the defensive end, allowing (15) offensive boards to the Cavs and, unlike their first round opponents (the Heat if you forget frightfully quick), Cleveland's second ranked shooting will make you pay for those extra possessions. Giving such a formidable opponent (15) more shots than you take is not the formula for stealing a game on the road, nor is the thinking that free throws are an optional part of the game (9-18, that's 50 percent for those that attended Florida).

Still, the Hawks kept it close by the end of the first half and trailed only (5) behind excellent inside scoring from Josh Smith (22 total points) and more hot outside shooting from Mike Bibby (7-10, 5-7). When the bell sounded for the second half, however, the Birds came stumbling out of the gate and the Cavs jumped them and never let it get too close again, outscoring their guests 50-28 to close the game.

So Who Won Mr. Congeniality?

LeBron got the MVP trophy before the game and struggled in the first half, having (0) assists by halftime. (Take THAT, Cleveland!) OK, he had (22) points as well and ended with (34) for the game while making it clear the Hawks had no option to guard him soundly. He drove, he shot, he got to the free throw line. He was such a threat on the runouts after a missed hoop that the Hawks pulled nearly everybody as soon as a shot went up, limiting the Hawks potential offensive rebounding opportunities (They had six for the game).

LeBron's effectiveness allowed Mo Williams to continue to beat down ATL by scoring (21) points on 7-12 shooting, and gave Delonte West the freedom to create (9) assists.

Marvin Williams would normally do yeoman's work on LeBron defensively, but Williams is clearly a couple steps behind after missing so many games with his back injury and then all the recent ones with the injured wrist. Even his first free throw was ugly and his infamous moustache lacked presence. It was like watching someone who won a "Look Like Marvin, Play For Marvin" contest before the game.

Actually, it didn't seem like Cleveland had a super game offensively, with Zydrunas Ilgauskus only going 2-9 and Anderson Varejao took (8) shots. Also, when you look at the Hawks starting five, they shot 24-45 (53%). This may have been the Hawks best shot at getting a win at Cleveland, but extra shots for them + Wasted possessions for the Hawks + wasted points from the free throw line = Loss.

It's an equation that seems logical and has been proven all year long by the Hawks. If they want greater success, it'll start on the boards, move to better ball control/movement, and finish with focus from the line.

If not, theyll be down 2-0 and slumping back to the ATL.

Our Prediction? Pain.

The HHB did not offer up a prediction for this series because the Hawks have already shown a solid track record (as stated above) for these type of matchups and we didn't want to be such a wet blanket on the eve of this second round series. Aren't we fan friendly!

See, we would hate to be pessimistic by saying that the Hawks probably only have a good shot at winning a single game this series (Game Three, if forced to pick) and then go down the list of reasons why (immaturity, inconsistency, lack of depth, etc.).

We're the type that picks the alma mater every season to win it all in the March Madness pools, regardless of whether we really think they are going to win. We never wanted to see the good guys win it all---and then have to admit we picked someone else. This way, when they ride to glory, we were riding right along with them.

Which brings us back to the Hawks and the delicate balance between picking with your soul and wanting to maintain integrity.

We picked sweep last round against the Heat because the matchup heavily favored the Hawks and they should have won four in a row. This series against Cleveland is not a good matchup---they can and will attack the basket and can hit the outside shot if the Birds overplay. They have a solid bench with all the roles covered. There is a reason they had the top record in the league, the MVP, top coach, and (2) losses at home.

That reason is that they are good. Better than the Hawks more than the Hawks were better than the Heat. The best outcome we believe the Hawks can do is to have another Boston type series with Cleveland and push them to the brink (that would be to a Game Seven).

To do that would mean that the Hawks played hard and smart for all (48) minutes every game and were willing to exhibit patience, hustle, and maturity on the court.

The HHB congratulates LeBron James for his MVP and hopes that those hideous T-Shirts that accompanied the celebration were the self-dissolving type. Designs for a Mike Woodson T-8 COY shirts can be submitted in the Comments Area.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Onward and---Well---Onward!

The old saying goes it is better to have advanced, then lost, than to not advance at all.

The Atlanta Hawks will put that to the test as they won Game Seven at home against the Miami Heat, 91-78, and move on to the top seeded Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round.

Once again the Hawks came out motivated, energized, and exercised great energy against the visitors defensively. The HHB has stated that, within (5) minutes of the game, we can determine if the Hawks will be engaged and doing the things necessary to win, or if they are emotionally detached and don't stand a chance.

At that mark in Game Seven, despite trailing, the effort was obvious that it would be the full of life Hawks that the Heat would be contending with versus the dead-on-arrival brand that stunk up the joint three times in six games.

Al Horford started, Josh Smith was focused, and the Hawks got after the Heat on both ends.

A good indicator in this series statistically we believe has been the assist to turnover ratio of Joe Johnson, who had really struggled in finding his place in the offense when the Heat seemed bound and determined to keep him from providing anything at that end with a stream of double teaming action.

It seems the Heat didn't strategize on extending that double team out to (30) feet from the basket.

Johnson started slow (0-5), but--umm--got hot the rest of the way, nailing (10) of (14) over the last three quarters or so, including some bombs that can only be called Screw You shots from very long range. Johnson also contributed (4) assists to a lone turnover. This effort, combined with an underrated effort from Mike Bibby, gave The Backcourt (10) assists to a mere (2) turnovers, which helped overcome losing the rebounding battle (39-30).

Well, that and 11-23 shooting from three point range.

This steaming hot shooting mostly came from the boiling hands of Johnson (6-8), who clearly got un-frustrated by stretching his range out to where arenas typically paint logos.

As for the Heat, Dwyane Wade shot and shot (10-25, 2-9), but he couldn't blow the Hawks house down.

When Wade is not hot, there is not much else the rest of the team can do to overcome that. We believe that role players play better at home than on the road, and James Jones (1-5, 0-3) and Mario Chalmers (1-6, 0-2) combined for about (74) minutes to help prove that theory out.

While the first quarter, which featured excellent play from Wade and Udonis Haslem in combining for (16) of the Heat's (18) first quarter points, was back and forth, the Hawks rode Joe's hot second quarter to take a (13) point halftime lead and never looked back, winning their first series since dispatching the Pistons in Joe Dumars last game in 1999, their first seven game series in forever, and winning their first Game Seven since coming to Atlanta.

See You in Cleveland

Al Horford started, but was obviously limited, though he continually got credit for whatever mental, intangible, or spiritual difference the Hawks experienced Sunday afternoon. Horford clearly could not use his sore ankle to maximum performance, and couldn't get elevation on even the closest of shots.

Lost in the Joe Johnson Shoot-a-Thon was that Josh Smith put a very solid effort forward and delivered in this critical game. Smith somewhat resisted the temptation to stay outside and attacked to great success, unveiling a killer up and under and also, and more importantly, hitting (7-8) on his free throw attempts. Smith also participated in the Hawks offensive strategy (caution: cutting edge!) of making the extra pass, especially early on when Joe was cold and Smith was getting inside. If Horford had been healthier and could finish, Smith might have even done better than his (3) assists on the day.

RFM and Zaza Pachulia provided solid minutes off the bench, with Pachulia getting dirty on the floor (in a basketball way, we assure you) and RFM a couple of key three to keep the lead at a hefty margin. In fact, had Murray not had to slum with the scrubs for a good part of the fourth quarter (the lead had gotten up to 26), his +/- would have been way higher than his (+19) for the game.

Ode to a Seven Game First Round

When the NBA extended these first round series out to seven games a few years ago, we're sure they envisioned great matchups and high drama, especially in the theoretically close Fourth and Fifth seeds.

Hey, maybe next year.

This particular series was marked by inconsistency of effort from both sides in different games. Instead of eager anticipation because "anybody could win this game" closeness in talent, it was more of a guessing game between both fan bases to see which team would show up that game.

The Hawks had more talent that the Heat, but frittered away any chance of a shorter series due to their own malaise in competing every game. The Heat had the best player (Dwyane Wade if you hadn't see or heard) but wasted his efforts by providing little strategic initiative to get the other players more involved and efficient (took them how long to attack Mike Bibby?).

We'll miss the noble efforts of ABC/ESPN to completely forget the Hawks (John Anderson---hey, we're still here!!), and of course the TNT kissing booth for Wade, but chin up Hawks fans---

--NBA Coverage of LEBRON JAMES is on the way!

The HHB congratulates the Atlanta Hawks for their first round accomplishments---trophies and participation ribbons are available for pickup in the Comments Area.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

What's Old is New Again

If there was some way to communicate us shaking our collective heads, we'd love to do it.

Oh sure, there can be the old (shaking head), but it couldn't begin to display the level of disappointment in the Hawks dismal 98-72 Game Six humiliation at the hands and home of the Miami Heat.

We offered that, if the Hawks played strong defense, efficient offense, and maintained their composure, they would have a chance to end their series with the Heat in (6) games and not risk an anything-can-happen Game Seven in Atlanta.

We now offer that the Hawks struck out on (3) pitches Friday Night.

As we have explained before, the proof of the Hawks intentions can often be found in the first (5) minutes of a game. If they are geared to challenge, they play aggressive defense, take care of the boards, and show energy offensively. If they are about to lay a rotten egg of a game, they are passive on all fronts and lose poise quickly.

As it so happens, the Hawks were the latter, settling for jump shots, getting beat to spots and shots defensively, and got caught up in the expectation of getting screwed by the officials. Yes, the film will show the Hawks cut a near (17) point lead down to (9), but the Hawks took the halftime break to regroup and afford the Heat a 16-2 run to cement the Hawks fate by using all of the same traits they have shown all year.

Yeah, Well They--What About When--But Don't Forget th--Nevermind

In Games Two and Three one could point to the Heat having statistically anomalous good shooting nights, but Game Six was less about fortune and more about aggression. The Heat were more patient and tenacious than the Hawks, who seemed to already be thinking about what dinnerware to get out for the hosting of Game Seven back home.

The Heat's collective tenacity showed in their pounding the Hawks on the glass, 47-36. The Heat simply moved their bodies more, pouncing on the rebounds, and got more deflections. The Hawks had to work hard to just complete a pass--while the Heat were rarely challenged to any spot on the floor. Dwyane Wade led by example (41 points, 5 rebounds), as did Joel Anthony (8 rebounds, 5 were very offensive), and then Michael Beasley came off the bench and kept the drum beating (22 points, 15 rebounds).

The Hawks played passive on both ends, settled consistently for jump shots, and out-turnovered the Heat. When the going got tough, the Birds looked like they wanted to get going---back to the ATL---They looked like they didn't want to be in Miami, and it was the Heat's energy and execution that made them look that way.

Way to Prove Them Right, Joe

We say that Joe Johnson, when right, is the heartbeat of the Hawks offense. Not so much in the many impressive ways that he can score but rather, when he is going right, there is a rhythm to how he can move the ball and that includes to his teammates. After enjoying a (9) assist, (3) turnover Game Five, The Backcourt went back to their negative ways, posting a 5:7 ratio in this loss.

That said---even though we play this song more than "YMCA" at a ballgame, Mike Woodson pulled Joe Johnson after getting his second foul early in the first quarter (2 minutes into the game). In what could be a deciding game, on the road, against an aggressive team, with your team already without (2) starters, you may want to roll the dice on your guard not fouling out despite picking up those early fouls. Johnson would end with a whopping (3) fouls for the game and he, nor the offense, would ever pick up the flow that existed in Game Five.

Friday Night Is Leftover Night

The Hawks wasted at least two things in this game; a (20) point first half from Mike Bibby and (4) minutes from an obviously injured Marvin Williams, whose only shot attempt badly missed.

Solomon Jones made the start for the Birds in place of the injured, but not naked, Al Horford and there was much rejoicing (yay). Jones, a known fouler, actually stayed out of foul trouble (only one in 21 minutes) and was fairly effective in his role (6 points, 5 rebounds). That Jones' rebounding total was more than double that of Zaza Pachulia (2 boards, no offensive rebounds) while playing fewer minutes than Zaza (29) says less about how well Jones played than it does in telling how the Hawks got completely outworked on the glass.

Mo Evans tried to be a leader in Game Five, but in this one he got caught up in the Hawks Flu--whose symptoms are complaining about the officiating and bad shooting. Get well, Mo---and you as well Josh Smith.

When Home Court Advantage Goes Wrong

So it will come to a Sunday Game Seven---the Heat have all sorts of momentum, but we have seen how little that has mattered in this series. But the problem with a single game is that now the Hawks are vulnerable to another abnormal game---fluke injuries, foul trouble, bad luck--these can all contribute to an adverse game for the Birds---and as we have seen adversity is not a situation the Hawks face with remarkable aplomb.

In a One Game Series the HHB usually goes with the best player to win---we saw who that was in Game Six. And it's not always about just points. Let's just say that there was more than scoring that separated each teams' lead characters on the court on Friday night.

The Hawks had their chance to end it--and now they are even---and anything can happen.

Atlanta has one more chance---The season--and all their work in it---is riding on it.

The HHB is worried for their job if the Hawks can't advance--Any ideas of anyone else that should feel the same can be suggested in the Comments Area.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Drama! Mystery! Intrigue!

What a day The Day After Game Five turned out to be, huh?

All across the media, we saw amazing conversation about what had been--prior to the evening's festivities---a bit of a dull series outside the regular watchers for both teams.

There was emotion, intense "disagreements", and a water cooler event that occurred near the end of the game that sent everybody who watched, and too many who didn't, into full opinion mode.

Don't know what it was? Hang on--I think it might have been posted somewhere:

This attempt at a roof-raising finish has drawn the ire of naysayers and the competition alike.

Coach Spoelstra called it "an attempt to embarrass" and the Heat players felt insulted. Others called it "classless" and "selfish".

The HHB thinks it was an attempt to serve the fans and Josh Smith, in which order is another debate.

Also, during the broadcast of the Game Five, Hawks announcer extraordinaire, Steve Holman, openly mocked what he must have thought was a prima donna display from Heat star Dwyane Wade.

Didn't hear about that either? Oh, let's check the tape:

Between the Smith non-dunk, the Holman manifesto, and the all out physical game that was featured in Game Five, suddenly a lot of drama has emerged for Game Six. Some of the things to watch is:

Just how much can the Heat milk from the "did us wrong" angle stemming from Game Five? Will this be an unable-to-overcome advantage for the Heat emotionally?

Will there be a measure of payback from the Heat that goes beyond the scoreboard (i.e. Josh Smith, meet the floor)?

If there is a wave of hostility from the Heat and their fans in Game Six in Miami, will the Hawks wilt as they did in the glare of Game Three down there?

Will Steve Holman be the first play by play man to ever get continuously booed throughout his broadcast?

These are the questions people----internally, we here at the HHB believe that ANY road game for the Hawks is a cause for concern. We will know within the first five minutes worth of possessions whether the Hawks are serious about digging their heels in and taking everything that Miami has and trying to close this series out in Game Six.

Going into this game, the Hawks better believe they are going to get the best the Heat and the people of Miami have to offer. If the Hawks dig in, play terrific defense and take care of the ball---all the emotion in the world won't help the Heat---unless they shoot over 50 percent again from 3 point range and take a ton of those shots.

It will be a test of their mettle and poise--an opportunity to show growth and that they can close a series. Going into the game thinking that, no matter what, there is a Game Seven in the ATL only allows the chance for another Game Two, where the Heat were making everything. If that would be the case in Game Seven, they will be done.

That the Hawks will have to do that without Al Horford and Marvin Williams makes it harder, but the Hawks played the whole second half without those two in Game Five and not only did they withstand a hot second half from Wade, but they scored very efficiently as well--taking advantage of their talent edge in every way.

Strong defense, efficient offense, and maintaining composure. If the Hawks can do this, it will be another lopsided victory for the Birds, their first seven game series victory in forever, and a chance to show that they have learned some lessons and are indeed a growing team.