Tuesday, December 30, 2008

We Won? (And Other Convoluted Thoughts)

We're confused.

We watched the entire game against the Pacers, including an excruciatingly long 3rd quarter (Louis Grillo, Joe DeRosa, and Violet Palmer, everybody!) and we can't figure it out.

We won this game?

This was a game where we wore what's known around these parts as the "carrot face" (think sucking on a lemon and also wanting to throw up) for most of the second half---a game that will not make the end of the season highlight reel of the best executed games---on the road, on the tired end of a back-to-back---we won this game?


To us, it came down to two things:

In a third quarter which was horrifically over-officiated, the Hawks lost their cool early, fouling the Pacers into the bonus within 4 minutes of the second half and getting a technical foul on Marvin Williams. But it was the Pacers that ended up freaking out more, inviting the Birds into the bonus soon after and getting a technical foul of their own on Marquis Daniels.

When a game is obviously poorly officiated, it's the team that doesn't allow those factors to alter their game or focus that will win the game. In seasons past, the Hawks were not that team. As we watched tonight, the Hawks were, and the team regained composure and rode out the quarter with the lead.

The other, natch, was Joe Johnson.

Not that it's a surprise, but in the last 7:44 of the game, with the exception of a single Josh Smith layup, Johnson made all the Hawks field goals, including a pair of 3-pointers that kept the Hawks at least two possessions ahead down the stretch.

The last one was the end result of a series of passes and player movement. It looked like it might end badly, as Smith was hurdling toward the basket with no shot and it looked like he was going to do one of his patented "hurl the ball anywhere, but with great force!" passes that usually leads to a turnover. Instead, he two-hands-over-the-head soccer passed the ball to an inexplicably wide open Joe Johnson, who put the three ball down and sealed the Pacer fate.

Joe started the quarter with 15 points and ended with 27. Ball-Game.

Other Thoughts:

You had to know, as everybody passed along the BP article that showed the Hawks 3-point prowess, explaining the Hawks rise to "power" in the East, that the Hawks would come out and brick away---and so they did, (6-23, .261). In fact, the shots were so off that they looked like they were shooting at the old playground hoops with the double rims---it was ugly.

If Josh Smith were a roommate, he would be the type that you would have a great time with, have all the cool electronic toys, life of the party, good times all around, but he would always drink the last of the milk and would never do the dishes. We have said before, Josh Smith Lives--and Therefore We Die---and it was true again versus the Pacers. He was one of the main reason for the carrot face, with his careless, careless passing, his unnecessary lunges into the passing lanes, and of course the jump shots. But then there he is, 7-8 on free throws in that marathon third quarter--there he is, making the big pass, and making a key bucket late---there he is, stealing an inbounds pass and scoring on a night where easy baskets were more than usually welcome---Bottom line is we win with Smoove in the lineup, so we'll have to deal with the carrot face for oh, about six more years at least.

For those who might have wanted to select Roy Hibbert after G'Town's runs through the tourney---whooo, you may want to count your blessings---Zaza owned him down low when he was in the game and for a guy who is listed at 7'2, you would like to see a presence on defense at least--13 minutes, Zero rebounds and Zero blocks. Oy.

The Pacers are a classic team without a point guard. Oh yes, Jarret Jack scored well and was aggressive--but the one Approved Point Guard, TJ Ford, jacked up 8 shots of his own in only 11 minutes. The broadcast team (IBR and Nique) was saying how Indiana was lamenting their close game losses this year. Hey, hey! Look no further than your lack of floor general to control situations like the third quarter and down the stretch and you will find your wins.

We should know---since we have received our Approved Point Guard, things haven't been the same. 21 wins before the new year for the first time since 1979 and winning games like this one, where we wonder how in the world we whistled out of a tough place like IND with a win.

Thank you, Mike Bibby!

The HHB is flipping through basketball cards of Hawks point guards past---Emanual Davis, Brevin Knight, Anthony Johnson I, II, and III---If you wish to trade, leave a Comment in the Comments area.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Party Like It's 1987!

Here at the HHB Headquarters---things are a bit unsteady. Here is why:

The Atlanta Hawks have won (20) games and it's not yet January 1st.

The Atlanta Hawks are going into games against playoff teams---as the favorite.

The Atlanta Hawks are the team that is described as "steady", "consistent", and "winning".

As you can see, the world---it shakes a little tonight.

We are watching games in which the Hawks look like the seasoned team---clamping down on defense, moving the ball on offense, laughing it up on the bench while enjoying the last seconds of a game that had been in doubt a quarter before.

It's seems so odd---but the feeling is good.

The Hawks did indeed win their 20th game before the new calendar year, the first time since 1987 we were told, by beating what looked to be a spirited Denver Nug-gets team 109-91.

Since 1987? You mean this team? It was the last Mike Fratello-led team to make it to the Conference Semifinals, but it seems like ages ago. Hey wait, it was!

The Hawks made this happen tonight for a few reasons:

1. Mike Bibby

We've been ringing his bell all season at the HHB, and made him #1 on our Official HHB Hawks Power Rankings last week. This game was a great indicator of why. 7-10, 20 points, money from long range, 9 great assists, and total control of the game. In fact, you can trace the next couple of reasons to Bibby if you care to--it's not like we're stopping you.

2. Rhythm and Tempo

The Hawks, especially on this homestand, seem to have such control of the flow of the game that they seem to be doing exactly what the want. Late in the games, the Hawks have applied their will it seems on the teams they are playing. It looked like the Nuggets were going to give the Hawks a full games worth, but the home team controlled the game on the defensive end, which led to smooth scoring ops on the other side.

It seemed like you couldn't smack the smile off of Carmelo Anthony for 3 quarters, despite his poor shooting night, but in what seemed like 30 seconds, the goodness had turned to badness and Anthony, along with Chauncey Billups, Kenyon Martin, and crew looked like charter members of the Randolph Morris Facial Fan Club.

3. Marvin Williams

We don't know for sure---our game charter was off for the holidays---but it seemed like Marvin Williams drew the assignment of slowing down the ESPN Daily Dime cover boy Carmelo Anthony after his fourth quarter dominance in the NYC Sunday night.

When it was over, Anthony had collected a technical foul for obvious Marvinitus and 13 missed shots from the field (4-17).

4. The Rebounding was Offensive

The Hawks p-wned the glass against the Nuggets with a laughable 44-27 advantage, of which included (15) Offensive Rebounds. Big Ups to Al, Zaza, and Smoove for making it happen there tonight. It was a huge difference.

5. Joe Johnson---Incredible.

We can't say it enough---We hope the ATL is enjoying seeing their superstar (yeah, Sekou Smith, we're with you) night after night. He should be to this generation of Hawks fans what Bernard King was to the Knicks fans in the early-mid 80's. He is a scorer unlike any the Hawks have had, including our namesake.


With the shot clock winding down, Joe Johnson was thrown the ball from about 35 feet away---and buried it.

With Chauncey Billups strutting his stuff and waving off defensive help on Johnson, Joe snapped a rock-a-bye move on Billups and jocked him to get an open shot. Yeah, he missed, but Billups was still drooling when the ball came off the rim.

In the fourth quarter, with the Hawks smelling the blood in the water, Joe took on a double team in corner, only to shake it loose and put the killer sauce down on his long baseline j.

Any basketball fan can appreciate the large amount of money that this player is and love every second (which is a lot these last few games) Johnson is on the floor.

But we here at the HHB are biased--after all, we did compare him to THE playground legend of all time earlier this season.

Seriously folks, Hawks Nation needs to get off our collective rear ends and get some votes in the door for this guy. Having him out of the top 10 in Eastern Guards is the equivalent of having a no-show in the NBA Finals--inexcusable. Go to the Sidebar (Underneath Our Linkage) and Vote Now!

Can We Subscribe Again Next Year?

Maybe it's just us, but the schedule seemed muuuuuch friendlier early on than in year's past, where our early season docket killed us and our good stuff came late in the year and only served to murder our draft slot.

This homestand was tremendous and did a lot for the psyche of the team and everyone in the Hawks Nation, including the HHB, who is still straightening the pictures in the HQ after the earth moved in such incredible ways tonight.


The HHB has no Mona Lisa hanging from the rafters, but does have a signed jersey from the 2002-2003 team, which featured a coach firing before the 1st of the year, not 20 wins. Pithy comments are welcome, as always, in the Comments section.

Ahhhh Yes---Ain't That Fresh?

Anticipation---It's Worth the Wait

While watching the latest installment of "We Own This Joint" authored by the Good Birds over the Bulls (129-117, you filthy animals!), the HHB made note that, unlike season past, we anticipate the beginning of every game this season. Good anticipation, like the kind just celebrated around Christmas. The stockings have been full of winningly good times this season.

In the Official HHB High Definition Viewing Center, the digital always makes sure we see the starting lineup for every game this season. It has brought a very confident feeling when we see the following:

F- Josh Smith (5th Year)
C- Al Horford (2nd Year)
F- Marvin Williams (4th Year)

and then

G-Joe Johnson (8th Year)
G-Mike Bibby (11th Year)

When we see this lineup, we think stability, growth, and most importantly winning. And this is just what Bird Watchers have been saying since Pete Babcock tore apart the last winning team in the franchises history (http://www.basketball-reference.com/ if you need to look it up).

When Pete tried to rebuild with a young everything, it inevitably came crashing down on itself because none of the players knew how to win, to prepare, etc. So when Billy added Joe Johnson, and then last season bringing in the most important piece in the Veteran Point Guard in Bibby, it has all come together.

So now, when we see that lineup night after night, it brings us to a very happy place, one where we don't have to share our fruit cup.

Anyway, here are some other thoughts on the game against Chicago:

---Derrick Rose is indeed sick, and it moved Dominique to such verbal bouquets towards the rookie, that Nique admitted on the air that he was "all over him". This comment was so close to a known message board phrase that involves "riding someones (use private part euphemism here)" that we are sure that at some point this season, Nique is going to make a comment that makes someone at Fox uncomfortable, but makes us laugh hysterically. Remember, as Homer Simpson once mused, "It's funny, because it's true."

---After watching a (to put it nicely) loose effort from Josh Smith in the OKC game and a sloppy beginning from Smoove against Chicago, Smith got tangled up in one of "those" players, Andres Nocioni. And by tangled we mean frustrated and angered by the man's presence.

Nocioni is one of "those" players because they are the guy that riles you up and gets you out of your game with his flops, his energy, and his attitude. Dennis Rodman is the first ballot HOF on this list of "those" guys, with Bill Laimbeer wearing the blazer with him as well. Among current players, Nocioni and Leon Powe are a couple of quick ones that come to mind, and I am sure HHB readers can supply more.

If the intent was to disrupt Smith, it worked, because it completely derailed the laissez-faire attitude Smith had been coasting along on and got him on the attack for a barrage of drives to the basket that led to (8) field goals, (9) free throw attempts, and (5) assists.

And BTW, the Bulls were -15 with Mr. Nocioni on the floor, worst on the team. Thank you, Andres!

---Nobody is a bigger fan than the HHB when it comes to Al Horford, but we have also been a fair and balance observer when it comes to the Godfather's growth and development as a player. We still believe he is hasty and doesn't get tall enough around the basket, meaning that he doesn't go straight up when around the hoop, leaving his seven foot wingspan more like 6 foot and getting his shot contested and blocked too often.

We have also noted his hesitancy around the basket on defense, so as not to obtain too many fouls early in the game which finds him a seat. This has led to a flurry of uncontested shots around the basket and left Al a little submissive on the defensive end.

So it seemed in the second half, though the numbers don't prove it out so much statistically, that Zaza Pachulia was outplaying Al during the Chicago game. Woodson stuck with Zaza later in the fourth than normal, especially since Horford only had (2) fouls, and we felt he made the right move there. We also feel as if he didn't stick with Zaza too long either, bringing Horfy back in to close out the game.

--Oh, and Joe Johnson is the man, did we tell you that? Some of the quietest 41 points you'll ever see. And if he could ever get over his phobia about Technical Free Throws, he might have had a career high in this one.

Let's see---messed around against OKC (that's HHB for Triple-Double) and then popped the 40 cork on Chicago. It will be a felony if he is not an All-Star this season. He is still great, the Hawks are too, and there are few players as complete in the league as Johnson.

If Florida's Nick Calathes wants to know who he needs to emulate in the NBA to make it work for his career, he should sit down to watch Joe over and over again.

One last quote from the ATL AllStar:

"The guys were saying I should keep the ball and go to the free-throw line,'' Johnson said of the last minute, when the Bulls had to foul. "But all that mattered to me is that we won the game."

Hey Sacramento, thanks for the Bibby!

We said it at the time the deal was done last season, when BK stole Mike Bibby for Shelden Williams, that it was the point guard we had been waiting for.

So, how's Shelden Williams doing? Answer: Not much.

While we leave the advanced stat work to geniuses like Peachtree Hoops to manage, Shelden has posted a 16.85 PER, but the sample size is so ridiculously small, it can't be trusted. He is averaging 3.7 ppg and 9 MPG in the games that he has played, he has DNP'd 11 games this season.

The HHB is pulling for Shelden to have a good career in the NBA, though we knew from the first time we watched him in person that he was destined for backup duty in the NBA.

When you can't get off the bench behind Jason Thompson in SAC and can only get 6 minutes in a 108-63 blowout, it might be tough to score a second long term contract there, Shell.


The Official Baby of the HHB thinks everything from McDonald's is called a nug-get. Fries, burgers, whatever--it's all nug-gets.

Imagine his fun when he sees the real live version of the Nuggets in High-Def (hint, hint SportsSouth) as the Hawks try to lock down the remaining game of a very successful homestand (6-1 so far).

We have yet to see the Chauncey Billups led version of the Rocky Mountain Highs, but you can't argue with their success, being first in the NorthWest division and sporting a hefty 20-11 records, success generally attributed to the deal that brought Billups back to DEN for Allen Iverson (or hadn't you heard?).

Let's Go Hawks!

The HHB is still in shambles from the chaotic Christmas at the HHB Headquarters. Comments are always welcome in the Comments Sections--being sassy is always encouraged.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

It Was A Good Day

For those who didn't watch, and therefore, didn't see the Hawks close and painful 99-88 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder Tuesday night, here is what you missed:

  • A spirited Thunder team, led by the efforts of Kevin Durant (who the HHB would award a full 100 in shooting in any video game entry) and the entire Thunder frontcourt, who owned the Hawks all night.

  • The Thunder outrebounded the Hawks 52-40, including a staggering 19 offensive rebounds. Hands in the air, who doesn't think this will haunt the Hawks come playoff time? Not so fast, Josh Smith (3 rebounds in 38 minutes). (yeah, we said it--playoffs---the HHB fears no superstition!)

  • Marvin Williams was M-O-N-E-Y, especially around the basket, where he made a couple of shots that miraculously made its way into the basket. Moustache Marv led the Birds with 21 points and tacked on 7 rebounds.

  • Mike Bibby continued his steady ways--even though it seemed he wasn't on, he was 6-13 and was 2-5 from 3 point range. He turned in a 14/7/6 performance, of which the 6 assists led the HHB to complain loudly once again that the Atlanta Official Scorer always seems to cheat the home team players from stats. It definitely seemed to all the Bird Watchers in the Official HHB High Definition Viewing Center that Bibby had more dimes on the night. The thought was later echoed by the stellar broadcast team of 'Nique and "I'm Bob Rathbun". This theory first began when we would watch Dikembe Mutombo pull down rebound after rebound and then check the stat sheet and he would have something like "6" when it was really like "10". Another area this manifests itself is in the blocked shot category, where we see someone like Horford have 3 or 4 blocks in a half and the stat sheet says 1. Deflation, everybody!!

  • Oh, by the way, Joe Johnson messed around and had a triple double (20/11/11)! Every last stat in Jo-Jo's second career TD was necessary and we continue to marvel at how a guy can have a touch so soft, the ball bounces on the rim like it was a Tempur-Pedic pillow.

Along the way Josh Smith was once again unstoppable inside and did indeed hit a clutch three late to silence the Thunder. Smith is magnificent once inside and finishes with such nice touch, it's a wonder he's shoots from anywhere else, and yet he does. That late game three just bought another 10-pack of airballs and bricks from long range for Smoove. Merry Christmas!

Thanks to the lack of protection on the boards and execution from the free throw line, the Hawks kept this closer than it had to be. Alas, the Thunder's youth let them down with some bad shots and fouls and the Hawks did what they had to do to take a 30-20 fourth quarter to the victory.

In Other News:

Acie Law played 1 minute and had an assist with no turnover and RFM played 18 minutes and had no assists and a turnover. Don't feed the HHB any common sense around these numbers. Don't tell us Law played a meaningless minute while Murray played in real time! Just look at those numbers! Checkmate, America!

Also, while we love seeing the home broadcast team of IBR and Nique, there is no excuse why all these games can't be televised in high definition. If we want to see every gleam on Al Horford's shaved dome or every stray hair in Marv's Moustache that's our right, and all the Fox Sports Nets need to comply. The HHB watched Pistol Pete circa 1970 on NBA Classics in better definition than last night's game. Come on, Fox, grab a mitt and get in the game!

A Christmas Thought:

We here at the HHB are very thankful that the Franchise is an amazing 18-10 and moving forward as a team. The return to relevance is something that we have shouted praises for often in this space, and something that we don't regards lightly. A special thanks to Billy Knight, who Built This City and then, as Sekou Smith put it nicely in his blog, decided to bounce.

We hope you enjoy Christmas tomorrow, and if you don't celebrate the holiday yourself, hopefully you at least have the day off and enjoy.

Merry Christmas, everybody!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Official HHB Hawks Power Rankings

Since the HHB spent the better part of last week blathering on about these usual items----

1. Hawks Win
2. RFM v. Acie Law IV
3. Josh Smith

(Sidenote: It's a great day when a win over the Detroit Pistons, in any building, leaves a content, yet unmoved entry in the collective consciousness of Hawk Nation---again, relevance---a very nice thing.)

----an executive at the Official HHB Think Tank mused that since Power Rankings are so popular, can't the HHB cash in too?! Absolutely! Instead of ranking teams, we'll rank the Hawks players in terms of current importance. Useless, right? Great!!

The Official HHB Hawks Power Rankings will only include the currently active players on the team---in other words, Speedy Claxton need not apply.

OK, Let's Rank 'Em!

12. Randolph Morris

The Man that Drew over at Zaza's Playground calles "McSmiles" has been "McIrrelevant"---still, he played as many minutes on Sunday as Kwame Brown, the player that had the HHB Seal of Approval on signing this summer. So, nothing from nothing leaves----nothing.

11. Ronald "RFM" Murray

That's right. He's down here. Why? Because, despite the consecutive games in the plus column, he's a walking turnover, takes odd shots, and is blocking the development of Acie Law with his mind boggling regular minutes.

He's the player the other team wants to see in the game and there is NO reason he should ever be dribbling down the clock to close a quarter, especially when Joe Johnson is on the floor. Why Woodson makes this a regular occurrence is even more puzzling that the 2 fouls and out rule on every player in the first half.

10. Mario West

We all love Mario West---and his occasional 4.3 seconds in a game is something we all TiVo to hope to catch, like a UFO sighting or the like. He has great athleticism and is a great guy to have by most accounts, but he is more mascot than all-star given his rate of utilization.

9. Maurice Evans

Now, we at the HHB aren't going to say we told you so, but Mo Evans is no Josh Childress. Productive in November, the month of December has been a soggy gift to Evans, who is putting up some amazingly bad numbers in 11 games this holiday season.

Evans is shooting 19-67 (that's 28 percent, everybody!) this month and that includes 4-31 (12 percent) from 3 all while getting 20 minutes per game over those 11 games.

We'll let the more advanced statistical stylings of Peachtree Hoops noodle some of the PER and 82games style analysis, but to us those numbers are not good.

8. Solomon Jones

His +/- numbers are, as Nacho Libre would say, uh-stinky. Still, he runs the court well and finishes strong, but has many gaps in the NBA DNA that show that he is best suited in small doses. The Hawks need him due to the prolific lack of size on the team, but when asked to shoulder more of the load in Josh Smith's absence, those gaps shone bright like the Sun on the planet Mercury. Will likely fall behind Evans on this list once Mo kills Dr. Evil and gets his mojo back.

7. Acie Law

His run rates are up from a year ago, though the sample size this year is disgustingly small, especially for someone that cost a lottery pick a year ago.

It's simple. Point guards require more time to bake in the NBA oven. You HAVE to give them time on the court to assimilate. There is no reason to have a young, promising player like Law on the bench and a stud point guard in front of him to give those backup minutes to a journeyman who doesn't even play that position.

Law is listed here because he is important to the growth of the team long term. The team simply HAS to develop a PG to replace Mike Bibby when his age catches up to him quickly. It is critical that the Hawks wake up and put some investment here beyond the day of the draft.

His PER is even with RFM despite the total lack of consistent playing time. Also, his AST% and ORtg are better than RFM as well---just sayin'.

Oh, and Rodney Stuckey just called. He wants to thank the Hawks for not selecting him with the 11th pick and subsequently burying his career.

6. Zaza Pachulia

Save for the brief stint in the Salim Stoudamire Memorial Doghouse, Pachulia has done what he looks like he'll make a career doing: Coming off the bench, generating a bundle of second chance baskets, and never get above the rim.

(BTW---Pachulia's 5 minute performance against the Pistons brought this thought to mind---Does anybody think that Woodson didn't want to finally get past Detroit at every cost? He spent 40+ plus minutes on Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, and Al Horford, while giving 38 to Mike Bibby, which is like 59 minutes on Bibby time.)

5. Marvin Williams

Moustache Marv has been real good this season and is finding his niche. Peachtree Hoops commented the other day about Marv not even being able to play to his draft spot, but sounds like a good teammate. Agreed here. Williams has been more aggressive, more energetic, and seems more glued to the team than at any other point previous to this season.

4. Al Horford

He would be higher save for the complete lack of post plays in the Mike Woodson playbook. the HHB has said that he needs to refine his post moves, and he unleashed a dandy the one time he seemed to get the ball in the post against Rasheed Wallace.

He brings great energy to his place on the team and continues to grow. His defense can be spotty at times, but he is usually giving up height and is extremely allergic to picking up fouls inside (due to Woodson's "awesome" 2 foul first half program), leading to sometime easy baskets for the other team. He can block shots prodigiously when that fear factor is not in play. Funny though, that fear doesn't seem to come into play when he is outside the lane defensively and he picks up some very foolish reach in fouls.

Still, Horfy is vital to the team and his lack of presence is felt when he doesn't play. Working the ball through the post more would help the whole team because of Al's excellent passing touch, but what do we know? (Answer: Not much.)

3. Josh Smith

It was obvious that when Smith was out, the Hawks suffered. As we wrote a few entries ago, we take the great with the annoyances.

He is terrific going to the basket---not so much from the outside. He takes ridiculous chances on passing lanes which are about as effective as his three point shot, but he also serves notice in the lane at any time. He has a good eye for the open man and when to launch the pass to that guy, but often tries to Dan Marino the thing in there one handed, often missing the mark.

In short, it's really good to have him here and he is incredible when dedicated to going to the hoop offensively, even if we have to avert our eyes from time to time.

2. Joe Johnson

A-ha! JoJo is not #1 at this time. But it does not take away from the fact that the man is a vicious on-ball defender and is an absolute shooting maestro on the court. His late game shots are money, giving the opposition his killer sauce even though they know what's coming.

Johnson is unselfish, yet unafraid. His free throw shooting is not the 90 percent you would think it would be from such an amazing shooter, but it's nitpicking. He's so good, there ought to be a permanent spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star team for Joe until further notice.

1. Mike Bibby

Before Bibby arrived, teams routinely doubled Johnson and his numbers suffered, as did the team's.

Before Bibby arrived, there was no question who was the only person who could take the shot to win the game.

Before Bibby arrived the Hawks were on the bubble as a playoff team in the East, not a great endorsement of the team's status.


Now the Hawks have a legit playmaker who can get the ball to the right place at the right time (amazing!) AND can knock down the big shot.

Now the Hawks have room to shoot, room to move, options out of the post.

In short, Bibby brought it all together---and in a game like Sunday's against the Pistons, when Joe didn't have his fastball at any level, it was Bibby who carried the team.

Thank you, Mike! You're #1!

The HHB consults many different experts for the Hawks Power Rankings, including the stars, tea leaves, and an autographed picture of a B-52 bomber. Comments are Welcome in the Comments Section.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Winning---It's Like---Better Than Losing

After losing to the Celtics in the manner in which the Hawks were dispatched (heartbreaker), the HHB mused in the recap below that what would show the mettle of the team is how they would play against the visiting Warriors on Friday night.

The team from Oakland does one thing---shoot the basketball----and defense has no place in their energy budget.

It sounds great as an opponent---hey, they hardly contest where I want to go on the floor or any shot I want to take---this is great!

And it is, until you find yourself suddenly settling for long jump shots and adopt the same "stand around" defense that's being deployed by the Warriors. That's called a trap. If you can avoid the trap, you can easily get past teams like the Golden State. If you can't, and you let them hang around, you might find yourself stuck like in one of those Chinese Finger Contraptions.

You know, those things that you stick your fingers into, and if you struggle and try to pull your fingers out fast, you get stuck even more, but if you are patient and take your time, you easily get out of it.

In the first quarter of the game, the Hawks patiently moved the ball around offensively and, lo and behold, they scored and scored in the paint. Defensively they were fairly solid, though yielding shot after shot to Marco Belinelli, and the lead was quickly into double digits.

Then the Hawks fell into the trap and found themselves stinking up the joint going into the fourth quarter down by two points.

Then, instead of trying to flail and run and shoot their way out of the trap, they went back to playing solid defense, which led to good possessions on offense, which led to the Hawks exploding out of the trap and shutting the Warriors down 36-18 in the fourth quarter.

How bad is Golden State? They allowed RFM to log a mind-boggling +24 in a little over 21 minutes of play AND he shot 8-12. Peachtree Hoops might lose their appetite all day when they see the headline of "Murray Leads Hawks over Warriors" .

UPDATE: Here is another great RFM headline to make PH feel ill--right here, courtesy of the AJC.

Alas, all was well at the end as the Hawks ended up with a gambling friendly final of 115-99 over the visitors. The first quarter showed there was no hangover from the Celtics loss. The second and third quarters illustrated how alluring that lazy brand of Warrior basketball can be, especially to a young team like Atlanta. The fourth quarter displayed that the Hawks are mature enough to understand when enough was enough and got back to all the things that were right about the first quarter, and used it to lock down the game and get the win.

Random Thoughts

  • Consider the HHB firmly planted on the "Why in the world is RFM running the point over Acie Law?" bandwagon. We have chimed in on this in previous entries, but giving developmental minutes to Murray over Law flies directly in the face of all rational long term decision making. And really, thought the Warriors made him look like LeBron, Murray isn't even as efficient and productive as Law seems to be when he gets in the game. We could hope for injury to Murray to force the issue, but we are not into wishing such things---besides, guys you want to go away never do.
  • We admit that we believe Dominique Wilkins to be one of the best guys to ever wear the Hawks gear (Hey, we did name the blog after the guy), and we were excited when he rejoined the organization in a front office role, though we suspected there was some figurehead aspect to it. We didn't care---'Nique was back. He has always been available and engaging to speak with, always very frank in those discussions. We guess that comes with being the man---you stop caring if anyone hears you say what you are thinking. So we were thrilled when we got the memo that 'Nique would join "I'm Bob Rathbun" on Hawks TV this year. Yes, he is sometimes Master of the Obvious, especially with the always-contrived-on-any-telecast keys to the game, but he also brings that frankness that we have enjoyed in private conversations to the people as a whole.
  • Speaking of the people as a whole, Zaza's Playground has an interesting bit about the interest in Hawks as shown in the TV Ratings---Winning + Dominique = More watchers.
  • We have taken the plunge and moved our internet operations to an actual domain name. We have assumed the logical humanhighlightblog.com address. We expect this to rival the Super Bowl in terms of interest, so you might want to make a note of the change. Thank you!

The HHB was once trapped 13 hours on an escalator during a blackout, but has always escaped the Chinese Finger Contraption. You are welcome to Comment in the Comments section.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

All in All it's Just A--Another Brick in the Wall

The Hawks played great basketball all night long, played conference champion basketball, but in the end couldn't grab the "w".

Again we say, so what?

As we discussed earlier, this neither made us champs or chumps, but the way the team played, the way the team battled, they way the played like one of the toughest teams in the league proved that the outcome is a secondary story, simply another outcome of which there are 82 in a season.

This was no step back and it was no step forward. It's another brick in the wall that is the NBA schedule and there is another game on Friday against the Warriors.

What will show the mettle of the team is how they respond and how they play against Oakland.

No, there is no moral victory, they lost the game. They didn't break the Celtics streak. But, the more important outcome of the game was that despite a shooting start that might have dumped any other team playing the Celtics, despite some questionable officiating in the second half (hey, these are the champs and it's not like the L has a lot of experience showing the Birds the love), the Hawks outplayed the Celtics, outworked the Celtics, and proved that the growth--the record--the Hawk--are no fluke.

See you in April (well, March 27th), C's---Josh Smith will be waiting----

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Everybody, Everybody!

OK, the intense hype for this regular season game (ummm--Boston is in the ATL if you haven't heard) is off the charts.

If the HHB can channel it's inner Wilbon, we can say that this is a little too jacked up to get for a December game.

Yes, this is a chance for the Hawks to end Boston's 378 game winning streak or whatever it is tonight.

Yes, the Hawks can puff their collective chests out should they end that streak and take out the champs.

And yes, it would be nice to watch Paul Pierce and Company pout their way off the court should the good guys (Good guys wear Black, btw--and blue---and red---anyway) come away victorious.

But, big picture, what does it all mean?

Not much.

It's another nice win in an early season of nice wins, but allow us, if you will, to play the Official Wet Blanket:

1. Too much stock in a win could cause massive complacency, especially among the younger players who have yet to learn that every game and every possession is important.

Yes, we are looking at you, Josh Smith.

Already, the Hawks have been dangerously close to losing games at home against teams that are below them. And yes while it's good to win some games without your fastball, it's not good to get into a habit of doing so. Or so we're told.

2. Too much stock in a loss could send irrational Bird Watchers over the cliff.

Yes, we are looking at you, Hawk Nation.

Already, we are dangerously close to being irrational with our expectations. This game is not a referndum of the Hawks season. Losing does not mean we can't compete come April (should we get there---looking furiously for some wood to knock on) nor does winning mean we can print tickets to the Conference Finals and beyond.

Yes, we know that the HHB is the place where we said that Mediocrity is an Improvement, not a Destination, but we're willing to take our baby steps and accept that whatever outcome tonight can be used to build, not settle on.

Still, it's great to have the NBA world watching little ole Philips Arena tonight when the curtain rises on this game.

As we have said many times, many ways---Relevance is nice, and makes you not want to ever go back to the dark underworld of Lottery Land.

To have the home team on the WWL and have all eyes watching the Good Guys tonight is a good feeling---a proud feeling---and we can understand that folks want to prove to the world that the team we watch, the team we live/die with is worth the passion and emotion we put into it.

So, screw it---forget the Wet Blanket---Get on your feet tonight in the Arena, scream at the TV at home---Let's go out there and get the W so that we can announce our presence with authority and send the C's a message that Zaza started all those games ago.

This is our house. And you are not welcome.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Rain, The Park, And Other Things

Nope, not a serious collection of theories of why this dang song is so catchy and a clear indicator that the HHB is tragically unhip:

Cowsills - The Rain The Park And Other Things
Uploaded by gonta99

Rather, it's a prologue to a series of random, not thought out---thoughts (see?)

Hawks Slow Starts No Mystery

Psst---the HHB has a secret.

We know why the Hawks start slow in these games recently, really, we do.

It's complex, but the HHB thinks we can break it down for you.

Here it goes:

1. When the Hawks come out and treat every possession like it's play time at the Bouncy Castle, and turn the ball over multiple times in the first few minutes of the game.

2. When Josh Smith forgets that he is almost unstoppable going to the hole and takes an gleefully uncontested jump shot when he could land a plane between he and the next closest defender. We call this "Antoine Walker Syndrome".

3. When the Hawks treat the defensive lane like there is a "Wet Paint" sign over it, thereby allowing somewhat easy---and by somewhat we mean very easy---baskets.

4. When the Hawks see a double digit first quarter deficit as "rolling up the bet".

Oops---the NBA has advised me to remove #4 by penalty of removing our credentials. Wait, we're not credentialed. We're not even relevant. Take that, NBA!

Seriously, the Hawks have their gaps in games where they forget that each NBA possession is a precious jewel, to be honored and treated as such else the other team taketh the ball away and score, score, score.

I have found this occurring in the beginning of games, but also during stretches where RFM is running the point (see below columns for reference points on RFM). Um, he's not a point guard. And since the HHB has determined that finding a long term replacement at the point is critical to supporting this young team as they grow, using a transition player like RFM to run the point instead of developing Acie Law (Point Guard Approved by the HHB) is not wise long term. Heck, from what we see, it's not wise short term either, as evidenced by his woeful +/- at the point.

Josh Smith Lives, and Sometimes We Die

He is sometimes amazing. sometimes baffling, but the HHB is glad he is a Hawk.

Surely, you have seen this block from Saturday night against the Cavs:

Ummm----Yes. Thank you.

Perspective on the Season

Let's see, the Hawks were without one of their more dynamic players for over 10 percent of the season (given a full 82 games) and have played seemingly fairly ordinary basketball thus far, meaning that nobody is really playing way over their heads, and yet look at the Hawks.

14-9, .609 basketball, 11-6 in the conference with wins over current #2, #3, #6, and #8 already this year.

As the late great Bernie Mac would say, "That's good basketball, America!"

The HHB is enjoying this run, given the fact that it hasn't taken an inordinate amount of luck or over-their-heads basketball to get where they are. This is a good basketball team that can definitely get better.

There is good talent, good chemistry, and good balance.

Good times!

The HHB never claimed to be smart or pithy, but they are still humming that stupid song and can be reached in the Comments area

Monday, December 8, 2008

Mediocrity---An Improvement But Not a Destination

"Middle of the road, man it stanks,/Let's run over Lionel Richie with a tank."

The immortal words of the late, great Steve Dallas ring as true today as it did two decades ago.

And so it is with our beloved Hawks, who played like dogs, not fought like lions in their two games over the weekend.

It is a testament to how far the Hawks have come that they can completely sleep walk through a game at home against the Knicks and still come away with the win. (Sidenote: The HHB has always, always hated watching "Knick Fan" gloriously walking out of the Hawks building with a "w" in their grinning, never-stop-talking-smack mouth". To have it be so close despite having more than they do was gut wrenching---but, alas, the game was won, and the noisy mouths can stop for one trip into Philips. End Note)

But against a decent team like the Mavs on their homecourt, the sloppy defense, careless offense act won't get it done. They need efforts as the ones the authored against New Orleans and Chicago to come away with a Gold Star and a Ring Cookie for their evening's efforts.

Let's give credit where credit is due:

Al Horford----Al, you know the HHB has your back, but I gotta tell ya---It cut us deep when you would bow out of Gator games with the occasional injury, but to see you in the layup line against the Mavs and then grab the poms poms stings even more, because hey, this team needs you man, badly.

Even in games he has played recently we have seen more of the First Year Al, the guy who rushes his interior moves and disappears defensively for too long than the Horfie we saw in Chicago, who brought his big, brass balls to the United Center and declared that the game was his and the Hawks.

More Horfie and less First Year Al, please! Thank you!

Joe Johnson and Mike Bibby----Got no complaints about these two offensively, though it does seem like Joe is forcing things a smidgen. Bibby has been golden offensively, through prone to the occasional off night as shooters can do. Bibby's defense has been--hmm--spotty against some of the aggressive guards recently. So, the bottom line---Mike Bibby is still Mike Bibby---glad to have him.

The problem from these quite untrained eyes when it comes to Joe forcing some things or the off night shooting from the backcourt seems to be a offensive philosophical issue more than a personnel or decision making issue.

Seems to the HHB that Mike Woodson is content to pass the ball around until there is a good outside shot available, rather than work the offense inside-out some of the time. In fact, when the Hawks do move the ball into the post, with Bibby and Johnson working their magic from the outside, the Hawks are tough to beat.

This is where I join the legions of dozens who rail game after game about the Hawks practice. Why don't the Hawks use Horford as a post play more? With Bibby, Johnson, and Marvin around the perimeter, it seems like tossing it in to Al and then letting him work the ball back out when the defense comes gives the Hawks an excellent chance to get those coveted jump shots that we only attempt 60-70 times a game.

Yet, I see Horford play after play, bust his bottom to get down the court and first to the post, only to turn and jog to the weak side and then to the top to give a perimeter shooter a place to temporarily offer possession of the basketball.

Yes, sometimes the Hawks post Johnson, but why use Johnson as a post processor unless we can clone him so that the ball can get tossed out to himself for the more-open 3? (Hmmm---probably shouldn't give Joe any ideas on how to spend his millions.)

Anyway, let's move on.

Marvin Williams----Still love his jumper and his moustache, would like to see him stronger around the basket, especially when finishing inside. As Bill Walton might say---Slam it home, big fella!

Josh Smith---At times, it was good to see him back---at other times, it was not so good to see him back. You get to see it all---the blocked shots, the effect inside, the careless passes and ridiculous jump shots, the marvelous way he can knife inside to get contact and finish.

Bottom line, it's good to have him back---will be better to see him continue to grow on the court and take each possession seriously. Seriously.

The Bench---I will stand by the numbers we looked at before the season and say that, based on a stupidly small games sample, Maurice Evans is no Josh Childress. The HHB is keeping Chillz' locker in tact, hoping he'll be back and that this whole Greece trip was a ploy to conceal an NBA mandating gambling suspension.

Gambling the HHB can forgive, choosing Greece and leaving us Childress-less we can't swallow.

However, there is nothing not to like about the effort that Evans brings, and the occasional left-side, sideline three that he is fearless in taking. It's just that he does not make his presence known like Childress did, and in times of starting lineup failure, it was a critical piece of making the playoffs last year, and is missing this year.

Ronald "Flip" Murray or RFM to the HHB (you conclude what the "F" might stand for) is an interesting little spark plug----completely out of control, able to leap tall building in a single bound, and then smack into the first floor on the next jump. He's good to have, but we wish we didn't depend on him so much for minutes.

Acie Law---Darn you Acie! If you were further along we might not need so many minutes from Murray, leaving perhaps only the best from RFM rather than having to take the bad with the good. He has GOT to improve over the last 3/4 of the season or the Hawks need to find another PG--as the hospital shows say---stat.

Zaza Pachulia---We almost didn't list him and then wouldn't say why for days until we would bring him back and say, "What? We didn't feel like the column material matched up well with Zaza's game!"

He is tenacious on the offensive boards, he throws his body around with total disregard, he seems to have a permanent chip on his shoulder, and he lacks a defensive presence like the HHB lacks writing talent.

Still, he is a solid backup center and we don't know what he is/isn't doing to make a condo in the Woodson doghouse. Maybe nothing, maybe something. Who knows.

The Hawks seem to be settling into what they are, a close to .500 team who has the talent to be better than that, but maybe mentally aren't there. Hopefully that will be addressed soon so that they can (1) qualify for the postseason and (2) do something once they are there.

The Hawks don't have a lot of time to make it happen if you believe that:

1. Winning teams need solid play from the point guard position.

2. Mike Bibby isn't getting any younger and we may/may not bring him back.

So while being .500 ish is OK for now, it shouldn't be a final destination, nor a pinnacle, but the Hawks are facing just that if the dog show doesn't get better.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Out Sick

As a special HHB Birthday present (yesterday was the actual day), for whatever reason, the Official HHB Viewing Center was not showing the Wednesday game between the Grizz and the Hawks.

Since the HHB has been under siege by a virus attack from Parts Unknown, it was to be an enjoyable respite in an otherwise miserable week which struck us down from contributing any salient thoughts about the Hawks recent victory over the Wizards (thanks for taking care of that business boys!) and whatever might have occurred in the Memphis game on the 3rd (another win!).

Then I find something in the fantastic Peachtree Hoops blog about the recent disappearance of Zaza Pachulia. More importantly, PH asks the question that raises the reason the HHB got into covering the Hawks to begin with----WHY DON'T HAWKS FANS GET ALL THE ANSWERS?

The scene in the locker room of the Hawks is a funny one after a game. Really, to the HHB's fading eyesight, there are only a couple of writers who ask their own original questions. All the other radio, wire report folks, TV wait for these "pioneers" to go in for their line of questioning and then surround the target to get their sound or TV clip for the night and go home.

It's both a humorous and sad sight to behold.

So, to Peachtree Hoops and folks everyone who yearn for the truth, the HHB is not here to say you can't handle it, it just that there is nobody there to ask the question.

Now, where's the NyQuil?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving and Hey, the Hawks are on Tonight!

Gobble. Gobble.

What I want on my Thanksgiving plate is simple.

1. The Hawks as relevant for the entire year as they were for the first seven games of the year.

2. More Al Horford.

3. Beating all comers at home.

4. Beating all the team's we should beat (decided by a judging panel determined by the HHB Council and subject to change to fit any whim the HHB might have) at all venues.

5. Josh Smith's name on a Defensive Player of the Year trophy.

6. Heck, Josh Smith in the lineup.

7. Good health and good timing in all things for the Hawks.

Oh, and pecan pie too, please.

The HHB is clear about one thing---when you leave a vile, desperate place like the lottery after nearly a decade of residence there, you never want to return. And yes, you may imagine bold type and caps for the word never there. The HHB is too erudite to allow such font.

So it begins again tonight with the good guys taking on the Milwaukee Bucks at home. This is the type of game that must be won else allowing those with weaker stomachs to forecast doom and/or gloom for the season's fortunes.

The last two games for the Hawks have been pretty indicitive of a team that is on pace for a .500 or slightly above type season---beating a sub-par team like the Bobcats at home and then getting wasted by a playoff team at their place.

By the way, the HHB wonders if readers have noticed that the weaker teams bring a stronger game to the Hawks than they do against teams that are "better" than they are. This is typical of lottery teams who feel like they can get a win from a team like the Hawks, but not so much from the Celtics or a team of that ilk.

Anyway, the HHB sends out Thanksgiving love to all Bird Watchers and Let's Go Hawks!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Get Well Soon, Al and Josh!!

The HHB would like to send this Get Well Soon card to Josh Smith and Al Horford, especially after seeing the Hawks limp along without them at home against the Wizards Wednesday night.

Oh sure, the final was in the Hawks favor, 91-87, but they needed some Marvin Williams heroics to do it, with the man hitting another clutch three in the right corner late in the game.

(Sidenote: We heard the great Steve Holman's call of Marvin's shot today on First Team on Fox and Holman referred to Williams as "Marvelous Marvin". Now, we looooove Holman, but there was only one Marvelous Marvin, so couldn't we find another alliteration for Marvin? How about Mustache Marvin in honor of his early 80's 'stache or Martian Marvin, since he so resembles the "where's the kaboom" Marvin of Looney Tunes fame? Something needs to be done here---Marvin Hagler is turning over on his sofa as we speak.)

Back to the game and the fact that the Hawks struggled---really, struggled with a Wizards team that can best be described as "bad", and that's being nice. Without Gilbert Arenas, the team lacks any panache, even with the solid Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison. The Wizards started Dee Brown and JaVale McGee against the home team last night, first starts for both and it showed.

Any team with playoff aspiration should have pasted the Wizards or at least had the game well under control, but the Hawks seemed to rely way too much on a series of 1 on 1 moves, usually ending in a jump shot. That the Hawks shot less than 40 percent indicates how largely ineffective the strategy was.

For a bit, I thought that Terry Stotts was calling the shots again for the Hawks, waiting endlessly for the jump shots to go in so that the inside would open up.


Things are tightening up on Joe Johnson as well, with Joe taking a few more than before off balance shots and having to fade away more than the beginning of this season. Only Mike Bibby remained hot, and did so by going 11-17 on twos and burning the Wizards as they tried to press Joe.

The frontcourt, especially defensively, reminded all why Smith and Horford are critical to the team's success, as Zaza Pachulia, Solomon Jones, and company allowed a Princeton Chorus line to the hoop quite often---too often by too many Wizards.

It was the offense of Bibby, the tenacity of the offensive rebounding (Definately a Zaza Specialty), and the aggressive play of Marvin that eventually pulled the game out for the good guys, salvaging things for a bit and ending the painful four game losing streak.

(One more Sidenote: Doesn't it seem like losing streaks go on for at least twice as long as winning streaks of the same size, or in the Hawks case greater? Back to the words.)

Marvin definitely showed more attack to the hoop, which was needed because the other player that goes to the hoop (other than Joe) has been Ronald Murray, who provided one of those games that his former teams have warned us about. But the HHB is not jaded yet---we like Murray's attack style, even if it means he has some of these stinkers (2-11). In fact, his running three to end the half was typical of a player like Murray--you know, a guy that thinks every shot he puts up is "money".

Still, despite the relief of a win, which was definitely needed and appreciated, it was a game that was too often led by the Wizards, and sloppy by every definition of the word as it relates to the game (defensively, offensively---yum, 17 turnovers!). That they were able to settle down somewhat and take care of the team is nice, but the play of the team without their two frontcourt stalwarts makes the HHB nervous and anxiously awaiting their return.

Get Well Soon!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Swept Away

It happens most when you have kids.

You praise them.

You laud their work in a very specific area, be it manners, grades, activities, and then it happens.

They blow it.

The very thing you were most proud of suddenly goes *poof* into thin air as you watch your kid do exactly the opposite of that which you were just congratulating them.

Rewind the to weekend---just as the HHB dared to pen a post exclaiming Atlanta's return to relevance they get caught sleeping in the nest for their game in New Jersey, which was hard fought, but the Hawks just gave out--and then returned to the ATL to lay an enormous Hawk egg all over the Philips Arena floor.

The "effort" threatens to somewhat undo what had been done during their bold 6-0 start, but really, fans and writers shouldn't jump to those conclusions yet.

A downtick was expected the day that Josh Smith went down. No team loses the second biggest piece to the puzzle and continue to excel to the degree that the team was excelling.

So now there has been a setback, and just like the test that the team needed to conquer when faced with whether or not they would build off of the Celtics series momentum they can now answer if they have the maturity to fight through Smith's injury and the negativity of a three game losing streak and use those things to get back on a winning streak.

Observations While Sitting on a Wire:

They live by the three and die by it. The Hawks have been uncanny from long range, but they seemed to get too dependant on the bomb and need to work on being aggressive to the cup. Fatigue will have a lot to do with that, but hey, it's an 82 game season and doing the right things in spite of the inevitable tiredness that goes with it is the key to being a winning club.

Al Horford needs to understand that the team needs his production every single night. He brings his heart, for sure, but unlike last season when he can blend into the fabric that is the Hawks night in and night out, he has to make his presence felt and be on the court every night. He needs to not hurry his moves to the basket and the following shot, and he needs to understand how tight the game is being called so that he can adjust his energy when it comes to reaching in, slapping at the ball, etc.

You can't depend on the bench to be your consistency on a nightly basis. The play of Ronald Murray, Mo Evans, and company can be very productive, but they are to be the extra toppings to the sundae that is supposed to be the starting lineup. So, defensively as well as offensively, the starting 5 have to be there, especially with Smith out. It seems as if the Hawks are depending on the bench's production, and that is parellel to a worker who counts on his bonus like it's his paycheck---a bad idea.

Looking forward, the HHB is confident that what was seen on weekend was a natural comedown to what was a hot start, and that is was not a return to past years' inefficiency. The team gets it's next shot at Indiana, a shot to prove that the team is truly different and that what was built over the team's first seven games wasn't swept away by a couple of bad ones.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Welcome Back to Relevance, Atlanta!

The whole reason why we started covering the Hawks from the beginning was that there was a dearth of any information about the team that wasn't emitted from Jeff Denberg's coverage at the AJC or the uninformative, banal, low hanging fruit comments that would come from the national "coverage" of the team.

An amazing thing happens when a team turns the corner and proves themselves as winners, even for a short period of time.

The comments change. The national template is switched to communicate something that is now positive about your team versus the claptrap most would spew without even lifting an eye or ear to see if what they were blurting was factual.

And so it has been with much anticipation that Hawks fans everywhere has waited, and waited, and waited for this to occur. Throughout the 90's the team was treated even as some kind of afterthought while winning, as if the way that Lenny Wilkens went about winning wasn't good enough for the media. Playoff games would be televised at the worst possible times, and on the worst possible stations. The team would be largely ignored until they had to pay attention, and then was quickly forgotten once out.

In fact, it has been since days of Dominique that the Hawks were more than just a place holder in the standings or nightly recaps. Almost 2 entire decades of existing in a sort of basketball purgatory, exposed only to be ridiculed and laughed at by an NBA Nation.

Not that bothered the Hawks faithful too much, but it has been a bore to hear the same stuff over and over again. It would be as if you had the last name "Butts" and you heard the same joke for the 1,278,497th time.

And then, late last season, the team traded for Mike Bibby. It was the kind of move that other teams in contention had wished they had made. Suddenly, it was the Hawks on a steal end of a deal that made complete sense. The playoffs looked real. The team was gaining identity.

The playoff run against the Celtics was more than anybody could have thought for the team. Naturally, as Boston more than held their own against the Hawks in games 1 and 2, the national pundits continued their tired oratory and stand up material about the Hawks. But, as games 3 and 4 showed, this team had some players who could go. But just as quickly as the Hawks had gained credibility with others, it amazingly evaporated with another lopsided defeat in Game 5. It was only after another huge game in Game 6 that people permanently noted this team and wanted to see what would happen to this upstart next season.

After an offseason of discontent, launching into this strong, character defining start has validated the team's growth and standing within the league. One need only look around the incredibly scientific Power Rankings around the league to understand where the Hawks have gone to on this incredible ride.

And the feeling we get as we check in to all these places that had long reserved a table at Derision Corner for the Birds? Some of it is pride, elation, and excitement. But mostly, it a nice feeling of relevance, a feeling long since absent from our hearts and minds, and a welcome change to the NBA season, for as long as it lasts.

End of the Road

If all the losses are going to be like the 103-102 last second loss to the Celtics in Boston, then the Official HHB High Definition Viewing Center is going to need more Tums in the candy dish.

If the 6 game winning streak was going to end, it was fitting that it be the way it went down Wednesday night, with the Hawks swinging away at the Celtics, like a tired fighter who has grunted out a 15 rounder, knowing that he has to keep dealing the licks while taking them as well.

It was clear early that the Hawks were going to have their work cut out for them on this night.

1. They were coming off a tough victory in Chicago the night before, arriving in Boston @ 3am.

2. They were still without Josh Smith.

3. The Celtics were rested and ready for the team that not only gave them the biggest fight in the playoffs, but were also atop the Eastern Conference leaderboard going into the evening.

After the tip, it was clear that another obstacle was going to be placed on the Hawks, and that would be that they wouldn't be able to play the physical defensive game that they had established over the first six games. Calls were tight on both sides, which would seem to favor the more perimeter, finesse game Celtics, whose best three players would prefer to face the basket while scoring.

Even still, the Hawks emerged with energy, even taking a 16 point lead in the second quarter. But it became clear as the game wore on that the Hawks were on their heels, hanging on as our tired pugilist, taking the Celtics best punches while sticking a few of their own.

The Hawks were dealt another blow when it was known that Zaza Pachulia would not return after injuring his shoulder in a collision with Glen Davis. That, combined with Al Horford's foul trouble in the game left the Hawks even more shorthanded and without the energy that the pair can provide inside.

In the end though, the shooting of Joe Johnson, Maurice Evans, and Marvin Williams gave the home team more than they bargained for, as the mounted a valiant charge at the end, with Marvin tagging a bold 3 pointer to take a 1 point lead with 7 seconds to go.

Alas, as has been done many times before, the Celtics found a way to get the ball into the hands of Paul Pierce one more time, and yet again he made a team pay, hitting the game winner with .5 seconds to go.

The Hawks were flatfooted, shorthanded, and playing the Celtics game---and yet, unlike the spanking this team took last season in the playoffs in Boston, this time the Hawks were bringing the spank themselves---and a last second, 1 point loss against all odds is a fitting way for this gutsy team to take their first "L".

Flying High:

Marvin Williams---Every year we hear about some guy adding something to his game, how it's going to benefit the team, blah, blah, blah---well, there is nothing blah about the way that Marvin Williams is shooting the three this year. Coming into this season Marvin was 25-108--so far this season, he is 8-11 and looks good doing it. And to hit the potential game winner without hesitation and with such precision, Marvin deserves some kudos for the effort.

Joe Johnson---He came out hot early and kept the Hawks in it late. In a game where in the second half, and especially in the fourth quarter the Hawks were not moving the ball well and clearly tired, Johnson kept the team going, creating for himself and others. 28 points, 7 assists, and 1 turnover was a good night, even if he pulled a -8 for his 42 minutes of work.

Maurice Evans---Mo was big down the stretch, hitting a pair of threes and scoring 13 points on 4-7 shooting, despite being one of many Hawks with 5 fouls.

Dead Birds:

Al Horford---Oh Al, did you need a rest from the night before so bad that you had to commit silly foul after silly foul? Reverting back to last year's mistakes, Horford took himself out of a contest that sorely needed some life in the second half by reaching in, leaving his feet on defense, and being out of position enough to stay in foul trouble all night. This, even when Woody pulled his famous "2 fouls in the First Q= No more first half play" on Horford. For shame.

Home Cooking---Ok, Celtic fans---we know that the other team always gets the calls in your building (mmhmmm)---The game being called tight helped the older, not as athletic Celtics maintain their own tempo, get to the foul line, and get the Hawks into some serious foul trouble across the board. Hey, they are the champs, and they deserve the breaks there---and the Hawks almost had them anyway.

View from the Nest:

The Hawks get a needed day off before starting another back to back/home and home with the New Jersey Nets. The team was clearly stagnant in a way that they haven't been this season. The day off will help.

We shall see about the disposition of Pachulia, but suffice to say, the Hawks cannot withstand any more losses on the frontline.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

What Do You Say, Al?

The immortal words of Caddyshack's Judge Smails rang throughout the HHB compound Tuesday night, as Al Horford put the Hawks on his back and led the now (can you feel it?) 6 and 0 upstarts into and through the Chicago Bulls, 113-108.

We found out Tuesday what Mike Woodson's plan for replacing Josh Smith in the lineup was. He hath turneth loose the beast.

Horford was simply everywhere during his 41 minutes of play. He pulled down 17 rebounds, scored a staggering 27 points on 18 shots (why, that's three games worth!), and blocked 6 shots. He was omnipresent around the glass at both ends, his energy was contagious and it clearly confounded the Bulls, who couldn't seem to keep up.

They sent Joakim Noah, then Aaron Gray---to no avail. At one point on a break, Ben Gordon dared to attempt to disrupt a Horford slam, only to be assessed a foul and give Al a chance at a 3-pt play. After finishing the dunk, Horford struck his familiar flex pose. This time, it seemed as if he was finally unwrapped to begin to fulfill his purpose in a Hawks uniform.

If it seems like some HHB hyperbole, it's probably because Horford was the endorsed choice of the HHB to be the third selection in the 2007 draft due to in some part some Gator pride, but mostly due to the fact that Horford represented an addition that the Hawks had not had in a long time; a bonafide post player on both ends who can change the game with his production, energy, fundamentals, and winning attitude.

To the HHB, it's no secret that the Hawks have begun to win games they would once lose. Tuesday against Chicago, for one game at least, Woodson turned Horford loose, and the game was won.

Flying High:

Gotta give it up to Mike Bibby and Mo Evans. Their 3-point shooting counteracted a dubious defensive "effort" in the fourth quarter and kept the Hawks two possessions ahead down the stretch. Evans ended shooting 7-9 and 17 points, while Bibby cashed in 22 points and 5 assists.

Joe Johnson---Yes, the man was not hot from the floor (4-16) but made many great passes out of the post, leading to some of his 8 assists. His defense was solid and forced the Bulls into many, many late shots clock shots. Nice to know the team can win by 5 on the road against a supposed playoff contender without Johnson looking good shooting anything (Yes, Joe--even the free throws rattled in tonight).

Zaza Pachulia---The Hawks decided to open the game taking advantage of the Hawks size advantage (seems weird to even type), and used Horford and Pachulia inside, resulting in Zaza's 12 point/8 rebound performance and Tyrus Thomas' banishment to the bench after an ineffective 21 minutes on the floor.

Team effort---It was a night where it seemed like the Bulls threw everything at the Hawks and even brought a lot of energy (Umm--That Derrick Rose is pretty good) and it still wasn't good enough in their own building. The Bulls announcers were almost apoplectic that the Hawks were this good, even compared to last season's playoff version. That the Hawks were able to overcome that, on a night where Johnson was way off with his shot, means some pretty strong things here early in the season.

Dead Birds:

Bench Play---Aside from Evans, the rest of the bench went for 5 Flip Murray points. At one point between the first and second quarters, Woodson had at least 4 bench players out there for about six minutes. The results were ugly in a way that is best left defined by Acie Law's junior varsity-esque (-17) in 8 minutes of play. And remember, the Hawks still won the game!

View from the Nest:

There was some sloppy offensive play from the Hawks at times, but they pulled through and have already managed a split of this 4 game roadie with games against Boston Wednesday night and New Jersey Friday to go. To play a back to back with Boston being the second team is a challenge. Horford will be hard pressed to bounce back even with his young legs. He was clearly gassed as he tossed two late free throws short--no legs at all. The bench will have to play more effectively, else the Celtics will treat the Hawks as unkind as they did during the heralded First Round in the playoffs. And, the C's have an axe to grind against the team that took them to seven in the first place.

Will Zaza still be spunky? Can Al bring it for 40+ minutes again? Can the timely shots continue to fall? The answer better be yes for all three, else Josh Smith's absence and the skill of the champs might equal the end to an undefeated beginning.

The streak will end on some night, but it wasn't Tuesday night. Hawks win.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Ummmm---Are You Seeing This?

In a game on the road where Josh Smith was absent, Joe Johnson and the team were off target shooting 37 percent, and the bench was outscored 42-21, the Hawks continued to be bulletproof in 2008-09, beating the Oklahoma City Thunder 89-85.

Really, the HHB had to feel somewhat for the Thunder fans because, as Hawks fans, we understand what it's like to outplay, outhustle, and outshoot a team at home only to watch that team high fiving on their way to the locker room after the seemingly inevitable conclusion had been reached--a disappointing loss.

To say the Hawks didn't have their fastball is misleading---they didn't have a good curve or changeup, either. It seemed to be a classic case of playing down to the level of their competition, especially on the defensive end, where Thunder players were running unchecked coast to coast, through the lane, and to the hoop for an easy layup seemingly every other possession.

To that end, the Thunder seemed in control until Flip Murray woke up in the fourth and scored nine straight points, and then Josh Smith took control of Al Horford for an amazing block of Kevin Durant in the lane. The Hawks gained the momentum of the game and never let it go, putting the victory cherry on the sundae when Al grabbed a rebound, spun, and lobbed it down the court to Joe, who flushed the hoop and the Thunder in one two-handed swoop.

It is refreshing to know that the team can win without playing it's best, it's a sign of a good team. Chances are you will not always be at the top of your game, but teams have to grind through those nights and give themselves a chance to win, which is exactly what the Hawks did.

However, tempting fate won't go for more than one game in a row, and with the Hawks getting into the meat of the road trip now, they will have to execute better defensively than they did against the Thunder to continue this great run.

Flying High:

Ronald "Flip" Murray, who did his best Vinny Johnson impersonation (now with defense!) and shot the Hawks back into the game at 77 all in the fourth.

Al Horford, who did his best Josh Smith impersonation (missed threes sold separately) and added five blocks to another double digit rebound game---now if the coaches would call a couple more post plays for him.....

Marvin Williams, who still looks a little drunk sometimes on the court (just in his moves, not his breath---not actually questioning his sobriety), but attacked on a number of occasions and had a staggering +15 in this game. Hey, that led the team!

Joe Johnson---Why? Because he's freaking clutch, that's why. He had shots rimming out, just missing, and he forced a couple---but he was still in control of his game and his presence in the post set up a clutch three from Marvin as the Thunder collapsed on him in the lane, he kicked out and the ball worked around to the corner, where Williams was able to bang down the three.

Dead Birds:

Hawks defense---I know---how that this be bad if they shot less than their 41 percent average? It was the embarrassing level of layups that the Thunder executed almost uncontested.

Team effort level----For the first time this season, except for the first quarter of the Sixers game, the Hawks were completely getting outhustled and outworked. The Thunder were the aggressors almost the whole game until the Hawks woke up in the fourth. With any team that had more firepower, the Hawks would have been down like they were in Q1 against PHL. Big.

View From the Nest:

The unbeaten streak is likely to come to a close during this roadtrip, especially given the fact that whenever a team loses a key player like Smith is to the Hawks, while a bench can provide a brief spark, the overall effectiveness of the team does take it's toll. That the Hawks did beat OKC was important---teams that have playoff aspirations have to find ways to win those games, but expecting a sweep of Chicago, Boston, and New Jersey would be a little much.

But for now---it's an amazing 5-0, five games over .500 for those of us who attended Florida---It's a great time to be a Hawks fan.