Now's the part of the Hawks' season where I get carried away and start projecting fields of glory ahead. Three days ago, the Hawks were the only winless team in the NBA. Now, they're on their first two-game winning streak since Spring 2004 and they have a good chance to make it three against Portland on Sunday, a team that they very nearly beat on the road during their terrible start. On the other hand, this quote from Josh Childress (combined with the fact that Ron Artest didn't play last night) should discourage us from reading too much into the win:
"You could tell they weren't playing with any energy tonight. It almost looked like they didn't want to play today."
Also, I was wondering if the Hawks beat any competent opponents on the road last year and was reminded that they beat Detroit 88-72 in Auburn Hills on December 10, a win that didn't exactly say much about the Pistons, who made it to Game Seven of the NBA Finals, or about the Hawks, who went 9-54 the rest of the year. It's a long season and a couple games aren't ever going to tell us much. That said, here are some observations of the team 11 games in:
1. Josh Childress might be this team's Rafael Furcal. The turnaround (if it can be called that) has tracked Childress' improved play after being yanked from the starting lineup. On Wednesday night, he had ten points on seven shots, but more importantly, he played excellent defense on Ricky Davis in the second half. Credit Mike Woodson for a little psychological ploy. He ran a couple plays for Childress to get him dunks, using Childress' good cutting away from the ball and nice passing from Zaza. Those plays got Childress into the flow of the game and he rewarded Woodson with his best game of the year. Last night, Childress had 14 points on eight shots and added 13 rebounds. The major question this year would be who would step up as a third option along with Joe Johnson and Al Harrington. Childress hasn't shown the offensive skills yet to do so, but his rebounding and defense are encouraging and he's a good target around the basket when his teammates can find him.
2. Among their numerous weaknesses, the Hawks' biggest bugaboo coming into the year was supposed to be their lack of true power forwards and competent centers, but surprisingly enough, rebounding has not been a major problem. In fact, the Hawks have a positive rebounding differential, largely because they're fourth in the league in offensive rebounding differential. The other weakness was the lack of a true point guard and that has been borne out, as only the Knicks have a worse assist/turnover ratio. That said, Salim Stoudamire might be the solution at the position. He leads the Hawks in plus/minus ratio by a wide margin and the team is significantly better statistically on offense and defense when Salim is on the court. (That's consistent with my observation that Tyronne Lue simply can't play defense. Not surprisingly, opponents shoot much better when Tyronne is on the court.) Whether that's the result of Salim getting to play against back-up point guards remains to be seen and I suspect that we're going to find out sooner rather than later because Woodson is surely going to start him in the near future. Salim doesn't play like a true point guard, so Joe Johnson will do much of the ball handling, but Salim makes the offense much more dangerous because of his offensive ability and his defense has been surprisingly good.
3. Speaking of Salim, I shocked the poor unsuspecting father and son sitting in front of me and Andrea at the game on Wednesday night with a verbal fusillade at a referee for calling a charge on Stoudamire after Salim had scored to put the Hawks up by five late. In my defense, I didn't swear, unless you consider "WE HAVE ENOUGH GOING AGAINST US AND DON'T NEED YOU TO SCREW US!!! WE'RE 0-9 FOR G-D SAKES!!!" to be profane. Also in my defense, it was a truly terrible call that kept the Celtics in the game, a Battier special where the defender "set" under Stoudamire after he had taken off.