Thursday, February 16, 2006

I Wish I Knew How To Quit You, Josh Smith

Just when I'm ready to write Josh Smith's second-year campaign off as a waste and just when the Hawks were about to go 0-3 on a road trip that looked like an important chance to show that the win over Detroit was no fluke, this happens. Last night was possibly the most encouraging game of the season, not just because the Hawks beat a pretty good team fighting for its playoff life at home, but because the stars of the show were the players who are the Hawks' future: Joe Johnson (20 points on 16 shots, 15 assists), Josh Smith (21 points on 11 shots, 15 rebounds), and Josh Childress (21 points on ten shots, seven rebounds). If those three can play that well on a consistent basis, then this team will really be just a point guard away from contending for a playoff spot in the East (admittedly, not the highest plateau in the world, but remember that this is a team that lost 69 games last year.) The one player who's almost certainly not part of the team's plans for the future - Al Harrington - had a very quiet eight-point, four-turnover night.

To the extent that any game in an 82-game odyssey tells us anything, this game illustrated that the Hawks have made actual progress this year, which is all those of us who didn't harbor delusions of grandeur about 40 wins wanted to see this year. In the home opener, the Lakers screwed around for a half before knocking the Hawks out in the third and never seeing their lead go below double digits in the 4th except when the teams emptied their benches with two minutes remaining. Last night, after allowing 31 points in the first nine minutes (I've gotten very good over the part few years at doing calculations in my head like "the Lakers are on pace to score 165 points tonight; I wonder if that'll make SportsCenter?"), the Hawks played a very good second quarter (other than a few lazy passes,) and didn't trail for the final ten minutes of the game.

Two reasons to be cautious on reading too much into last night: (1) this is the same Hawks team that got run off the floor in Sacramento on Sunday night; and (2) the Lakers missed a ton of free throws in the fourth quarter, which I assure you had nothing to do with Childress and Smith developing as players.

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