Thursday, December 07, 2006

Don't Snitch!

The Hawks got their biggest win of the year last night, 98-96 over the Nuggets in Denver. This Western swing had the potential to destroy the good work that the Hawks put in in the first 14 games of the season. The team has been terrible out West in the last several years. (OK, they've been terrible everywhere.) They're playing without Marvin Williams, who should be the #2 scoring option at some point this year, and Josh Childress, who is their glue guy and, by a couple statistical measures is their most valuable player after Joe Johnson. Josh Smith, the guy who becomes absolutely critical with Marvin and Childress out, has been playing dreadfully and now has to sport goggles after getting poked in the eye. (When Childress, Marvin, and Smith were out in the second half against Cleveland, the Hawks were reduced to possessions where Lebron was being guarded by Matt Freije. This guy:



That ended about as well as one would expect. I like Freije and every team needs a crazy energy guy who will play his ass off for ten minutes and make a shot or two, but that guy doesn't need to be guarding Lebron James.)

In short, I was worried about a 1-4 or 0-5 trip, but the Hawks just beat the 10-5 Nuggets after trailing by 17 in the fourth quarter and now just need a split of their games against the Lakers and Kings to have a winning trip and to return to Atlanta at 9-10, which is good for about the 5th seed in the East right now.

Last night was an illustration of the importance of Josh Smith to this team. He has been lousy so far for the Hawks. He's shooting 38% because his shot selection is dreadful and he settles for a jumper that isn't falling way more than a guy with his athleticism should and he averages three turnovers per game. He's good for at least a couple "smack your palm against your forehead" moments every game. Last night, he scored 15 points on seven shots because he was getting to the line (eight free throw attempts) and he had 11 rebounds and five assists to go with his customary three turnovers. Smith has gotten better over the course of each of his two seasons in the NBA. Last year, he started playing like dreck and ended the season as one of the Hawks' best players. If he makes that improvement again, then this team will be, dare I say it, good?

One other thing: I'm of the opinion that Tyronne Lue has always been a good offensive guard whose negative was his inability to play defense. With Shelden Williams and Solomon Jones getting minutes now and with Josh Smith's emergence as a great weakside shotblocker, those defensive lapses are less critical and he becomes a somewhat valuable player. In other words, don't be shocked that he's a productive piece now.

And I need to say this in every Hawks post I make: Joe Johnson is friggin' awesome.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Michael,

Very well said. I'm more excited about the Hawks right now than the Falcons. A few other quick observations:

*Last night's other X-factors: no Zaza Pachulia, but nice job by Salim Stoudamire, who stepped up with 21 points.

*Hawks defense was spotty (they had no answer for Marcus Camby) but the zone really seemed to pay dividends. Shelden Williams was an interior presence and they even ended Carmelo's 30+ point scoring streak (though his having to sit after 3 quick fouls in the 3rd didn't hurt).

*Not to get all pessimistic about a great come from behind win, but gotta concede that Denver was abysmal from the line. Even a mediocre effort from them would have ended any hopes of a Hawks comeback.

*Zero turnovers in the fourth quarter. Nice.

When the injured players come back, this team really does have the potential to be good (especially in the East). You figure those tight home losses they had earlier to Milwaukee, Seattle, & Miami could turn into wins as the season progresses - this team is capable of 38-42 wins.

Always nice to see blogging about the Hawks. Keep up the good work...

LD said...

No Zaza, Childress, Marvin or Speedy last night meant a ton of minutes for guys who are probably borderline D-league players. Freije was on the court for a long time last night. This team could be pretty good when the others get healthy, mainly because Joe Johnson so far is playing well enough to be a serious MVP candidate.

Consider: Last night the Hawks won their 8th game of the year - December 6th. Last year, the Hawks won their 8th game of the year on JANUARY 6th. A whole month ahead of where they were last year.

As great as the no TOs in the 4th quarter was, the third quarter was kind of a comedy of errors. Way too many turnovers - and that was a spot where Claxton and Childress would've helped big.

Also, Zaza's suspension wasn't something players for the big name clubs get. I saw the highlight, and I maybe could've seen a small fine, but not a suspension. If the Hawks can play well enough to start getting the respect of refs, then we should really watch out.

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