Lost in all the excitement regarding Vick and the LaRoche deal this morning is the little nugget that the Hawks won their third in a row last night by pummeling the T-Wolves in Minneapolis. The T-Wolves came into the game at 20-16 in the highly-competitive Western Conference, so it can't be said that the Hawks blew out a bad team. The Wolves also had a pretty full roster for the game, so it's not a matter of beating a short-handed team. (The wins this week over Detroit without Chauncey Billups and Boston without Paul Pierce could arguably fall into those categories, although beating Detroit with all but one of its stars in uniform is still an impressive feat.) The Hawks won the game by 17, which was their biggest margin of victory of the season and their biggest margin of victory on the road since a 102-75 win in Washington on November 28, 2000 The Hawks' lineup that night: Jason Terry, Matt Maloney, Chris Crawford, Alan Henderson, and Dikembe Mutombo. A few thoughts on the game:
1. Joe Johnson was absolutely torrid. He had 29 points on 19 shots and added eight assists, to boot. He also got to the foul line eight times, which is a good barometer for how he's performing. As has been the case this year, when the Hawks' star plays well, the team is pretty formidable.
2. The Hawks' resurgence has coincided with Josh Smith's return to the lineup. Smith did not have a terrific statistical impact in his first two games back (other than committing 13 turnovers in two games; in fairness, he did have 23 points and ten blocks in the two games), but he was outstanding last night. He had 21 points on 18 shots and most importantly, he didn't have a single turnover. I think I underrated the value that Smith's defensive abilities, especially his shot-blocking, brings to the team.
3. Royal Ivey has missed one shot during the three-game winning streak. Admittedly, he plays ten minutes a game, so he's taken all of eight shots in three games, but I thought it was worth mentioning.
4. Marvin Williams remains stuck in a dreadful shooting slump (.366 on the year; .250 in his last five games), but he's passing the ball better now, which is something.
5. Mike Woodson was clearly sending a message to the team with the starting lineup last night, which was Stanislav Medvedenko, Dijon Thompson, Lorenzen Wright, and Royal Ivey joining Joe Johnson. The message, unless I'm deaf, is: "starting is not an entitlement just because we spent a high draft pick on you."
All in all, Friday night was the first game this year that the Hawks had their full complement of the team's nucleus - Johnson, Smith, Childress, Pachulia, and the two Williams boys - and they are unbeaten ever since, so there might be hope for this season yet. The team has back-to-back games against Charlotte coming up. If they're really turning a corner, then they can contemplate winning those games and getting back into the playoff hunt, as they're only four games out of 8th place right now. Shocking, I know.