I didn't exactly pay to see the two worst teams in the NBA duke it out for ping pong balls; the Hawks gave out free tickets for completing a survey on my experience using a Chic-Fil-A Family Fun Pack. (Remember what I said about the Hawks being the Fat Girl who will go the extra mile to please her targets?) Anyway, the game was possibly the most fun game of the year. I kid you not. Here's why:
1. Not only did the Hawks give out free tickets, but they were good seats. In truth, it probably wouldn't have mattered, since the ushers could not possibly have cared less if fans were moving into the lower levels. I counted five fans in the entire upper deck region behind one of the baskets. Anyway, the good seats behind the Hawks bench (once we moved from Row V to Row H) allowed me to observe the Hawks' behavior on the bench:
a. Al Harrington seemed to be paying attention, but my wife couldn't stop staring at the bling in his ears. (Hint, hint, Michael.)
b. Poor Obinna Ekezie had to sit in the second row of the bench, all the way at the end, or as I dubbed it, the Gulag seat.
c. This season is just killing Mike Woodson. He's still trying as hard as he can, but it has to hurt the pride of a guy who played under Bobby Knight to coach a team this bad.
d. Jason Collier was more interested in the breakdancers and dance team than what was going on in the huddle. He generally seems to be thrilled to be getting an NBA paycheck. In other words, it doesn't bother him that he loses crunch time minutes to the swarthy Drobber.
2. It was discount night at the Team Store. $25 Thrashers practice jerseys tested the strength of my NHL boycott, but it was fun to look at price tags and not think immediately: "whom do these people think they are kidding?"
3. The even sparser than usual crowd allowed us to spread out. I kid you not, there was a woman a few seats down who was doing work the whole first half. I guess she figured that Philips would be quieter than a library.
4. The game itself was a lot of fun. NBA basketball is entertaining, perhaps even moreso when the teams are just playing out the string. In contrast to playoff basketball, which generally involves a lot of clutching, grabbing, and molesting, the game last night was played at a good tempo. Josh Childress served up a facial in the open court to Emeka Okafor, and that led Josh Smith to one-up him in the second half with a dunk in the face of Primos Brezec. The teams also shared the ball nicely. The Bobcats had seven players in double digits, while the Hawks had six. Again, that's a welcome change from Playoff basketball, where the ball is constantly funneled to a couple key players. (Listen to me rationalize that making the Playoffs is a bad thing.)
I suppose I ought to be distressed that the Hawks all but clinched the worst record in the NBA last night, but that was the goal from the start of the season (along with getting the young players PT.) There was no way that this team was going to make the playoffs, so it's more important that they build for the future and they can best do that with ping pong balls and the Joshes getting better as fast as possible. Like Saturday night, Childress was extremely effective in the first half, scoring, rebounding, and passing, and then faded as the game went on. Smith was more consistent and showed a nice pull-up jumper twice. He has the potential to become a good shooter because his form is good. It was encouraging to see that the Hawks were very good when the Joshes were on the court and then faded in the second and third quarters when they took their breaks.
What was a little distressing last night was that the Joshes were not involved at all in the offense on the critical possessions in the fourth quarter and overtime. I'd like to see what they can do in those situations, but every late possession involved a high screen for Tyronne Lue, set by either Tom Gugliotta or the Drobber. The screens were generally poorly set, and then the shooter would pop out, leaving Lue to either take the ball to the hoop or hit the big white guy for a long jumper. A little diversity in the offensive game plan would have been nice.
On the defensive end, Tyronne Lue showed why he's playing for the worst team in the NBA. Charlotte constantly ran a pick and roll with Brevin Knight and one of their big men and the Hawks never, ever defended it. Part of the problem is that the Hawks' big men are immobile and provide no help by hedging against the ball handler or getting quickly to the screener when he rolls or pops. Lue was also part of the problem, as he was getting lost on the screens, allowing Brevin Knight to have his way.
The game served to emphasize that the Hawks are weak at the 1 and the 5 (no big shock there) and need to address both areas in the near future. Chris Paul would solve one problem; a free agent signing of someone like Sam Dalembert would solve the other. The game also showed the problem that Andrew Bogut would have in the NBA. Is he quick enough to help out on a point guard and still get back to his man?