NBA AM: Are The Atlanta Hawks Contenders?
Are The Hawks The Dark Horse?: No one is giving the Atlanta Hawks much of a chance in the post-season; however, if you look at how things have played out over the last month, the Hawks might have as good a shot as anyone in the East.
The Chicago Bulls are nursing injury after injury. The Miami HEAT continues to be extremely inconsistent. The Orlando Magic have completely come apart due to injury. Outside of Boston, is there a playoff contender that is really better than the Hawks?
“This ball club has done tremendous things thus far,” Hawks forward Josh Smith told HOOPSWORLD. “We just have to try and keep it up and stay focused and know that we can play with some of the best teams in the NBA.”
When the Hawks lost All-Star Al Horford for the season most pundits wrote the Hawks off; however, if the playoffs started today the Hawks would be the fifth seed with 35 wins, just one win behind Boston.
“It just shows you how much veteran leadership we have on this basketball team,” explained Smith. “The ‘non-quit’ factor we have. No excuses. Just being able to come out there and just go out there and play the way we’re capable of playing. I am just happy to see that we didn’t hang our heads when we lost one of our key guys. We kept trucking, guys have been stepping up in his absence and been able to come in and just be productive, have productive minutes for this ball club.”
Hawks’ veteran Marvin Williams has also stepped up his game and has been a key part of the second unit that’s been powering the Hawks as of late.
“I was starting early in the season,” explained Williams. “Coach made the switch to put me on the bench and come off for that second unit and ever since then things have just been more consistent for me, so just got to try to get out there and keep doing what I’m doing.
“I think that we have a chance to do some special things in the playoffs and we’ve gotten older. This is probably the most veteran team we’ve had since I’ve been here for sure and it’s exciting that we’ve got that and play like that.”
“We lost an All-Star forward so that’s a lot of void,” Williams continued. “We’ve got guys that can do it, but that goes back to having that veteran team. On our second unit we’ve got a lot of guys that could possibly start for other teams. Al goes down and Zaza, who was a starter when I first got here, he comes in and steps right in and keeps the ball rolling. Josh Smith elevates his game, Joe has been Joe, so I think guys really picked it up.”
The most noticeable change has been in forward Josh Smith, who for most of his career was kind of a loose cannon, but since the start of training camp in December, Josh has become a focal point and leader for the Hawks.
“I just felt like vocally I had to be a little more active in that role,” said Smith. “But I definitely had to lead by example. I had to be able to go out there and do the things that I wanted my teammates to do better.
“I was able to go into this offseason conditioning myself right to be able to be more of a versatile player to play multiple positions. I’ve been able to keep the weight off and I’m more vocal, more positive policing and it’s definitely showing this year. I’m just happy to be a part of this ball club; I’ve been around these guys for a lot of years now, they’ve become brothers to me and hopefully we can do something special in the postseason.”
“It’s always been one goal,” added Smith. “ If we’re able to make it to the playoffs, I think that we should have an opportunity to be able to play in the championship game and all we’ve got to do is definitely believe.
“Nobody’s giving us a shot, nobody’s talking about us and we understand that and we know that. We’re flying under the radar. All we have to do is just believe in ourselves. As long as we believe in ourselves and go out there and prove the naysayers wrong and play the way we’re capable of playing, I think the sky’s the limit for us.”
The Hawks look like they will open the post-season versus Boston. The Celtics have the Hawks’ number so far this season so the first round will be the challenge. But looking at how well the Hawks are playing; the general health of the team and the depth the roster has with veteran players. The Hawks actually have the resume of a team that could challenge especially with so many questions surrounding the front runners.
You Call It: Most Improved: Last week, we took a look at the 2012 NBA Rookie of The Year, which according to your votes was Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving in a walk.
We also looked at the 2012 NBA Sixth Man of The Year award, which according to your votes is Oklahoma City’s James Harden. The final vote tally looked like this:
James Harden – Oklahoma City (72%, 899 Votes), Lou Williams – Philadelphia (9%, 114 Votes), OJ Mayo – Memphis (7%, 90 Votes), Mo Williams – LA Clippers (6%, 72 Votes), Mike Dunleavy Jr. – Milwaukee (3%, 35 Votes), Jason Terry – Dallas (3%, 31 Votes)
So today let’s take a look at the 2012 NBA Most Improved Player:
Pointing Fingers?: Magic All-Star Dwight Howard was diagnosed with a herniated disc in his back. Howard flew to Los Angeles on Friday to consult with noted back surgeon Dr. Robert Watkins of Watkins Spine, who confirmed what was feared, Howard would be shelved for at least 10 days, maybe more.
There had been speculation that maybe the Magic had misdiagnosed Howard’s injury, something Magic President Otis Smith denied to Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel.
“The diagnosis really didn’t change from one location to the other,” Smith said of the trip to LA for a second opinion.
“It’s the same diagnosis we had and the same prognosis we had. They probably were a little bit more conservative than we would have been, but that’s normal. We were on the same rest and rehab [regimen] that he got over there. So, he’s going to rest and rehab for the next 10 days and see how we go from there.”
Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy said he understands Howard may be out when the Magic open the post-season.
“Look, any time you have a guy on that kind of timetable you’ve got to assume that the playoffs are a 50-50 thing,” Van Gundy said.
“So we’ve got to go forward assuming that what’s in our locker room is our team going forward.”
The Magic clinched the playoffs with their 100-84 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers last night, however their final seeding is still up in the air with six games remaining on the season.
The Magic are currently tied with Atlanta with 35 wins. Atlanta owns the tie breaker with the Magic placing them in the 5th seed and the Magic in 6th.
Boston holds the fourth seed with 36 wins and they have command of the Atlantic Division.
Philadelphia and New York sit in the 7th and 8th seed respectively with 31 wins, giving the magic a four game hold on the 6th seed with a possible move to five if Atlanta falters down the stretch.
Coach Kobe?: There are some players in the NBA that you can tell will be head coaches or executives in the NBA when their playing days are over, and yesterday you may have caught a glimpse of Kobe Bryant’s future.
Sidelined again with a left shin injury, the Lakers’ guard sat out another game more as precautionary measure, but rather than sit idle and watch as most players in suits do, Bryant was more than engaged, there were moments were he was drawing up plays.
ABC assembled some of those moments:
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NBA Chats: There are three NBA Chats scheduled for today starting with HOOPSWORLD’s Bill Ingram at 11am. Bill’s chats do fill up fast so getting in early is always wise. HOOPSWORLD’s Stephen Brotherston will hold down his weekly chat at 3pm EST. While HOOPSWORLD editor Jason Fleming rounds out the day with his weekly NBA chat at 8pm EST. You can always find the next NBA Chat here: http://www.hoopsworld.com/upcoming-chats and if you are looking for Previous Chats try here: http://www.hoopsworld.com/previous-chats