Thursday, February 12, 2009

Atlanta's Air Force

I've been very excited about writing this column for quite some time. I've carefully calculated its timing to coincide with the NBA All-Star Break because, well, I figure this is the best chance I have of any of you caring about the NBA. I have been worried all day that I wouldn't be able to write this because I'm saddled with the worst head cold of my adult life. But, fear not. I've loaded up on mashed potatoes from KFC and some hot and sour soup from Hong Li (yes, I understand that is a bizarre combination, but what can I say? I have multi-cultural cravings when I'm sick), and I'm ready to talk Atlanta Hawks. And, for the record, if you just let out a big moan and said, "I'm so sick of this guy talking about the NBA", I can assure you of two things: 1) you are not alone; and 2) I don't think we can be friends anymore.

In case you haven't noticed, and based on the attendance, you haven't (thanks, Bob Uecker), your Atlanta Hawks are 32-21 and sitting firmly as the 4 seed in the Eastern Conference headed into the All-Star Break. Before I kill Atlanta fans too much, I will say in all fairness that there have been some great crowds this season, and there has been a noticeable vibe around the Hawks this year. Granted, that vibe is coming in at around a 4, but it is better than the 1 in past years. That being said, why isn't the vibe at an 8? I can't tell you how many people I spoke with after last year's playoffs that said, "this was great, but I won't really get excited unless they build on this net year." Well, guess what! They have built on it, and they continue to build on it! I've never been anything but honest with you, so please believe me when I say that the Atlanta Hawks are a legit threat in the Eastern Conference. No, they aren't the favorites. They probably aren't in the same league as the Cavs and C's, but they weren't in the same league as the C's last year and they took them 7 games. In other words, anything is possible with this team, so stop thinking about and just go ahead and jump on the bandwagon. Trust me, you won't regret it.

Enough with the pep-rally. Let's talk about why this team is excelling. One word comes to mind - patience. When things were looking average at best, the Hawks didn't panic and fire Mike Woodson, and they didn't cut ties with Marvin Williams because he isn't Chris Paul. Instead, they stuck with Woodson who has transformed this into an up tempo, high intensity, defensive minded organization. Notice I said organization and not team. There is a difference. And, trust me, you would rather root for an organization than a team. As for Marvin, the organization stuck with him and continued to develop his strengths and never, at least publicly, pined for Chris Paul. Now, as a result, and as a result of Marvin's own work ethic, he is a big time contributor for a team poised to make the leap and he has a long and prosperous career ahead of him.

Now, for a moment of intellectual honesty, I do have to admit that some of the foregoing was possible because of some strange and twisted luck. The fact that nobody really knows who owns the Hawks has made it easier to justify not cutting ties with Woodson and Marvin along the way. And, the fact that very few people in this city actually care about the Hawks hasn't hurt either. But still, whether it is completely deserved or not, you have to give the organization credit. In this case, I use the term "organization" because I'm not really sure who deserves the credit.

To continue with the honesty, to some how claim that Coach Woodson and Marvin deserve all the credit would not only be dishonest, it would be ridiculous. This team is full of guys make huge contributions. Al Horford's scoring hasn't taken off like I expected, but he is as good a team defender in the low post as there is in the League right now. I don't even know what to say about the contributions Flip Murray has made. To be really honest, I didn't know who Flip Murray was until he joined the Air Force. And, Josh Smith is equal parts electrifying and infuriating. He averages 15.7 and 7.6 a night, and I can't help but think he should be a 22 and 12 guy, but not a game goes by where he doesn't make at least one play that completely changes the momentum of the game. For now, I'm okay with that.

At the end of the day, however, the fortunes of this team rise and fall with the backcourt of Joe Johnson and Mike Bibby, which happens to be one of the elite backcourts in all of basketball. I've always been a huge Bibby fan, even back in his days at Arizona. When this guy is feeling it, he's one of the best deep threats in the game. And, even when he's not stroking the 3, he is consistently intense on D, although he's not a great pick and roll defender, and he plays the role of floor general with confidence and....patience. As for JJ, what can you say about this guy? As if 22 points, 4.5 boards, and 6 assists a game wasn't enough, JJ loves the big moment and can create his own shot in crunch time with the best of 'em. Every contender needs that one guy they can count on to close the deal or save the day. JJ is that guy for the Hawks. And, the great thing is that if something were to happen to JJ, Bibby can also serve that role.

Don't worry, I'm not about to tell you the Hawks are going to win the Eastern Conference. I am, however, going to tell you that the Hawks are going to have a serious impact on what is shaping up to be the most exciting NBA Playoffs of the decade. If that's not enough to get your attention, I guess nothing will. Your loss.

Really?

It was a heated competition for this week's "Really", but after much deliberation, I have to give it to A-Rod. Let me be clear, though. I am not giving it to A-Rod because he did steroids. I am giving it to him because he had the nerve to tell Peter Gammons, at the time, Peter, I wasn't even being truthful with myself. How am I going to be truthful with Katie or CBS?" I've heard a lot of ridiculous crap in my life, but this ranks right up there. Congratulations, A-Rod. Sadly, I have no doubt you are very proud of yourself.

Link of The Week

I love the B.S. Report with Bill Simmons. And, I really love the days he has his buddy, JackO, as a guest. The world will be a better place with more JackO, so go show your support here:

Oooooooooooooh, Johny!