MMPG: Team of the Week
It surprises hardly anyone that the Los Angeles Lakers are one of two unbeaten teams in the NBA after two full weeks of the regular season. The Atlanta Hawks? You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone except a delusional, hardcore Hawks fan who thought that they'd start the season with road wins in Orlando and New Orleans and home wins against Philadelphia and Toronto.
Last week, the Hawks went into New Orleans and held the high-scoring and unbeaten Hornets to just 79 points, gave the Raptors an 18-point drubbing -- with Josh Smith missing the final three quarters with a high ankle sprain -- and pulled out a hard-fought win in Oklahoma City without Smith.
The Hawks will have some difficulty keeping it rolling with Smith sidelined for the next two-to-four weeks, but they have already exceeded expectations in the early going.
With a few favorable bounces -- a late-season trade for Mike Bibby and some contract-year pushes by Smith and Josh Childress -- and some prime real estate in the inferior Eastern Conference, the Hawks finally ended a nine-year playoff drought last season. Then, the Hawks got to the playoffs and nearly knocked off the Boston Celtics in seven games.
The run was supposed to end right there -- especially after Childress signed a Big Fat Greek contract last summer. Childress might be the new franchise player for Olympiacos of the Euroleague, with a personal driver and chef in Greece, but he obviously didn't make or break the Hawks.
So much for the fluke. Joe Johnson is leading the team in scoring at 25.2 points per game, but the Hawks are winning with defense. They are second in the NBA in holding opponents to just 85.8 points per game.
These two paragraphs from a recent column by Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution sums up the Hawks surprising start this season:
. . . the team is unbeaten against four opponents that figured to be better than these Hawks. In the span of 10 days they've taken on Dwight Howard and Elton Brand and Chris Paul and Chris Bosh and have run the star-spangled table.
. . . A confession: From force of habit, I keep expecting to see J.R. Rider slumping on the baseline or Jason Terry throwing the ball away or Billy Knight drafting somebody else named Williams. I keep expecting to wake up and find that these Hawks are a real dream team, as in utterly imaginary. But then I watch another game and see the Hawks flex another set of muscles and I tell myself, "This is really happening."
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