The Other Side: Atlanta Hawks
At the start of 2009, the Atlanta Hawks still had an outside shot at contending with the Orlando Magic in the Southeast Division. They were 21-10, just 3 ½ games out of first place and had a solid hold on fourth in the Eastern Conference. But after splitting the first two games in January against New Jersey and Houston, the Hawks lost consecutive games to Orlando, setting off a four-game losing streak.
The Hawks continued to sputter through January, finishing the month 6-10. Then, after winning road games in Minnesota and Charlotte to start this month (with Joe Johnson out with the flu, no less) they inexplicably got smashed at home, 121-97, to the lowly Los Angeles Clippers (with Joe Johnson back in the lineup). The loss to the Clippers was bizarre -- they trailed 29 points -- but not totally surprising considering that nine of the Hawks' 21 losses have been against teams that were below .500 when they faced them. Maurice Evans told Sekou Smith of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he doesn't think the Hawks "play hard every night."
The Wizards have lost two games to Atlanta this season, but they have been hotly contested. The Hawks won 91-87 on Nov. 19 when they nailed back-to-back three-pointers in the final 92 seconds. And, after blowing a 17-point third-quarter lead on Nov. 29, the Hawks prevailed 102-98 when center Al Horford converted a three-point play to break a tie score with 12.4 seconds remaining.
Here's what else you need to know about the Hawks before they host the Wizards tonight at Philips Arena:
1. Joe Johnson Is the Hawks' Barometer
To understand why the Hawks have gone just 8-11 in the calendar year, it's easy to look at all-star Joe Johnson's statistics. He averaged 23.4 points on 45.3 percent shooting the first two months of the season, but he hit the wall in January. Johnson has averaged just 17.8 points on 36.3 percent shooting in his past 17 games. He also has scored 20 or more points just six times over that span. As Sekou Smith put it while describing Johnson recently: "His struggles have been their struggles. His funk their funk. His roller coaster their roller coaster ..." Johnson would like his stroke to return in time for the new H-O-R-S-E competition this weekend against Kevin Durant and O.J. Mayo.
2. Mike Bibby 'Might Play'
Until they acquired Mike Bibby from the Sacramento Kings for a bag of Skittles last February, the Hawks were not a serious playoff team. After a slow adjustment period last season, Bibby helped the Hawks push the Celtics to seven games in the first round, putting the heat upon himself for calling out the Celtics' "bandwagon" fans. Bibby is averaging 16.1 points and 5.4 assists and will become a free agent his summer, which could create problems if he leaves next season. Bibby has been invaluable for the Hawks, especially since the team lacks a solid backup point guard. He missed the blowout loss against the Clippers with a sprained left foot, but Coach Mike Woodson said he might play against the Wizards.
3. The Hawks Could Be Set for a Solid Rebound
Despite their struggles, the Hawks are on pace to win 48 games this season and new General Manager Rick Sund is pleased with the progress from being a 37-win team last season. In the Hawks' defense, they have had their starting five intact for only 20 of the 50 games. They also have withstood 12-game stretches without Al Horford (bone bruise, right knee) and Josh Smith (sprained ankle). Horford said the Hawks will have to be more consistent.
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