Running with Zaza

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Goodwill Hunting? Blogger Night with the Hawks

The Atlanta Hawks invited some Hawks’ bloggers to attend last Sunday night’s game with the Phoenix Suns. Yes, you read that sentence correctly. They actually invited bloggers to the party! I would have liked to be a fly on the wall in that meeting:

-Well, we have done this in the past.
-Yeah, but bloggers? Can anything good come from this? Put them up in the rafters.
And we want Rick (GM Rick Sund) to spend 30 minutes answering their questions.
-(Very long pause followed by an expletive) Are you kidding me? These guys might start a web site saying how Rick shouldn’t have signed Koncak or let Dominique go. They might even blame him for not drafting Chris Paul for crying out loud.
-C’mon. Bloggers are the future of NBA coverage. Why do you think guys are playing harder than ever before? These guys watch mid-week games between us and the Clippers.
-Okay, we will do it. Break it to Rick gently. Lock up the alcohol, the A-Team dancers, and Woody’s play sheet. And be nice.
-How do we know when not to be nice?
-You won’t know, I will let you know. (Okay that last part was Dalton from Roadhouse, but you get the idea.

It turns out that the group of about 10 bloggers that showed up representing blogs principally devoted to the Hawks looked just like a group of young sports journalists. You had the cool guys with the cool blog name, the Daryl Morey stat guy (when he asked a question I thought Rick Sund’s head was going to explode), the hip Obama blogger who had partied for a week straight at the Inauguration, the sports loving woman writer (she actually scored a quick interview with O.J. Mayo earlier this year and had the guts to write about Mike Bibby missing lay-ups), the Al Horford jersey guy, and some others. One of my favorite writers from Playoff Hawks was not in attendance. He loves the Hawks, but he is very descriptive if you know what I mean (please no swearing was one of the rules).

The best part of the night was before the game when GM Rick Sund was holding court in a semi-circle of these eager, intrepid columnists with their notebooks and spiral-bound tablets taking copious notes. Sund started off the session with an overview of the season so far, and he followed with his take on the Hawks ability to reach several team goals.

Then, he opened up the session for questions. Typically, he answered some, he dodged some, he told some anecdotes, and he went off the record with some stuff. I wanted to raise my hand and just let him know that “off the record” rules do not really apply to bloggers. That is what makes them so fun and so dangerous!

You have to give it to Sund. He was cordial and candid. It is easy to see how these guys operate and handle the media. He almost had me convinced that Al Horford’s best position is center. He threw out Red Auerbach and Dave Cowens. I might have been the only other person there old enough to recognize those names. Supposedly, my high school and college coach know Sund from his days at Ohio University and in Southern Ohio. I did not bring that up, but he does remind me of an old school college coach.

Unfortunately, the Hawks lost a close game to the Suns. Our blogger suite was cheering, moaning, and groaning about the usual stuff with this team. Poor shot selection down the stretch, terrible turnovers, poor defensive rotations, and unimaginative offensive sets in the last 5 minutes of the game.

Last night, the Hawks compounded the grief by getting drilled by the Heat in a game that was not even close. Wade dominated. The Heat and the Pistons are gaining ground fast, but I had so much fun at “Hawks Blogger Night” that I could not muster up the normal vitriol to write a blog about the selfish play. I am sure it will wear off, but for right now my good will goes out to the Hawks and GM Rick Sund.


My 2009 Wish List for the Hawks

With the NBA All-Star Game starters ready to be announced tonight on TNT, I was thinking about what I want to see happen for the Atlanta Hawks in 2009. I wish…

…that two Hawks are selected by the coaching staff as All-Stars. Mike Bibby and Joe Johnson deserve to be on this team. Super Joe is one of the best all around players in the Association. Bibby has clearly been one of the top two point guards in the Eastern Conference. It is a travesty if Rajon Rondo makes this team and not Bibby.

…that Acie Law would play better. Bibby is playing way too many minutes. Hawks need to play Acie more, draft a point guard, find someone in the D-League, or make a trade. The problem is that the only valuable asset right now might be the rights to Josh Childress. Think outside the box. I mean Jose Barea is playing solid minutes for Dallas.

…that the Hawks end the season with the 4th seed in the playoffs and play Chicago in the first round. Hawks might sweep the Bulls. Clearly, the Hawks do not want to play New Jersey. The Bucks have a big man inside, Richard Jefferson, and Michael Redd (if he does not get traded to Cleveland). Redd and Jefferson could outplay Super Joe and J-Smooth.

…the Hawks would find a low post scoring presence. Randolph Morris is not the answer. The Hawks need someone that can post up and draw a double team. I know there aren’t that many guys out there that can do that.

…the team welcomes Childress back to Atlanta. Supposedly, J-Chill is in the States having surgery for a sports hernia. You just know this guy is homesick and wants to come back. You know he has been humbled by the experience. Make it easy for him to come back to Atlanta. The fans would welcome him back. Then, over the summer, you might be able to package him with Acie Law for a point guard—Earl Watson?

…that the Hawks are taken over by a single, dominant voice at the ownership level. Solve all this crazy Belkin versus the Atlanta Spirit Group nonsense. We need a kinder, gentler version of Mark Cuban.

…that Mike Woodson can figure out a way to beat Lawrence Frank’s New Jersey Nets. Why does Devin Harris dominate the Hawks?

…that Mark Price did not have to sit way in the back row of the coaches’ section. Price should be a bigger factor and maybe up on the bench in 2009-2010.

…that the Hawks would re-sign Mike Bibby, get a younger big man like Leon Powe or Big Baby Davis, change the color scheme of their home court, and take away Speedy Claxton’s electronic access card to Philips Arena.


The Hawks...They Are Who We Thought They Weren't?

This week was the most important week of the 2008-2009 regular season for the Atlanta Hawks. They played a home and home series against the Orlando Magic who had a small lead on the Hawks in the Southeast Division. A split or a Hawks’ sweep of the week would have been huge. The exact opposite happened. The Magic obliterated the Hawks last night in one of the worst losses of the Mike Woodson’s coaching tenure.

I watched the tip ready to write an article about how the Hawks bounced back with a win after the loss to the Magic on Wednesday night. About how they came together as a team and played with pride. Instead, I was making a list of examples of how monumentally bad the Hawks performed in this game.

There were the ridiculous technical fouls on Woodson, Joe Johnson, and Josh Smith. Another technical foul was called for delay of game because reserve center Solomon Jones did not have his jersey tucked in when he came on the floor.

The Hawks could not enter the ball on a couple of out of bounds underneath plays. They used up all their extra time-outs in the first quarter. J.J. Redick was scoring for Orlando. C’mon man! Othello Hunter played big minutes. It was so bad that Dominique was talking about how good a finisher Acie Law is in the paint.

I was frustrated and angry at halftime. The score was 71-33 for crying out loud. My face looked like the older cooler’s face (Sam Elliot’s character) in the movie Roadhouse when he gets kicked in the knee. I thought Hawks’ play-by-play man Bob Rathbun’s head might explode, but then a funny thing happened. At the start of the 2nd half, Bibby, Joe, and J-Smooth were at half court sharing a laugh.

What could they have been laughing at? Maybe, they were laughing at how viciously Dwight Howard blocked Josh Smith’s shot into the stands in the early moments of the game. Maybe, they were laughing because they have lost 10 out of there last 13 on the road.

It was even more deflating midway through the 3rd quarter when Al Horford was injured and no teammates came over to help him up or ask him if he was okay. I needed an NFL films sound byte of Vince Lombardi yelling, “What the hell’s going on out there!” There is something rotten in Hawks’ country.

With Josh Smith back in the lineup, you would think the Hawks would be playing better than they were earlier in the season, but they clearly are not. Zaza is sick and Marvin Williams is injured. Coach Woodson has no confidence in his bench.

I thought these Hawks might be contenders. I thought this was a new era. Are these the same old Hawks? With a month or so until the All-Star break, the Hawks are at a crossroads. Toronto, Detroit, and Miami are playing better and are catching up in the standings. Tomorrow’s game against the 76ers almost feels like an early season must win game—a big win at home can get this team moving in the right direction.


Magic Mystify Hawks, 106-102

I know, I know, you probably are not supposed to surf the internet at work, but during a quick break in the action today, I checked out The lead story was about the great match-ups in tonight’s action, and the main focus was the Hawks’ game against the first place Magic.

Hawks’ fans are starting to believe the hype. Philips Arena (a.k.a the Highlight Factory) was loud at the start of the game, but the Hawks quickly fell behind the Magic. Slow starts to games have been a trend for the Hawks all season. The Magic played last night, but the Hawks looked like the team playing back-to-back games. They were out of rhythm on offense and they were slow to react on the defensive end of the floor.

The slow start to tonight’s game had to be a result of the game plan. I have a vision of Coach Woodson in his pre-game points of emphasis talking about how you have to control the tempo to beat the Magic. The problem is the Hawks are a below average half court offensive team. Their half court offense is very easy to guard for opposing teams. The offensive sets are unimaginative and predictable.

You can see this in the way they often struggle to score in the final possessions of a close game. Giving the basketball to Joe Johnson at the top of the floor only works so many times. It is true that the Magic are more athletic, play faster, and love the up tempo game, but the Hawks have to play to their strengths.

Dwight Howard controlled the paint and the Magic did not have to double team Horford in the post (the Magic did double Joe Johnson a couple of times.) That means that Super Joe, Bibby, and Marvin Williams did not have their normal open looks from 3-point range. When the Hawks were down by 20 at the beginning of the 4th quarter, they started pushing the ball in transition. Even though they lost the game, pushing the ball fueled their comeback run.

Here are five quick observations about tonight’s game:

1. The Hawks free throw shooting woes have to be a concern for Coach Mike Woodson. They threw away the “Vince Carter buzzer beater game” with an abysmal showing from the line. Tonight, the Hawks missed their first three free throws of the game and ended up shooting around 50% from the line. In a four point game, those easy points are critical. Also, when the Hawks play a team above them in the standings, they have to make every possession count.

2. Dwight Howard is the most dominant, physical force in the NBA. Al “the Boss” Horford fought Howard all night long, but he is just not big or strong enough. Whenever Howard goes to the foul line, you can hear the whispers from the crowd and the television audience about how broad his shoulders are. He really does look like a Superman.

3. The Hawks really missed the presence of Zaza Pachulia. Zaza missed the game with the flu. He has a big body to lean on Howard. The drop off to the other post reserves, Solomon Jones and Randolph Morris, is steep. Jones hits the offensive boards hard, but he was totally over matched by Howard inside. You somehow have to push Howard off the low block and make him used a post move to score. Howard’s dunking and rebounding killed the Hawks.

4. I was surprised that in the last two minutes of the game, Stan Van Gundy called set plays for Rashad Lewis to post up Josh Smith on the left wing area. That must be a result of Howard’s struggles at the free throw line. Lewis converted a basket and made two foul shots, but Smith was able to stop him on the next two possessions. Smith started a fast break that ended in a heart breaking missed lay up from Bibby.

5. Can the Hawks handle their early season success? The Hawks’ emergence in the East is shaping up to be one of the best stories in the NBA. However, the Hawks are showing some chinks in their armor. Their shot selection has been questionable. Outside of Horford, hustle plays are non-existent. Watch the Hawks’ time-outs. Guys are not in the huddle listening to Coach Woodson or each other. The focus has to be on winning games and not who gets the credit.

Tonight, the Magic looked like the deeper and better team. They even managed a couple of baskets from J.J. Reddick! However, the great thing about college and pro basketball is that you have the chance to play again soon and make up for a bad performance. To beat the elite teams, the Hawks have to come together as a team. They have to use this loss as motivation for another big game against the Magic on Friday night.