Running with Zaza

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10 Observations While Watching Hawks vs. Spurs

1. The Spurs are aging quickly. The Spurs are older than Bob Rathbun’s analogies. These guys are like the old guys with knee pads that come and play pick up at the playground. At one point, Michael Finley, Drew Gooden, and Kurt Thomas were all on the floor at the same time. I know Roger Mason is still pretty young, but he looks old. If Tim Duncan, Gnobili, and Parker, play great basketball, the Spurs can make it back to the Finals, but the championship window for this version of the Spurs has been slammed shut and painted over.

2. Hawks’ guard Flip Murray is on fire. His confidence level is at a season high. He was attacking Gnobili like Manu just arrived in the States with a knapsack and Marta card. Over the past three games, Murray is averaging over 20 points per game. Murray has been up and down a little this season, but he gives the Hawks a spark off the bench that they did not have last season.

3. The Hawks overall roster is much better than the Spurs right now. I especially like the Hawks young forwards. If they can re-sign Marvin Williams to a reasonable contract this summer and Josh Childress makes the obvious decision to return to the NBA, the Hawks have four young and talented front court players.

4. Here is one of Coach Mike Woodson’s biggest problems in a nutshell. Joe Johnson had to start the game guarding Tony Parker, because Bibby cannot guard Parker. It is a good thing that the Eastern Conference is devoid of attacking point guards. Bibby can guard Rajon Rondo, Rafer Alston, and Mario Chalmers. I would be worried about Moe Williams of the Cavs. Parker still has 20 points and 5 assists at halftime.

5. Josh Smith has no low post game. Also, he is not a very good jump shooter from outside of 5 feet. The Spurs started the game with Matt Bonner guarding him. Smith should dominate Bonner, but he has no offensive package of moves. The Hawks cannot take advantage of the mismatch, because Smith is so limited offensively. The Hawks threw him the ball on the right block and he took a terrible fall away jump shot. Note to Josh—develop a left-handed jump hook. A shot based maybe on Tayshaun Prince’s move. Left-handed players are tough to guard, but the way to guard J-Smoove is to just let him shoot the basketball.

6. The Spurs are one of the best teams in the NBA at executing out of bounds plays for scores. At the end of the first quarter, Popovich called a beautiful play side out of bounds play for Ginobli to get a lay up. Over the course of a game, those extra points add up to wins.

7. Manu Gnobili is not healthy. This is his first game back after missing 19 games. He missed 12 games earlier this season. He looks slow and the explosiveness off the dribble are not there. The Western Conference teams are fairly equal talent wise and only 2.5 games separate five different teams for playoff spots. If Gnobili is not 100% for the playoffs, the Spurs are going to have an early exit this year.

8. Mike Bibby got a sweet cut right in the middle of his forehead courtesy of an elbow from Matt Bonner. Bibby was the victim of a bush league play that happens all the time in the Association. Bonner flailed his arms after the whistle. Kobe Bryant does this all the time. It should be a technical foul.

9. If Joe Johnson gets hurt, the Hawks can’t win a first round playoff series. When Super Joe went down with a twisted ankle on the very first play of the game for the Hawks, I actually started righting the Hawks 2009 season obituary. Without Johnson’s all around game, quiet leadership, and offensive fire power, the Hawks will not beat the Heat.

10. Al Horford is the key to Atlanta’s playoff destiny. He brings energy, rebounding, and defense. He will set a solid screen which is a sacrifice that some are not willing to make. Coach Woodson has to have the confidence the isolate Horford some on the low block. Last season, he was able to score on Kevin Garnett in the playoffs. In a potential 1st round match up, I like Horford versus Jermaine O’Neal of the Heat.


Picking the NCAA Tournament

My 1st Round Winners:

Louisville, Ohio State, Arizona, Wake Forest, WVU, Kansas, Boston College, Michigan State, Connecticut, BYU, Purdue, Mississippi State, Marquette, Missouri, California, Memphis

Pittsburgh, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Xavier, UCLA, Villanova, Texas, Duke, North Carolina, LSU, Illinois, Gonzaga, Temple, Syracuse, Clemson, Oklahoma

My 2nd Round Winners:

Louisville, Arizona, WVU, Michigan State, Mississippi State, Connecticut, Missouri, Memphis

Pittsburgh, Wisconsin, Villanova, Texas, North Carolina, Gonzaga, Syracuse, Clemson

My Elite Eight:

Arizona, Michigan State, Connecticut, Memphis, Pittsburgh, Texas, North Carolina, Clemson

My Final Four:

Arizona, Memphis, Texas, North Carolina

Final Game:

Memphis vs. North Carolina - North Carolina wins the National Championship 99-83.


Hawks Soar to 5th Straight Win

The NBA season is a marathon. During the long season, the factors that determine whether a team wins or loses are all over the board. A star player's wife might be mad that the pool isn't heated to the right temperature, a guy's child might be doing poorly in school, someone's girlfriend is flirting with a country music star at the Memphis game, etc. I mean there are ups and downs. Coaches fight with referees, referees fight with players, players fight with coaches. The problem is no one has any patience and every time anything happens fifty people have to write something about it. Yes, this even happens to the Hawks! The Hawks are relevant and the Eastern Conference is starting to take notice.

The Hawks are rolling right now and they stretched their win streak to 5 games behind another huge performance from Joe Johnson. Also, Josh Smith's emphatic dunk along the left baseline brought Philips Arena to its feet. J-Smoove is garnering praise from all over the NBA universe, but Smith knows how quickly that can change. I think Smith loves playing in Atlanta and maybe all the talk about him being traded is starting to become real. Do you think J-Smoove wants to play in Sacramento, Portland, Detroit or somewhere worse (I think they play basketball in Beirut)? No way. Here is an article by Chris Mannix of CNNSI to check out about Josh Smith and the Hawks who are slowly grabbing some national attention.


Why I Feel Badly for Sekou Smith...

Newspapers are dead and the world is changing. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall when the AJC management invaded the sports desk and told the graybeards of Bisher, Moore, Bradley and Schultz, “Guys we are giving you blog pages and putting the word “blog” over your name on the web site. Yeah, they are still opinion columns, but we are going to call them “blogs”. The goal is to generate page views. Use girls in bikinis, Erin Andrews, and whatever else to get people to read your stuff.”

The problem is that these blogs suck. I love to see these guys like Jeff Schultz reduced to doing a half-hearted blog on the AJC web page. You know these sportswriters have been complaining and vilifying bloggers for years and now they are becoming bloggers themselves. Karma is great.

Schultz’s blog has an “about” section, a “recent posts” section, an “archive” section, a ‘blogroll”, a “topics” section, and a “what makes me look smart” section (sometimes called a blogs I follow section). The interesting part to me is that there are a half dozen Hawks bloggers that have been writing better stuff all season long. Schultz does a bikini clad girl picture to boost page views. The guys at Billy Knight Stole My Lunch Money have been doing this all year—and doing it much better! Their last picture is a twelve on a ten point scale.

The funniest part of this whole change at the AJC is that the analysis of the Hawks is even more below average. His most recent article about the Mike Woodson and Josh Smith feud could have been written by any 14 year-old fan that has watched this team for the last few years. Give me something. These guys at the AJC have what bloggers crave…Access! Dig deeper. Find out the real story behind Woodson’s tirade. What went on behind the closed doors of the locker room to make J-Smoove wake up and play great basketball these past two games? Find out the inside information.

Okay, maybe no Hawks player will go on the record, but Jeff you are a blogger now. You do not have to worry about “on the record” and that journalism paradigm. Print the truth of what you find out and you will be fine. The fact is that most of the die hard Hawks bloggers that really follow this team would not even write a column as vanilla and boring as this one by Schultz.

I mean check out The Vent. She will let Josh Smith shoot as many jumpers as he wants. That is funny. That is the kind of ironic analysis that someone at the AJC could provide. I actually feel badly for Sekou Smith. He cannot even get his picture on the Hawks blog. The title just says “Hawks blog”. Very original. Sekou should start his own blog and call it “Hawksville.” The problem for Sekou is that the AJC still is paying him until they file for bankruptcy this summer.


Hawks Versus Pistons - Player Matchups for the Playoffs

After watching the Atlanta Hawks play two tough games this weekend, I am giving the Hawks the 4th seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. I know it seems early with around 20 games left to play, but I have confidence that with a healthy Mike Bibby and a long home stand, the Hawks are going to finish the season on a positive note.

If Bibby plays and the Hawks stay healthy, their 8 man rotation is pretty good. The Hawks’ 3 point shooting in Philips Arena and their defensive intensity are the big keys for this team.

Okay, pencil in the Hawks as the 4 seed in the playoffs. The scary part for Atlanta is that they might have to play the Detroit Pistons in the first round. Without Allen Iverson, the Pistons scored big road victories over Orlando and Boston this weekend.

The Hawks match up much better with the Miami Heat. The Heat's Dwayne Wade is the best player and most explosive offensive threat on these three teams, but the Pistons present so many more match up problems for Atlanta in a playoff series.

Here is a preview of the players going head to head if the Hawks have to face the Pistons in the 1st round of the playoffs:

Mike Bibby vs. Rodney Stuckey

The Hawks have been struggling during this stretch when Bibby has been hurt and sick. Without Bibby, the Hawks can make the playoffs, but they can forget about doing any damage in the 1st round. Bibby is the better shooter and passer than Stuckey, but Stuckey is younger and much more physical.

Stuckey still is learning the point guard position, but he is a physical guard that can get to the basket. If the Pistons decide to clear out and let Stuckey operate one on one against Bibby, the Hawks are in trouble. Stuckey is a solid defender, but not focused enough to stay with Bibby at all times. Bibby will score, but so will Stuckey. I call this match up even.

Joe Johnson vs. Rip Hamilton

Johnson is the better all around player. Hamilton will have a hard time guarding Johnson. The Hawks like to run Joe to the left wing and get him the ball. Plus, Johnson can post Rip. The Pistons coaching staff would be smart to put Stuckey on JJ during some stretches.

On the other side of the coin, JJ is going to have to chase Hamilton all over the court and over countless screens. The Pistons create much of their offense from Hamilton reading screens and how teams guard the screen off the ball. Is Johnson in good enough shape to chase Rip all night long and still carry the Hawks’ offense in the last 4 minutes of the 4th quarter? That will be a huge question if these teams play in the 1st round. I give the edge to the Hawks.

Josh Smith vs. Tayshaun Prince

This whole season J-Smoove has been a wild card for the Hawks. He has the ability to make a huge impact on this series or he could disappear. If he is determined on defense, Smith will keep Prince in front of him and negate some of Prince’s vaunted low post game.

Prince is a member of the “Redeem Team” and one of the best defenders in the NBA. The past four years he has been 2nd team all defense in the Association. He will cause all kind of problems for Smith if Smith is careless with the basketball. Ok, if Smith tries to dribble Tayshaun probably will steal the ball from him. Prince is not playing as well this year offensively. I think he is tired and playing too many minutes. Arron Affalo has not really been able to play minutes at the small forward.

Of all the Redeem Team members, Prince’s game is down this year. However, he killed the Celtics with a big 3 point shot on Sunday and his passing is light years ahead of Smith’s. The Pistons have a clear edge here especially if the bumpy J-Smoove shows up for this series.

Al Horford vs. Rasheed Wallace

“The Boss” has been playing great since the all star break. He had a monster game against the Denver Nuggets; then he followed that up with a 20 point / 20 rebound game against Miami. In last year’s playoffs, Horford was able to score in the low post against Boston even when guarded by Kevin Garnett.

Of all the Hawks on the roster, Horford is the one guy that has to stay in Atlanta. No what Rick Sund says, Horford is a power forward with a Karl Malone type future. He is not a center, but neither are Rasheed or Antonio McDyess. However, I am sure that the Pistons will not double him in the post.

Wallace and McDyess will take turns guarding him. Wallace’s length, positioning, and defensive savvy will be a huge challenge for Horford. Wallace can block shots, but he is just as likely to slap down and go for steals. In my mind, Wallace is probably the most important player on the Pistons. If he is motivated and plays well, the Pistons are better than the Hawks. Wallace is the one player in this series that can run to the low block, receive the ball, and score consistently.

Horford will battle him in the post, but Wallace is kind of like and old school Kevin McHale in the post. He is a force and then he can take his game out and make 3 point shots. One quality to Wallace that works in the Hawks’ favor is that he does not like to draw fouls and go to the line. When the Pistons go to Wallace at the end of games, Horford and the Hawks must make him score over the top. I give Wallace an edge over Horford, but only for the 2009 playoffs.

Marvin Williams vs. Antonio McDyess

It is going to be interesting to see how these teams match up on the interior. Williams is really a small forward, but he cannot really guard Rasheed or Tayshaun. He can guard McDyess and actually pressure McDyess when he catches the ball on the perimeter. I really like this match up for Atlanta. The Pistons probably will have to put Prince on Williams, because of Williams’ range on his jump shot. McDyess will not be able to guard Williams at all. Add to that the fact that Marvin will be playing for his next contract and Marvin might have a monster series.

McDyess is old and does not move that well, so Williams should be able to grab some offensive rebounds. Defensively, Williams is able to come out on the floor to guard McDyess. The Pistons do not run any plays for McDyess, but he finds open spots on the floor when his defender helps off him. McDyess is a very accurate shooter out to 20 feet, but he has no low post game that could hurt the Hawks. The Hawks have a slight advantage depending on Marvin’s energy level.

Hawks Bench vs. Pistons Bench

One of the biggest stories of this final segment of the NBA season is going to be how effective Allen Iverson is coming off the bench for Detroit. His statistical numbers with the Pistons have been eerily similar to his numbers with the Denver Nuggets. AI can score in bunches and look for him to be on the floor in crunch time. That would mean the Pistons going with a small line up, but Prince will be able to match up with Atlanta’s forwards, because Smith and Williams will not post up.

The Pistons probably come with Jason Maxiell, Walter Herrman, and former Georgia Tech guard Will Bynum in their rotation. Maxiell is an explosive offensive rebounder and finisher around the basket. Herrmann probably sees his minutes limited, but Bynum could be a factor pressuring Flip Murray when he has to play the point.

Murray and Mo Evans can score off the Hawks bench. I keep waiting for Mo Evans to find his 3 point stroke again this season. Murray has been playing key minutes and scoring in bunches since the All Star Break. Zaza will be the Hawks post guy off the bench. (Even though the numbers do not bear it out at this time, I still think the Hawks would be better with Zaza starting and Josh Smith or Marvin Williams coming off the bench. I know it will never happen, but the matchups would be better in this series.) The scary thought for the Hawks is Maxiell flying down the court for dunks. It is a good thing that the Pistons probably will not try to push the basketball at all in this series.

Both teams have a big drop off on the defensive end when they substitute. The idea of Iverson being the main scorer for Detroit’s second unit is intriguing. With all the cameras and bright lights of the playoffs, I see him being a major factor. For the Hawks, Mo Evans can earn some minutes on the defensive end. He will have to be a defensive stopper when the Pistons go to a smaller line up. With Iverson, I give the Pistons a solid edge in bench play.

The Pistons are battle tested and have reached the Eastern Conference Finals in the last six seasons. The guys on the Hawks’ roster, except for Bibby, have never had real success in the playoffs. I just hope the AI experiment fails and the Hawks end up hosting the Heat in the 1st round. I liked the way that the Hawks matched up with the Heat last Friday.