This time last year the Hawks were sitting pretty as the best team with the best record in the Eastern Conference. The only thing to ruffle their feathers was the Thabo Sefolosha broken leg by cop injury. And the collective media shout that no way, no how, hell would have to freeze over, before they beat LeBron James.
In the first round, the Hawks struggled with an underwhelming Brooklyn Nets team with an outdated and marginalized Deron Williams. In the second round, they let Paul Pierce get off a couple of last second shots but they prevailed in D.C. when Pierce’s last second bomb missed. In the Eastern Conference Finals, everything that was predicted was true. They couldn’t stop LeBron James. They couldn’t stop J.R. Smith. There was that dirty play by Matthew Dellavedova on Kyle Korver, ending his playoffs. There was the injury to DeMarre Carroll that set the Hawks back on offense and defense. They had no answer for the Cavs star players and size and it wasn’t much of a series.
One year later, the perfect season has transformed into a year of ups and downs. The Hawks lost DeMarre Carroll to free agency. In back door channels, they were peddling Jeff Teague. They acquired Tiago Splitter but he wasn’t much of an impact (6 double digit rebounding games and 6 double digit scoring games), and was injured. His last game was at the end of January.
Al Horford may be playing his last few games with the Atlanta Hawks and there is a sense of urgency. The Hawks are currently the 3rd seed, one game in front of the Heat. They are too far behind Toronto to possibly catch up but clinched a playoff berth last night for the ninth straight year, the longest in the East. But it hasn’t all been wine and roses. Those nine playoff appearances have yet to bring the Hawks close to an Eastern Conference championship. The closest they came was last year and then they were swept by the Cavs.
Their focus this year is much different than last year when everything was prettymuch sewn up and they were waiting for the playoffs to begin. That is not their luxury this year. They are going to have to play until game 82 to finish 3rd in the East. But they are cookin’ at the right time.
They have won 12 out of the last 15 games, 7 of which have been on the road. Tonight’s game against the Raptors in Toronto and Friday’s game against the Cavs in Atlanta will be a good test as to where they are this season and their level of improvement. It’s one thing to beat the Pistons twice. It’s another to face the top two teams in the conference, on the road and at home, and beat them.
The Hawks close the season with two road games, at the Cavs and at the Wizards. LeBron James probably will not play in game 81 and the Wizards may be eliminated by then as they are 3 games out of the 8th spot with eight games left to go.
But it’s all about the Hawks and what they are doing now, under the radar, unlike last year. For Jeff Teague, Al Horford and Paul Millsap, this may be the final run for this Big Three.
photo via llananba