Hawks Feel Out New Roster

In the midst of a condensed training camp, the Atlanta Hawks will have to make plenty of adjustments, as they have a few new parts and players set to take on new roles.

Before last season, many people felt that Jeff Teague could have a breakout year, but the 23-year-old point guard didn’t start to really shine until the second round of the playoffs. This year, Hawks players and coaches seem to be banking on Teague to extend last year’s playoff performance into a similar regular season.

“We are all following his lead at this point,” Joe Johnson said. “We all have to help him become that great point guard that I think he can become some day.”

Teague’s speed is an aspect of his game that might drastically change the team’s style of play. With a roster not short on athleticism, the Hawks will probably be looking to run more.

“I think we will definitely be up and down a lot more,” Johnson said. “With Jeff handling the ball, he pushes it almost every opportunity he gets, whether it’s a miss or a make.”

Atlanta may also benefit from the veteran leadership they have brought in through free agency. Tracy McGrady and Jerry Stackhouse are both players who have logged major minutes and responsibilities for competitive teams. The two vets have also been vocal in the past, which is a brand of leadership the Hawks have lacked over the past couple of seasons.

“Those guys have already started implementing their leadership as far as policing and just being able to help us out scoring wise,” Josh Smith said. “They have a good feel for the game.”

McGrady said he remembers when Atlanta was a team that struggled and he is impressed by the turnaround the team has made over the past half a decade.

“That’s one of the reasons I wanted to be a part of this team,” McGrady said. “I feel like they have a great nucleus here and I feel like I can add to it. There have been guys here itching to take that next step and last year I felt like they did that by beating Orlando and facing Chicago in the second round.”

Health hurt the Hawks at times last year as Marvin Williams suffered from back problems and Joe Johnson underwent surgery on the elbow of his shooting arm.

Williams opted for surgery this summer and looks noticeably more mobile even just when walking around the court. Johnson said that his arm is fully healed and he feels healthy. He also seems determined to have a big season this year, as his numbers dropped off last year and he said the injury is no excuse for his performance.

“I’m a guy who never makes excuses,” Johnson said. “I had a down year last year and I’m looking forward to bouncing back.”

The Hawks will get a chance to test the new roster via preseason play, Monday December 19 when they take on the Bobcats in Charlotte before the Bobcats travel to Atlanta for a second preseason game Thursday, December 22.

Hawks Still Have Frontcourt Issues

With the season fast approaching, much of the talk surrounding the Atlanta Hawks has focused on the signing of with former superstar turned journeyman Tracy McGrady and Jamal Crawford’s imminent exit, but the Hawks still have other issues to address.

Last year, Hawks head coach Larry Drew spent plenty of time talking about what he viewed as the biggest problem with the team—a lack of physicality. A first-round victory over the Orlando Magic and the big of all bigs, Dwight Howard, combined with a couple of solid second round performances might have temporarily distracted some from the Hawks frontcourt shortcomings.

Many of last year’s post-season successes, however, were a result of superb perimeter play. Joe Johnson’s consistency, Crawford’s offensive outbursts and Jeff Teague’s coming out party made the Hawks more competitive than a lot of people expected.

The Hawks no doubt looked better last year in the playoffs than in years past but it’s still hard to ignore Howard’s gaudy first round stat line—27 points and 15.5 rebounds per game.

The Hawks re-signing of Jason Collins and the addition of second round draft pick, Keith Benson, will keep the problem from getting immediately worse but the two will not make things much better for the team.

Atlanta experienced some success last year when starting Jason Collins at the center position while moving Al Horford over to power forward, a position Horford has been saying he prefers to play for years.

Realistically, It’s hard to imagine that a 33-year-old Collins, who turned in averages of two points and 2.1 rebounds per game, will have much of an impact this season. Also, Benson, who stands at 6-foot-11 and weighs in at 230 pounds, was not known as a bruiser in his time at Oakland University and it will be interesting to see how the soft-spoken forward/center will make the transition to the NBA.

Josh Smith enters the Hawks training camp slimmer than ever. Although Smith appears to be more focused and passionate this season, an even slimmer, undersized power forward might not be what the Hawks need right now. If the rumors of Smith being on the way out are true, Atlanta should use the opportunity to add size to their frontcourt.

In the meantime, the Hawks can look forward to the contributions of McGrady. Last season with Detroit he averaged eight points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game while playing only 23.4 minutes per contest. Many Hawks fans are hoping McGrady can show flashes of the old T-Mac that won two scoring titles, single-handedly fueled one of the most memorable comeback wins of all time and posterized the 7-foot-6 Shawn Bradley.

Ten-year veteran, Vladimir Radmanovic is also set to join the team. His 40.5 percent shooting from deep last year was enough to rank 23rd amongst the league.

NBA 2K12 Review

Since this generation of video game consoles began, NBA 2K has been far ahead of the competition. Last year, 2K sports released NBA 2K11, which could easily be thrown in the debate of greatest sports games of all time. To make things more interesting, their only competition, EA Sports, failed to produce a title they felt worth putting on the market and announced that they would not put out another NBA simulation until 2012.

Given their recent success and lack of anything resembling competition, 2K Sports could have simply put out a roster update and a couple of patches and called it a new game. NBA 2K12 is a much more ambitious outing than this—for both good and bad.

NBA 2K12 features the standard graphics update, as this year’s game looks just a little better than its predecessor.  Both player models and animations have taken yet another step closer to reality.

A staple to the NBA 2K franchise has been painstaking attention to detail. 2K12 is no exception. The amount of shoes, jerseys, hairstyles and jumpshots recreated to near perfection is perhaps one of the most impressive qualities of the game.

As of press time, the game features no new game play modes but several innovations have been made on what were already solid modes.

Last year’s big feature was the addition of the Jordan Challenge.  This game mode gave gamers a chance to relive some of Jordan’s greatest moments. This has been expanded in this year’s title by including a bunch of other legends such as Larry bird, Magic Johnson and Isaiah Thomas. The new batch of legends is a welcome addition but the Legend Challenge feels a little dumb down in this rendition. Rather than having to satisfy certain conditions like in the original Jordan Challenge, this go around players are just tasked with winning a game with one of the classic teams.

My Player mode returns with all of the fun of the previous years plus a couple small renovations. The addition of a monetary system and new drills to improve your player’s skill sets makes this mode just a little bit deeper and more satisfying.

One aspect of 2K12 that will turn some gamers away is the tough learning curve. Even players who have invested time into the franchise over the past couple years will have to take a moment to get used to the new controls. 2K Sports has added a bunch of new button presses—some make the game more difficult to control but many of the new corresponding animations are smoother than ever.

From a gameplay standpoint, the new and improved shot stick stands out far more than any of the other new features. A ton of shot animations have been added.  From Dirk Notwitski’s awkward one-legged fade-aways to Kareem Abdul Jabar’s skyhooks, gamers now have a seemingly endless amount of maneuvers to go to on offense.

Ultimately, those who take time to get past the steep learning curve will find a title with depth that rivals all of the top sports simulations. NBA 2K12 is not an improvement over last year’s title but it is a respectable follow up.

NBA 2K12 Giveaway

HOOPSADDICT.com has linked up with the good folks at 2K Sports to give away two copies of NBA 2K12.

To enter, just answer one simple question: NBA 2K12 features a number of historic teams from the ’64-’65 Boston Celtics to the ’97-’98 Chicago Bulls. If you could control any team in NBA history, who would it be and why?

Please mention in your comment what video game system you own.

Good luck! The two winners will be announced on November 17th, 2011.

Atlanta’s Front Office Full Of Optimism

The Dallas Mavericks’ sports movie-like rise to become NBA Champions might have a long lasting effect on the NBA.

This post season watched NBA superpowers, the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics, possibly reach the end of the dominance exhibited by their current rosters and an older, less star-filled Dallas roster took down the most star-filled team in the league.

The Atlanta Hawks are just one of the franchises inspired by the Mavericks’ surprising success. The Hawks are coming off a post season which saw them serve up their own surprises as they cruised by the Orlando Magic in the first round and gave the Chicago Bulls a scare by taking Game 1 on the road before eventually falling in the second round.

A solid playoff performance mixed with witnessing the Mavericks overcome the odds might be enough to have the Hawks asking a dangerous question. “Why not us?”

Hawks GM Rick Sund seems optimistic.

“It was a good season,” Sund said last Friday during a press conference. “Maybe even pushing very good because we went (the) deepest in the playoffs in 16 or 17 years. But it’s still disappointing because we felt we could get through the second round and we didn’t and that was our goal.”

Although there is no way of knowing what could have been, Sund is convinced that the Hawks would have had a shot at the title had they managed to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.

“Once you get to that final four anything can happen,” Sund said. “This year really exemplifies that with Dallas.”

As always, Sund will look for ways to upgrade the roster but that may be a tough feat to accomplish by solely relying on the 48th pick in a weak draft class.

Assistant GM Dave Pendergraft said he thinks the team can find a difference maker with the 48th spot.

“I think we’ll be able to find an asset,” Pendergraft said. “This year I think there will be a player at 48 where if we have an injury to one of our core players, hopefully we will be able keep the team together and plug him in there and tread water.”

With the draft just a few days away, Pendergraft seems optimistic that the team will be able to find a player that can add to the team’s physicality and toughness.

“I don’t want to use the word excited about a late second round pick,” Pendergraft said. “But I’m confident that we will be able to find someone that will be an asset to the organization.”

Both Sund and Pendergraft were tight lipped about possibly trading up in the draft or any roster moves for that matter but Sund did say that a trade is possible.

Atlanta’s Own Jekyll And Hyde

Josh Smith’s performance in the second round of the playoffs has highlighted just how big of a liability he can be as well how dominant he can be.

Perhaps no other player in the league is as adept at making a building of over 19,000 boo in disappointment one half only to erupt in a deafening cheer at the end of the same game.

In Game 3, Smith was one of the few bright spots for the Hawks. Or, at least it seems that way as he stuffed the stat sheet with an impressive 17 points, 13 rebounds, four assists and four blocks. However, what seems to stick out most in the minds of those who attended Philips arena is what Smith didn’t do.

Despite shooting 50 percent from the field, Smith missed a number of wide open jump shots. To make matters worse, he missed five of his eight attempts from the free throw line.

It got to a point where the Atlanta fans booed Smith after every botched perimeter attempt.

Fan contempt for Smith’s outside game seemed to spill over into Game 4 as a distinctive rumbling could be heard nearly every time Smith caught the ball outside of the paint. Just when fan trust seemed to reach an all-time low, how did Smith respond? The guy snags a rebound, takes the ball the length of the court, crossing Joakim Noah over on the way before throwing a well placed lob pass to Al Horford for a slam that sent the building into a frenzy.

Smith went on to have one of his most dominant showings in a Hawks jersey racking up 23 points, 16 rebounds, eight assists and two blocks. He seems to be aware of the mixed feelings his play has inspired which he vented about during Sunday’s post-game press conference.

“The media is trying to [Terrell Owens] me,” Smith said. “If [the media] wants to blame it all on me for losing Game 3 I’ll take it. It’s cool, I’m a man.”

He also seems to be aware of the questionable decision making he has displayed lately.

“Tonight I did a good job of not settling,” Smith said. “When I’m able to do that for my team it helps us out. Especially when they try to double team off of me I have to present myself to the middle of the court and just make plays out of the double team.”

Atlanta’s head coach Larry Drew seemed more than impressed satisfied with the effort he got from Smith in Game 4.

“Josh and I have had a number of talks,” Drew said. “I know what he brings to the table. When he plays the way he palys tonight we are pretty good. I think he recognizes that. He just sometimes finds his way on that perimeter and lets it go.”

Inconsistent jump shooting aside, Smith will play an integral part in the Hawk’s attempt to pull off an upset for the second time this post season.

“He has the ability to impact the game on both ends of the floor,” Drew said. “A guy his size, with his athleticism, he brings a lot. When plays like that, when he is flying around making plays, when he is playing energized basketball he is really good. Tonight he was that.”

Hawks Starting To Gain Momentum

The Atlanta Hawks have a lot to feel good about as they upset the Orlando Magic in the first round of the playoffs and are preparing to reprise their role as the underdog in a round two showdown with the Chicago Bulls.

The Hawks have to be happy with the production they got from their two shooting guards, Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford. Crawford looked unstoppable at times as he averaged 20.5 points per game in the series—6.3 points more than his regular season average. Although he was held to just eight points in Game 5, Crawford scored 23 points or more in the first four games of the series and finished with a 19 point effort on Thursday.

Johnson still wasn’t the dominant scorer he once was but he was very effective in the first round of the playoffs. His unique combination of size and agility can cause match up problems for any team in the league and the Magic were no exception as they had to throw a number of help defenders his way to prevent him from getting into the post where he handled business with a number of floaters and fancy layups that even Howard struggled to defend. In Game 4, Johnson knocked down clutch free throws and in Game 6 he made several timely buckets in the 4th quarter to carry the Hawks to wins.

Stan Van Gundy touched on one of the Hawks strengths during the post-game press conference after Game 6.

“They are very good when they play from out in front,” Van Gundy said. “They get their confidence going and they really feed off of playing out in front.”

Van Gundy is right as the Hawks seemed to have mastered the art of keeping a team just and arms length away. Game 6 is a perfect example as the Hawks got the lead as high as 12 in the fourth quarter but a barrage of violent dunks by Dwight Howard had the Magic well within striking distance late in the game but Atlanta managed to weather the storm.

Although the Hawks appear to be incapable of putting away teams early, its hard to ignore their ability to win close games considering five of the six games in this series were decided by ten points or less.

The biggest concern for the Hawks moving forward has to be the injury to Kirk Hinrich. Hinrich, who is listed as doubtful for Game 1 with a strained hamstring, was a major part of Atlanta’s defensive efforts against Orlando. He played solid on ball defense and his ability to fight through screens limited the effectiveness of the Magic pick-and-roll game.

Hinrich was arguably the best perimeter defensive player on a team that forced, a playoff low, 26.2 percent from three against a team filled with sharp shooters. Needless to say, if he can’t suit up against the the Bulls, he will be missed. Even if Hinrich does return its hard to imagine he will be enthused to chase around Derrick Rose with a hamstring that is less than 100 percent.

Round one proved that the Hawks are capable of dealing with a super star but slowing down Rose who averaged 27.6 points, 6.2 assists, and 4.6 rebounds per game in round one, presents a whole new list of challenges.

Upsetting the Bulls in the Conference Semifinals will be no easy task but the now battle tested Hawks have a nice bit momentum and will undoubtedly make the series competitive.

Crawford’s Heroics Pace The Hawks

In just one year’s time, Atlanta Hawks’ guard Jamal Crawford has transitioned from playoff rookie with the nerves of a kid on Christmas Eve into a playoff assassin with the poise of a savvy veteran.

This change has resulted in Crawford helping to lead the Hawks to their current 3-1 lead over the Orlando Magic.

“I remember the playoffs last year,” Crawford said after Game 3. “I couldn’t even sleep days before. I was so excited. I just wasn’t ready for it. This year I was much more confident—much more relaxed.”

In his second trip to the post-season, the 10-year vet is averaging 24 points per game while shooting 47 percent from the field and 56.5 percent from deep – a considerable step up from his averages last post-season of 16.3 points per game on 36.4 percent shooting from the field.

Despite struggling much of the regular season, Hawks coach Larry Drew stuck with his sixth man commenting in March that he wanted to get Crawford into a groove heading into the playoffs which came at the expense of Jeff Teague’s inconsistent minutes.

It’s hard to imagine, however, that even Drew would have predicted this level of success.

Crawford hasn’t been the only bright spot for the Hawks who are dominating the battle behind the the three-point line.

Before Game 4, Quentin Richardson told HOOPSADDICT.com how important it is for the Magic to step up their perimeter defense.

“That’s obviously a big part of it,” Richardson said. “They got some great perimeter guys out there. Joe (Johnson) is a tough cover, Jamal (Crawford) obviously is a tough cover and Kirk (Hinrich) is no pushover either. So that’s definitely a component of the defense that we need to step up.”

Richardson’s assessment is spot on as the trio has managed combine to score 23 of the Hawks 25 three pointers. The Magic, despite taking 33 more three point attempts than the Hawks, have only managed to knock down 21 of their 96 shots from deep.

In Game 4, the Magic shot a measly 8.7 percent from three off of 2-23 shooting.

“[The Magic] are a three-headed snake with Dwight (Howard) with Jameer (Nelson) and with that three-point line,” Drew said. “We’ve answered the challenge with defending all three. I think that has been the difference.”

Whether or not the Hawks have done a good job defending Howard is debatable as Superman has managed to average 32.3 points and 17.5 rebounds per contest.

Given the way the first four games have gone, however, Drew seems more the willing to let Howard have his way.

“What we did in the past wasn’t working,” Drew said. “We doubled teamed him and we opened up two cans of worms. We double teamed him where he was still scoring and then we were leaving three-point shooters open.”

Crawford has went from having a mediocre regular season to being one of the most spectacular players of the playoffs and currently the ninth best scorer of the post season. The rest of the Hawks are on board with the transformation as well as they have managed to turn a solid three point shooting team into a group of guys that can’t buy a bucket from deep.

With Crawford’s unexpected output and the Hawks’ shutdown perimeter defense, it appears the Hawks are well on their way to the second round.

Orlando Is Lacking A Sense Of Urgency

The saying goes “a series doesn’t start until someone loses at home,” but despite dropping game one in Orlando followed by a closely contested game two, the Magic still seemed to lack a sense of urgency as the fell to the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night.

The Magic were outplayed in the first half and despite a better effort in the second, they were unable to slow the Hawks who were lifted by a rowdy, sold out crowd in Philips Arena.

“It’s very disappointing at this time of year,” Stan Van Gundy said during the post-game press conference. “We didn’t play the game hard enough or with enough intensity on the defensive end in the first half.”

Given Jameer Nelson’s comments about seeing Derrick Rose in the second round and Howard’s comments about hating to lose to the Hawks, the Magic have to be shocked to find themselves down 2-1 against a team they swept last year.

Orlando entered the series with the attitude of a team with an easy path to the second round while the Hawks entered the series with a sour taste in their mouth from last year’s disappointing effort mixed with confidence built from winning three of their four regular season meetings.

So far in this series the Magic seem unable to deal with the Hawk’s perimeter prowess as Joe Johnson dominated early and Jamal Crawford took the stage in the second half including a circus shot that rivals all of the best plays of this year’s young post-season. Johnson managed to score 17 first half points off of 8-13 shooting from the field while Crawford dropped 20 points in the second half as he went 2-3 from three and 6-8 from the FT line. The duo is now averaging 43.6 points per game in the series.

The Magic have the advantage in the post over most teams they face just off of the strength of Howard’s dominating presence. Rather than focus all their attention in the paint, however, the Hawks have taking a different approach to handling the Magic which has paid off so far.

“It isn’t just stopping Dwight,” Jason Collins, a key part in helping slow Howard said. “Its about also containing their three point shooters.”

Howard has put forth a herculean effort each contest but one man can only do so much and Dwight Howard desperately needs his teammates to step up.

Van Gundy said there is no confusion as to where the help has to come from.

“We know who are guys are,” he said. “Our guys are Jameer, Turk and J. Rich. They’re just not having a lot of success. I think we have to continue to look at ways to get them better opportunities, better shots and they have to make the ones they get.”

As of late, Hedo Turkoglu has been more of a liability than a helping hand. He’s shooting an abysmal 25 percent from the field and 17.6 from deep as he has knocked down just three of his 17 from three.

“I think it all starts with Josh Smith,” Hawks coach Larry Drew said. “Hedo has gotten away from (Smith) a few times where has got to the basket where he has drove the ball but I think Josh has done a really good job defending him out on the perimeter.”

Stan Van Gundy said that Turkoglu is showing a lot of effort but thinks that he has to have better shot selection to get out of his current slump.

“I can’t get Turk to shoot the ball when he is open,” Van Gundy said. “I think he very consistently passes up very good shots to take very bad shots.”

Game 4 will undoubtedly have a different tone as both Jason Richardson and Zaza Pachulia will serve one game suspensions for their involvement in Friday night’s altercation. Pachulia has played a key role in “operation beat the hell out of Dwight” while Van Gundy was hoping to get an offense boost from Richardson.

Perhaps such a heartbreaking lost will be enough to inspire a 48 minute effort from the Magic as that is what it will take for Orlando to fight their way back into the series.

“We aren’t gonna’ be able to go 24 minutes of playing hard and get a win,” Van Gundy said.

Crawford Starting To Find His Groove

With the season winding down, Atlanta Hawks sixth man Jamal Crawford seems to be getting more comfortable with his role in first year coach Larry Drew’s motion offense.

After having one of the best seasons of his career last year, Crawford is experiencing a bit of a drop off. Last season, Crawford averaged 18 points while shooting 44.9 percent from the field while this year he is averaging 14.1 on 41.6 percent shooting.

Some might be inclined to point the finger at Drew’s new system which has limited the amount of isolations the team runs. This could also account for the slump the Hawks’ other iso specialist, Joe Johnson, is having but Drew said that he has begged Crawford to be more aggressive when he enters the game and he said he is happy with what he has seen over the past couple of games.

“In [Crawford's] last couple of games I think he has come out with the aggression that I know I have been looking for,” Drew said before Tuesday night’s contest against San Antonio. “I told him, every time he steps out on that floor I want him to have an attack mentality. That doesn’t mean shoot it every time, that means being aggressive when the ball is in his hands.”

Others might wonder if confidence is causing Crawford’s slump. This would make sense considering Crawford’s shooting percentage is down, including his shooting from deep as he is on pace to have his worst year from the three point line since the 2006-2007 season.

However, Crawford said confidence is never an issue.

“My confidence never left,” Crawford told HOOPSADDICT.com. “Its just about getting opportunities. I think with us having an equal opportunity offense some nights its your night, some nights its not. Some nights you can be more aggressive and some nights you have to be a facilitator so that’s just what I’m trying to do.”

The Hawks may have found the proper balance as Crawford has bounced back, averaging 18.3 points over the last three games after averaging just 10.5 points during the month of March.

In Last night’s loss against the Spurs, it took Crawford just four and a half minutes to hoist and knock down three jump shots and he did not stop there as finished the contest with 20 points on 8-13 shooting.

With just four games left in the regular season, Drew seems enthused by what he has seen from his sixth man and Crawford said he doesn’t plan on slowing down.

“You can’t let your highs get you high or your lows get you low,” Crawford said. “We have to just stay on course and finish the season strong with some momentum and then the playoffs are a whole different season.”

Hawks Giving Back To Earthquake Victims

It is impossible to bring back all of the homes and lives lost as a result of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear emergency that has plagued Japan over the past month but NBA players, including members of the Atlanta Hawks, are doing everything they can to help the ravaged country recover.

Al Horford is leading the way for Atlanta as he has agreed to donate $1,000 for every point he scores in Atlanta’s game last night against the New Jersey Nets and tonight’s contest against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Horford got things started off right scoring 23 points off of 9-16 shooting from the field as the Hawks earned a 98-87 win over the Nets.

The All-Star forward said he felt motivated by his latest humanitarian effort.

“It felt great,” Horford said. “I definitely came out a little more aggressive than normal. I told the guys I was trying to get 30 but I’ll take [23].”

Jason Collins and Etan Thomas are also getting involved in the relief effort and are both making donations.

Collins, a native of California, said he is particularly sympathetic those effected by the recent events in Japan given his background growing up in the San Fernando Valley.

In 1994, the area was hit with an earthquake that measured a 6.7 on the richter scale and caused 57 deaths, over 5,000 injuries and an estimated $20 billion in property damage. The Collins family, was one of many that found themselves displaced so it comes as no surprise that Jason Collins was on board to help out in the current relief effort.

“I grew up in California so I know a lot about earthquakes,” Collins said. “I remember when the Northridge Earthquake hit and I can only imagine how much stronger the earthquake in Japan was because the Northridge earthquake was huge.”

Donations will be handed over to Direct Relief International’s Japan Relief and Recovery Fund which was formed with the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL). Direct Relief will work with local authorities best situated to assess, respond and prepare for the long term recovery.

LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol, JaVale McGee, Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook are also donating $1,000 for every point they score from March 25-27 while DJ Augustin, Jarron Collins, Mike Dunleavy Jr., Tyreke Evans, Danilo Gallinari, Xavier Henry, Antawn Jamison, Jason Kapono, Quincy Pondexter, Brian Scalabrine, and Ben Wallace are all making set donations.

Are The Atlanta Hawks Soft?

It’s usually not a good idea to call a grown man soft, but Atlanta Hawks head coach Larry Drew made it clear without pointing any fingers that his ball club isn’t exactly the toughest around.

“When we get into a tough situation when we play teams that are physical, we have to just toughen up,” Drew said before yesterday’s game against the Detroit Pistons. “We have to be able to bring and play at that style and that level because if we don’t, chances are we aren’t gonna’ have success.”

Seventy games into the season, the Hawks find themselves with a 40-30 record and look poised to take the 5th spot in the Eastern Conference which give them their 4th consecutive playoff berth.

Despite this, Drew doesn’t seem happy especially with the effort he has received lately and he said he sees a considerable difference in the way his team is playing compared to teams like Oklahoma, Portland, Chicago, and L.A. who have all stopped in Philips during a hectic month of March for the Hawks.

“I know some guys are banged up a little physically,” Drew said. “I know mental fatigue has settled in. I know some tough teams have come through but we have to push through that threshold, whether it’s physical or mental.”

One of the weaknesses the Hawks have had to deal with over the past couple of years is having an undersized front court, as some nights 6-foot-10, 246 pound Al Horford and 6-foot-9, 234 pound Josh Smith are expected to do battle with players like 7-foot, 285 pound Andrew Bynum and 7-foot, 250 pound Pau Gasol.

If you think this sounds like a recipe for “bigs” shooting jump shots you are absolutely right as the Hawks often struggle to get things going in the paint and often times resort to forcing things on the perimeter.

Their lack in size was on display in yesterday’s game as the Hawks allowed the Detroit Pistons to score 48 points in the paint, sparked by an energetic performance off the bench from Chris Wilcox who scored 10 points in the 2nd quarter and finished with 18 total despite only playing just over 18 minutes in the game.

Drew’s recent comments, however, seemed to focus on mental toughness and heart.

Again, he didn’t call anyone in particular soft but did name a laundry list of things that the Hawks need to do to avoid being marked with this fluffly label.

“Our focus has to be to be a team that is preparing itself for the playoffs but at the same time we have to bring a physical style to the way we play,” Drew said. “We can’t be a soft team. We can’t be a team that when a team smacks you in the mouth or makes a little run on you, your body language shows defeat. You have to roll them sleeves up and you have to grind it out.”

Despite edging out a slim 104-96 win over the lowly Detroit Pistons, Hawks’ players seemed to be encouraged by their performance.

“We were just keeping them at arm’s length, it seems like, the whole game,” guard Kirk Hinrich said. “It wasn’t the prettiest of games, but I felt like our effort and mindset was where it needs to be.”

“I am encouraged by the way we played today,” Horford added. “I think that we played harder and we stayed together and I hope we can build off of this– just keep playing the right way.

Only time will tell if this Hawks team will be able to channel their inner Dennis Rodman, but it could definitely play a factor in Atlanta’s ability to make a run in this year’s playoffs.

Bibby Returns To Philips Arena

Who says you can’t go back home?

Veteran guard Mike Bibby made his return to Philips arena last night and despite a couple boos, an overwhelming ovation greeted the former Hawk as he entered the game close to the end of the first quarter.

“It was good to come back and see all the guys,” Bibby said in the locker room after the game.

Bibby spent time before the game catching up with some of his old teammates and it seemed like not to long ago he was cracking jokes on Marvin Williams’ court attire and Zaza Pachulia’s restaurant. Seeing Bibby interact with his Atlanta friends, it’s easy to see that he was an important part of the locker room.

In fact, Josh Smith said Bibby is one of his best friends on the team and Bibby said he valued their friendship as well.

“(Smith) is like a little brother to me,” Bibby said. “I still talk to him ’til this day. I still talk to a lot of guys.”

Since being traded to the Wizards, bought out and picked up by the Heat, Bibby has made some contributions off of the bench. In his nine games since taking his talents to South Beach, he has averaged 5.3 points, 2.2 rebounds and two assists per game.

Kirk Hinrich is on the other side of the trade. The savvy guard was brought in from Washington to help the Hawks’ perimeter defense and both coaches Eric Spoelstra and Larry Drew had good things to say about him.

Spoelstra said that Hinrich brings the Hawks toughness and versatility and Drew seemed to be on board with this assessment.

“(Hinrich) has been a great pick-up for us,” Drew said. “He certainly brings toughness at the point guard position. He still knocks down threes but to me he is an old-school player and I think that is a great mix for the group of guys we have here.”

Since joining the Hawks, Hinrich has averaged 8.9 points, 2.4 assists and 2.1 rebounds per game while shooting an efficient 47.2 percent from the three point line.

Both teams seem to have gained something from the trade as the Hawks picked up a more capable defender and penetrater while the Heat added another shooter to spread the floor for their big three.

Seeing Jeff Teague and Bibby go at it, both sporting the number zero, marked an interesting point in the Hawks evolution. Over the past couple of seasons, Bibby has been helping Teague develop into the point guard he is today. Since Bibby has left, Teague has picked up more minutes and even a couple starts and has responded well.

Lately when the Hawks have faced faster teams, Teague gets the start at the point while Hinrich moves over to the two guard.

“(Teague) has brought a quickness to that line up,” Drew said. “The speed itself just gives us a whole different look at the point guard position. I am now able to change the line-up depending on who we play from a match up stand point.”

The Hawks are more versatile squad now and their former point guard now finds himself closer to a trip to the NBA Finals that has eluded him his entire career.

Bucks Struggle To Stay In Playoff Race

With the end of the season rapidly approaching, the Milwaukee Bucks have to be approaching panic mode as they find themselves 2.5 games behind the 8th seeded Indiana Pacers while in the midst of a three game slide.

“We’ve been saying for a couple of months now that we have to string together some wins or get something going for ourselves,” head coach Scott Skiles said after Tuesday night’s contest against Atlanta. “We have to get something really going for ourselves from a consistent standpoint. Its been difficult for us for sure.”

Andrew Bogut echoed Skiles’ concerns and said he hasn’t been happy with his performance lately.

“My consistency has been like a roller coaster,” Bogut admitted. “I think everybody’s has. We need at least our starting five to all pitch in every game, myself included.”

One player Skiles will also need to more consistent production from is Brandon Jennings. The young point guard followed his eight point outing in Boston by only putting up four points against the Hawks on 1-8 shooting.

Jennings seemed to rebound last night in the Bucks first of a four game home stand as he dropped 23 points despite shooting an abysmal 2-10 from the three point line.

The Bucks were on a three game winning streak as they earned wins over Washington, Cleveland and Philadelphia before their trip to Boston on Sunday, however, Jennings said the team must get more quality wins as the season winds down.

“Things are gonna have to change pretty soon,” he said. “The last three games we won were games we should have won. We have to try to beat some of these good teams that are over .500, too.”

The Bucks are currently 4-5 in the month of March. The four wins were all against teams below the .500 mark while all of the losses came against teams above this mark.

In fact, the Bucks haven’t earned a victory over a winning team since the Hawks’ last visit, January 26.

The tenth place Bucks still have to surge past the Charlotte Bobcats and the Indiana Pacers to earn a playoff berth. Every win will take on more meaning as six of their final 15 contests will be against winning teams.

A lack of offense is a problem the Bucks might want to shore up if they plan on making a serious playoff push. During the three game losing streak, the team has averaged just below 77 points per game. This number is ridiculously skewed by a record setting low 56 point performance against the Celtics.

However, they only managed to put up 89 points against the Magic despite going into overtime.

Last year, the Bucks made noise in the playoffs as the forced the Hawks to an unexpected seven game series without the services of Andrew Bogut. Their post-season performance and off-season acquisitions had many thinking this franchise was ready to make the next step.

Unfortunately, injury and quite a bit of under-performing has this team sitting a notch under mediocrity.

Lakers, Hawks On Different Paths

The stretch of basketball played after the All-Star break usually separates the championship caliber teams from those who will probably be bounced in the early rounds of the NBA Playoffs.

The Los Angeles Lakers seem to be firing on all cylinders while the Atlanta Hawks spiral in the opposite direction. After a string of three straight losses, All-Star weekend and a few Phil Jackson jabs, the Lakers now find themselves the winners of eight straight after a 101-87 win over the Hawks in last night’s contest in Atlanta.

“We’re just all on the same page; we’re doing our homework,” Kobe Bryant said after the game. “[Bynum] is doing everything we can ask of him.”

For years, there has been talk of the potential possessed by Andrew Bynum and it seems that his skill set is finally beginning to match his massive size. He hasn’t amassed a bunch of points or added to his highlight reel, but over the past couple of weeks he has put in work on the boards. In the past three games Bynum has pulled down a total of 50 rebounds and has posted double digit rebound totals in all but two of the eight games in the Lakers latest streak.

The Atlanta Hawks find themselves at the opposite end of the spectrum having dropped four of the last five games, earning their only win during the stretch on the back of an absurd performance from Al Horford.

Unfortunately for the Hawks, Horford hasn’t come matching the aggressive play he displayed in his dominant performance which took place last Wednesday against the Chicago Bulls. During the games against the Oklahoma City Thunder and the New York Knicks, Horford finished with just ten and eight field goal attempts respectively.

In last night’s contest, Horford connected on 8 of his 16 field goal attempts but failed to make it to the free-throw line.

The Hawks find themselves in a tough spot. If the playoffs started today, they would be matched up against the Orlando Magic who would boast a home-court advantage. Even though the Hawks have had the upper-hand against the Magic this season (2-1), its hard not to think of the four game sweep the Magic served up last year in the second round of the playoffs.

The Hawks also have to watch for the new look Knicks who are looking to move up a spot in the standings as they are three games behind Atlanta. This could prove to be difficult given the Hawks’ tough schedule down the stretch which includes two meetings with Boston and Chicago and visits from Miami and San Antonio as well.

To be fair, it’s not like the Hawks recent woes are laced with games they should have easily won, blown leads or a complete failure in attempts to produce in the clutch (cough cough Miami). Despite turnovers, the Hawks looked solid in their performance against the defending champs.

“I can’t fault my team’s effort tonight,” Larry Drew said during the post game press conference. “We ran against a really good team.”

Even though the team is playing close to what might be their full potential, barring more epic performances from Horford or some other surprise(s), the Hawks are on their way to an early playoff exit and a bombardment of questions about the ceiling of their current core of players.