Thursday, January 10, 2008

Hawks 90 Cavaliers 81



I'm not especially disappointed that Cleveland's one of the (non-Southeast Division) Eastern Conference teams Atlanta plays three rather than four times. This is not a matchup that engenders good basketball.

Cleveland should, though, serve as an object lesson for the Hawks' management. They are what you get when you play defense, rebound, have no point guard, and LeBron James. If everything falls into place, you can make the NBA Finals and get swept by a good team. If anything disrupts your best case scenario, you're fighting for a playoff spot against a team that plays defense, rebounds, has no point guard, and Joe Johnson.

Were the Hawks consistently to play as they did in the third quarter and use their defensive and rebounding abilities to create easy shots in transition, I'd be far more confident of their chances of making the playoffs this year. That they spent the fourth quarter walking the ball up the court in order to run brief, ineffective half-court sets before Joe Johnson attempted a difficult shot returns one to reality.

It's little wonder the Cavaliers got back in the game. For a four minute, twenty-three second stretch of the fourth quarter, Mike Woodson put this lineup on the court: Anthony Johnson, Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, Josh Smith, and Lorenzen Wright. Shockingly, Cleveland could afford to give Joe Johnson extra attention what with three of the other four Hawks players on the court incapable of making a jump shot. On three consecutive possessions in the final 3:30, Atlanta managed a Josh Smith three-pointer (missed), a Josh Smith jump shot (missed--and created of off Lorenzen Wright dribble penetration!), and an Anthony Johnson runner in the lane as the shot clock expired (missed).

All too predictably, part of the impetus for playing this offensively inept five came from Mike Woodson overreacting to Al Horford picking up his fifth foul. Horford sat for the last 3:58 of the third quarter after picking up his fourth foul. He picked up his fifth foul with 6:26 left in the game and was replaced by Wright. He returned with 2:01 left in the game but only played 51 seconds before Woodson (sensibly) replaced him with Josh Childress for tactical reasons. Sitting Horford for that long when he is unlikely to feature in the end game (due to his free throw shooting and/or the small lineup Cleveland favored once Varejao left the game) is indefensible.

If Mike Woodson were ever to be a good game coach (imagine it if you can) it would have to be in a situation where he was given tremendous depth. The man can't recognize the difference in ability, production, and probability of winning the game between playing Al Horford as much as possible and playing Lorenzen Wright because Horford might foul out.

Good win, though. Back to .500 and still 8th in the East. A half-game out of 4th in the East for that matter. Washington in Philips on Friday for another game in which the Hawks need to grind out a win.

Ballhype: hype it up!

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