Saturday, January 31, 2009

January 31st Open Thread: Atlanta (27-19) @ Milwaukee (23-27)

TIP-OFF: 8:30pm

TELEVISION: No local TV so you'll need to fire up the League Pass if you're able to do so.

RADIO: Hawks Radio Network, Audio League Pass

GAME NOTES: Hawks/Bucks


MILWAUKEE INJURY REPORT: Michael Redd is out. Luke Ridnour and Andrew Bogut are probable.

FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY: Milwaukee -1.5, 192.5 o/u


PREVIOUSLY, THE MILWAUKEE BUCKS...have lost two of three since Michael Redd was lost for the season. The victory came last night in a 96-85 win at Toronto. Not coincidentally, Andrew Bogut returned to action last night albeit for just 16 minutes. Atlanta has hosted and won both meetings this season, 102-96 on November 26th and 117-87 a week ago Friday.

Consider this an open thread for all pre-game, in-game, and post-game (but pre-recap) thoughts.

Hawks 105 Nets 88



Team Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
NJ 89.7 0.98 44.7 28 31.8 19
ATL 89.7 1.17 56.4 37.1
21.9 16.7

In the midst of the giddy return of Mike Bibby's shooting stroke (7-12 FGA, 3-6 3PTA in the final three quarters) and Joe Johnspn's ability to convert scoring opportunities (29 points on 17 FGA and 7 FTA) let us not overlook the team's defensive performance in the second half of the game.

New Jersey's Offensive Efficiency by Half

HalfOff Eff

Most interesting about that improvement is that it came about despite Atlanta's best defender, Josh Smith, spending most of the second half on the bench. Smith played the first 8:38 of the second half but never returned after picking up his fourth foul. There were two prominent in-game reasons not to bring Smith back into the game*: 1) Shot selection (3 of his 6 field goal attempts were jump shots and he never got to the free throw line) and 2) He couldn't keep Ryan Anderson off the offensive glass. As to the first reason, let's hope that a two-game amplification of Smith's season-long struggles at the free throw line don't dampen his already tenuous commitment to attacking the basket rather than floating on the perimeter. To the latter, though Anderson was only credited with four offensive rebounds, he got a hand (or finger) to two or three more New Jersey misses by consistently (if not constantly) boxing out Smith on New Jersey field goal attempts.

*Not including the fact that the Hawks immediately went on an 8-1 run after Smith left in the third quarter.

Even on an off night, Smith remains complex, garnering 6 assists against a single turnover and blocking two shots. In that respect, Smith's struggles are no different than those recent struggles of Bibby and Johnson. None of the three can play so badly as to be completely worthless even for a single night. What certainly looked different, however, was that whereas Mike Woodson really can't not play either Bibby or Johnson, he can not play Josh Smith without adverse effect.

As if we needed more evidence of the importance of Bibby and Johnson, contrast last night's game: No Horford, off night from Josh Smith, good game from Joe Johnson, three good quarters from Mike Bibby, good night for Flip Murray, and an average Marvin Williams performance equals handy win over the Nets whereas Wednesday night in New York good nights from Smith, Murray, Williams, and Pachulia couldn't make up for both Johnson and Bibby struggling. Of course, the difference between playing at home or on the road and the vastly improved (at least in the second half) team defense on Friday night also make a difference but the primary reason the Hawks win or lose a game comes down to whether or not Johnson and Bibby make their shots.

Johnson's good night had nothing to do with getting any more rest. He played 43:11 despite Acie Law IV getting to play 12:48. The reason: Maurice Evans played just 8:45. Woodson still seems willing to play Evans if he's making shots but on the nights when he does not, the Hawks are now going with essentially a seven-man rotation.

Further down the bench, with both Smith and Pachulia struggling, Solomon Jones got another chance to play extended minutes and used them fairly well though he again demonstrated that, if he's ever to become a consistently useful reserve he'll have to learn to play defense without fouling. That won't be an issue once Horford returns* but it remains a long term concern.

*Once Horford returns, one hopes that Jones will still provide useful and relatively aggressive minutes whenever a big man ahead of him in the rotation picks up two first half fouls.

Joe Johnson:
"I take a lot of the blame for January because I haven't been playing up to par. I think I'm starting to get it back now."
Marvin Williams:
"It's good to have them back. They haven't been shooting the ball well the last few games, but they came back tonight. ... I'll take my backcourt against any backcourt in the league."
Mike Bibby:
"We were making it tough on their top two scorers to get to the basket. Shots come and go when you play 82 games. Tonight we were trying to get on track defensively and try to play together."
Here's a quote that must be chalked up on the "Mike Woodson is largely reticent when speaking publicly" side of the ledger:
"It’s a great win. We’ve really struggled with this team. I don’t know what it is, but they’ve had their way with us. I just thought we made a really great effort to defend. We rebounded the ball, but we really defended. We executed our plan, and it worked."
I don't believe that even the harshest of Woodson's critics could believe that Woodson doesn't know why the Hawks struggled against New Jersey in the first three games. Otherwise, why was Mike Bibby guarding Bobby Simmons or Jarvis Hayes most of the game?

Al Horford could return as soon as Wednesday:
Center Al Horford missed his 11th consecutive game Friday night, recovering from the bone bruise in his right knee injured Jan. 9 at Orlando. He’s on the way back, though. Woodson said that Horford’s return to action could come as soon Wednesday’s game in Minnesota. “We’re going to step it up [Saturday] in terms of running,” Woodson said before Friday’s game against New Jersey at Philips Arena. “Come Monday, and depending how things go on Sunday, he’ll get a chance to go through a full practice. And if not Monday, he’ll for sure be out there Tuesday. A lot of it depends on how he feels the next few days after working out and how he responds to the increased activity.”
Dave D'Alessandro:
At various stages of this half-season, the Hawks seemed to serve as the Nets' best friend and comic foil, a team that showed up just in time to help the Jersey guys feel better about themselves.

That was the case in November, when the Nets' sweep of a home-and-home set was the springboard to a season-best 9-3 run and Devin Harris' official introduction to stardom.

Atlanta also made a timely appearance at the Meadowlands on Jan. 2, when they blew a 20-point lead, hand-delivered the Nets' finest moment (Vince Carter's 33-footer at the buzzer), and created the fantasy that the Nets had the resilience to overcome any obstacle.

Seems like years ago.

The Hawks delivered a powerful payback last night, perpetuating the Nets' downward spiral with a superb defensive performance in the form of a 105-88 rout at Philips Arena.
With only three home games between now and March 1st, it would be most beneficial were the Hawks to reprise last week's dismantling of the (now Michael Redd-less) Bucks.

Friday, January 30, 2009

January 30th Open Thread: New Jersey (20-26) @ Atlanta (26-19)

TIP-OFF: 7:30pm


RADIO: Hawks Radio Network, Audio League Pass

GAME NOTES: Hawks/Nets





PREVIOUSLY, THE NEW JERSEY NETS...The Nets have lost eight of their last ten games but are going for the season sweep against the Hawks tonight.

Consider this an open thread for all the pre-game, in-game, and post-game (but pre-recap) thoughts.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Joe Johnson Is an All-Star

Congratulations to Joe for the honor. I think all Hawks fans hope the honor is sufficient to satisfy Joe and he takes one for the team (the Hawks, not the Eastern Conference All-Stars) and rests for most of the exhibition.

Glad I didn't have to post the alternately titled draft I'd prepared.

Johnson's reaction:
"It’s a huge accomplishment and honor. And not only for me, but for the entire organization. It’s a tribute to my teammates and the coaching staff, because without them it’s not even possible."
Mike Woodson also tapped that vein:
"I think it’s great for not only Joe, but our entire organization. And he’s put himself in this position because of how he’s performed individually as well as how we’ve performed as a team. I don’t see how he could not have been on the All-Star team with all he’s done."
Mike Bibby:
"For all the great players that have come through this league, just to make it once is an accomplishment. For Joe to make it three years in a row is something special. And I absolutely expected him to be on that team."

Marvin Williams on the Block?'s Chad Ford on the possibility of Marvin being traded before February 19th:
Marvin Williams, Hawks
Williams starts at the 3 for the Hawks but can also play the 4 in a small-ball lineup. He is the guy the Hawks infamously took instead of Chris Paul in 2005.

While Williams has been solid, he hasn't been great. And the Hawks will have a tough decision to make with him hitting restricted free agency this summer. The team already is cash strapped. Joe Johnson and Josh Smith have huge deals. Mike Bibby will also be a free agent. Ditto for Josh Childress. And sooner than later, they're going to have to pay Al Horford.

All of that has led to some rumblings around the league that Williams is available in return for a lottery pick and a little cap relief. My source in Atlanta denies it, but it's something to keep an eye on.

Chance of trade: 15 percent

There just aren't any obvious, good solutions to the Hawks' long-term salary cap problems.

Knicks 112 Hawks 104



Team Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ATL 99.8 1.04 51.2 20 15.6 9
NY 99.8 1.12 54 19.3 30.2 17

Before I evaluate last night's performance on a player-by-player basis, allow me to make clear that, as a team, that was a dreadful defensive performance (defensive rebounding inclusive). Some players were less culpable on an individual level but there was little evidence of communication on defense and, as much as Hawks fans can wonder what-if with regard to free throw shooting, there must be an equal amount of hypothesizing from Knicks fans with regard to 'How many points could we have scored had our other players been able to throw a pass to an open, cutting David Lee that arrived in the general vicinity of his hands?'

Marvin Williams probably played the most passable defense of any Hawk and did a decent job* on the defensive glass. Offensively his performance was unimpeachable: 28 points on 13 shots with half of those points scored in the fourth quarter in a futile attempt to match Nate Robinson point-for-point. Blame for it being futile lies not at the feet of Marvin Williams.

*A decent job by his established standards not those that I imagine for a theoretical and clearly above-average version of Marvin Williams.

Josh Smith gave us the full spectrum last night: 12 rebounds (5 offensive), 4 steals, 2 blocks, 26 points, and some terrible decisions. Smith opened the night by making three of five jump shots in the first 6:13. Rather than count his blessings that his poor shot selection didn't hurt the team, Smith took five more jump shots before the game ended, making just one more. In terms of field goal percentage, that's an above average jump shooting night for Josh Smith. That he took ten jump shots on a night when he was primarily guarded by Al Harrington* is troubling. That he continued to take and miss jump shots on a night he was also missing 8 of 10 free throw attempts stretches one's credulity. Though not as much as his now-constant whining. One of Nate Robinson's fourth quarter threes came as a direct result of nine out of ten players on the court continuing to play basketball while Josh Smith chose to spend the possession in the backcourt telling an official he thought Al Harrington traveled while corralling a defensive rebound. The Hawks couldn't guard the Knicks in the second half when they were five-on-five. That four-on-five possession transformed the situation from incompetence to negligence.

*Smith went 8-12 from the field in the paint or closer and got to the line those 10 times. The Knicks interior defense was there for the taking.

Flip Murray had yet another excellent second quarter, limiting his shot attempts to a wide-open three-pointer, turn-around jumpers over Nate Robinson, and dunks. As the game progressed, Murray became more willing to shoot the pull-up 20-footer that depresses both his field goal percentage and this viewer. Flip won't remember the fourth quarter fondly. Nate Robinson exposed both of Murray's defensive weaknesses--a lack of lateral quickness and a tendency to ball-watch when off-the-ball. That Murray spent the majority of the fourth quarter attempting (and failing) to defend Robinson isn't entirely his fault. Help defense was non-existent and, on a better defensive squad or simply a deeper team, the head coach would have had the option of putting a more appropriate defender on Robinson.

Zaza Pachulia might have put Nate Robinson on his ass once had played more than 3:34 of the fourth quarter. Like many of his teammates, Pachulia's strengths and weaknesses were both on display. He converted his opportunities on offense and, had it not been for Pachulia's 10 defensive rebounds in 27:49, I shudder to think how effective the league's 28th-best offensive rebounding would have been on their offensive glass. On the other hand, Pachulia really struggled to defend the pick-and-roll. He's simply nowhere near as quick as David Lee. Al Horford was missed.

Joe Johnson, I fear is becoming isolated from his teammates in more than just the team's offensive system. In this quote:
"We’re going to keep getting our [expletives] kicked if we play like this. We’re playing [terribly]."
...he makes an inarguable point.

This one, however:
"Offensively, we had no movement, no chemistry. It looked like we never played with each other." a bit odd coming after a game where Pachulia went 4-5 from the field, Williams went 9-13, Flip Murray went 8-14, and Josh Smith, despite taking several bad shots went 12-22 and the team turned the ball over on just 9 percent of their offensive possessions. The only things keeping the Hawks from an above-average offensive night were missed free throws and a whole lot of missed jump shots from Joe Johnson and Mike Bibby.

Joe Johnson is no longer the sum total of the Hawks' offense, a point with which both he and Mike Woodson might need to come to terms. Johnson's play didn't really reflect his comments. He took 15 shots and had 7 assists, I just worry that (and it may just be something spoken at the peak of frustration with the loss) if he's truly conflating his offensive performance with the team's then it will slow the recovery process.

Mike Bibby can't buy a shot right now (8-42 FGA, 4-21 3PTA in the last four games). He missed another deadball free throw last night (4-9 FTA in the last four games) and he's simply too much of a defensive liability for just his passing and ball-handling (7 assists, 2 turnovers) to balance things out. Joe Johnson may not be the only Hawk guard in need of a rest.

Unfortunately Acie Law IV has continued, in his second season, neither to stay healthy nor productive enough to allow to/make Mike Woodson use him more heavily and consistently. Law's second quarter stint last night resulted in a 5 trillion, this coming two nights after the Hawks were outscored by 10 points in the 6:13 of the second quarter he played in Miami.

It was disappointing that Solomon Jones never got a chance to defend the screen-and-roll when David Lee was on the court. Which isn't to say that Jones was anywhere near as productive last night as he'd been in the previous two games just that Woodson didn't have many options as to how to shake things up defensively and he chose not to try what was, to me the most likely option.

At the time of his acquisition, I assumed that Maurice Evans would finally serve as the backup shooting guard needed to keep Joe Johnson's legs fresh for 82 games. I was mistaken in that assumption.

Maybe he's more critical than I ever imagined b/c we look awful right now.
When players like Mike Bibby (another poor shooting night: 2-13) come crashing back to earth, you have to rely on the little things to pull out close wins. The little things don't count for jack when Bibby is jacking and nailing 10-16 from the floor in November (and don't forget Joe Johnson's 5-15 night), but they sure meant a hell of a lot in this loss...And, I'm sorry, how can Joe Johnson play nearly 40 minutes and only pull in one rebound? Who does he think he is, Michael Redd?

Too soon? Sorry.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

January 28th Open Thread: Atlanta (26-18) @ New York (19-25)

TIP-OFF: 7:30pm


RADIO: Hawks Radio Network, Audio League Pass

GAME NOTES: Hawks/Knicks


NEW YORK INJURY REPORT: Eddy Curry and Jerome James are out.



PREVIOUSLY, THE NEW YORK KNICKS...The Knicks beat the Yao-less Houston Rockets 104-98 Monday night for their fourth straight home victory. The Hawks won the only previous meeting between the two teams this season, 98-95 in Atlanta on December 5th. I'm surprised the opportunity to suggest a nickname for the bench hasn't gained more steam. Can't say I have a useful suggestion myself, though.

Consider this an open thread for all the pre-game, in-game, and post-game (but pre-recap) thoughts.

Al Horford Makes Sophomore Team

Congratulations, and, you know, only play if you're completely healthy, Al.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Basketball Prospectus Adds Stats Pages

Kevin Pelton introduces the pages here.

Atlanta Hawks team page.

All players (alphabetical) here.

I haven't had a chance to look at these with any seriousness yet but I can't imagine that another information resource could be a bad thing.

Slam Online: Whitaker: My Night Announcing an NBA Game

Lang Whitaker spent last night alongside Steve Holman in Miami and confirmed that broadcasting a game is hard:
Announcing an NBA game is frigging hard. I mean, it’s really, really hard. Especially considering I came into it without having done any research, didn’t bring any notes, etc. Sitting on the couch and chiming in, I can do that the rest of my life (and I will do that the rest of my life). But having that open mic in front of your mouth and knowing anything you say is about to be transmitted out to thousands of listeners, it’s really, really hard.

Flip Murray Cuts to the Chase

"We missed [expletive] shots, man. It’s as simple as that."
as told to Sekou Smith this morning in Miami.

Other Recaps of Last Night's Loss

I'm not especially satisfied with my recap of last night's loss in Miami. If you, dear reader, felt a similar dissatisfaction upon reading skimming it, I recommend the following...

Peachtree Hoops:
Seven assists.

The Hawks managed to bring home seven assists last night. That matched the number of two point jump shots Dwayne Wade made from one specific spot on the floor.

Certainly some missed opportunities and some bad "heat checks" contributed to the total, but a more glaring problem exists that this number seven just keeps reminding me of, prodding me, hurting my feelings. A truly biblical number looming over the team's head with biblical proportions.

Without the three pointer going down early and relatively often, the Hawks do not have the patience or offensive sets to win many games against average and above teams.
The Human Highlight Blog:
A game is usually fun---it's a joy---and since the Hawks were 100 percent joyless--well except for when Josh Smith picked up a technical foul while sitting on the bench---he looked happy at that point---anyway, since the Hawks were without joy and gave the ol' more turnovers than field goals a real run for the money, we're not calling that a game.

The Hawks moved on both ends without purpose, the offense--which seemed inspired early on by going inside and getting Dwyane Wade two quick fouls (note to Coach Woodson---he finished with those same 2 fouls)---wilted under the weight of a ton of missed shots. The particularly deflating ones were the real close ones we call layups and dunks---not good.

Heat 95 Hawks 79



Team Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ATL 89.4 0.88 40.4 35.3 28.9 22.4
MIA 89.4 1.06 50.7 23.7 25.6 19

Yes, the Hawks really did go 13:25 without making a field goal and, yes, they did so one day after failing to make a field goal for 5:50 (between 6:06 and 0:16) of the fourth quarter in their loss to Phoenix. In both instances, it took a team effort to manifest such thorough futility but, to my eye, the offensive droughts are primarily down to Mike Bibby playing two bad games in a row.

It may be stating the obvious but the Hawks aren't going to win many games when Bibby is clearly outplayed by a rookie who misses 9 of his 14 shots and turns the ball over five times. In general, I believe it would be an exaggeration to claim that Bibby is as important to the Hawks' offense as is Joe Johnson; Johnson's presence on the floor creates many of the open looks Bibby has converted with such frequency this season. However, Bibby's presence has helped disabuse Johnson of the notion that he must single-handedly* carry the Hawks' offense. When Bibby's not making shots, or, even more disastrously, turning the ball over five times while garnering nary an assist, Johnson becomes as isolated an offensive player as he's been the past three seasons in Atlanta.

*Granted, playing alongside Bibby may have increased Johnson's defensive load every bit as much as it has eased his offensive burden.

I think it's interesting that the Hawks got back in the game (sort of) on the basis of Flip Murray taking control of the team at the end of the third and start of the fourth quarter. Murray doesn't blindly defer to Johnson offensively. Granted, this is not always a good thing but I think that down 18 with less than five minutes in the third quarter is a fine time to try something different. It didn't matter much last night as Miami had a massive head start and Dwyane Wade* but could serve as a lifeline for what may be a tiring starting backcourt.

*Though it was Mario Chalmers who took the game over briefly after the Hawks got within 7 with 9:15 left in the game.

Solomon Jones had another productive night, though he may have squandered the best chance for playing prolonged minutes he'll have this season by committing five fouls in just under 11 minutes. Still, if that's the biggest complaint that Solomon Jones' play engenders, I contend he's on the right track. Which is nice, as Al Horford's return is still at least a week away.

The Hawks revisited an old, unpleasant theme in their post-game comments.

Mike Woodson:
"This game is played in four quarters. And we didn't come to play the first two quarters."
Joe Johnson:
"We just weren't playing hard."
Should my opinion serve as any sort of tonic, it didn't occur to me that the Hawks weren't playing hard. They were playing poorly, to be sure, but I didn't notice a lack of effort and Miami's offense, it should be noted, did not set the world ablaze in the game's first fifteen minutes.

I think this Joe Johnson quote is more indicative of the problems witnessed last night:
"We’re not playing together on either end of the court...We’re not making the extra pass on offense and we’re turning the ball over and honestly, it’s very frustrating at this point in the season to see us spinning our wheels like this after all that we’ve done."

Monday, January 26, 2009

January 26th Open Thread: Atlanta (26-17) @ Miami (23-19)

TIP-OFF: 7:30pm


RADIO: Hawks Radio Network, Audio League Pass

GAME NOTES: Hawks/Heat

ATLANTA INJURY REPORT: Al Horford did not make the trip and is out did make the trip but is probably out. Acie Law should again be active and dressed tonight though that doesn't mean he'll play.

MIAMI INJURY REPORT: Dorell Wright is out.


OTHER PERSPECTIVES: Peninsula Is Mightier, Ira Winderman

PREVIOUSLY, THE MIAMI HEAT...beat Orlando on Saturday night on the strength of some excellent "non-verbal communication." In the only previous meeting between the Hawks and the Heat this season, Atlanta won handily in Miami.

Consider this an open thread for all the pre-game, in-game, and post-game (but pre-recap) thoughts.

Team FT% on Deadball FTA

Per a conversation amongst bloggers at last night's game...

The Hawks' results shooting free throws resulting from technical, flagrant, and clear path fouls.


The team totals for all other free throws:


Considering that, save for two Josh Smith attempts after a clear path foul, the other 45 deadball free throw attempts have been taken by players shooting at least 77.5% from the line this year and, save Flip Murray who has attempted and made a single technical free throw, are at least 78% free throw shooters for their careers, the Hawks have underachieved on these (infrequently occurring) occasions.

Breaking down the deadball free throw attempts by player, with their FT% on all other attempts in the final column:

PlayerFTMFTAFT%FT% (other FTA)

The Possible Influence of Rest on Josh Smith's Block Rate Since Returning From His High Ankle Sprain

In response to the third bulleted item in this post on The Human Highlight Blog:
Defensively, Smith ended a 2 game blockless streak (inspiring CoCo from the Vent to Comment and the HHB to openly break down the break down in Smith's blocked shot output) by swatting (3) for the night---and he seemed to be looking for the rejection with his defensive body language more in this game. Was it the extra rest between the Tuesday game against the Bulls and Friday night that made the difference in his energy? That's right, we're calling out newly ESPN minted Hoopinion to track the blocked shot rate when Smith has had extra rest since coming back from his early season injury vs. when he has had to play closer together.
Josh Smith played three full games before spraining his ankle. He blocked ten shots in those three games. He didn't block a shot in the 11 minutes he played against Toronto in the game in which he suffered the injury. Since returning, he has played on 0, 1, 2, 3, and 25 days rest. Here's a table showing how many shots he's blocked per game listed by the number of days of rest.

Days of RestBlocks/Game# of games

A small sample size to be sure, but, since returning from injury, Josh Smith has blocked more shots when he's had at least one day of rest between games* and he's blocking significantly fewer shots (both in per game and BLK% terms) than any of the previous four seasons. Something to pay attention to going forward.

*Though the amount of rest beyond a single day doesn't seem to have had any positive influence on his shot blocking.

Suns 104 Hawks 99



Team Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
PHX 95.9 1.08 59.2 41.5 9.7 21.9
ATL 95.9 1.03 44.6 28.6 24.5 13.6

With 5:02 left in the game and the Hawks leading 95-94, Josh Smith, matched up against Shaquille O'Neal in the low post had to give up a foul rather than a dunk. In what seemed at the time like a bum break for the Hawks, O'Neal made both free throws to put Phoenix up by a point. In retrospect, Smith's foul was one of the last successful plays a Hawk player would manage the rest of the game.

From the official play-by-play, the next nine Hawks possessions...
  1. Josh Smith missed jump shot (off of one pass with 11 seconds left on the shot clock)
  2. Joe Johnson missed runner
  3. Joe Johnson missed layup
  4. Josh Smith missed jump shot (with 8 seconds left on the shot clock)
  5. Joe Johnson penetrates into the lane, turns the ball over in traffic
  6. Mike Bibby missed three-pointer
  7. Josh Smith travels attempting a post move against Amare Stoudemire
  8. Josh Smith hits a cutting Solomon Jones with a bullet pass, Leandro Barbosa fouls Jones, who makes both free throws
  9. Out of a timeout with 26.2 seconds left, the Hawks struggle to inbound the ball, finally get it to Solomon Jones, who hands off to Joe Johnson. Johnson fails to make any progress toward the basket and takes a guarded, fall-away three-pointer with 18 seconds left. He misses but SOLOMON JONES gets the offensive rebound and the putback.
In a vacuum these possessions are painful enough to recount. Considering that during this stretch Phoenix scored a sum total of 6 points (on a Barbosa three at 3:47 and a Stoudemire layup and one with 26.2 seconds) while turning the ball over three times and the pain of missed opportunities seems more acute.

It's no coincidence that Solomon Jones is the only name to appear in bold type in that list. For a young player of moderate ability and experience who gets little opportunity to play and virtually no opportunity to play in crunch time, Jones was a revelation as his veteran teammates fell apart in the fourth quarter. Jones scored 9 of Atlanta's 19 fourth quarter points. Zaza Pachulia added a bucket and Flip Murray a three-pointer in the final quarter, leaving Joe Johnson (0-7 FGA, 4 assists, 2 turnovers), Mike Bibby (1-3 FGA, 1 assist), Josh Smith (1-5 FGA, 0-3 on jump shots, 2 turnovers), and Marvin Williams (0-1 FGA) to account (or not) for the other five points.

It's a bit unfair to include Bibby in the "fell apart in the fourth quarter" category. Whereas Smith scored 17 points in the first three quarters (while, not coincidentally forgoing the jump shot for the most part) before scoring 2 in the fourth, and Johnson and Williams combined to score 32 points through three quarters before both going scoreless in the fourth, Bibby's fourth quarter three-pointer doubled his made field goals on the day.

In addition to his struggling to make shots, it was (save for a stretch of the third quarter where Matt Barnes and Louis Amundson replaced Grant Hill and O'Neal on the court) difficult for Mike Woodson to find a Sun that wouldn't exploit Bibby's defensive limitations. In the 29:04 that Bibby played, the Hawks were outscored 64-49. In the 18:56 he sat, Atlanta outscored Phoenix 50-40.

That 25 point disparity isn't just down to Bibby having a tough day on both ends of the floor as Flip Murray had another nice game off the bench, scoring 16 points on 9 shots (plus 6 FTA) and chipping in a couple of assists. Murray was 1-4 on three-pointers (and I'm still skeptical that he's been on anything more than hot streak from beyond the arc so far this year) but he's been so effective (and relentless in) backing down opposing backup point guards that I suspect we may see teams make an adjustment to contain Murray by putting a bigger defender on him with the intention of forcing him to shoot more perimeter jumpers.

Mike Woodson:
"We’re playing good basketball. We’re still in the position we need to be, in terms of trying to secure that fourth spot. We’ve just got to go get this one back."
Along with several of my fellow Hawks bloggers, I attended last night's game at the invitation of the Atlanta Hawks* and also attended Woodson's post-game press conference and can offer as a first-hand account that Woodson took what had to have been a frustrating loss (It was certainly frustrating just to watch.) with an admirably equanimity. Something that should not go unremarked even as I still question certain tactical or man management decisions he makes: Mike Woodson appears far more comfortable coaching the Atlanta Hawks than he did last year. Whether this is a cause or a function of the team's success, I know not.

*Thanks to Micah Hart for organizing and hosting and to Rick Sund for taking some questions from the assembled bloggers. With regard to that, it would probably be best if this post were stricken from the record. Sometimes you see them leaving but you don't see the push.

Kelly Dwyer puts the Hawks loss down, in part, to it being one of those days:
Atlanta probably should have won this game, and while I do credit Phoenix's defense to an extent, I think Joe Johnson and Mike Bibby's combined 7-33 shooting had a lot more to do with Johnson and Bibby than the Suns defense.
Michael Schwartz, at Valley of the Suns, recaps the game from the, you guessed it, Suns' perspective and notes Steve Kerr's interesting use of the word "crisis"
First, he’s probably exaggerating with his use of the word “crisis,” but in the scheme of the 2008-09 NBA season, those words couldn’t be more accurate. Losing to the Bobcats by 22 to cap off a run of five losses in six games is a crisis for a team hoping to make the playoffs.

It’s a crisis comparable to six weeks ago when the Suns were embarrassed on the road in consecutive games at New Orleans and Dallas after dropping home games they should have won to Miami and New Jersey. Kerr responded to that “crisis” by sending Raja Bell and Boris Diaw out of town and bringing in Jason Richardson.

I hope this crisis is solved with greater focus and intensity from the players, and as Kerr alluded to, that the Suns find a better place mentally.
And now for what would have led the recap had the Hawks won:

Back with more throughout the day leading up to tonight's game in Miami.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

January 25th Open Thread: Phoenix (23-18) @ Atlanta (26-16)

TIP-OFF: 6pm


RADIO: Hawks Radio Network, Audio League Pass

GAME NOTES: Hawks/Suns

ATLANTA INJURY REPORT: Al Horford is out. Acie Law IV will be active.



OTHER PERSPECTIVES: Valley of the Suns, Ben's Suns Blog, Bright Side of the Sun

PREVIOUSLY, THE PHOENIX SUNS... lost three straight road games, with blowout losses at the Celtics and at the Bobcats (after which Matt Barnes channeled his inner Larry Hughes) sandwiching Mike D'Antoni's revenge. In the first leg of this inter-conference home-and-home, the Suns won 107-102.

Consider this an open thread for all the pre-game, in-game, and post-game (but pre-recap) thoughts that you believe deserve a wider audience.

Mike Woodson Needs An Intervention

Sekou Smith wrote a fine Sunday morning story for the AJC about the raised expectation the Hawks have for themselves: 50 wins, homecourt advantage in the first round, etc. The story contains fine, representative quotes from...

...Josh Smith:
"This is definitely a change for us. Really, it’s a blessing to be in this position, considering where we’ve come from. I knew it was going to come all along, but I didn’t know when. It feels good to be on the winning side and being able to fight for home-court advantage during the playoffs, and know that every night we step out there we’re treating every game like a playoff game, like a must win."
...and Mike Bibby:
"We’re obviously trying to do better than we did the [in the first half]. The main thing now is you’re just trying not to lose two games in a row. That’s another big thing. You lose one, you have to get the next one no matter what."
Unimpeachable sentiments that take responsibility for the team's success going forward.

One guess as to what Mike Woodson brought up:
"The priority for us was set after our playoff series against Boston. You have to put it right on their head. If you can take Boston to seven [games], there is no reason why you can’t be one of the top teams in this league if you come in and compete on a night-in and night- out basis. There’s just no excuse. The only way you get there is by taking every game serious and you compete for 48 minutes on a night-in and night-out basis. You do that and you put yourself in a position to win games."
Once again,
  • The Hawks lost the series.
  • Boston outscored the Hawks by 84 points over the seven games.
  • In none of the four games in Boston were the Hawks ever closer than 13 points during a fourth quarter.
So, the priority was set based on a seven-game stretch where the Hawks did not compete for 48 minutes and did not put themselves in a position to win in four out of the seven games and failed most thoroughly and dramatically in the decisive game seven. And here I was thinking that the Hawks have a chance to win 50 games because everybody's having a career year in terms of making three-pointers. I'm must be naive.

Sekou Smith's Josh Childress Interview

The interview was conducted via e-mail. Here's the takeaway question and its answer for Hawks fans:
Q. You’ll have a decision to make this summer in terms of whether to stay in Greece or come back to the NBA. Will the economic troubles here in the States have an impact on your decision?

A. I will have a big decision to make. In all honesty, I don’t know what I will do. I will be a restricted free agent once again this summer. My agent has still been working the phones and keeping communication open with GMs around the league. However, the owners and coaches here in Greece have expressed their interest in me staying even longer than my three-year contract. The economic troubles there definitely won’t impact my decision.
Josh Childress fans may want to read the rest. But very, very interesting? I wouldn't go that far.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Injury Update

Very useful information from Mr. Sekou Smith:
Woodson said Horford will not practice today and will not travel with the team on two-game trip to Miami (Monday) and New York (Wednesday). He will stay in Atlanta for treatment.

Hawks 117 Bucks 87



Team Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
MIL 96.5 0.90 44.3 21.5 20.8 17.6
ATL 96.5 1.21 61 29.9 18.2 16.6

Everything worked. Marvin Williams returned and looked recovered from his concussion. Luke Ridnour couldn't keep Mike Bibby in front of him. Milwaukee's off-the-ball defense was so poor that Josh Smith could repeatedly cut to the basket unimpeded to receive a Bibby pass before finishing with a dunk. The Bucks couldn't make a two-point shot (20-57 2PTFGA, remove Charlie Villanueva and Malik Allen from the equation and it's even worse: 12-45 2PTFGA) with any regularity. Flip Murray and Maurice Evans took advantage of all of their open looks to score 25 points on 13 shots and 18 points on 8 shots respectively. Add it all up and the Hawks earned a rare blowout victory and the welcome opportunity to rest an overworked backcourt prior to the approaching road slog.

The Hawks play Phoenix at home early Sunday night (late Sunday afternoon?) then play 14 of their next 19 games on the road with two of those 5 home games coming against the Cleveland Cavaliers and Atlanta's 2008-09 bogey team, the New Jersey Nets. Getting an extra bit of rest for Johnson and Bibby can only help, as would getting everyone healthy but even then the Hawks would do well to scare .500 over that 19-game stretch.

Nothing but
good feelings in the Hawks' locker room.

Mike Bibby:
"We finished our work early tonight."
Flip Murray:
"I needed that. I had to get my swagger back."
Joe Johnson:
"We got to the hole a lot. The pick-and-roll worked to perfection."
Heck, on many a possession, Bibby (or Murray) didn't need a pick to get where they wanted to go.

A different, but equally accurate, assessment from Scott Skiles in the visitors' locker room:
"We didn't show up - in any facet of the game."
At Brew Hoop, Frank Madden suspects that Larry Krystowiak showed up to deliver last night's pre-game pep talk to the Bucks.

At The Human Highlight Blog, Jason Walker posits the Bucks
as stooges at a party the Hawks threw for themselves.

Friday, January 23, 2009

January 23rd Open Thread: Milwaukee (21-24) @ Atlanta (25-16)

TIP-OFF: 7:30pm

: SportSouth, NBATV

: Hawks Radio Network, Audio League Pass

: Hawks/Bucks

: Al Horford and Acie Law IV are out. Marvin Williams is probable.

: Andrew Bogut is out.

: Atlanta -5, 203.5 o/u

: Brew Hoop

Tom Enlund of The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports this schedule quirk that, on first glance, seems to me more like a schedule inequity for the Bucks:
Due to scheduling quirks, it's the 10th time this season that the Bucks came home off the road to play only one game and then headed back on the road again. That's the most one-game home stands in the league at this point and is more than 22 of the league's teams will face over the entire season.

The Bucks have 12 such "one and done" home games on their schedule this season and the only teams that will have more by the end of the season are Indiana (15), and Cleveland, Detroit and New Jersey with 14 each. Some teams, such as Portland (four), Phoenix (five), the Lakers (six) and New York (six), play far fewer one-game home stands.
Consider this an open thread for all the pre-game, in-game, and post-game (but pre-recap) thoughts that you believe deserve a wider audience.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Tomorrow's News Today

And it isn't good news that D. Orlando Ledbetter (great name) reports:
Williams (concussion), Horford (knee bruise) and backup guard Acie Law IV (quadriceps) are not likely to return for tonight’s 7 p.m. game against Milwaukee at Philips Arena.

Williams rode the treadmill at practice and Horford worked out with trainers. Law tried to practice but couldn’t finish and had to ice down his injury.

Peak Ahead: Milwaukee Bucks

In lieu of news to report second-hand, I'll aggregate...

The Milwaukee Bucks, now headed to Atlanta, delivered a comprehensive 133-99 beating to the Dallas Mavericks Wednesday night. Most impressive stat line for the Bucks? Either Charlie Villanueva's 32 points (12-17 FGA, 4-7 3PTA, 4-5 FTA) and 10 rebounds in 32:58 or Ramon Sessions' 21 points (7-7 FGA, 1-1 3PTA, 6-7 FTA) and 7 assists in 25:21. I give the nod to Villanueva. Sessions* turned it over 5 times. Most impressive of all, though, might be that the Bucks played so well without Andrew Bogut (sore back). It was the fourth straight game Bogut missed. No word yet if he'll make the trip to Atlanta** or play Friday night.

Brew Hoop has a typically thorough recap of the game.

Dirk Nowitzki provides the Maverick perspective:
"It's just embarrassing, really. They got whatever they wanted -- wide-open shots, drives, layups."
Further Mavericks reading: The Two Man Game.

*Should Hawks fans be more jealous that Milwaukee is capable of recognizing, acquiring, and using a good, young point guard or that they were able to use a second-round pick to acquire any type of valuable player? Yes, that counts as a Solomon Jones reference.

**Like Al Horford, Bogut stayed home on Milwaukee's recent three-game West Coast swing.

News You Can Use

The "You" in the post title is literal as I don't really understand Twitter yet* but the Atlanta Hawks** do. Sign up to follow the team's official feed here.

*Though there are those whose opinion I value who are pushing me to add a Twitter feed to Hoopinion so I expect I'll have to figure it out sooner rather than later lest the world pass me by.

**Or at least Micah Hart does.

AJC Covers But Doesn't Understand Basketball

What do we with interest in the fourth-best team (to date) in the Eastern Conference get in this morning's paper? An update on either of the injured starters? That Sekou Smith interview with Josh Childress? No and no. We get another anonymous AJC headline writer straddling the line separating satire and honest ignorance:

Darryl Maxie's accompanying article actually makes little mention of defense which makes sense as the Hawks are 16th in the league in defensive efficiency all the way up from, let's see here, 18th last year. Oh, there's a mention of the Hawks record when holding opponents under 100 points (20-5) but you know that that has more to do with Atlanta playing at the seventh slowest pace in the league. You know because you care.

Unfortunately, the infallibly polite Marvin Williams takes the bait:
"You’ve got to give credit to our defense. When we hold teams under 100 points, we usually win. We’ve snuck in a couple of wins when we didn’t, but I definitely think coach has been stressing that. That’s been his calling card."
Actually coach brings up his calling card later in the article:
"No one gave us a chance —- it was supposed to be a series sweep."
I don't think anyone would begrudge Woodson were he to flaunt this season's success which makes his continued bleating about last season's first-round playoff loss all the more mystifying.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Josh Childress: Back in the USA

Not for fun nor for profit. For sports hernia surgery. In other Childress news, Sekou Smith, in his blog yesterday, teased a yet-to-be-published interview he recently conducted with Josh:
I spoke with Childress at length last week for an interesting Q&A that will be online this week. He mentioned that he was coming back to the states to be examined. I had no idea then that it was something that required surgery. If he’s out that long, his situation with Olympiacos going forward gets very interesting if you’re the Hawks.

Very, very interesting.

It’s impossible to speculate about what might happen. But Childress can opt out of his deal with Olympiacos and the Hawks still own his NBA rights.

Like I said, this latest news could make things very, very interesting.
I doubt it will be anywhere near as interesting as that tease but, really, what have I correctly anticipated regarding this team in the last, oh, nine months.

Also of potential interest: an unsubstantiated rumor that Olympiacos might want Stephon Marbury to replace Childress.

Hawks 105 Bulls 102



Team Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
92 1.14 48.8 25.9 30 12
CHI 92 1.11 50.6 21.7 47.6 19.6

I'm going to take an opportunity to do something I haven't had opportunity to do recently, something I might should have done in recapping Monday's game and comment positively on the Hawks' team defense. I assumed the good performance Monday had much to do with Toronto missing Jose Calderon and the rest to do with Josh Smith playing well against Chris Bosh. However, last night the Hawks handled Derrick Rose pretty well for the entire game and, admittedly with some help from Vinny Del Negro, kept Ben Gordon from being a factor in the game for the better part of three quarters.

Now, if only that solid team defense had continued after a shot left a Bulls player's hands. Credit to Mike Woodson for resisting the temptation of the four guard lineup for the entire second half thus limiting Chicago's dominance on their offensive glass.

Half4-Guard Lineup, Minutes Used
Atlanta's DR%

On the offensive end of the court, Atlanta's four best players valiantly carried the load in the absence of Al Horford and Marvin Williams which was good as Flip Murray, the only other* alternative, missed 8 of 10 field goals and 2 of his 4 free throw attempts through three quarters. Of course, Flip being the maddening and interesting sort he played the entire fourth quarter, took just three shots, made two of those including his only three-point attempts of the quarter, made both of his free throws, and even picked up an assist.

*and a self-appointed alternative at that

Zaza Pachulia made an offensive impact by utilizing his strength against Joakim Noah* and his quickness against Aaron Gray. Josh Smith (mostly) forswore the jump shot, made his free throws, got what rebounds the Hawks put to their name, and miraculously got back on the court in the second quarter despite committing two personal fouls in the first.

Josh Smith in the first half:


*I'll admit both that I've always like Joakim Noah more than most and that I don't understand how he's gone from Florida's leading scorer on the first national championship team to a guy who never looks to score but didn't 'Nique go overboard in criticizing Noah's offensive limitations on a night when the young man was dominating the offensive glass and getting a couple of dunks in transition? At least we didn't have to hear him constantly harping on the other team's poor shot selection while they're scoring at will against the Hawks.

Joe Johnson managed to have a terrible shooting night without taking a single shot I noted at the time as being forced plus, despite using 18 shots and 6 free throw attempts to score 16 points, Johnson contributed 8 assists against a single turnover. Johnson's poor shooting night didn't matter because Mike Bibby had a night for the ages: 31 points (12-21 FGA, 5-10 3PTA, 2-2 FTA, 6 assists, 5 steals, 3 turnovers). I don't know which was more impressive: Bibby's shooting or the three steals he picked up in the Bulls' backcourt. I can say with a strong certainty that the latter was more unexpected.

Speaking of which, Mike Bibby:
"It just looked like they wanted to run a little bit, so I was hanging around. hey didn't see me so I just made a shot in there for the ball."
Josh Smith on Bibby:
"He is one of those types of players that when he gets it going, it's kind of hard to stop him. In clutch situations, when we needed a bucket, he was hitting big shot after big shot."
Sekou Smith has more from Bibby:
"They were killing us on the boards all night but the guys kept fighting and I kept telling everybody let’s see what we’re made of and take this game. We were lucky our shots were going in, because they were killing us on the boards."
Both CoCo at The Vent and Jason at The Human Highlight Blog got the numbers out to show how much Mike Bibby had to overcome to lead the Hawks to victory.

From the opposite perspective, Matt McHale of By the Horns looks at the 11 Bulls possessions following Derrick Rose's layup which gave Chicago a 96-93 lead:
Missed three-pointer by Gordon; missed layup by Deng; layup by Gordon; turnover by Rose; missed three-pointer by Hinrich; missed jump shot by Deng; Gordon hit two (out of three) free throws; turnover by Gordon; missed three-pointer by Gordon; desperation three-ball by Rose; Gordon hit one of two foul shots (with the second being an intentional miss so that the Bulls could try and get the ball back before time expired).
The Hawks get two days off before playing the Bucks Friday night at Philips. Even if it's not enough time to get both Marvin Williams and Al Horford healthy, Joe Johnson and Mike Bibby could surely use the rest after both played more than 44-and-a-half minutes last night. Zaza Pachulia may not feel to sprightly himself this morning after playing a season-high 39:18.