I told anyone that would listen (and others that wouldn’t) before the start of the ’07-’08 NBA season that the Hawks would make the playoffs. Most people laughed at the idea, and others thought I was crazy. Through the first two months of the season, I looked brilliant. Now…
Well, things aren’t looking so good lately. The Hawks have lost 8 of their last 11, and 3 in a row. This all comes just as they embark on a brutal west coast trip (at Denver, Seattle, Portland, Phoenix, and LAC). More alarmingly is how they’ve looked as they’ve hit this downturn.
As I’ve stated in this space before, the Hawks have yet to find a true leader. Sure, Joe Johnson is their statistical leader, but he has yet to show that true fire and passion that such a young team so desperately needs. After Joe, there aren’t many veterans left. Anthony Johnson, given his position and experience, could be a leader, but he just took over the PG spot on a consistent basis over the last month or so. Lorenzen Wright? He and the far end of the bench go together like hookers and blow. And that’s not a good thing (at least in this case).
This lack of leadership is evident on the floor in key situations. In crunch time, everyone develops a strong aversion to the basketball. Joe Johnson tries to take over, but he looks uncomfortable in those situations. Josh Smith has shown that he’s just not mature enough to truly step up at these times, as evidenced perfectly by his ill-advised three pointer in the waning seconds of Monday’s loss to the Trailblazers.
There is also another problem that should rear it’s ugly head any day now. Al Horford is going to hit the proverbial “wall.” He is used to college basketball, where by this point in the season his team would’ve typically played approximately 15-20 games. He is now in his 38th game with the Hawks, having logged 31.5 minutes per. So basically, he’s played a full college season by now. And there are still 44 games to go in the regular season. This is not good. Given that the Hawks rely on him so much for an inside presence on defense and on the boards, he is bound to wilt at some point soon.
What does this all mean? Well, the Hawks are currently sitting in the 7th spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race, with the Pacers, Nets, Bulls, Bucks, and Bobcats within 3 games. With no one expected to come in and give them a boost–either by coming back from an injury or via trade–someone is going to have to step up their game. Who will that be?
To be clear, I’m not panicking…I just realize that given the circumstances, things don’t look so good for my bold preseason prediction. Here’s to hoping the Hawks make me look smart…my blogging reputation depends on it!