The Atlanta Hawks have been crippled with injuries in 2014. The bug actually started late in 2013 with season-ending injuries to Al Horford and John Jenkins, but they really started to take their toll in late January. Pero Antic’s injury was followed by injuries to DeMarre Carroll, Jeff Teague, Gustavo Ayon and Paul Millsap, and the Hawks began to slide in the standings.
Hawks vs. Clippers
When General Manager Danny Ferry constructed the roster, it certainly wasn’t designed to have Elton Brand playing 33 minutes a game, Cartier Martin playing power forward or the lone backup big man being the team’s second-round draft pick who started the season in Spain. Injuries are a part of the game, and every team deals with them, but Atlanta’s came all at once, and all in the midst of a brutal two-month schedule in which it was going to be tough to win games even if healthy. At some point the bottom is going to fall out when you deal with that many injuries. This is the NBA after all. The talent gap between team #1 and team #30 isn’t all that wide.
There’s still no Horford, Jenkins or Ayon, but the rest of the crew is finally back together. Millsap, the final piece of the injury-riddled puzzle, finally returned Friday. And though the team took a 14-point loss to the Warriors, the game had a different feel than previous games during the losing stretch. Ball movement was back, open shots were abundant and players were back to playing the roles Ferry envisioned when he built the roster.
Carry over to Saturday. Antic returned to the starting lineup after coming off the bench in his first two games back from injury, and thus the final step in the recovery process was complete. Sure, there were still mistakes in Saturday’s 109-108 loss to the Clippers, but there was definitely more good than bad. Ball movement was back (29 assists), Antic was stretching the defense with his three ball (3-5), Kyle Korver was running off screens and delivering brilliant passes, and defensively they were getting steals (13) by being active.
Indeed this was the Hawks team we grew to love even after Horford’s injury. The one that stayed afloat for a month before one injury turned into five. And while the door is probably closed on getting all the way back to third in the East standings, it’s certainly not closed on this healthy bunch making a run at some teams ahead of them. No team in the conference has more home games left than Atlanta, and five of the next six come against teams with losing records.
I’m not saying the chemistry will be 100 percent back on Monday in Utah. I’m not saying they’ll even win. But Saturday is proof that they’re already playing like the team we saw in January, and not like the team we saw in February.
With five weeks left, staying healthy and re-developing that chemistry will be the keys to finishing strong.
Tweet of the Night
— Fre$h (@DogyGFX) March 9, 2014
Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images