5 Reasons to Be Optimistic

Friday, April 15, 2011
By Jon Newberry

With under 28 hours until tip-off for Game 1 there are Hawks haters out there blogging away.

In some regards, you can’t blame them. Last year Atlanta was emphatically swept by Orlando in the second round, and many of the key pieces are the same for each team. Still, there are plenty of reasons for Hawks FANS to be optimistic. Here are five of them:

1 – Motivation.
Last year is last year. The Hawks have moved on, but they haven’t forgotten.

Revenge… Redemption… Payback… These are all words that have floated around the locker room each time the Hawks faced the Magic in the regular season, and have surfaced again leading into this postseason series.

“”Now we have a chance to kind of redeem ourselves,” said Joe Johnson on Wednesday. “We just have to go out there focused, confident.”

2 – Physically Ready.
Last season the Hawks were forced to go the distance in their first round series against the Milwaukee Bucks, while the Magic were able to rest and prepare.

This season the Hawks are rested. Coach Drew made a concerted effort this season to manage the minutes of Atlanta’s key players. A lot of coaches make that claim during training camp and then can’t resist keeping the starters on the court. LD made the claim and stayed true to his word.

  • Joe Johnson averaged 35.5 mpg this season, his lowest since he became a full-time starter for Phoenix (2002-03 season).
  • Josh Smith averaged 34.4 mpg, which is his lowest since the 2005-06 season.

Add in the fact that the Hawks haven’t given the starters their normal rotation of minutes since they locked up the fifth seed on April 5 (vs. Spurs) and Atlanta should be plenty fresh as the 2010-11 Playoffs begin.

3 – Defensive Strategy
Last year the Hawks focused on stopping Dwight Howard. Plain and simple.

This year the Hawks want to LIMIT Dwight and keep everyone else off the 3-point line.

A lot of focus is on the “Bigger Line-Up” that LD uses against the Magic, but people forget that the Hawks went big last postseason too. The difference is that Atlanta still dropped down to double-team when they went big last year, and now they put their faith in Jason Collins’ ability to guard Howard one-on-one.

The strategy’s success in the regular season is well documented as Howard’s shooting percentage against the Hawks was well below his season average, and the Magic shot below 25% from behind the arc in three of the meetings.

4 – Offensive Benefits of Going Big.
When the Hawks go big everyone focuses on the defensive benefits, but there are distinct advantages on offense as well.

Horford probably benefits the most as he is able to get off the block and roam out to his sweet spot (15-18 footers) and not worry about banging with Dwight.

Smoove also gets to face a smaller defender and should have more success on the offensive glass.

Even Joe should benefit since it takes away the option of moving Turkoglu over on him and letting Jason Richardson match-up with Marvin.

Speaking of Marvin, with him moving to a reserve role, it gives the Hawks a potent one-two punch when he and Jamal come off the bench. Throw in the recent play of Zaza and the bench could be one of the Hawks biggest advantages in this series.

“Jamal’s been huge for us the last two years, and obviously I’ve tried to contribute when I have been moved to the bench this season at times,” said Marvin after practice on Thursday. “I know what’s expected of me whether I’m starting or coming off the bench. I’m just gonna go out there and do it.”

5 – Ready to Attack.
In past season’s Dwight’s presence in the lane really got inside the Hawks’ heads. Even when he wasn’t blocking shots he was making people miss or make bad decisions simply by being in the area. This season the Hawks seemed to figure out a way around the big man.

“We just trying to be aggressive and make plays,” said Johnson. “If you get into the paint you gotta know that he’s coming to try and block your shot, so you gotta have dump off passes or try and get contact and get him in foul trouble.”

“You can’t just settle for jump shots,” Coach Drew agreed. “You have to attack the rim even though they have probably the most potent defensive player in the league. You still have to attack the rim. You can’t have a fear about it. ”

There you have it, “Five Reasons to Be Optimistic”.

The simple fact is that the Hawks have shown this season that, if nothing else, they can compete with this Orlando team. As the series approaches everyone in the locker room is saying the right thing. (At least six different players used the “one game at a time” cliche.) When the ball goes up in the Playoffs, words don’t mean a thing.

Personally, I can’t wait until 7pm tomorrow. It should be fun to watch.

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