It's Gut Check Time for the Atlanta Hawks

By Michael Collins

With two games remaining in the 2012 regular season, it’s time for the Atlanta Hawks to take a hard look in the mirror and decide what they want to do in this year’s playoffs.  2012 will be the Hawks fifth straight year in the NBA post-season, and unfortunately all signs are pointing to another first or second round exit for Atlanta.

While it’s true that Atlanta has had to deal with it’s fair share of injuries, the time for excuses has passed.  If the Hawks want to take that next step and be considered one of the dangerous post-season teams, they have to start winning regularly in March and April against other playoff bound teams.  The bench rotation has to be set, and role-players have to step up when needed.  So far, it’s not happening.

Right now the Hawks are in the midst of a regular season ending five-game home stand, with four of those teams they face being headed for the playoffs.  After handling a weak Detroit Pistons team, Atlanta faced a Boston Celtics squad that sat four of their premier players – Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo – and barely escaped with a win.  This was followed by a heartbreaking loss to a New York Knicks team who was fighting to even make the post-season.

Now Atlanta is faced with two of the Western Conference’s best teams, the L.A. Clippers and the Dallas Mavericks.  If ever there was time for a gut check, this would be it.  Winning those two games at home would be a huge confidence boost heading into the first round of the playoffs, but it’s going to take a lot more effort and consistency than the Hawks have shown in the last two games to get it done.

The Hawks are even more depleted on the bench than usual, which wont make things any easier.  Starting center Zaza Pachulia – who has been in for the injured Al Horford most of the season – is still out with a foot injury, and coach Larry Drew didn’t sound very positive about his return anytime soon.  So now reserve center Jason Collins is the lone big man presence down low.

In the most recent game against the Celtics, Hawks forward Josh Smith was double-teamed nearly every time he touched the ball.  The reason…the Celtics weren’t afraid of the Hawks perimeter shooting, or the ability for anyone to get into the paint and exploit their smaller defense.  Consequently, Smith took some bad shots and had to dish the ball more than he would have liked.  The Hawks need Smith to take control and draw people under the basket to give shooters Joe Johnson and Kirk Hinrich some better looks.

Ending the season with five at home should have been a huge advantage for the Hawks.  Philips Arena should have been setting off seismographs.  Instead, it’s been sparse crowds and a minimal noise factor.  But fans will be excited about this team when they exceed expectations.  As long as the effort looks minimal, and the outcome is as expected, it’s going to be a hard sell to make fans believe that Atlanta is moving forward rather than being stagnant.

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