Well, look who’s in first place.
The Hawks have won four straight since their All-Star center tore his left pectoral muscle, an injury that required surgery and will keep him out for most if not the entire rest of the season.
A talented but enigmatic team known for buckling under pressure, Atlanta has shown surprising grit and resolve in the wake of Horford’s devastating injury.
“Everyone really sucked it up to do a little more to fill that void,” forward Marvin Williams said. “You can’t really replace a guy like that. The whole team has to chip in a little bit to do the things he does.”
Granted, all four wins since Horford’s injury have come at home, and three were against teams with losing records. Still, the Hawks have impressed even themselves by managing to hang together, led by Joe Johnson and Josh Smith but getting contributions from nearly everyone on the roster.
“I didn’t know how we were going to fare without him because he does so much for this ballclub,” Smith said. “I think we were able to answer the bell.”
Smith, in particular, has taken his game to a new level _ or at least the level everyone long expected from this immensely talented player. Still only 26, he’s been in the league for seven maddeningly up-and-down seasons, always appearing on the verge of a breakthrough but never quite establishing himself as one of the league’s elite offensive weapons.
When he takes the ball to the basket, he can be unstoppable. Too many times, he’s been content to sit outside and pump up jumpers.
“Josh has learned not to just settle. In the past he would settle for a particular part of his game,” coach Larry Drew said. “And he’s playing under control. When he plays under control and makes the simple play, it makes him that much more effective. He’s a really good passer for a big man, and he is really starting to understand the part of staying aggressive and in attack mode, but yet not force it.”
Johnson is a five-time All-Star, but he was coming off a tough shooting year and got off to a sluggish start this season. That all changed when the Hawks lost Horford. Since then, Johnson is averaging just under 25 points a game.
“Everybody really made a conscious effort to step their play up, whether it was the bench or the starters,” Johnson said. “There’s an understanding that without Al, we’re missing a big piece of what we do here. Everybody has really focused in a lot more and really stepped their game up.”
Indeed, the Hawks‘ revamped bench has made Horford’s injury a lot easier to absorb. Even though cost-conscious Atlanta failed to re-sign Jamal Crawford, the NBA’s Sixth Man winner in 2010, some bargain acquisitions by general manager Rick Sund have paid big dividends.
Tracy McGrady, thought to be all washed up, has shown flashes of the skills that once made him such a feared player. Willie Green is giving the Hawks quality minutes. So is Jannero Pargo, running the second unit. And then there’s Ivan Johnson, who’s been the biggest surprise of all.View Entire Story
'Your papers, please' must never be heard in America
Independent voices from the TWT Communities
What does the middle-class conservative think about everything? Find out here.
The “Silver Tsunami” created by aging Baby Boomers is hitting America. Let’s explore how we adjust to it, enjoy it and defy negative expectations about age.
A carefully guided tour through the confusing world of modern bookselling and publishing.
Benghazi: The anatomy of a scandal
Vietnam Memorial adds four names
Cinco de Mayo on the Mall