By: Derek Roberts
Granted, it’s still early in the first-round of the playoffs, and the Hawks have only played two games so far, but despite what the TNT analysts are saying, the Hawks can win a title. But it won’t be easy.
First off, I take what Shaq, Charles Barkley and the TNT crew say with a grain of salt, but nonetheless, the majority of the basketball world doesn’t think the Hawks can compete with the Cavaliers and Bulls in the East, much less compete with the powerhouses of the West if the Hawks do reach the Finals.
With little to no support from the media, the Hawks are just fine with that. They’ve been underdogs all season. At first when the Hawks were winning, everyone said, “It was just a fluke.” As the season progressed and the Hawks kept winning, everyone said, “They just got lucky.” But after beating good team after good team, the Hawks finally solidified themselves as one of the league’s best teams.
Despite finishing with the best record in the East and entering the playoffs as the No. 1 seed, the Hawks still have their work cut out for them as they attempt to advance throughout the playoffs.
If the playoffs pan-out like professional analysts expect them to, Atlanta is going to be faced with some stiff competition. The Hawks will potentially play the winner of the Raptors and Wizards series, if they can win their current series against the Nets. If the Hawks beat the Nets, and if they win the second-round of the playoffs, they will potentially play the Bulls or the Cavaliers in the Eastern Finals.
Having to play the Cavaliers or Bulls in the Eastern Finals is a scary thought for most Atlanta fans, but not for me. I have faith in the Hawks and you should, too. And like I said, the road to the title isn’t going to be a cakewalk, but it’s certainly possible.
In order for the Hawks to win the title, they’ll have to: stay healthy, continue playing team basketball, get solid production from post players, not force shots and continue playing solid defense.
Staying Healthy: The Hawks made a push in last year’s playoffs, but were limited because of the absence of Center Al Horford. If the Hawks want to compete for the title, Horford will have to stay healthy. Horford suffered a minor finger injury during game one against Brooklyn, but it didn’t seem to ail him during game two. With forward Thabo Sefolosha out for the year, it is vital for Horford to prove durable because the Hawks can’t afford to lose another big man.
Team Basketball: Team basketball is the bread and butter for the Atlanta squad. Their ability to find the open man is essential to their style of play. Time and time again, you’ll see a Hawk give up what seems to be a good shot opportunity to find a teammate with an even better scoring opportunity. Being able to share the ball and playing without greed are essential aspects for the Hawks to be successful.
Post Play: All season long, the Hawks were criticized for being undersized at the center and power forward positions. Although Horford and forward Paul Millsap both produced solid numbers, their inabilities to box-out opponents and secure offensive rebounds, could be what prevents them from coming out on top. If the Hawks get matched up against Cleveland or Chicago, Horford and Millsap will have to play with maximum intensity.
Forced Shots: Overall, the Hawks have done a nice job this season of not taking forced shots. As previously mentioned, Atlanta is notorious for finding the open man, but in game one against Brooklyn, the Hawks took more contested shots than normal. Shooting guard Kyle Korver is one of the sharpest shooters in the game, but he has to quit taking deep 3-pointers when there is a defender in his face. Sure, he makes some of them, but it’s still a low-percentage shot.
Solid Defense: On paper, Atlanta’s defensive stats aren’t going to blow anybody away, but it’s their pesky style of defense that keeps opposing offenses on their toes. While they don’t record as many blocks or steals as other playoff teams, the Hawks rely on persistence and hustle to make their defense reputable. Generally speaking, the Hawks don’t give up on plays, they hustle for loose balls and they get back on defense after missing shots. These are qualities brought in by Coach Mike Budenholzer, and if the Hawks are going to win the whole shebang, they’ll have to stay true to form and continue to play high-intensity defense.