Playing with the same poise and perseverance that carried them through the regular season the Atlanta Hawks notched a 102-92 win at home against the Milwaukee Bucks. Many people have questioned the Hawks’ legitimacy as playoff contenders, but any uncertainties were put to rest in the first half when Atlanta came out firing and went into halftime with a commanding 62-40 lead over the visiting Bucks.
Joe Johnson led the steady Hawks attack with 22 points as well as notching 7 rebounds and 5 assists. Josh Smith contributed a 12 point 10 rebound effort while pacing the Hawks on defense with four blocks and on offense with his usual intensity and rim-rattling dunks. The real story of the night was the rebirth of Mike Bibby as a staple of the Hawks’ offense. Missing only one shot all game long, Bibby shot eight for nine from the field including three for three from behind the arc to end up with 19 points. In his first career playoff game, Jamal Crawford once again established himself as THE Sixth Man of the Year, coming off the bench to score 17 as well as helping contain Milwaukee’s dynamic duo of Brandon Jennings and John Salmons.
The Bucks put up a fight in the second half, outscoring the Hawks 52-40 but it was simply not enough as Jennings’ 34 point effort was wasted in the series opener. Expect the same intensity and sense of urgency from the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday, as they look to extend their home winning streak to 14 games and secure a commanding 2-0 series lead over the Bogut-less Bucks.
Coming later, the first no-hitter of the season and first in franchise history for the Rockies in Atlanta. Also, a look into the first day of the NBA Playoffs and what to expect tomorrow.
This Sunday, Atlanta was faced with an arduous task, slowing down the Blazers and star shooting guard Brandon Roy. Roy put on a show scoring 29 points, dishing out five dimes and capping that off his spectacular performance four boards. But I guess Roy hasn’t heard the saying “Anything you can do I can do better,” because Joe Johnson went off on the Blazers. For the fourth straight game, Joe scored more than 30 points, with a grand total of 35 before going to the bench to allow the bench players some playing time. He also added an impressive seven boards and six assists to his scoresheet, showing that he is a versatile, all-around team player that is a force to be reckoned with on the court. Three other Hawks scored in double figures, led by Josh Smith with 19 points and 8 boards. Al Horford contributed 13 points and 5 boards while Mike Bibby was making himself useful at the point-guard position with 5 assists, also scoring 15 and grabbing 4 rebounds. This was an all-around great win for the Hawks, making it five in a row, all on their home-court. They were able to send their reserves in with time still left in the game, ending the game with a final score of 98-70. Blowing out Portland is great, but the Hawks need to keep on their guard for Sacramento. Although Sacramento has the worst record in the NBA, they are a dynamic team that can unexpectedly bring their A-game on any given day. Let’s hope that the Hawks will bring their A-game on Tuesday in Atlanta against the Kings to extend the winning streak to six games.
With the end of February drawing near, the precedent is being set by certain NBA teams for what will be required to be considered as a worthy adversary in this year’s playoff race. Some teams have made moves hoping to further their playoff hopes. The Celtics made the most out of players on the market, signing center Mikki Moore, and also finalizing the signing of Stephon Marbury this morning. Although Starbury has had his fair share of both on-the-court and off-the-court problems, he has something to bring to this Celtics squad, and that is a quality bench presence and a big relief for Eddie House. House is a true shooting guard, and having Marbury there will allow him to be exactly that, as Marbury will be doing most of the ball-handling.
Another team that made a major move was the Orlando Magic. Acquiring Rafer Alston was a very smart move for the Magic. No offense to Jameer, but with him being out for the rest of the season, the Magic were in great need of a quality point guard who can bring that powerful point-man presence to the floor, and that is what Alston has to offer. With the Magic trying to legitimize their status as a true powerhouse and playoff contender, it is very important that they continue to win, especially with the Hawks and Heat both coming into stride in the closing months of the season.
Now some teams did not make as much of an effort to make changes, whether it be trades or free agent signings. The Hawks were one of those teams who made no moves at all. The Hawks are a young team with a lot of talent, and it often shows in their games. By keeping their roster the same, the Hawks are trying to continue the building of a solid young squad that can win games. With veterans Joe Johnson and Mike Bibby anchoring the young guns like Marvin Williams, Al Horford and Solomon Jones, the Hawks are hoping to build their team of the future, and win some playoff games while they’re at it. They continued their quest tonight against a surging Heat squad led by superstar Dwayne Wade.
Wade, who has had a record-breaking week was surprisingly quiet against the Hawks in a 91-83 loss. Although he still put up 21 points, 10 dimes and 3 steals, his team was not able to overcome the Hawk’s Al Horford with his 21 point and 22 rebound performance. This has been the story of the year for the Heat, who have folded several must-win games against formidable opponents. They were one of the teams who made a move, but it has not paid off so far. With the addition of Jermaine O’Neal, they have added a legitimate post player to strengthen their frontcourt attack and provide adequate support for Wade, Beasley and Chalmers.
On to other teams in the Eastern Conference, the Cleveland Cavaliers are having one of the best seasons in franchise history. With Lebron James stepping his play up to a whole different level, the Cavs have streaked to a conference-leading 44-12 record, 1/2 a game ahead of the defending champ Celtics. However, with the loss of Ben Wallace down low with a broken leg, the Cavs have been left searching for answers. There’s Anderson Varejao, who is the definition of a hustle player. He can make the plays his team needs, but isn’t powerful enough to dominate down low. He is joined by veteran Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who can hit the 17 foot jumper, and occasionally post up down low. J.J. Hickson has provided some quality minutes off the bench, and his playing time will certainly be up now that Wallace is sidelined. Although he is young he is a tremendous competitor with a desire to win so he is definitely one player to keep on your radar in the next couple of weeks. Tonight against the Spurs the Cavaliers are completely dominating in every aspect of the game. After 3, they are up 21 points and Lebron has already went for 30 points, 14 boards and 4 assists. Looks like they are on their way to a huge road win in San Antonio, one that will help them forget the horrible loss to Houston last night. When it comes down to it, coach Mike Brown better hope that these three guys can step up their games, because the Cavs are going to need it to help them maintain 1st place and homecourt advantage for the playoffs.
The playoff seeds for the Eastern Conference are still up in the air right now. The top three teams right now are Cleveland, Boston and Orlando. Only time will tell if they can hold onto their spots as the end of the season draws near. The 4th seed is currently taken by the Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks are two games up on the 5th seed Heat, and if they keep playing like they have of late, then they will continue to win and solidify their hopes to keep the 4th playoff spot. If the Heat can incorporate Jermaine O’Neal into the offense and keep the emerging rookie studs Chalmers and Beasley hot, then they will have a good chance of keeping the 5th spot. The final three spots are definitely a toss-up. If Detroit can find a solution to their recent slide, they’ll definitely have one of those three spots. That leaves us with two spots, up for grabs between several teams. The Sixers look like they are going to make the playoffs, which leaves one spot for the rest of the conference to fight over. That is, except for the Wizards, who do not look like they have any chance whatsoever of making the playoffs.
More to come tomorrow on the playoff race in the Western Conference, and talking about if anyone can stop the Los Angeles Laker squad led by Kobe Bryant.