Posted by Neil Paine on April 16, 2009
Coach: Mike Woodson
Last NBA Title: 1958
5-Year Playoff Record: Won 0 Series, Lost 1, 0 Finals
Championship Odds: 0.3%
Key Question: Can they build on last year's surprising playoff experience?
Regular Season: Despite losing Josh Childress to Olympiakos, a Hawks team that had overachieved in 2008 managed to be even better in '09. With Joe Johnson and a rejuvenated Mike Bibby leading the way, Atlanta boasted one of the top 10 offenses in the game and finished in the upper half of the Eastern Conference for the first time in a decade.
Prime-Time Players: 1. Joe Johnson. He makes the Hawks go, as evidenced by the nearly 27% of Atlanta offensive possessions that are funneled through him when he's on the court. As he showed in the Boston series last year, he isn't really bothered by the pressure of the playoffs, and he's not afraid to take the big shot. If the Hawks go far, it will likely be because Johnson took another star turn in the postseason.
2. Mike Bibby. Speaking of players who thrive in the playoffs, there's Bibby, who's been delivering when it counts for more than a decade now (dating back to his Arizona days). Bibby has his faults defensively, but his play on offense has helped propel Atlanta further than anybody expected this season. Look for him to play a big role for the Hawks in the postseason as well.
3. Josh Smith. Smith has had a rough year, as it seems like he's never really gotten untracked after missing all of November with an ankle injury. Still, he's been playing better in April, and he's the Hawks' best all-around athlete and their top defender. He definitely can make a big impact for Atlanta in these playoffs if he plays up to his potential.
But don't count on... Flip Murray. Murray had a surprisingly decent season for the Hawks in 2K9, posting a career-high offensive rating of 104.1 while playing a key role off the bench. But no matter where he's gone in his career (Seattle, Cleveland, Detroit), he has a history of disappearing come springtime. Will we be adding Atlanta to that list soon?
Why they can win: They have a solid offense, and a balanced group of scorers in Johnson, Bibby, Smith, and Murray. They beat Los Angeles and Cleveland at various times this season, and we all remember last year's series vs. Boston, so they definitely have the ability to make life difficult for the elite teams. With HCA in the 1st round, they could certainly be around to hassle the Cavs in Round 2.
Why they can't win: A dreadful lack of consistency means the Hawks are more volatile than nitroglycerin: sometimes they explode on their opponents (11-4 in December), and sometimes everything blows up in their faces (6-10 in January). Plus, 15-13 since the All-Star break doesn't exactly scream "momentum" going into the playoffs. The Hawks also have defensive issues, despite the presence of an elite defender in Josh Smith.
X-Factor: Josh Smith's play. If he plays like a superstar at both ends, the Hawks might even stand a chance against Cleveland. If he slumps again, Atlanta might not even get out of the 1st round, much less challenge the Cavs.
|Hawks vs.||Off.||Def.||Reb.||Coach||Exp.||The Skinny||Prediction|
|Boston||Does lightning strike twice in the same matchup? Probably not||Celtics in 6|
|Chicago||X||X||X||Running with the Bulls wouldn't be too problematic for ATL||Hawks in 5|
|Cleveland||Cavs have too much defense, firepower for Hawks to handle||Cavs in 5|
|Detroit||X||Push||X||Hawks swept season series, could do same in playoffs||Hawks in 5|
|Miami||X||Push||X||X||Push||Wade could give Hawks problems||Hawks in 5|
|Orlando||X||Hawks merely a bump in Orlando's playoff road||Magic in 5|
|Philadelphia||X||X||X||Hawks better on paper, but 76ers could upset if given chance||Hawks in 7|
(Key: "X" = Advantage; blank = disadvantage)