The Atlanta Hawks are proving again this year that they should be considered as one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference and the NBA.
First-year head coach Larry Drew is continuing the team’s winning ways with a 33-19 record through 52 games this season. If the Hawks continue this type of success, Atlanta will lock up a playoff spot and home-court advantage in at least the first round of the playoffs.
Atlanta is currently the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference and second in the Southeast Division. With 31 games left on their schedule, the Hawks can either improve their place in the East, or falter at the end of season and miss out on home-court advantage.
The Boston Celtics and Miami Heat have been leading the Eastern Conference this season, but the 2-5 seeds are all within striking distance. The Hawks for instance, are only five games back of the conference leading Celtics, and have only a one-and-a-half game lead on the fifth place Orlando Magic.
Both Miami and Orlando are in the Southeast with the Hawks. Atlanta has three more games against these two conference foes; two versus Miami and one against Orlando, and all three are at home.
However, it is not whether or not the Hawks make the playoffs, which they must do; It is what they do in the playoffs when they get there. After all, Atlanta’s former head coach Mike Woodson was relieved of his duties after another dismal showing in the playoffs.
In his best season during his six-year tenure, Woodson led the Hawks to 53 wins and a third place finish in the Eastern Conference. But the Hawks would stumble again through the first round of the playoffs and get embarrassed in the playoffs.
The problem with Atlanta was their stagnant offense, mainly because of the philosophy to isolate Joe Johnson and let him try and go 1-on-5 with the other Hawks players watching.
Now with Drew, Woodson’s assistant, the problem has appeared to be solved with his egalitarian style of offense. It is still the same players but they are now working in a system that is allowing the Hawks to meet their full potential. Here are some numbers that have stood out for the Hawks this season.
The Hawks are on pace to have back-to-back 50-plus win seasons for the first time since 1998. It would also be the 12th time in the franchise's 62 seasons that they it has won 50-plus games in a season. Should the Hawks also make the playoffs, it will be the franchises 40th time to make it into the playoffs.
Joe Johnson returned to the Hawks in December following elbow surgery. It was an earlier return than was expected for Johnson.
After getting back into the flow of things during the last two weeks of December, Johnson was back to his old self and had an outstanding January for Atlanta.
He averaged 25.9 points a game in January, leading the Hawks to 9-4 start to 2011. Johnson was named to his fifth straight All-Star game.
Al Horford has been nothing short of superb for the Hawks this season and made the All-Star game for the second straight season.
Horford is currently tied for seventh place in the NBA for double-doubles recorded with 25. He is averaging 16.2 points and 9.9 rebounds a game.
Horford recently won the game for Atlanta by knocking down to clutch free throws to give the Hawks a one-point victory over the Los Angeles Clippers last Friday.
Josh Smith is 10th in the league this season with 93 blocks in 51 games, giving him 1.82 per game.
Blocks have always been a part of Smith’s game and this season when he sends the ball into the seats, the Hawks are winning. In fact, when Smith gets at least two blocks in a game, Atlanta is 21-5.
What has impressed me the most about Smith this season is his shooting ability. Entering this season, Smith’s career numbers in shooting were .464 from the floor, .673 from the foul line and .283 from the three-point line.
This year, his numbers have drastically improved from the foul line and three-point line. Smith is averaging 16.3 points per game, second only to Joe Johnson’s 20.5. He is shooting .471 from the field, a career-best .734 from the foul line and a career-best .356 from the three-pointer.
Smith has already made 37 threes this season, the most of his career. He only took seven threes all of last year, making none of them.
The Atlanta Hawks veteran point Mike Bibby is on fire from downtown. He is .443 from three, the best since his first full season with the Hawks in 2008-09.
Bibby has made 101 threes this season. The most threes that Bibby has made in a season is 192 during his 2005-06 campaign. He is averaging two made threes a game, so with 31 left he probably won’t reach 192 but he could end up with a nice total for a 12-year veteran.
Jamal Crawford remains the Atlanta Hawks’ go-to-guy off the bench. Crawford has appeared in 45 games this season with zero starts. That seems to be working just fine for Crawford and the Hawks.
He is averaging 16 points a game, fourth best on the team. Only Maurice Evans has a better free-throw percentage than Crawford, and his 72 three’s made is second to only Bibby
The Atlanta Hawks starters have missed a total of 42 games in 2010-11, showcasing eight different starting lineups.
The only starters to have played and started in every game are Josh Smith and Mike Bibby.
Joe Johnson missed nine games with his elbow injury, so has Marvin Williams, and Al Horford recently missed a few games after hurting his back after a hard fall during a game.
In an 82-game season, injuries are bound to happen, just as long as the team is healthy at the right time. It is also a chance for more players to get more playing time and for the team’s other key players to step up when a teammate goes down.