Posted: Monday December 19, 2005 3:07PM; Updated: Tuesday December 20, 2005 11:59AM
Josh Childress' all-around game has improved since he started coming off the Hawks' bench in late November.
Rocky Widner/Getty Images
Submit a comment or question for Lang.
There I was on Friday night, out in New Jersey, sitting in the press seats, lost in a tight Nets/Nuggets game that was inching ever-closer toward overtime, when all of a sudden my Sidekick went crazy, getting a text message, an e-mail, an AOL e-mail and a phone call all at the same time. The thing shimmied like Antoine Walker and nearly flipped off the table.
The last time this had happened, Ron Artest had made his fateful gallop into the stands, so I figured something big must have been going down. Had Kobe's arm fallen off from shooting so much? Stan Van Gundy stabbed Pat Riley in the back and re-taken the Miami coaching gig? Chris Kaman cut his hair?
As it turned out, it was something even more amazing and remarkable than any of those things: The Atlanta Hawks had won. Again. For the third time in four games. And as one of the world's few Hawks fan, and surely the lone media member to have watched every minute of every Hawks game this season (thanks to the magic of DVR), everyone I knew wanted to give me the scoop.
My own biases aside, the Hawks are one of the more remarkable teams in the NBA right now. They scored more than 100 points in every game last week and beat San Antonio and Cleveland. They would have won five straight but they got jobbed on a call late against the Sixers on Wednesday night. Atlanta then destroyed the Knicks on Friday night, hitting 12-of-16 3-pointers, and Sunday the Hawks came from behind in overtime to knock off an injury-riddled Denver squad. Al Harrington has been a rock on the interior, Joe Johnson has been everything he was advertised as being (well, except for that whole point guard business) and Zaza Pachulia is leading the NBA in offensive rebounds. After spending most of last season looking completely out of place, Josh Childress has become a brilliant force off the bench.
Meanwhile, I'm not sure how to handle all of this. As last season ended, I thought my Hawks were finally going to be a team worth watching, so much so that I dedicated a column to the idea, as much to influence readers as to affirm my own feelings. Since the 1998-99 season, the Hawks haven't finished any closer than 12 games within .500, finishing a remarkably bad seventh, seventh, sixth, fifth, seventh and fifth in their division. (Fifth last season only because there were only five teams in their division.) Management began saying they were "rebuilding" after the disastrous J.R. Rider implosion in '99-00, but it was more like a state of suspended un-animation. No matter who they brought in, nothing worked. Last year they won only 13 games and still didn't get the first pick in the Draft.
Surely, after this much torture, they had to turn things around, right?
Instead, they began the season by winning two of their first 18 games.
Part of the credit for the turnaround goes to coach Mike Woodson, who juggled the lineup like Larry Brown for the first month of the season, but recently settled onto a 10-man rotation that's paying off. (Even if Woody is continuing his strange method of starting a player -- this season Royal Ivey, last season Jason Collier -- playing them about 10 minutes and then benching them for the rest of the game.)