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Learning to fly (cont.)

Posted: Thursday November 29, 2007 4:05PM; Updated: Friday November 30, 2007 2:50PM
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It's difficult to say how those situations might affect the Hawks on the court, but players have been known to worry about stats in contract years while lame duck coaches often get tuned out in the locker room.

But most of all, the Hawks just don't yet seem to have enough leadership and basketball smarts.

Take Tuesday night's contest in Chicago. The Hawks came in off consecutive road wins at Miami and Minnesota, snapping a 17-game losing streak away from Philips Arena. They were facing a struggling Bulls team that was having major problems putting the ball in the basket. If ever there was a golden chance to make a statement and deliver a blow to an ailing fellow Eastern Conference playoff contender, this was it.

But the Hawks inexplicably came out flatter than a Midwestern corn field, and allowed Chicago to get healthy at their expense. Failing to match the desperate Bulls' energy, they got annihilated on the backboards, 60-37. On offense they mostly stood around watching Johnson go one-on-one or Smith hoist 3-pointers.

Perhaps most telling, the Hawks had a chance to put the cold-shooting Bulls away early. That's what a good team would have done. But the Hawks didn't take advantage and Chicago eventually got back in the game.

To their credit, the Hawks bounced back Wednesday night by cooling off the hot Bucks. It's also worth remembering that it's still very early in the season and that the Hawks have not had their full roster yet. Lorenzen Wright and Law are both expected back soon, which would help shore up those two key positions and make their bench much stronger. Speedy Claxton also could be back in a few weeks, giving them another veteran ball-handler and setup man.

But with Horford and Law playing key roles, the Hawks are going to continue to suffer learning pains on the court. It's going to be up to stars Johnson and Smith to set the proper tone, to play the right way, to keep sharing the ball and to keep defending. They're going to have to be the ones to lead the way if Atlanta hopes to end its long playoff drought.

"I think it's our time," Woodson says. "If we make the commitment to defend and rebound and share it on offense, we've got as legitimate shot as anybody in the East."

The Hawks do have a legitimate shot. But they're going to have to find a way to avoid the kind of maddening inconsistency that has marked their season so far. In other words, they've got to quit teasing their fans and figure out a way to bring it on a nightly basis.

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