Guerin, who seldom plays anymore unless one of his regular guards is sick or in foul trouble, was drilling his players in the change of style he had decided upon some 10 days earlier. "At the beginning of the season I thought we should play a more deliberate game to make use of our big men," Guerin explained, "but that was hurting us with some of our other players. Now I've decided we should make the big men get up the court quicker. We've got enough big men to substitute freely if any of them get tired.
"The real difference in our play now is Walt Hazzard," he added, his big face filling with furrows and his big hands cutting the air in front of him karate-fashion. "When we made the trade for Hazzard just before the season began I had to give up one of the best guards in the league, Len Wilkens, but I knew I was getting my kind of a player. There wasn't time to break him in properly in training camp, so some of the things he did were good and some not so good. Now he is the key to our club. When we rebound we get the ball to Hazzard, and it's his responsibility to get the ball upcourt as soon as possible. No one in the league does it better. He's the one who has to get the ball to our big men."
Early in the season, when they were losing as much as winning, the Hawks were being faulted as a slow team. Nobody had more strength off the boards, with Beaty at 6'9" in the pivot and forwards like Bridges at 6'6", Paul Silas at 6'7" and Lou Hudson at 6'5", all with plenty of muscle and elbows. And Hudson, a quiet third-year man, has developed into a consistent 22-points-per-game type. In the backcourt with Hazzard was Joe Caldwell, a wonderfully wide-eyed, innocent-looking athlete whose outside shot was good for another slew of points. So there it all was, plus what the Hawks like to think is the strongest bench in basketball (with, oh, maybe, the exception of Baltimore), yet the team wasn't winning consistently.
"That was our big problem—consistency," Guerin emphasized. "We're basically a good rebounding team, Beaty and Hudson are two of the best offensive players in the league, Caldwell has had a very good season for us stealing the ball—he's very aggressive—so if we can keep some consistency going into the playoffs, then basically there won't be any weakness. There's no time to be inconsistent in the playoffs."
Well, if concentration will beat the Lakers the Warriors will do it. If speed and consistency are needed, it is up to the Hawks. But if superstars can with-stand all these admirable qualities, then Jack Kent Cooke hath bought himself a champion after all. Of the Western Division, that is.