Peachtree Hoops First Round Atlanta Hawks Playoff Preview

Too wordy? How about The PHFRAHPP?

Alright, so Drew and I sat down to ask each other what we thought about the first round for the Hawks and the results caused us to scream, break down, break up, make up, and scream all over again.

Ok, it may be a bit melodramatic, but what can we say---we felt we needed to spice up this first round, lest the Hawks do it for us (which would be bad).

Our conversation after the jump:

THHB:  Okay, Drew, let's get this started----first question, and I'll start from the beginning---were you watching the scoreboard Wednesday night as the Celtics were tanking against the Bucks and the Heat were periliously close to losing to the Heat?

Drew:  NBA broadband was alive and well on Wednesday. If Chris Quinn led the Nets to victory to rain on my Jeff Teague parade I was not going to be a happy camper.

I was not overly scared of Miami (although I think a Bogut-less Bucks are the easier draw). A first round loss to either team would not have been crushing because it likely meant we had no chance in the second round and it would make getting rid of Mike Woodson easier. So I really feared no one.

Still, I obviously want the Hawks to go as far as possible. No Mike Woodson delusional dislike can get in the way of that. So I was really watching the scoreboard because I think the Hawks have a better chance to beat Orlando than Cleveland. Considering they match up worse against the Magic, that may sound crazy, but I think, at their best, the Hawks can play both teams even and then it comes down to who makes plays. I don't want to get in a who makes plays battle with LeBron James and the refs.

Also, the Miami series was horrible, and I do not like Dwyane Wade. Watching him makes me a worse person, and now we get to watch Boston vs. Miami. That is like watching two roaches fight. We all win.

How are you feeling about the Bucks? Are you as worried as I am about them not drawing the crowd a Miami might have?

THHB:  The folks in the ATL are a wacky bunch---I generally believe they'll show up if the game is an event, which any game against Milwaukee (unless Lew Alcindor is still on the roster) is decidedly not. Toss is that a Bogut-less Bucks is not being given much of a shot in this series, even by Deer Watchers, and you have a recipe for apathy towards this series. The good news is that the Hawks are used to playing in front of this kind of ambivalence, so we can expect them to shake their collective noggins at the lack of passion, but it won't impact their play.

In another comment--I'm thrilled that the Heat/Celtics are playing each other---don't have to waste a minute watching that series. Between the C's and Wade, there will be enough crying to rival a nursery school.

No thank you.

What are the things you think are important in this series?

Drew:

1. Handling being the favorite. The Hawks are at their best against people better than them. Outside of the Spurs in San Antonio and a few of the Orlando games, the Hawks rarely didn't bring it against the best in the league. The teams below them...not so much. All of a sudden those hustle plays seem to disappear.

2. John Salmons on switches. If he is hitting his jumper, which he has been drilling against the Hawks, the switch is a tough play for the Hawks because Salmons can finish so well. I would not mind a quick double on Salmons but considering we still beat the Bucks with him on fire, I might be talked out of that.

3. Not taking dumb shots. No Bogut means the guards can drive with more ease so they should not settle for jump shots. Kurt Thomasis an excellent defender who can beat guys to the spot who always go to the same spot (ie Josh Smith and Al Horford), but he can't keep up with those guys. Get the ball and players moving, and I think the Hawks can get fairly easy shots even against this excellent defensive team.

4. Run at home. The Hawks playoff crowds have been great the past two years. Nothing gets them going like a fast break three or thunder dunk.

What do you have to add (or disagree with) and do you think finishing this series quickly is important? Who makes you nervous besides John Salmons?

THHB:  My points? (deep breath)
 
1. Maintaining focus. 

Right from the get-go, the Hawks have the potential to come out flat, even though it's the playoffs. The Bucks lack their best player, nobody is picking them to win, and the crowds will be waiting for something to happen versus making something happen. It's a combination that will test how the Hawks will approach the playoffs---raise their game or maintain the status quo, which as you mentioned suffered a bit against lesser comps.
 
2. DEEE-FENSE! DEEE-FENSE!

With apologies immediately to Ryan Cameron, this is critical. Not saying the Hawks will suddenly find some human dry-wall putty to patch the perimeter, but the Hawks can't give away points by not securing defensive rebounds. With the Bucks lacking the post presence that Bogut is, there will likely be more jump shots, courtesy of Salmons, Carlos Delfino, Brandon Jennings, and Luke Ridnour---oh, and Turk Nowitzki (Ersan Ilyasova).  Being able to force more than the minuscule (4) turnovers the last time they played will be critical, too.

3. Move the stinking ball on offense.
 
We all know when the Hawks are flat, so are their feet. When they move the ball, move without the ball, and pass-pass-pass, they get some great looks, which only enhances the scoring acumen the team already possesses. In short, without Bogut inside to defend, and moving the ball and themselves, the Hawks should be able to get whatever shot they want. 

4. Don't settle for jump shots.
 
The J's will be there whenever the want them, so they don't have to come down and immediately settle for those. You hear me, Al Horford? J-Smoove? Marvin? Attack the cup first, then move the ball and take the open shot further down the clock. 

5. If the Bucks are down, keep them there

Answering your other question, if the Hawks find themselves in the fabled catbird's seat in this series, they can't let up and give away a couple of games. Practicing playing like animals and devouring the competition is something that needs to be developed in this team. I feel as if Milwaukee is going to play with nothing to lose against the Hawks, so they need to get 'em down early and keep them there. I'm sure nobody has thought of that strategy before.

While Salmons does makes me nervous based on what he did in one half against us a couple of weeks ago, if Brandon Jennings could figure out how to finish around the basket like Tyreke Evans, whooo boy. 

Who is the most important player in this series?

Drew:  Most important player is and will always be Josh Smith. Joe Johnson and Al Horford are far too consistent when they are great or bad to be the most important. I mean if Joe Johnson does not play then yes that is the most important thing about the series, but all things being normal, Josh Smith could make this an easy sweep flirting with 5x5's game after game or force seven games through lackadaisical close outs, jump shots, and a lack of focus on the boards.

What marks a successful series for you?

THHB:  If we see a dedication to being the best team we can be, no matter who is in front of us, this would mark considerable success for the team, regardless of the length of the series.
 
With his recent run of trust from Woodson, how much time do you think Jeff Teague gets in this series?

Drew:  Outside of garbage time I can't predict, I expect little to no playing time except one random extended run for no conceivable reason.

I would say I have never been so sure about a prediction in my life, but Woody sent Acie Law out in the first few games of the Boston series two years ago after giving him about 8 DNP in his final 16 regular season games so who knows.

Is there any one match up the Hawks need to exploit?

THHB:  The Hawks have to go inside against the Bucks--they have to exploit whatever they find in there. The shots will be there if the Bucks overcompensate to try and stop Horford and Smoove from attacking so there is no need to settle right off the bat. Without Bogut, they lack blocked shot deterrence, so if the Hawks attack, they will wear down an already hobbled opponent. Besides, with the Bucks lacking post offense, the worst thing the Hawks can do is launch a bunch of quick jump shots which might enable the long rebound-quick shot/bucket chances of MIL.
 
Sort of a variation of that question right back to you---is there a specific matchup you are interested in monitoring?

Drew:  Milwaukee is 12th in three point field goal percentage (the Hawks are 9th), but of the eleven better teams, only Orlando (tied for third) attempted more threes (and the Magic set a record for made ones). Dwight Howardis scary all on his own. He eliminates second chance points, scores efficiently, all that good stuff, but the Magic are an elite team because Dwight opens up three point shots. In three games, the Hawks got killed with an inability to guard Howard and the three point shooters.

If this series is any kind of warm up act, the Hawks need to show an ability to rotate and close out on shooters. Kurt Thomas is many things. One of those is not Dwight Howard. And if this series is any kind of seven game classic, that kind of defense is going to be needed to even get to Orlando.

Any other fun stuff I am not thinking? Percent chance Jason Heyward makes a game? Over/under on games Mario West plays in? Does Zaza fight someone? Who will be the most annoying Buck?

THHB:  I think the whole Zaza/Dan Gadzuric rivalry is amusing (the Bucks chose to re-sign Gadzuric over Pachulia in 2005), especially since Gadzuric makes Zaza look other-worldy by comparison. And Zaza seems very interested in making things happen against his former club. The cherry on the sundae is that I believe Gadzuric made more in that contract he signed with the Bucks than Zaza has in the two contracts he has signed with the Hawks since. And Zaza is a fun guy who is awesome. Should be fun to watch. Sorry, Bucks fans.
 
I'd like to think there is a nice chance for a wild card in this series---someone like Stackhouse or Marvin who inexplicably makes more noise than expected and is, in turn, spotlighted for it. Personally, I would like that to be Teague, but sadly I agree with your take on Woodson playing Teague in the playoffs--it would take a massive breakout of dysentery with Teague the only guard left standing to garner the playing time needed for said breakout. Alas. Don't eat the fish, Mr. Teague.
 
Ok, let's get to it---What's your prediction for this series?

Drew: Hawks in five. Although going six would be unsurprising.

THHB:  While I truly believe the Hawks, especially playing the Bucks without Bogut, can take the series in four games given their talent advantage-- their history of not remaining focused from game to game may cause the series to extend out beyond a sweep. Considering that, plus that the Bucks under Scott Skiles always bring the effort and energy, and the likelihood of the Hawks taking care of business in Games 1 and 2 at home might allow the guard to be let down and MIL to take advantage a couple of times.
 
So while I believe we are capable of sweeping, history leads me to prepare for a Hawks victory in six games.

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