The Hawks had a light practice day today to continue working on sets, get shots up, and get free throws up. Anthony Morrow remains out with his back injury (the hip is better, so, there's that) and will not play Friday according to head coach Larry Drew. Al Horford, Zaza Pachulia, and Devin Harris, who all missed Wednesday's game in Charlotte, participated in practice.
Horford was in the locker room receiving treatment by the time the media was let in, but stayed late to do some extra film study with assistant coach Kenny Atkinson. Devin Harris also spent about 20 minutes after practice and the daily shooting competitions (for those wondering, Teague won both rounds today) to work with the assistants on full speed drills (cuts, catch-and-shoots, driving to the lane) and appeared to be moving well on his sprained ankle. I asked him as he came off the court how he felt and he told me that the ankle felt good. Harris appears primed to return Friday against the Celtics as does Horford although both are listed day-to-day. Pachulia also spent time after practice doing extra work to test that Achilles' injury (which he says is tendonitis) and he is unsure of his status for tomorrow night.
The good news for the Hawks is that while the injury bug is still hanging around, those that are healthy will be coming into Friday night's contest in great form (playing the Bobcats will do that for you). Josh Smith had his best game of the season Wednesday night with 30 points, 13 rebounds, eight assists, and three blocks (would like to see the seven turnovers come down, but all-in-all a great performance). Josh was very efficient (15-of-24 shooting) and his passing out of the post was great. Five of Josh's eight assists were for three-pointers and all of them came out of double teams. Smoove has passed the ball very well in his past two games with 14 total assists and Drew and Smith both attribute that to him making the smart, simple plays.
"I've noticed it a great deal [Josh making smarter passes]," said Drew. "With him, because he is a guy, particularly in the low block, teams will double team him particularly when I move him to the three, it's just a matter of being patient and making simple passes out of the double-teams. Last couple games he's done that, and we're going to encourage him to continue doing that because when he does it just makes us so much better rather than looking for the homerun play."
"I knew offensively my number was going to be called more-so than usual," said Smoove. "I played a controlled basketball game last night, and when the doubles came I just tried to make the right plays at the right time and make the right passes out of the double team. It was a great collective team win last night. Everybody played up to par and beyond expectations."
Ivan Johnson got his first start of his NBA career at center and didn't disappoint by scoring 12 points and pulling down a career-high 15 boards. Ivan played under control, dominated the boards, and came up with a huge block late in the game on Biyombo. The Ivan legend continues to grow, and last night's performance made him even more of a fan favorite (He's creeping into Zaza-esque territory in regard to the fan's love of him). I asked if Ivan's performance came as any surprise to Drew.
"No, it didn't surprise me. I know Ivan's capable, I've got all the confidence in the world in him. Ivan's an impactful player when he's on the floor. You feel his presence and you know he's out there, he plays hard, he competes. He's a guy that loves to play and at times he plays so hard it gets him into foul trouble. I was happy he stepped up to the challenge the way he did."
Ivan, like only Ivan can, just shrugged off his performance like any other game. Here is Ivan's unfiltered take on his very first NBA start.
Did you change your approach as a starter, or was it the same thing you always do?
"Same thing. I approach it the same way. Get in there and play defense, find the open spots, and just play."
You set a career high in rebounds, any thoughts on that?
"Eh, we got a couple players injured, so, you gotta step ya game up."
How exciting was it knowing you were going to get to start your first game?
"*laughs* It wasn't exciting. It was just regular. I'm just getting in the game, just gotta play."
You and Josh seemed to work pretty well on some of those hi-lo plays. Did you feel comfortable with him as you played more?
"Yeah. We didn't really have too many people, so, you got to get comfortable."
You almost took out Michael Jordan there...
"*laughs* He actually caught me though, from going over the bleachers."
How do think the bench as a whole is playing over the last couple of games?
"Hmm. We've been stepping it up. Gotta step it up, if you wanna keep your job."
Never change Ivan. Never change.