by Lang Whitaker

Two weekends ago, I spent a couple of hours on Saturday installing new blinds in our apartment. Wifey had ordered them online a few weeks earlier, and I’d put off hanging them for a while, but I knew if I was going to get a couple of uninterrupted hours to watch Game One of the Hawks/Bucks series, I’d have to knock this big item off my honey-do list.

As I unboxed the blinds, a rubber band fell out of the box. With zero consideration, I picked it up and slipped it on my wrist. It was there, why not?

That night, the Hawks beat the Bucks. Two nights later, the same rubber band on my wrist, the Hawks won again. The next day, Wifey noticed the rubber band and asked me about it. I told her the truth, that it was a good luck charm. Since I’d had it on, the Hawks had gone undefeated. If I took it off, there was a great chance the Hawks could lose their next game and it would be entirely my fault.

“Idiot,” she said. (Really, she said that.)

Two days later the rubber band broke while I was taking off my jacket. A day after that, the Hawks lost Game Three to the Bucks.

SEE?!?!

I know it’s nonsensical and maybe illogical, but I often believe that my actions have a direct and profound impact upon the teams I root for. Just as players have their pregame routines, I have my own. If you ask me, my wearing a Hawks shirt when watching the Hawks on TV is just as important as Joe Johnson going through his shooting routine or Josh Smith getting his ankles taped. And tonight, before Game Four of the Hawks/Bucks series, I may have screwed things up for the Hawks.

I stopped at my local market on my way home from work. My plan was to get in a run (that’s a post for another day), then shower, cook dinner and be on the couch by the Hawks/Bucks tip-off. (Yes, I cook dinner every night. That’s probably worth a whole ‘nother blog.) I grabbed a box of bucatini, some canned tomatoes, an onion, parsley, some garlic and a hunk of parmigiano reggiano. (I was obviously planning on making a fruit salad for dinner.)

On my way toward the cash register, I realized I didn’t really have anything to snack on during the Hawks/Bucks game, so I veered over to the snack aisle and looked for something relatively healthy. Chips were out, pretzels were too salty…almonds! I love almonds. They’re crunchy, flavorful, even healthy for you! The problem was that the can of almonds I saw was priced at $4.99. That’s pricey, yes, but even more than that, I was worried that dropping $5 on almonds would push my entire bill over $20. I had two twenties, and I didn’t want to break a twenty to pay like 73 cents.

As the woman at the register was checking me out, I kept an eye on the total of my bill; it was costing more than I expected, and I was resigned to having to break my other twenty.

Then the woman rang up my almonds, and they didn’t scan. She picked up the can, spun it slowly in her hand, looking for a price tag that didn’t exist. There were several people in line behind me, and she looked at them warily, as though she was weighing going to check the price of the almonds herself versus pissing off all the people in line.

She glanced up at me and asked, “Did you happen to see how much these cost?”

I looked her dead in the eyes and lied. “Yes,” I said. “They were $2.99.”

Without a word, she reached down, typed in $2.99, and hit the total key…

And it came up to $20.12.

See what happened there? I messed with karma. I straight up lied. I knew better, but I lied to try and help myself, to save myself the hassle of carrying around a couple of extra dollar bills. It failed then, and then a couple of hours later, karma really messed with me.

The Atlanta Hawks lost an important Playoff game tonight to a team that basically was carried by Carlos Delfino and the 83-year-old Kurt Thomas. Delfino, who averaged 11 points per game this season, scored 22 points on 14 shots. Kurt Thomas had 9 boards and spent the second half setting questionable screens and picks and showing the Hawks how to play tough without getting in foul trouble.

I’m not surprised when Brandon Jennings or John Salmons goes for 20 in a game; they’re both great scorers and they’re going to score, even when you run the occasional double-team at them.

Joe Johnson was Atlanta’s gift and their curse. He finished with 29 points and repeatedly hit jumpers to keep the Hawks within 10 points of Milwaukee, but Joe’s points mostly came at the price of ball movement. Sure, he scored on a lot of possessions, but Milwaukee was able to be mostly stationary on defense, and they were able to get a body on the Hawks, box out and pull down 25 defensive rebounds.

It wasn’t just Joe. Too many Hawks looked determined to try and win the game on their own. Mo Evans, Josh, Al — guys would get the ball, clear everyone out and then pound the ball as they backed in. The problem was the ball never came back out. The Hawks won the first two games by playing inside-out. They were methodical, they were patient, and they picked Milwaukee apart. Tonight they relied too much on the Iso-offense (see the SLAM 138 cover story for an explanation).

Even as poorly as Atlanta played, there were bright spots. even though Adam and Tzvi tried to convince me earlier to day that Luc Mbah a Moute was actually some sort of hybrid of Bruce Bowen and Ron Artest, tonight he defended Joe and Josh (who scored 20), and they didn’t have much trouble with him. Really, Kurt Thomas was The Situation for the Bucks, hacking and slapping and getting away with all sorts of shenanigans. I wish he was on Atlanta, because Thomas played with the heart the Hawks lacked.

There were times when the Hawks seemed ready to make a run, but the Bucks would get right back at it and hit an open three or get a steal or make some sort of big play to stem the Hawks momentum. The Hawks had the ball down six on consecutive possessions with about 4 minutes to go, and Mo Evans missed a three and a two, and the Hawks never got closer.

The Hawks have better players than the Bucks, but for the second game in a row, the Bucks were the better team. If Atlanta wants to win this series, the Hawks players have to buy into the notion that the whole is better than the sum of its parts.

I don’t know why the Hawks fell apart tonight, but I’ll take the blame. I never should have lied to that lady at the grocery store. it set off a chain of events that, at least in my mind, led to the Hawks losing at the hands of a couple of journeymen. That’s my bad.

Game Five is Wednesday night. I think I might just lock myself in my apartment until then.

• Also tonight, the Magic ground out a fourth-straight win over Charlotte and sent the BETcats fishing. Nice season for Charlotte, who exceeded expectations but just didn’t have enough experience or talent to get out of the first round. Now everyone’s talking about Larry Brown leaving. Adrian Wojnarowski even published a report today that LB is looking to get out of his deal so he can go to Philly. Woj says that Brown’s angling for a front office gig, which is why he keeps saying he won’t “coach” anywhere but Charlotte.

After the Orlando loss, Brown was asked if he’ll be back next season, and he said, “I’m not coaching anywhere but Charlotte. Now am I going to go home and talk to my wife and kids? I’ll be 70 years old with two young kids. Am I going to talk to them and find out what I need to do and am I going to talk to Michael? Yeah, absolutely.”

That man is slick.

• In Phoenix, the Suns just had too much for Portland. They’re up 25 right now as I’m posting this.

• Big night tomorrow night. Bron vs. the Bulls, and then Lakers/Thunder. All on TNT. Hey, they know drama.