The Notebook: Your First Place Atlanta Hawks

by Lang Whitaker

Look, I’m a realist, so I recognize that we’re still not even a week into the NBA season, and the three games the Hawks have played represent about 4 percent of the season’s total schedule. But still…

Look at the Southeast standings as of Sunday night: First place? Your Atlanta Hawks, my Atlanta Hawks, our Atlanta Hawks. With their win over the Oralndo Magic on Sunday afternoon, the Hawks moved over .500 for the first time since — get ready for this — 2002!

That’s right, it’s been four long years, but the Hawks are finally over .500, and last year’s nightmare 0-9 start is a distant memory. Sure, they’ve beaten the Magic and the Knicks, but those were home games that they were supposed to win.

I’ve watched both Hawks wins, and I kept a few notes…

• Love the fact that Marvin Williams went and got a red cast for his broken hand — team spirit is always a good thing.

• Joe Johnson is going to be an All-Star this year. Through three games he’s averaging 29 points per, and is shooting nearly 50 percent from the floor almost all on long jumpers. Once Speedy Claxton gets in shape and gets used to playing with the team, JJ will get more open shots and more stuff in transition. (Meanwhile, the Atlanta version of Boris Diaw appears to have shown up in Phoenix this year. I know, I know…it’s early.) Anyway, I love watching Joe get after it out there. He alone makes Hawks games worth watching.
• Speaking of Speedy, he’s had some crazy lines this year. Yesterday he went 1-for-11 from the floor but had 6 steals. He also has more turnovers than assists this season.

• The Hawks appear to be shooting fire out of the shot clocks whenever the Hawks score, or at least after big baskets. Looks really cool on TV, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a team shoot fire after made baskets before.

• Shelden Williams got his first field goal of the season yesterday against the Magic, on a running double-pump lay-up. If it were up to me, I’d just as soon he didn’t shoot again all year. His rebounding has been great in spurts (he had 9 against the Knicks) and his post presence has been solid.

• Most encouraging thing for the Hawks that I’ve seen thus far was in the Knicks game. With the Hawks up 10, after the Knicks made a few baskets in a row, Shelden Williams was loafing throwing the ball back inbounds. Joe Johnson looked at Shelden and yelled, “Get the ball inbounds faster! Let’s go!” It was a little thing, but it was the kind of thing leaders do.

Some other random notes…
• After the Nets/Raptors game last week I mentioned in my notes that I couldn’t take advantage of the free Vonage offer because I had a Mac. Someone from Vonage saw my report and offered me one of these phones with a free year of service. Um, sure. I’ll let you know how it goes. Hope it works on those 1-900 numbers.

• Despite having a dozen point guards on the roster, the Knicks’ lack of a conventional point guard is killing them. Marbury’s more of a score-first guard, Francis is a score-first guard who can’t score anymore, Nate Robinson is a mess, playing shooting guard because he can’t run a team, and Jamal Crawford plays point guard but he’s really a shooting guard without a real jump shot. Nobody who has the ball in their hands for the bulk of the game is able to set other players up to be succesful.

• And what happened to Francis? Six seasons ago he was the Rookie of the Year. Now he’s averaging 12 points a game and looks lost out there.

• Kenny Smith was doing color commentary on the Hawks/Knicks game that I watched, and it was pretty funny to hear Kenny lecture the Hawks about signing guys to bad contracts. Um, what about that team in the blue uniforms?

• Just watched the Sonics announce their 40th Aniversary Team at halftime of the Lakers game, which was pretty cool. Everyone was actually there, except for Nate McMillan, Dennis Johnson and Gary Payton. And even with all the various stars there — from Xavier McDaniel to Slick Watts, the loudest cheers by far went to Shawn Kemp (who blew kisses to the crowd). Which got me thinking: He’s still trying to play, the Sonics are trying to build some goodwill in the Seattle area, so why don’t they just sign Shawn to a one-year deal for the veteran’s minimum? Couldn’t really hurt, right?

• The Magic/Hawks game was interesting today, because Dwight Howard came out and laid an egg: 24 minutes, 11 points, 8 rebounds, 5 fouls and 5 turnovers. Must’ve had too much home-cooked food the night before the game.

• Darko! With Dwight struggling, Darko came off the bench for 9 points and 5 offensive rebounds, and he was a few bad bounces away from about 15 points. He shot a ton of hook shots, too.

• One other Magic thing…they could really use some athletic swingmen, besides just Trevor Ariza (who was out with a “sore foot”). The Magic have good guards and good post players, but they don’t have anyone to connect the two positions, to drive and dish or slash in from the wings.

• Finally, so much for the Lakers have a perfect season. They’re down 22 in the third right now to the Sonics. Not so much that they’re playing poorly tonight, but the Sonics can’t do anything wrong, it seems (10-of-15 on threes).