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Cleveland Cavaliers - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
Boston Celtics - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
Orlando Magic - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
Well now that teams are clinching divisions and spots in the postseason I thought it would be cool to go ahead and preview each team that is going to be a part of the 2009 NBA Postseason. I will do one for each team as they clinch a playoff spot and since we already have teams that have clinched, we will start with them. Now we will continue with a team that is now making its second consecutive postseason appearance: the Atlanta Hawks.
When you think of the Atlanta Hawks, you don't really think of a flashy team or a team filled with huge superstars. They don't dazzle you with spectacular athletic displays (though Josh Smith gives his fair share), they don't bombard you with an array of 3 pointers (although Flip Murray and Mike Bibby will take a good amount of them), but somehow they are one of four Eastern Conference teams to clinch a playoff spot. Considering the other three are the Cavaliers, Celtics and Magic, it makes you wonder what exactly Atlanta is doing right. And that is what they're doing right. The face of their franchise is Joe Johnson, a role player in Phoenix who was heavily criticized for taking a max deal to come to Atlanta, and now has led this team into the playoffs for the second straight season after a horrendous eight year drought that saw the franchise hit rock bottom on numerous occasions. But the fact that this team has been built through the draft and through little acquisitions here and there gives them a continuity that a lot of teams lack. Chemistry is no problem with this Atlanta squad, and that was evident when they pushed last season's champions, the Boston Celtics, to a seven game series despite being heavily undermanned against a fantastic Boston squad.
With Joe Johnson, Al Horford and Mike Bibby in the offense, the Hawks have three fantastic passers who are also fantastic with the ball in their hands with the intent of scoring. Mike Bibby has been given the Hawks some stability at point guard position, providing a great presence for a spot that was left vacant in Atlanta since Mookie Blaylock's departure. On offense, they have an impressive amount of options. None of the names overwhelm you, but Joe Johnson, Mike Bibby, Al Horford, Flip Murray, Josh Smith and even Marvin Williams or Maurice Evans are capable of taking over and having a big game on a given night. Their cohesiveness is a huge reason why they've been able to grow and continue progressing into one of the better teams in an improved Eastern Conference.
As we saw in last season's playoffs, the Hawks are a dangerous team at home in the postseason. Their crowd hasn't really continued that into the regular season this year, but you have to imagine they'll come out in numbers and in emotion when the postseason comes around, and the Hawks will again play their best basketball at home.
Because the Hawks have so many options and so many selfless players, they really struggle to develop a groove as a unit. Joe Johnson has been hot as of late, Mike Bibby is off and on on a game by game basis, and right now, because of Marvin Williams injury, one of their only two difference makers off of the bench (Maurice Evans) is having to start, which takes away from a second unit that is behind as it is. Even though they have a good amount of players that can help keep the offense fluent, they have zero depth at point guard. Acie Law was supposed to take a step forward this season, but looks strikingly similar to last season's player who barely got into the game. Bibby struggled in last year's playoffs, and he's not going to stop shooting anytime soon. When he's on, he's a fabulous asset at the point guard position (especially in an offense that relies on everyone to feed off of Johnson rather than Bibby) but more often than not he's struggled with his shot.
Zaza Pachulia is a solid big man off the bench, but he is it as far as frontcourt options off the bench are concerned. Depth is a major issue for Atlanta and foul trouble for anybody is reason for concern, and in a game by game basis that could come back to bite you. They don't have a true power forward, although Josh Smith does his best at the position. Neither he nor Marvin Williams are really able to be classified at either forward position, but as the two starters they give up a lot to bigger teams. Josh Smith is usually busy guarding the opposing teams best wing player, which leaves Marvin Williams to guard a big man and that is cause for concern in the paint.
Speaking of Marvin Williams, he was really starting to come into his own as a player before falling to the back injury, and the fact that the Hawks struggle with depth doesn't help matters. They're obviously not rushing him back, but that also may be because his injury isn't healing as quickly as they assumed it would. Without him, they will really struggle to win a playoff series.
Why They Will Win It
The Hawks bring solid starters at every position and really can attack you from all angles. Their offense is fun to watch when it's on and they are more than capable on defense. They don't dazzle you in any one area, but they're solid in every category across the board. Mike Woodson has them team playing hard on both sides of the floor and they have a lot to build off of in regards to last season's postseason appearance. Overall, if Joe Johnson hits a hot stretch in the playoffs, he's really tough to guard and he can carry the Hawks for stretches based off of his will and determination alone.
Why They Won't Win It
Outside of Johnson, and he's had his moments too, every player on this team really struggles with consistency. Some of them will look fantastic at times and others they'll look very inept. Depth is a huge problem for the Hawks, especially in the frontcourt, and they can't seem to get everyone on the same page. They also struggle away from Atlanta, and to win a championship you have to put up some sort of fight away from home.
The Hawks are in prime position to get home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, and that could help the Hawks get out of the first round for the first time since 1999. They can score, they're not bad on defense and they really are a beast in Atlanta. They've beaten many good teams at home and if they can lock up the 4th seed, they should be able to get out of the first round. That would be another step forward for this developing team and franchise, but it's too much to expect a championship from them this year. They're in the right direction but aren't going to take home the gold this year.
The next team to clinch will be covered in the next preview.