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Zopf: Hawks not ready for primetime

POSTED: May 2, 2008 5:01 a.m.

So this is what you’ve all been waiting for.

Since the 1999 NBA Playoffs, the 12 or so Atlanta Hawks fans have been clamoring for the day that their team gets out of the NBA Lottery and back into the playoffs.

Well congratulations Hawks fans, your team is back in the playoffs, and how did the franchise thank you dozen loyal fans for all your support? With a 104-81 beat down to the Boston Celtics in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Playoffs.

Aren’t you glad you waited eight years for that?

Despite losing by 23, the Hawks learned a valuable lesson: They do not belong in the playoffs, and against teams as loaded as the Celtics, the Hawks don’t even stand a chance.

Sure the Hawks and the Celtics both play in the NBA, but in terms of talent, the Hawks are out of their league.

I’m not saying that the Hawks didn’t put up a fight, (they did, and at one point in the second quarter they cut the Celtics’ lead to two points), but it was just too bad that they were armed with a bunch of dull spoons compared to the high-powered artillery that the Celtics brandished.

Kevin Garnett simply abused each and every Hawks defender who stood in his way. Second-year point guard Rajon Rondo looked like Bob Cousey. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen both scored in double figures. And even the ancient Sam Cassell got in on the action by coming off the bench and scoring 10 points on 3-for-6 shooting.

Meanwhile the lone "star" on the Hawks, Joe Johnson, played as if he was touching a basketball for the first time, and the guy with the most playoff experience (Mike Bibby) was downright awful, getting used on the defensive end of the floor and apparently forgetting how to make a shot when the Hawks were on offense.

Aren’t you glad the Hawks traded for that guy?

The only guy who looked like he had a clue for the Hawks was rookie Al Horford, who unlike Bibby, played like a seasoned vet, ending the game with 20 points and 10 rebounds in his playoff debut.

The Hawks were so bad that the only positive remark
regarding the Hawks made by anyone during the telecast of last night’s game was that they were "athletic and played with energy". (Translation: "We know nothing about this team playing against the Celtics, so let’s just say that they have good athletes. Yeah, that makes sense.")

Along with proving that they don’t belong on the floor with a team like the Celtics, the game last night also proved that a team eight games under .500 during the regular season (Atlanta was 37-45) shouldn’t be allowed to make the playoffs.

The NBA Playoffs may take five months to complete, but its goal is simple: to have the best 16 teams in the League compete for the championship. Are the Hawks one of the best 16 teams in the NBA? No, in fact I don’t think the Hawks are in the top-25 (with New York, Miami, Memphis, Minnesota and Milwaukee as the only teams the Hawks are better than).

Seeing that there are only 30 teams in the entire NBA, to say that Atlanta is in over its head is certainly not going out on a limb.

The sad thing is that the Hawks are in over their heads in the one place they do belong, the lottery.

Aside from the Horford pick this year, the Hawks have been completely inept when it comes to choosing talent in the NBA Draft.

Just imagine this year’s playoff team if the Hawks had drafted like they should. Chris Paul (35 points, 10 assists and one turnover in New Orleans’ Game 1 win against Dallas on Saturday) playing point guard, Brandon Roy (19.1 points per game, 5.8 assists per game for Portland this year) at shooting guard, Johnson at the small forward position, Horford at the power forward and Al Jefferson (21 ppg, 11.1 rebounds per game for Minnesota this year) at center.

Now that’s a team that would be able to compete in the NBA Playoffs. Heck, that would be a team that could one day win an NBA Title, but unfortunately we’ll never know.

Instead we’re stuck watching a roster of Salim Stoudamire, Marvin Williams, Josh Childress and some guy named Zaza get embarrassed when they play teams the caliber of the Celtics.

But hey, the Hawks did make the playoffs this year, so I guess they’ve got that going for them. It’s just too bad that those 12 Hawks fans will have to watch the Celtics celebrate on the floor at Philips Arena a week from today when Boston completes the first-round sweep.



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