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Deeper Hawks look to make move
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ATLANTA — Seeing his starters knocked down a notch in training camp made Mike Woodson feel better about the Atlanta Hawks’ chances to move up in the Eastern Conference.

The Hawks continued their steady climb under Woodson by winning 47 games last season, finishing fourth in the Eastern Conference and advancing to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 1999.

Now Woodson believes the Hawks are ready to catch Orlando in the Southeast Division. The coach says his confidence has been bolstered by offseason moves which have made the Hawks deeper.

“When you’re building a team, it’s important that your backup guys can kick the first unit’s (butt) once in a while,” Woodson said. “That carries you a long way when guys get hurt.”

Such newcomers as Jamal Crawford, Jeff Teague, Joe Smith and Jason Collins have made an impact in practice.

The Hawks’ lack of depth showed as they were swept by Cleveland in the second-round of the playoffs. Joe Johnson, Al Horford and Marvin Williams were all hobbled by injuries, and Woodson’s backups were no match for the Cavaliers.

“I think Marvin being hurt and myself being out, we tried to play but we were very, very limited and I think the depth hurt us then,” Horford said. “I think having so many more guys now that can play will definitely pay off in the long run. In the postseason we’ll be fresher.”

The Hawks traded for Crawford to replace Flip Murray as a high-scoring guard off the bench. Teague was the team’s first-round draft pick. Smith and Collins join Zaza Pachulia to add size and experience inside. Mo Evans, who can play shooting guard and small forward, returns after averaging 7.2 points as a top backup and spot starter.

“I’m very excited,” Woodson said. “When we left the Cleveland series, I think it left a bad taste because we weren’t healthy in that series. We kind of got caught with our pants down a little bit in terms of not having enough depth to put up a fight.

“This offseason we’ve been able to get guys like Joe Smith and Jamal and Jason and the young kid in Jeff Teague who I think is going to be a pretty good player one day. From the standpoint of having a deeper team, it’s probably the deepest team we’ve had since I’ve been here.”

The Hawks re-signed Williams, point guard Mike Bibby and Pachulia in the offseason. All five starters are back, but the real news is there is more help for the first five, who averaged 35 minutes per game last season.

Josh Smith says he has been encouraged this preseason by what he sees when the starters are on the bench.

“To be able to take everybody out and have the depth on the bench that we have, for us to come up the floor and still be productive on both ends of the court, that’s something we always imagined,” Smith said. “It’s here now.”

Johnson, the team’s leading scorer and three-time All-Star, plans to play out his contract and become an unrestricted free agent after the season. Horford can become a restricted free agent.

The window of opportunity to challenge Boston, Cleveland and Orlando may be closing. With Johnson’s future in Atlanta uncertain, there is growing pressure to make this the season the Hawks are more than a second-tier team in the conference.

“Expectations are high,” Woodson said. “I understand that. I’ve been around a long time so I know the dynamics of how it works. We’ve just got to take the next step. The next step to me is trying to win our division and get to the Eastern Conference finals and hopefully going on from there to the finals and winning a championship.”

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