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Smith optimistic about Hawks chances
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ATLANTA — The Atlanta Hawks were back on the court. One player, at least.

Josh Smith showed up at Philips Arena on Thursday as NBA teams opened up their facilities for voluntary workouts, in preparation for a delayed start to the season.

A tentative agreement between the owners and players must still be approved by both sides, but Smith was eager to get back on the court.

"This is my sanctuary," he said, before doing some stretching and shooting on the otherwise empty practice court.

The Hawks have been eliminated in the second round of the playoffs three years in a row, but did show improvement in taking the Chicago Bulls to six games last season.

"We have an opportunity to do something special," Smith said. "But we have to believe in it. We need to know we can play against anyone."

While no one else showed up for the voluntary session, Smith vouched for the fitness of his teammates. He spent much of the summer working out in Southern California, as did several other Hawks players, and played pickup games with Joe Johnson while in Atlanta.

"It's good to know that my teammates weren't couch potatoes," Smith said.

The work paid off. Smith was noticeably thinner, having lost about 35 pounds while putting on more muscle in his arms and shoulders. But the physical work is only part of the challenge facing a team that's never made it past the second round since it moved to Atlanta in 1968.

"If we don't come in with the right attitude, nothing will help," Smith said.

Barring a major trade that doesn't seem likely, the Hawks will have largely the same core of players: Smith, Johnson, Al Horford and Marvin Williams. Jeff Teague, who shined against the Bulls after Kirk Hinrich went down with an injury, will be given every opportunity to take over at point guard. The Hawks also must decide whether to take a run at keeping free agent Jamal Crawford, one of the league's best players off the bench.

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