It’s usually not a good idea to call a grown man soft, but Atlanta Hawks head coach Larry Drew made it clear without pointing any fingers that his ball club isn’t exactly the toughest around.
“When we get into a tough situation when we play teams that are physical, we have to just toughen up,” Drew said before yesterday’s game against the Detroit Pistons. “We have to be able to bring and play at that style and that level because if we don’t, chances are we aren’t gonna’ have success.”
Seventy games into the season, the Hawks find themselves with a 40-30 record and look poised to take the 5th spot in the Eastern Conference which give them their 4th consecutive playoff berth.
Despite this, Drew doesn’t seem happy especially with the effort he has received lately and he said he sees a considerable difference in the way his team is playing compared to teams like Oklahoma, Portland, Chicago, and L.A. who have all stopped in Philips during a hectic month of March for the Hawks.
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“I know some guys are banged up a little physically,” Drew said. “I know mental fatigue has settled in. I know some tough teams have come through but we have to push through that threshold, whether it’s physical or mental.”
One of the weaknesses the Hawks have had to deal with over the past couple of years is having an undersized front court, as some nights 6-foot-10, 246 pound Al Horford and 6-foot-9, 234 pound Josh Smith are expected to do battle with players like 7-foot, 285 pound Andrew Bynum and 7-foot, 250 pound Pau Gasol.
If you think this sounds like a recipe for “bigs” shooting jump shots you are absolutely right as the Hawks often struggle to get things going in the paint and often times resort to forcing things on the perimeter.
Their lack in size was on display in yesterday’s game as the Hawks allowed the Detroit Pistons to score 48 points in the paint, sparked by an energetic performance off the bench from Chris Wilcox who scored 10 points in the 2nd quarter and finished with 18 total despite only playing just over 18 minutes in the game.
Drew’s recent comments, however, seemed to focus on mental toughness and heart.
Again, he didn’t call anyone in particular soft but did name a laundry list of things that the Hawks need to do to avoid being marked with this fluffly label.
“Our focus has to be to be a team that is preparing itself for the playoffs but at the same time we have to bring a physical style to the way we play,” Drew said. “We can’t be a soft team. We can’t be a team that when a team smacks you in the mouth or makes a little run on you, your body language shows defeat. You have to roll them sleeves up and you have to grind it out.”
Despite edging out a slim 104-96 win over the lowly Detroit Pistons, Hawks’ players seemed to be encouraged by their performance.
“We were just keeping them at arm’s length, it seems like, the whole game,” guard Kirk Hinrich said. “It wasn’t the prettiest of games, but I felt like our effort and mindset was where it needs to be.”
“I am encouraged by the way we played today,” Horford added. “I think that we played harder and we stayed together and I hope we can build off of this– just keep playing the right way.
Only time will tell if this Hawks team will be able to channel their inner Dennis Rodman, but it could definitely play a factor in Atlanta’s ability to make a run in this year’s playoffs.