by Jerel Marshall
The stretch of basketball played after the All-Star break usually separates the championship caliber teams from those who will probably be bounced in the early rounds of the NBA Playoffs.
The Los Angeles Lakers seem to be firing on all cylinders while the Atlanta Hawks spiral in the opposite direction. After a string of three straight losses, All-Star weekend and a few Phil Jackson jabs, the Lakers now find themselves the winners of eight straight after a 101-87 win over the Hawks in last night’s contest in Atlanta.
“We’re just all on the same page; we’re doing our homework,” Kobe Bryant said after the game. “[Bynum] is doing everything we can ask of him.”
For years, there has been talk of the potential possessed by Andrew Bynum and it seems that his skill set is finally beginning to match his massive size. He hasn’t amassed a bunch of points or added to his highlight reel, but over the past couple of weeks he has put in work on the boards. In the past three games Bynum has pulled down a total of 50 rebounds and has posted double digit rebound totals in all but two of the eight games in the Lakers latest streak.
The Atlanta Hawks find themselves at the opposite end of the spectrum having dropped four of the last five games, earning their only win during the stretch on the back of an absurd performance from Al Horford.
Unfortunately for the Hawks, Horford hasn’t come matching the aggressive play he displayed in his dominant performance which took place last Wednesday against the Chicago Bulls. During the games against the Oklahoma City Thunder and the New York Knicks, Horford finished with just ten and eight field goal attempts respectively.
In last night’s contest, Horford connected on 8 of his 16 field goal attempts but failed to make it to the free-throw line.
The Hawks find themselves in a tough spot. If the playoffs started today, they would be matched up against the Orlando Magic who would boast a home-court advantage. Even though the Hawks have had the upper-hand against the Magic this season (2-1), its hard not to think of the four game sweep the Magic served up last year in the second round of the playoffs.
The Hawks also have to watch for the new look Knicks who are looking to move up a spot in the standings as they are three games behind Atlanta. This could prove to be difficult given the Hawks’ tough schedule down the stretch which includes two meetings with Boston and Chicago and visits from Miami and San Antonio as well.
To be fair, it’s not like the Hawks recent woes are laced with games they should have easily won, blown leads or a complete failure in attempts to produce in the clutch (cough cough Miami). Despite turnovers, the Hawks looked solid in their performance against the defending champs.
“I can’t fault my team’s effort tonight,” Larry Drew said during the post game press conference. “We ran against a really good team.”
Even though the team is playing close to what might be their full potential, barring more epic performances from Horford or some other surprise(s), the Hawks are on their way to an early playoff exit and a bombardment of questions about the ceiling of their current core of players.