In the 2014-2015 season, the Atlanta Hawks were swept in the NBA playoffs by the Cleveland Cavaliers because Kyle Korver and Paul Millsap were playing hurt. No more, no less. The 2015-2016 playoffs were a different story. We had won 48 games, but against teams that finished with at least 45 wins, we only won something like 40% of the time. The ’14-’15 Hawks? Great record against top-tier teams. For example, they were .500 against Golden State and 2-1 against Cleveland (again, I am talking regular season). So unlike many fans, I frankly wasn’t surprised or even disappointed that the Cavaliers swept us again last Spring. We had demonstrated an utter inability to beat true Finals contenders.
Our problem wasn’t defensive play; in fact, our guys were elite in this area. Offense was another matter. I watched many games in which we could maneuver underneath the basket, forcing us to shoot from a distance too much. And when we missed, we struggled at recovering rebounds as well.
Basically, we were the Houston Texans of the NBA; a great defensive team but not able to do all that much with the ball. We weren’t starved for points, but remember that basketball is a turnover-rich game in which there can be lots of points scored virtually on defense. Thing is, LeBron James is unstoppable. To beat him, you have to score a lot with no help from the opposition. And we were not the team to do that.
So the folks at Atlanta made some moves. Al Horford is out. He’s been replaced by Dwight Howard. He has won Defensive Player of the Year three times. More importantly, he has skill at rebounding that cleans up a need.
But can he be any better a playmaker than the guy he’s replacing? Many believe he’s a downgrade if anything. More than anything, his performances will determine this season. True to Atlanta!