Keep an eye on those guys flying under the radar
It's a position he's gotten used to in his career.
``Under the radar, right?'' Crawford joked in the locker room after Wednesday night's game against Cleveland, decked out in a snazzy suit rather than a uniform.
He'll get plenty of playing time now that the postseason is here.
About 'bout a little love?
While Shaq, 'Sheed and Vince got most of the attention last summer when they switched teams, it was three more anonymous transactions that might wind up having a bigger impact on the NBA playoffs.
Start with Crawford, finally playing for a winner after nearly a decade. He has emerged as one of the league's best sixth men for the Hawks, giving a team that methodically assembled its starting five some much-needed scoring punch off the bench.
Then there's Andre Miller, who signed to be a backup in Portland and forced the Trail Blazers to trade away the guy ahead of him. With the team's star, Brandon Roy, hobbling on a knee injured last weekend, Miller might have to take on an even greater role in the postseason.
And don't forget Matt Barnes, who brought some much-needed toughness to the Orlando Magic, a team that always seemed a little too soft to go all the way. Not anymore, not with Barnes mixing it up with opponents, fans - even his own coach.
``I play every game like it's my last,'' Barnes said. ``I really feel blessed to be in a position I am, to even have an opportunity to play in the league. I take nothing for granted. I just go out there and put my hard work out there every night.''
What about all those big names who traded uniforms last summer?
Well, Shaquille O'Neal hasn't played for the Cavaliers since late February because of a thumb injury, so the jury's still out on whether he'll be able to help LeBron James capture the only thing missing in his career, an NBA title.
Rasheed Wallace was supposed to help Boston get back in the mix for another championship, but the Celtics hobbled to the finish line looking tired and old, managing only the No. 4 seed in the East. Wallace is just a shell (9 points, 4.1 rebounds a game) of the fearsome, griping player he was on that title team in Detroit.
Vince Carter has been the best of the bunch, doing pretty much what was expected of him in Orlando as a high-flying complement to the beast of the backboards, Dwight Howard. Even so, the Magic might not have been they are (No. 2 in the East and primed for another chance to get at Cleveland in the conference finals) if not for Barnes and two other unsung members of the roster, Jason Williams and Ryan Anderson, who have developed into valuable backups.
Barnes had already been with Phoenix, Golden State, New York, Philadelphia, Sacramento and the Los Angeles Clippers when he signed with the Magic for the bargain-basement price of $1.7 million (with an option for next season). Williams signed after sitting out last season, while Anderson was a throw-in to the blockbuster deal with brought Carter from New Jersey.
``They're never really mentioned, and I don't know why,'' said Carter, whose team opens the playoffs Sunday hosting Charlotte. ``They have been very important pieces for this team, and we wouldn't be where we are right now without all these other pieces that were brought here in the offseason.''
Crawford has put up some excellent number in his career, including nearly 21 points a game for the Knicks two years ago. But playing with one awful team after another obscured his good work and left him wondering if he'd ever make it the playoffs (only two other players in NBA history had played more games without getting there).
Finally, in his 10th season, Crawford has made it to the promised land with the Hawks, who merely had to give up two warm bodies (Acie Law and Speedy Claxton) to a Golden State team looking to clear some cap space last summer. Atlanta has improved every year since a 13-win debacle in 2004-05, and getting Crawford helped them push to 53 victories and the No. 3 seed in the East.
The Hawks will face the Milwaukee Bucks in a best-of-seven series that opens Saturday.
``It's not always the big names,'' said Crawford, who averaged 18 points a game for the Hawks, essentially a sixth starter who's usually on the court at the end of the game. ``There's some quality moves that go on underneath the radar that people just don't take notice of. But I knew coming in here was a big deal. I knew we would have a great season.''
He's not surprised by Barnes or Miller, either.
``I played with Matt Barnes in New York, so I know he brings toughness. He's going to work hard and compete. I think he's helped Orlando with that,'' Crawford said. ``Andre Miller is just steady. He's probably one of the most underrated point guards in the league.''
Miller started this season as a backup to Steve Blake, but quickly asserted himself as a starter at the point, playing alongside Roy. Blake was a fan favorite, so some in Portland were slow to warm to the new starter.
By January, ``Dre'' was winning over his doubters. At the end of the month, he eliminated any second-guessing by going for a career-high 52 points against Dallas. He went on to start 66 games, averaging 14 points, 5.4 assists and 3.2 rebounds, and Blake was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers in February.
Miller is one of two Portland players to stay healthy the entire season. With Roy uncertain for an opening-round series against Phoenix that begins Sunday, the Blazers are planning to lean heavily on Miller.
``I think he's given us exactly what we were hoping to get from him: A point guard that could run this team and lead this team - you know, a young team,'' coach Nate McMillan said. ``A guy who could score, who knew how to play the game with some experience out on the floor. I think we've gotten that and more from him.''
Maybe now, this trio will get some much-deserved attention.
``It's like I'm a rookie again,'' the 30-year-old Crawford said. ``People are taking notice now. That's what winning does. I totally understand and respect that.
``I know what it's like now,'' he added, grinning from ear to ear, ``that's for sure.''
AP Sports Writers Antonio Gonzalez in Orlando, Fla., and Anne Peterson in Portland, Ore., contributed to this report.