ATLANTA — Here are five things (and one bonus rant) we gleaned from the Hawks’ 107-96 win over the hapless Sixers on Wednesday:
1. So much for Atlanta’s pesky six-game slide against Philly
You know it’s a good night for the Hawks when point guard Jeff Teague (27 points, 11 assists) encounters little resistance in his dribble-drive moves to the paint.
On the flip side, it’s hard for the Sixers (23-37) to sell hope to a ravenous fan base when Damien Wilkins — an NBA survivor at 33, but no longer in his prime — must shoulder the scoring load on the tail end of back-to-back games.
As such, the Hawks (54 percent shooting, 11 of 24 three-pointers made) were undaunted by the 8-0 deficit after five minutes. Over the next 14 minutes, they would steamroll the 76ers by a 48-24 count.
“(Philadelphia) is a team that we’ve had problems with in the past. We had lost to them six straight times,” said Hawks head coach Larry Drew in the postgame. “I wanted our guys to show a sense of urgency (early on) … I told them over the last six games, (the Sixers) have owned us. And we had to step up to the challenge.”
Drew was particularly pleased with Teague’s output, getting the better of stealth Philly guard Jrue Holiday (11 points, 12 assists).
“Teague had a phenomenal game,” he said.
2. Apparently, there’s some magic left in Anthony Tolliver’s shooting stroke
In the calendar year of 2013, spanning 23 games, Tolliver had one double-digit scoring effort heading into Wednesday, an 11-point outing in the Hawks’ loss to the Suns last week. And during that time span, the veteran forward laid a goose egg, scoring-wise, seven times.
Fast forward to the present, as Tolliver went loco against the Sixers, racking up 21 points, eight rebounds and nailing five of seven three-pointers.
The last time Tolliver buried five or more triples in a single game? You’d have to trace that history all the way back to his high school days in Springfield, Mo. (Kickapoo High) — if not further.
“My teammates did a great job of finding me whenever I was open,” said Tolliver. He modestly added, “I was able to knock down some shots and help the team win.”
3. Let’s address the victory-addled elephant in the room for a moment
How’s this for ambivalence?
With its victory over Philly, coupled with Chicago’s loss to San Antonio, Atlanta (34-26) has assumed fifth place in the Eastern Conference standings, meaning that if the NBA playoffs started today … the Hawks would reside in the same sub-bracket as the defending champion Heat. Hence, both clubs would be on track for a second-round clash.
Now, I’m sure the Heat (16 consecutive wins) have no qualms with playing the Nets, Bulls or Hawks in the Eastern semis, presuming the Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are healthy, happy and rested. But Brooklyn, Chicago and Atlanta are invariably stuck in NBA limbo — where it’s the players and coaches’ professional obligation to play to win every night … even though there are obvious benefits to finishing sixth (or seventh) in the regular-season standings.
Namely, avoiding the Heat for as long as humanly possible.
4. One could make a case for contraction after observing Philly’s big men
Please don’t mistake the above statement as some latent desire for the NBA to revoke the 76ers’ charter. They’re a flagship franchise and will continue to be so for a long, long time.
That said, Philly’s interior defense was no match for Al Horford, who notched 21 points (10 of 17 shooting) and 12 rebounds without being harried or harassed on back-to-back possessions.
In fairness to the Sixers, three centers (Andrew Bynum, Kwame Brown, Lavoy Allen) didn’t log any minutes on Wednesday. But shouldn’t that serve as an indictment against having 30 teams in the league … when the demand for quality big men far exceeds the actual supply?
Speaking of Bynum (hasn’t played one minute all season — knee soreness), I respect the Sixers’ bold move from last August, as part of a four-team megadeal involving Andre Iguodala (traded to the Nuggets) and Dwight Howard (traded to the Lakers). At the time, no one could have faulted Philly execs for landing one of the NBA’s top young centers … even if he’s a supposed injury risk when bowling.
Who gets hurt bowling? A bruised thumb, maybe. But a season-long knee injury … for a 25-year-old athlete? Ugh.
5. In case you’re keeping score at home, there are notable differences between pre-deadline Josh Smith and post-deadline Josh Smith
In the eight games since the NBA’s trade deadline expired, Smith (13 points, six boards vs. Philly) has averaged 16.5 points and 8.5 rebounds. In the eight contests leading up to Feb. 21, the Hawks dynamo averaged 19.5 points and 10.4 boards.
From long distance, Smith has connected on only seven of 27 triples in his last eight games. And before Feb. 21, he made 13 of 25 three-pointers — meaning that Smith, no longer feeling the pressure and anxiety of the deadline, is shooting more from beyond the arc … and making less.
5a. The NBA schedule-maker, whether man or machine, clearly has a sadistic side
The Hawks, who just completed a four-time-zone, six-game, nine-day road swing on Monday night, likely boarded a plane to Boston after Wednesday’s home rout, in anticipation of a Friday roadie against the Celtics. To me, this makes zero sense for all parties involved.
If the NBA was so intent on scheduling Hawks-Celtics in Boston this week, why not have Atlanta travel to the East Coast after Monday’s clash in Denver … before giving the Hawks back-to-back home tilts against the Sixers and Nets (Saturday)?
Instead, the Hawks will essentially live out of their suitcases for two whole weeks … all because the league couldn’t maximize their schedule during the dog days of March.