Sports Illustrated's Britt Robson recently went through every team in the NBA and gave them a midseason grade. For the Atlanta Hawks, who, as of Monday, had a record of 19-13 record placing them in sixth place in the Eastern Conference (third in the Southeast Division), Robson awarded a solid B.
Losing their best player, Al Horford, just 11 games into the season should have doomed the Hawks to the fringes of the playoff picture -- and may still. But Atlanta's defiant 9-2 surge in the weeks after Horford tore his pectoral muscle was an important statement for a team generally regarded as too dysfunctional and/or not talented enough to challenge the elite teams in the East. Then again, the Hawks have been better bullies than giant killers, going 14-1 against teams with current losing records, and their offense has fizzled during what has been a grim February. Incorporating point guard Kirk Hinrich after his early-season absence has been more hindrance than help, and small forward Marvin Williams has engaged in his annual ritual of raising and then dashing the hopes of Hawks fans. The size of that fan base is another problem: Atlanta is again near the bottom in attendance, with a payroll close to luxury-tax territory this season and with about $60 million already committed for six players next season. The high-priced players such as Josh Smith and Joe Johnson have to earn their keep, and they generally have been. But Horford, the most reliable of Atlanta's expensive trio, isn't due back anytime soon.
The Hawks have lost seven of their last 10 games but it's still early in the season and plenty early enough that they don't need to worry about the playoffs quite yet. As long as they repeat what they did in the first half of the season in the coming weeks, they'll be just fine.
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