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At home, Hawks practically unbeatable


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Atlanta's playoff homestands versus the Celtics during last season's postseason tournament were no flukes. Although their current overall record (41-28) is only the 12th best in the NBA, the Hawks' are 27-7 at home.

In fact, Atlanta's home cooking is bettered only by the Celtics, Cavs, Lakers, Blazers and Jazz.

Even during a rather lackluster first quarter against the visiting Mavs, the Hawks played with total confidence, knowing that the players in the white jerseys were the good guys. But against an opponent as formidable as the Mavs, some of the good guys had to have great performances.

The best of the Hawks was Flip Murray, who single-handedly revived his temporarily grounded teammates by registering 14 points in the second half. His final tally shows 7-for-shooting and 19 points, virtually all of them scored on isos.

Joe Johnson was 0-for-5 to start, but finished at 7-for-19, with four assists, and a game-high 24 points. Once he got his mojo working, the Mavs were forced to double-team Johnson — even so, virtually all of his points came on isos.

Al Horford — 6-for-10, eight rebounds, three assists, four blocks, 13 points — had a nice ball game. On the down side, Horford constantly wound up in no-man's land when trying to defend screen/rolls. And five of his points came on isos.

Indeed, isolations formed the basis of the Hawks' offense. Whether the designated player received the ball after working his way around staggered screens, handoffs, or cross-cuts, his job was to find a shot for himself. Passing was an option only when he was doubled.

Counting solo shots, turnovers or induced fouls, the Hawks ran 44 isos that accounted for 29 points. In addition, 13 of their points came on fast-breaks, six on put-backs, 12 on successful treys created by the shooter and two on the only successful screen/roll they attempted. The majority of their remaining 33 points (including three triples) came about because the Hawks' isos forced the Mavs' defense into radical rotations that necessarily left plenty of mid- and long-range shooters unguarded.

Despite having only a single one-on-one play called for him, Mo Evans also had a good outing — 4-for-9, two steals, 10 points. On the other end of the court, Evans proved to be the only Hawk who could consistently play acceptable man-to-man defense. Dirk Nowitzki had a bit of a hot streak in the third quarter, but it was mainly Evans efforts that limited him to 10-for-23 shooting and a "quiet" 23 points.

Mike Bibby did a good job handling the ball (zero turnovers) and getting the ball to the right player in the right place at the right time (seven assists). But his shot was awry — 4-for-14 — and his legs are just about gone. Indeed, Bibby operates strictly as a passer and long-distance shooter these days. He did score a layup, but it eventuated after his first layup attempt was blocked and ball chanced to be deflected right back to him.

Bibby's defense was a constant problem. He was posted six times and iso'ed thrice — primarily by Antoine Wright and Jason Kidd — with such success that the Hawks had to provide immediate help.

Josh Smith had an up-and-down performance — 6-for-11, nine rebounds, five turnovers and 15 points (four of these coming on isos). His brace of circus shots was outnumbered by his being out of control and either tossing up wild shots or turning the ball over on three fast-breaks. If Smith certainly ranks among the league's most gifted big men, his miniscule basketball IQ makes him spectacularly erratic.

Acie Law came out of the doghouse to play a single minute in the first quarter.

Mario West was employed as a defensive specialist, but was routinely roasted by Wright and Nowitzki.

Zaza Pachulia went 1-for-2 with four rebounds, four turnovers and four points, with his only bucket coming on an iso.

Overall, the Hawks played with energy when they had to — during the second quarter and in the endgame. But their baseline rotations were inept, and their interior defense depended exclusively on blocked shots. And even though they outsized the Mavs, the visitors captured 49 rebounds to Atlanta's 38. In fact, journeyman Ryan Hollins (forced to start because of Erick Dampier's swollen knee) snatched six offensive rebounds nearly matching Atlanta's total of eight.

Even as the Hawks extended their win streak to seven games, their defensive stats looked impressive — holding Dallas to 40.4 percent from the field, including 6-for-31 from beyond the arc. However, the outcome had more to do with Dallas' missing open shots than with the home team's playing good defense.

Too bad the best that the Hawks can hope for is to have home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. For the Hawks to get past the second round, it would take either an excellent hypnotist, or Dorothy's magic shoes to convince them that every subsequent game is being played in home-sweet-home Atlanta.

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