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Sekou Smith

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Coach Mike Woodson is confident the Hawks will head the right way in Game 6.
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Up-and-down Hawks can't afford to mess around in Game 6


Posted Apr 28 2010 11:39AM

If he didn't know better, Hawks coach Mike Woodson would believe that his team is in serious trouble.

Back-to-back losses on the road is nothing new for the Hawks, whose struggles away from Philips Arena during the postseason have been well documented. They are just 1-10 away from home in the playoffs during Woodson's tenure, which includes playoff trips in each of the past three seasons.

But they are at home Wednesday night for a must-win Game 5 of their Eastern Conference first-round series against the Milwaukee Bucks. The winner breaks the 2-2 tie and has a chance to win finish the series in Game 6 Friday night in Milwaukee, the way Woodson insists it's supposed to be.

"This is what we played for all season," he said, refusing to buy into the uncertainty surrounding his team after two humbling defeats followed two relatively easy wins. "We're right where we need to be. We just have to take care of the business at hand and that means protecting our home court the same way [the Bucks] did over the weekend."

A weekend of "messing around" is what landed the Hawks here. They went to Milwaukee feeling way too comfortable after having their way with the Bucks inside. Things changed dramatically in Games 3 and 4, when the Bucks countered with swarming defense on the Hawks' post players and Brandon Jennings and John Salmons went wild exploiting defensive mismatches.

The Hawks exited the Bradley Center late Monday night rattled.

"Now it's back on us," Jamal Crawford said. "We can't lose. We can't come back here for Game 6 down 3-2. I'll be the first person to tell you that, it's on us and we have to get it done at home."

Crawford's a newcomer to the playoffs and the Hawks' way of doing business, having joined them on Draft night last summer, after their playoff run. He's experiencing the bipolar nature of this team for the first time.

"We've done this before," said Hawks captain and All-Star Joe Johnson. "We get way too comfortable with ourselves. We didn't play with any sense of urgency up there and we messed around and gave them an opening to attack us. If I was on that team I'd be confident now. I'd believe that we had a chance, the same way we did a couple years ago when we did the same thing to the Celtics. We should know better. You give a hungry team a little life in the playoffs and they'll make you pay for it."

The Hawks are paying dearly for not fully understanding and embracing the magnitude of playing as the true favorite. They were the higher seed in the first round last year against Miami, but everyone knew that Dwyane Wade gave the Heat a chip the Hawks didn't have. The Hawks fell into a similar trap after an impressive Game 1 win in that series, losing the next two games before rebounding and eventually finishing the Heat in a blowout Game 7 win.

They are not facing a one-man show this time around. In addition to Jennings and Salmons, who are both averaging 20 points per game in this series, the Bucks got huge contributions from role players like Carlos Delfino and Kurt Thomas in Games 3 and 4.

"We have to do the same things," Hawks backup center Zaza Pachulia said. "They used everybody they had to get back into this series and that's what the good teams do in the playoffs. Guys step up and find ways to make a difference for their team. We've got the guys to do it, too."

Every button that Bucks coach Scott Skiles pushed seemed to work. Shifting Luc Mbah a Moute from guarding Johnson to guarding Smith slowed down the Hawks' ability to dominate inside. With Thomas playing physical and mental games like a savvy veteran, Horford was unable to get loose in Game 4. He had just eight points and eight rebounds before fouling out late.

Now it's time to see if Woodson can do make the right moves for the Hawks and twist the momentum back in his team's favor.

"Listen, they were the aggressor in Games 3 and 4," Woodson said. "They went on the attack and it showed in the way they played. The bottom line is we have to make some changes in what we do, how we play and how we compete. But I'm not worried about us not responding. We're going to handle our business and do what we have to do to make sure we get this thing back on track."

Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and the author of NBA.com's Hang Time blog. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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