Jon Cooper - Thanksgiving Throwdown - Nov. 25, 2009

Thanksgiving Day Throwdown
The Hawks are ready for the big stage and their Thanksgiving night showdown with Orlando on TNT.
By Jon Cooper

Ah, Thanksgiving.

It's a day for family, over-eating and sitting by the TV watching...Atlanta Hawks basketball?

The Hawks, sharing the best record in the NBA at 11-3, tip off a prime time double-header on TNT by hosting the defending Eastern Conference Champion Orlando Magic, also 11-3, at Philips Arena beginning at 8:00 p.m.

Thanksgiving Day basketball sounds a little out of the ordinary, even to some of the Hawks.

"I've don't think I've ever SEEN a basketball game on Thanksgiving," said Marvin Williams, with a laugh. "I've always watched football but for us to be the game is huge and I think everybody's excited for it."

"This is the first time we're playing on Thanksgiving," added Zaza Pachulia. "We're taking it in a positive way because it's a holiday, they're putting us on that day because we're hot. I think it's a compliment."

Complementing the Hawks look and adding to the novel atmosphere will be new alternate red jerseys the Hawks will unveil Thursday.

This will be the second time this season and first time at Philips that the Hawks will be on in prime time — they debuted on Nov. 13 in Boston, responding with a resounding 97-86 victory. While being on in prime time is still a relatively new concept it is one the Hawks are getting used to.

"I can always get used to that because it shows that we're a successful team in the NBA and we're one of the most exciting teams to play," said Josh Smith. "It gives the nation an opportunity to see the Atlanta Hawks play."

"It is exciting," added Mike Bibby, a veteran of prime time TV from his days with Sacramento, but a game-time decision (ankle) Thursday. "National TV games get to be seen and people finally get to see what we can do instead of just reading the papers to see what your record is. When they see you on TV it's a lot different.

"It's a whole different game," he added. "It's longer, more timeouts. It seems like the lights are brighter."

Williams believes that it won't be hard to put the potential distractions aside.

"Once the game actually starts nobody notices," he said. "I don't think anybody has it in the back of their mind that this is on TNT or on ESPN once the game starts."

"We just approach it like another game," agreed Al Horford. "The cool thing about it is that everybody will get to watch it and see what we're about but at the end of the day it's just another game and we just have to go out there and show people how we do it."

Regardless of whether Atlanta feels the heat of the spotlight, a lot is on the line in this first of four games with the Magic. The Hawks are 7-0 at home, the only team in the East with a perfect home record (Phoenix and Denver also are unbeaten at home) but the Magic has taken the last three games between the teams, and the last three at Philips Arena.

"It's a big test for us," said Pachulia. "If we want to be a winning team these are the teams that you've got to beat. Earlier this season we beat Boston in Boston. This is the same category team and same kind of category game."

As far as the holiday itself, the Hawks players have made contingency plans. Most spent Wednesday with their families around the table in anticipation of being with their basketball family on Thursday.

"I'm going to have my dinner [Wednesday] night," said Horford. "I usually eat a lot on Thanksgiving, so I shouldn't eat too much on game day. Then we'd have a problem getting up and down the court."

"I'll probably eat [Wednesday] with my family," said Josh Smith, who was expecting visitors to come to town Tuesday. "I get a chance to talk to them and kind of have that family atmosphere on Wednesday, then play Thursday."

Of course, not all Georgians celebrate Thanksgiving the same and thus prepare differently.

"In my country we don't celebrate [Thanksgiving], anyway. So for me it isn't a big deal," said Pachulia, a Republic of Georgia native, with a laugh. "But holidays are a great thing. If we win it's going to be an even better feeling to beat the Orlando Magic. It's going to be a double celebration after the game."

Jon Cooper is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.