The Last Word - Thinking Bigger Picture

Lang Whitaker is many things - executive editor of Slam Magazine, a contributor for NBA TV, a book author, and most importantly, a die-hard Hawks fan. After starting 2-for-2 in pushing the Hawks into the postseason, he's back for his third season in 2009-10 to share his thoughts on the team exclusively for Hawks.com. Check back every Thursday throughout the season to read his latest musings, and read him every day at www.SLAMonline.com

Thinking Bigger Picture
by Lang Whitaker

Let’s start today with an email from reader Chad...
I just finished watching our BELOVED Hawks give the game to the GS Warriors. They were up by 14 in the 4th quarter and just went down from there.

What the heck is going on? They lost their composure in the 4th qtr, especially in the final minutes. Is this the team that is supposed to contend with Orlando, Boston, and Cleveland? I bet they don’t even make it out of the first round. I want to believe that this team is “for real” but having been a Hawks fan for about 30 years (remember John Drew, Eddie Johnson, Armond Hill, Dan Roundfield, etc.) I have seen them ALWAYS lose the big games. In fact, in Atlanta, they have NEVER reached even the conference finals, let alone the NBA Championship. The year that I felt they had the best chance is the year they traded Dominique, was the #1 seed in the East and lost to the Pacers. Until they actually reach the Conference finals, I don’t believe this team is any different from those of before. All that will happen will be another year of heartbreak in Atlanta Hawks basketball. I’m glad Spring Training is starting. At least the Braves have won a World Series!!! --- Frustrated and angry in Hilo, Hawaii...

First of all, you live in Hawaii. Outside my window in NYC right now it’s snowing like crazy. Again, you live in Hawaii!! You’re not allowed to be frustrated! And if you are going to be frustrated, for goodness sakes, don’t let one bad fourth quarter of basketball be what frustrates you.

Hey, I was as shaken as anyone by the way the Hawks completely and totally collapsed in the fourth quarter on Sunday night. It seemed like we were rolling along, going to get a win and move on to Utah, and then the bottom fell out as the Hawks blew an 18 point second half lead. And it was swift and violent and terrible to watch. I think all Hawks fans can agree on that.

The reaction was immediate. Twitter exploded with people calling for Mike Woodson’s eyebrows. Within 24 hours, both AJC Sports columnists had produced hand-wringing blog posts about how the Hawks weren’t playing well, declaring that perhaps the Hawks aren’t all they’ve been billed to be.

And then the Hawks rolled into one of the toughest road venues in the NBA, a place where they hadn’t won a game in almost two decades(!), and got a win. Then they came home and won again last night. And now people seem able to breathe a little easier.

Write off that Suns loss earlier in the road trip, where Woody experimented and tried something different -- something he’s often criticized for NOT doing -- and the Hawks lost. (We can debate the wisdom of the strategy employed, as well as the decision to try a short bench against the team with the fastest tempo in the NBA, some other time and place.) But discounting the Phoenix game, the Hawks have had a 6-3 February, which includes wins at Utah, at the Clippers, at Memphis. They had a bad quarter in Golden State and a bad game against Miami (missing Crawford and Zaza). By this standard, the Hawks have actually won games at a higher rate than they’ve played at this season.

But hey, I get it. Perspective and patience aren’t exactly the hallmarks of rabid fans, who are, after all, fanatics. I know that this is a frequent theme I keep hitting on here over and over, but it can’t be stressed enough: The NBA season is a marathon. You lose a game, you have to put it behind you and start fresh. Chad referenced the Braves in his email above, and the Braves are actually a pretty good comparison to the Hawks, at least in terms of the approach that’s required. Bobby Cox always stresses just trying to win two out of every three games -- winning every series, thinking bigger picture over losing your mind with every loss.

I have to constantly remind myself of this, too. You win some, you lose some, and hopefully you win more than you lose. We know these Hawks are better than most teams in the NBA, and now we just have to hope they leave themselves in a position to have a puncher’s chance when the Playoffs tip. That’s when the sprinting starts.

MAILING IT IN...
This week we hear from reader Emir, who writes...
I’ve been really wondering what will become off Joe Johnson after this offseason? I've read that there’s a probability he might be in the backcourt with Derrick Rose and the Bulls. I've heard he doesn’t want to be the "go-to-guy" or something like that. It was an article I read on NBA.com. With his mindset being that, can we really make a push for the Finals with JJ? I understand he's VERY underrated and an All-Star at the same time. But I don’t feel as though we can win a Championship with JJ. I'm really anxious and worried to see what Rick Sund does this offseason. What do you think will happen?

First of all, thanks for writing in, Emir.

I’ve been getting this question a lot, so much so that in Dallas at the All-Star Game I told Joe I’d appreciate it if he’d answer it decisively just so people would stop asking me about it. The truth is, I don’t think anyone, including Joe, knows what’s going to happen this summer. And anyone who tells you they do know what’s going to happen is lying to you.

In the meantime, we play...to win...the games. The Hawks could absolutely make a Finals run with Joe, although if that happens it will be just as much everyone else on the team taking us there as it is JJ. I may not be able to ease your anxiety or your worries, but look at it this way: When we got Joe we were one of the worst teams in the NBA, and now we’re one of the best teams. Live in the moment and enjoy it right now, because nobody knows what the future holds. Not even Joe Johnson.

Lang Whitaker is the executive editor of SLAM magazine and writes throughout the week at SLAMonline.com. Follow him on twitter at @langwhitaker. Also, catch Lang every Tuesday night at 6:00 p.m. on NBA TV's "The Beat." He can be reached at lang@harris-pub.com.

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