The Last Word with Lang Whitaker - Reality Check - 032310

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 Check back every Thursday throughout the season to read his latest musings, and read him every day at

Reality Check
by Lang Whitaker

I was speaking with an NBA player recently about the importance of home cooking. I'm not talking about the way a person can handle themselves in a kitchen, rather the way a team or a player often finds a game officiated to his advantage when they're playing at home. Specifically, this player and I were talking about the 1988 Dunk Contest when Dominique out-dunked Michael Jordan yet Jordan was still awarded the win. I pointed out that the main reason MJ won was because the contest was held in Chicago, MJ's town. (And then the player told me, "Well, I don't really remember that -- I was 4 years old." I suddenly felt incredibly old.)

There's a reason they call it a home court advantage: It's not only more comfortable to play at home than it is anywhere else, but things just seem to go your way more often when you're at home. Up in Toronto on Wednesday night, the Hawks had about six straight calls (and non-calls) go against them at the end of the game. Would the game have ended the same way had the game been played in Atlanta? Maybe so, but probably not. You know, home court advantage.

Being at home isn't the only advantage in the NBA. What has been surprising to me is that as the Hawks players have matured and been around the League longer, they haven't seemed to gain the benefit of the doubt from the officials. Years ago I'd watch the Hawks play and wonder why Josh Smith didn't get automatically sent to the line when he drove, or why Joe Johnson didn't seem to get the same calls as other shooting guards.

You noticed I said the haven't "seemed to gain the benefit of the doubt." That's because I'm the one doing the judging. After decades of cheering for the Hawks, both in good times and bad, I eventually came to realize two things:

  1. I will always think the Hawks aren't getting the benefit of the doubt. The Hawks could finish a game shooting 100 more free throws than their opponents, and I will still feel as though the Hawks got hosed by the refs. I think this may just be a flaw with myself, but there's really no way around it.
  2. More importantly, how we feel about refs or calls just doesn't matter. I excel at making excuses for anything -- for myself (just ask my wife), for my friends, for my dog, for my teams. But particularly for the Hawks. Someone misses a shot inside? THEY WERE FOULED! WHERE WAS THE CALL! Someone dribbled the ball out of bounds? THAT HAD TO HIT OFF SOMEONE ELSE'S FOOT! HOW CAN YOU CALL THAT!?

Home or away, I'm grudgingly accepting that an excuse is an excuse. And as fun as it is to complain and yell, being a good NBA team and looking for excuses don't go together. The best teams, they might complain occasionally, sure, but they don't look for someone to bail them out -- they just play the game.

Which is something I think all of us could stand to remember from time to time.

This week we hear from hawks fan Emir, who emails me more often than my Dad does...

I've been really confused regarding the tiebreaker scenario. It's most likely the Hawks will end up with either the 3rd or 4th seed in the Eastern Conference. Based on the sudden surge that the Magic have went on. Now I watch a lot of ESPNews and I've seen them mention that Boston holds the tiebreaker over Atlanta. But on the other side, I've heard Bob Rathbun say that Atlanta holds the tiebreaker over Boston. I'm not sure whose correct. Can I get an explanation on who holds the tiebreaker and why?

Actually, I think they're both right, although I can tell you when it comes to the Hawks, you'd be better served to listen to Bob than ESPNews.

What it depends on is the round. In the first round, the three Division leaders and the team with the next-best record go into the top four slots (for that all-important home court advantage!), and if there's a tie, winning your Division is the first tie-breaker. Which means if the Playoffs started on Thursday the 18th, with Atlanta and Boston tied for the third-best record with 43-24 records, the Celtics would get the third seed and the Hawks the fourth seed because Boston is leading the Atlantis…er, Atlantic Division.

But in the second round, the Playoffs get re-seeded. And then, at least according to the rules here, head-to-head suddenly becomes most important, in which case the Hawks would flip-flop with Boston. (Editor's note: Upon further research, the NBA playoffs are not re-seeded each round.)

I don't know why there are two sets of rules, but I think what should be most important is that we just don't end up tied. The Hawks have no excuse for not finishing with a better record than the Celtics -- we're healthier, and play fewer Playoff teams down the stretch. I'm no good at math -- let's avoid all this confusing stuff from the start and just win our way past any ties.

Lang Whitaker is the executive editor of SLAM magazine and writes throughout the week at 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

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