The Last Word with Lang Whitaker - Now You Know - March 25, 2010

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

Now You Know
by Lang Whitaker

There were about seven moments during last night’s Hawks/Magic game when I was certain the Hawks were going to lose. When Orlando went on a 10-0 run in the fourth quarter, I knew it was going to happen. Before Vince Carter drained that 3 to tie the game with 9 seconds left, I knew it was going in.

But the last thing I expected to ever happen was this:

Could anyone have expected that? Ever? Even after we saw Josh do it once before earlier this season?

That game last night was everything I love about sports. You think you know, and just when you’re sure, you have no idea. Overtime? Not so fast.

It’s even more fun to look at the replays. Look at Josh at the beginning of the possession waving that he’s open for a three-pointer. Or Marvin actually open up top. Vince forcing Joe to take three steps, which went completely uncalled either way. Why was JJ Redick guarding Al Horford? Rashard Lewis has his hand above the rim going for the board, but Josh catches the ball at the top of the box! What happens to Josh’s headband? And then check out Harry the Hawk in the middle of the celebration in this YouTube clip.

Watching it again just now I got all excited again. The bigger question here is this: Does getting a last-tenth-of-a-second win over a team that had won the previous three matchups by an average of 23 points really matter? The Hawks won, sure, but it wasn’t necessarily all that convincing. Did it leave you with the impression that the Hawks could easily dispose of the Magic in a seven-game series? No. Me either.

And yet, you know what it did do? It lodged a grain of doubt in my brain, told me that I don’t know everything. The Magic may have beaten the Hawks convincingly three times and might well think they’re the team to beat in the East. And maybe they are.

But last night’s crazy ending reminded me that, as Andre 3000 once said, and I’m paraphrasing here, nothing is for sure, nothing is for certain, nothing lasts forever until they close the curtain.

The Hawks are definitely in the Playoffs, and even though most experts are picking the Cavs and Magic to make the Eastern Conference Finals, the East is by no means decided.

The Hawks are still in this thing. Just when you think you know everything, leave it to the Atlanta Hawks to teach you something new.

Even if it takes a dunk from heaven to reinforce the lesson.

MAILING IT IN...
This week we hear from reader Hector, who writes...
I finally heard the coach say after the Bucks game Monday night that he was going to watch the film and see what corrections he could make about the things the Hawks did wrong in that game. I am sure it is that way with every game.

Nothing wrong, except closing the game. Three great quarters, and on the 4th quarter, we did not have an answer for Salmons, and we could not get Josh, Jamal, or Joe to make their shots towards the end of the game when we needed it the most.

These are some things the coach should look for and consider. I am sure he already knows all of this, but then, why let the players continue to make the same mistake?

If I were the coach, I would consider that Josh has taken a few shots with the game closing to an end in the past few games and considering that he makes about 1 out of every 5 shots he takes from outside the paint why not pass to someone else or have him pass the ball? I know you remember a time when all Josh wanted to do was shoot 3 pointers.

As coach, I would not mind Josh taking those shots from time to time when the game is not on the line to keep him involved and he does make some of them, but not that close to the end of the game. Josh is not consistent.

I think, as I think you do, that Josh is most effective when driving to the hoop and I wish he would judge how high to jump or how close to get the ball to the hoop more often so he does not miss as many shots close to the basket.

Josh should watch some Pippen games with the Bulls, if he has not done so already because his ability resembles Pippen’s – actually Josh could be or is even better and may not know it.

Someone needs to tell Josh that he does not have to shoot when nearing the end of the game and down or up by a couple of points. When someone passes him the ball he should think that maybe is not for him to take the shot.

Thanks, Hector. This letter was actually about three times this long but I had to cut it down a bit. I know the play you’re talking about: With the game on the line against Milwaukee, Josh ended up missing a long jumper. Important to note here: That play wasn’t drawn up for Josh -- he was about the fourth option and just happened to be wide open. So he shot it. As he should. That night it just didn’t go down.

But a few plays before Josh’s big dunk last night, with 90 seconds left and the Hawks desperate for anyone to score, who knocked down a huge baseline jumper? That’s right, it was Josh Smith.

It’s easy to fixate on one play and get all worked up about it, but you do a good point of noting that there’s a bigger picture to look at. Josh has obviously learned that he’s a better all-around player when he drives to the basket, and he’s been focused on doing that all season. If he misses a long jumper every once in a while, even a game winner, that’s OK with me.

As long as he keeps crashing the boards when he’s not shooting.

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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