Ball Don't Lie - NBA



In the moments before Game 6 of his team's first round series with the Atlanta Hawks, Milwaukee Bucks coach Scott Skiles surveyed his locker room, and he didn't like what he saw.

"We were concerned about body language," he told reporters after the contest, adding that his players "weren't comfortable out there. We were out of sorts from the opening.

"Sometimes," he added, "pressure narrows your vision."

Well, by now, the Hawks know pressure. They've played three Game 7s over the last three seasons, and come away with wins (blowout wins) in two of them, including Sunday's 95-74 trouncing of the Bucks. But every time Hawks coach Mike Woodson surveys his locker room, before a contest, what does he see?

And even this far in, what can he rely on?

Because his Hawks are marked by inconsistency, and though this season's 53-win run helped quash some of Atlanta's more mercurial leanings, the opening series win over Milwaukee raised more questions than it did provide answers.

Is Joe Johnson the type of franchise talent that could play Atlanta into a Conference finals?

That's a big "probably not" entering the postseason, and a bigger "whoa, he barely got them out of the first round" after Sunday. 20.8 points and 42 percent shooting aren't too far off his regular season averages, but his curious play down what led up to the stretch (because Joe fouled out before the stretch hit) of Game 5 really gave off the scent of someone who didn't want to be there. And Joe shot 12-38 (31 percent) in the two must-win games following.

Can Jamal Crawford be relied upon to provide consistent scoring?

Basketball studies have long taught us that a one-year uptick (or downtick) in shooting percentage is likely a fluke that will no doubt be remedied the year after. The player always falls (or hops back up) to his averages. And Jamal was a 40 percent shooter on his career before falling just short of 45 percent this season. Crawford shot 8-17 and 8-16 in the two final games of the series, but he was working with a 32.8 percentage from the floor heading into Game 6.

It's nothing that Jamal is doing wrong - besides missing shots - but one has to wonder, can Atlanta's clear number two scorer be consistently relied upon when he makes hay hitting such low percentage looks? For Crawford to come in off the bench to bomb away hitting semi-contested long range shots at the clip he did during the regular season was remarkable. And the fact that he missed so many of those looks in the first five games? Unremarkable, because those are such tough shots. Who shows up from here on out? Will the good and bad games alternate?

Woodson's not worried, though.

"This is his first go-around in the playoffs," he reminded the media after Game 7. "It's tougher when you get to the playoffs. It's not like the regular season. Scoring points? They come tougher. We just have to keep him full of confidence. Jamal will be just fine."

The biggest question, beyond Atlanta's consistent inconsistency, remains only partially answered. Will Mike Woodson realize that he has admirable depth on his team? Depth not named "Maurice Evans," mind you, because Mike loves him some Mo Evans.

Beyond Crawford, Atlanta's bench usually doesn't get much time to make an impact. But starting in Game 6, Zaza Pachulia came off the bench to make Ersan Ilyasova's (the Game 5 hero) life a living hell on the glass. Joe Smith can still play, Jeff Teague could at least help in defending in transition or getting teams into sets when Mike Bibby isn't hitting, and Mario West should be more than a bit player when Marvin Williams isn't helping.

And Marvin needs help when he isn't helping. Because if you take out Williams' work in Games 1 and 5, he averaged 4.7 points on 29 percent shooting in this series, while averaging over 30 minutes per game.

West came off the bench for the final seconds of the first half, after 12 minutes in six games, and was promptly asked to guard Brandon Jennings for Milwaukee's final possession. A power forward asked to guard one of the quickest players in the NBA. And when Jennings got a cheapo (but legit) foul on West after West hassled him full-court, Woodson glared at West like he'd just performed a hack-a-Ray Allen.

The guy hasn't played at all, and you're staring him down for not being able to match up with a driving point guard?

The tide could be turning. Post game, Woodson mentioned that Josh Smith's early foul trouble "didn't affect anything," because the Hawks could then fall back on their frontcourt depth.

"It gave us an opportunity to go big. I moved Al Horford over to the four, Zaza came in at the five, and I don't think we lost a whole lot. We just continued to flow."

Orlando has a way of stopping a team's flow, the Magic are a proper championship contender, and absolutely everything will have to go right for the Hawks just to compete with the defending Eastern champs.

Can the Hawks put it together long enough to make it so everything will go right?

If you watched them in the first round, you probably have an answer already.

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