How will the Hawks respond to their annual slump

FRANK ZICARELLI, Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:22 PM ET

Every year, it seems, the Atlanta Hawks go through a period of turbulence, say all the right things when they emerge from a players’ only meeting and go out on the court and do all the wrong things.

Every year the Hawks show enough flashes of high-level play only to crash and burn in the playoffs.

In theory, there’s still enough time for the Hawks to mend the many broken fences and egos, but it’s just a matter of time before they implode.

And when the inevitable becomes official, when Atlanta burns in the playoffs, the predictable call for first-year head coach Larry Drew’s head will be heard.

Mike Woodson became the convenient fall guy when he led the Hawks to yet another winning season amid hopes of finally getting out of the first round.

When the Magic trounced the Hawks, Woodson was shown the door.

When the obvious mandate was to retool their roster, the Hawks went out and made Joe Johnson the biggest free-agent winner in last off-season’s free-agent frenzy, at least where it mattered most — in salary.

Under the NBA’s current labour agreement, a max player is entitled to a six-year deal worth a staggering $120 million US, an amount the Hawks threw at Johnson, who had to choice but to accept it.

Johnson remains a high-end talent, but he’s not that good.

It’s kind of hard to see how a player with so much money attached to his name can be moved in a summer that is full of uncertainty.

But someone in Atlanta will once again become the sacrificial lamb.

Mike Bibby was moved at the trade deadline for Kirk Hinrich, a move that made a lot of sense given Bibby’s inability to defend the perimeter.

Even with a low-maintenance player such as Hinrich in their fold, the Hawks have yet to shed the baggage that has festered for years in Dixie.

It certainly doesn’t bode well for any post-season success when a team gets blown out on its home court, where fans cheered the opposition.

During recent visits by Chicago and the L.A. Lakers, chants of MVP reverberated for Derrick Rose and Kobe Bryant.

“Everybody on this team knows their role,” Johnson said. “Everybody on this team knows what we have to do to win. Yet still we don’t come out and do it.”

On occasion they post wins because there’s talent.

But it’s hard to see how Atlanta can advance when it trails at home to the Bulls by as many as 47 points, when it scores 59 points against New Orleans in a 41-point loss or gets drilled by Philly by 35 points.

The word fragile has been used by Drew in describing his team’s inability to respond when a visiting foe seizes momentum.

“It’s something I’ve been preaching it seems like every day this month, about how to respond to runs,” Drew said.

“This game (of basketball) is a game of runs. Teams make runs. You make runs. You respond to it and we just don’t respond to it well at all. It looks like we lose interest, lose confidence. We just don’t handle it well.”

Which begs the question: How is Atlanta going to handle yet another playoff exit?

AROUND THE RIM

When they routed the Hawks, the Bulls produced back to back wins of 30 or more points for the first time since January of 1995. Rose, meanwhile, poured in 30 points in 29 minutes, draining a career-high six three-pointers ... As Cincy WR/shameless self-promoter Chad

Ochocinco auditions for Sporting Kansas City in MLS, L.A. Galaxy coach Bruce Arena figures there’s one pro athlete who can seriously make the transition to soccer’s pitch — Steve Nash. “If he decided to be a soccer player he would probably have a shot,” Arena said. “But when you make $18 million a year playing basketball, I’m not sure we can debate whether his decision (to play hoops) was a good one or not.” Nash is a huge soccer fan and part-owner of the Vancouver Whitecaps ... With 20 assists in Phoenix’s heartbreaking loss to the Lakers in triple OT, Nash posted his franchise-record eighth career 20-assist game (all with the Suns), surpassing Kevin Johnson’s total of seven. Nash joined Magic Johnson (9), John Stockton (9) and Oscar Robertson (6) as the only players in NBA history with a 20-assist game in six different seasons, and also became the oldest player in NBA history to record a 20-assist game (37 years, 43 days). The previous record was held by Lenny Wilkens (36 years, 30 days) ... The Lakers have clinched their fourth straight and 22nd overall Pacific Division title, which marks the Lakers’ 58th post-season appearance in 63 NBA seasons as well as their 30th playoff berth in 32 seasons since Dr. Jerry Buss purchased the team prior to the 1979-80 season.

frank.zicarelli@sunmedia.ca

Historically hot Heat

No triumvirate in Heat history has scored 30 or more points in a single game.

And no trio has posted the feat in regulation since 1961.

Ultimately, the only history Chris Bosh, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade will be judged is the amount of NBA titles they win.

For now, every bit of history is something to cherish.

“That was one of the things we talked about when we came together was making history,” Bosh said. “People kind of thought we were crazy a little bit, but to be great I think sometimes you have to have crazy thoughts.”

Fourteen years ago, Portland’s Isaiah Rider, Brian Grant, who would later play in Miami, and Arvydas Sabonis each scored 30 or points in a four-overtime game.

When it comes to regulation, prior to Sunday’s performance by the Heat’s Big 3, one has to go way back into the NBA archives.

In 1961, Hall of Famers Oscar Robertson, Wayne Embry and Jack Twyman of the Cincinnati Royals pulled off the 30-point feat.

“That is awesome. It’s mind blowing. That’s crazy,” Bosh said. “Hopefully one day, 50 years from now, someone else will do it and say: ‘Hey, that was the other, other, other Big 3.’”

Dalembert coming up big

With the Sacramento Kings headed to yet another lottery, Haitian-born/Montreal-raised Samuel Dalembert has at least salvaged his season.

Heading into Tuesday’s home tip versus Phoenix, Dalembert is coming off a season-high 19-rebound night against Philly, his former team.

In his past nine games, Dalembert has produced eight double-digit rebounding nights, six double-doubles and has scored 27 and 26 points in two games during that stretch.

The Kings have won three straight and four of five, in part due to Dalembert’s renewed commitment.

The Kings have also featured a starting frontline of Dalembert and imposing rookie DeMarcus Cousins.

Whatever happens in the remainder of the season and into this off-season, there’s no way Dalembert will earn the kind of money he’s making as he enters free agency.

“I just want to let everything play out,” said Dalembert, who makes $12.2 million this year. “See what’s happening and see what’s going on. You never know what’s going to happen.”

A lockout is a real possibility as is the spectre of the Kings relocating to Anaheim

“I try to do my part and let the business side happen,” Dalembert said. “We’ll see.”

Felton won’t rock the Nuggets’ boat

For now, the Denver Nuggets remain one of the NBA’s best feel-good stories, a team that traded away its face in Carmelo Anthony and a team that has won 12 of the 16 games played in the post-Melo era.

It remains to be seen how this team will do in the playoffs and how management handles some delicate decisions.

It’s no secret Raymond Felton isn’t happy as the second fiddle behind starting point guard Ty Lawson.

Felton bolted Charlotte for the Big Apple as a free agent last summer and has no intention of coming off the bench.

With the Nuggets playing so well, Felton isn’t going to rock the boat, at least not now.

But once Denver’s season is over, the Felton issue must be resolved, a resolution that can only be reached via trade.

Another player Denver acquired from New York is Wilson Chandler, a restricted free agent who is likely to test the free-agent waters.

Chandler will get an offer, no matter what kind of system gets negotiated between the NBA and its players’ union, which will force Denver’s hand to either match or walk away, which is what it did when the Raptors signed Linas Kliza to an offer sheet last summer.

J.R. Smith, Arron Afflalo and Kenyon Martin are also eligible for free agency, free to sign with any team with no strings attached.

Hamilton leaving Motown?

The only conclusion one can make when word came down that Richard Hamilton and Pistons head coach John Kuester buried the hatchet is that one will be bolting Motown this coming off-season.

For months, the two were at loggerheads, Rip not getting minutes, Kuester being ridiculed for his handling of a team that clearly tuned him out.

With so much that needs mending in Motown, at least the Hamilton/Kuester hot-button issue has temporarily been placed on the backburner.

After netting 23 points in a weekend win over Indiana,

the veteran Hamilton was amenable in discussing his new-found relationship with his embattled coach.

“It was a big breath of fresh air,” Hamilton said. “It was never a thing how people talked about it and how they wrote it down and things like that.

“How much we supposedly hated each other. We went through a period of time where we didn’t talk. And the lack of communication kind of put everybody on pins and needles.”

Only time will tell if one or both will be back with the Pistons next season.


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