Hawks can only get better

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:17 AM ET

The Raptors must look like the Boston Celtics dynasty of the '60s when Mike Woodson peers at the standings. Woodson, the rookie head coach of the Atlanta Hawks, knew his team had to be burned down before it could be rebuilt.

But there's no proper way to prepare for a 10-50 record, a 13-game losing steak and a 23-game road losing streak, all of which the Hawks owned prior to their game against the Raptors last night.

Alas, there was a break in the clouds for the Hawks, courtesy of their frustratingly gracious hosts.

Atlanta's 116-112 overtime victory at the Air Canada Centre might stand as the most disappointing game of the season from a Toronto perspective.

"We made mistakes we don't normally make, maybe because we still thought we were going to win," said puzzled Raptor Morris Peterson, who didn't play in the final 11 minutes, including overtime.

"Atlanta took advantage of their guys who were playing well."

That would be Tyronn Lue (29 points) and Al Harrington (28 points), in particular.

"We have the worst record in the league," Lue pointed out. "But we still like to win." Heck, who doesn't?

If the Raptors' playoff dream has not yet come to a mathematical demise, this may mark its emotional end.

"I don't want to talk about the playoffs," Raptors veteran Jalen Rose said. "We haven't shown the intensity to earn the playoffs." Touche.

As for the Hawks, they stopped talking about the playoffs on about the second day of the season, which made last night all the more sweet.

"It's a big relief," Woodson said. "I wanted a challenge. Here it is."

Watching the Raptors-Hawks game was a challenge in itself, given the general sloppiness and occasionally bizarre refereeing.

By the way, the game did not attract a single advance scout from any other team in the NBA, which indicates one of two things: Either the rest of the league doesn't think much of these two clubs; or a lot of scouts were booked on Jetsgo.

Anyway, you'll recall Woodson was a candidate to be the head coach of the Raptors on three occasions.

He was on the Raptors' short list last summer, when they opted for Sam Mitchell.

Woodson was on the Raptors' short list in 2003, when they opted for Kevin O'Neill.

And Woodson was on the Raptors' short list in 2000, when they opted for Lenny Wilkens.

Now, after many years of waiting to be a head coach in the NBA, Woodson is coaching a bad team that features a slam-dunk champion.

How ridiculous is that?

Uh ... hold on a minute ... that kind of describes the Raptors from 2002 to 2004, doesn't it?

But it's the potential of a raw talent like dunk champion Josh Smith that gives the Hawks hope. Smith, who had nine points and 15 rebounds last night, is one of four rookies on the Atlanta roster.

"It's because we're young," Smith said when asked how the Hawks have kept their spirits up. "We take the losses (hard), but we get over it real quick."

It remains to be seen how quickly the Raptors will get over this loss.

Last night their weaknesses -- as usual -- were a lack of athleticism, poor offensive decision-making and an inability to get stops at crunch time.

Lue might as well have been Allen Iverson. Harrington might as well have been Chris Webber.

By the way, it's Iverson, Webber and the rest of the Philadelphia 76ers who will provide the opposition for the Raptors tomorrow as this death march of a stretch drive continues.

In one locker room last night, a weight was lifted.

WINNING EXPERIENCE

Down the hall, the baggage got heavier.

"I don't want our guys to ever get comfortable with losing," Woodson said. "I had the experience of winning a title last year (as an assistant with the Detroit Pistons) and I think about that quite often. I could have stayed in Detroit. But it was my time."

And last night, it simply was the Atlanta Hawks' time to win a basketball game.

Their next step?

To become as dizzyingly successful as the Raptors.


Videos

Photos