If you saw last years playoff series against the Orlando Magic you know exactly why the pundits dismissed the Hawks as a viable contender in the Eastern Conference. Boston and Orlando were expected to remain top dogs, with Miami being the obvious pick to upstage those two and represent the East in the NBA Finals. The Chicago Bulls were the popular pick to play spoiler.
The Hawks? Well, it wasn’t as if people expected them to be bottom feeders, but most felt their ceiling had been reached, and Orlando last year showed that ceiling to not be as high as Hawks fans and players would wish. With no major additions made over the summer, the Hawks stuck with the status quo, and it was widely believed in NBA circles that the status quo wouldn’t help the Hawks improve.
That could be a mistake.
Yes, it was only one game, but it was an important game. The Hawks and Magic series has been among the most lopsided series in recent memory in the NBA. Orlando didn’t just win 7 of 8 games against the Hawks last year, they did so by astounding margins that are downright embarrassing for a collection of professionals.
The Magic destroyed the Hawks in a four game sweep last year in record breaking fashion.
So, could these Hawks toughen up physically and mentally? Could they make the adjustments in their style of play to contend with the Magic? Could they play well on the road against elite teams?
The answer to all four questions was yes. In short, yes, the Hawks lost to Orlando 93-89. But this was a one point game in the final minute, in Orlando, with two of the Hawks top 7 in their rotation in street clothes.
There is also one thing more about the status quo, the Hawks didn’t entirely remain the same. They did change head coaches, promoting Larry Drew. If Monday night in Orlando was any sort of look towards the rest of the season, that one change might be a lot bigger than initially thought.