It will be the Hawks vs. Joe Johnson in the playoffs. This seems too perfect.
Many Hawks fans were hoping the team would meet Indiana in the first round of the playoffs. That would’ve meant that Brooklyn would miss the playoffs and their first round draft pick — which is owned by the Hawks via the Johnson trade — would be a lottery pick.
But the odds of the Hawks getting lucky in lottery with a high pick were extremely long. Also, the more important issue really should have been who matched up better for the Hawks, and I believe that’s Brooklyn. The Nets clinched the Eastern Conference’s No. 8 seed Wednesday night with a 101-88 win over Orlando, while Indiana lost to Memphis 95-83, ensuring the Pacers’ elimination.
The first two games of the Hawks-Nets series will be at Philips Arena, Sunday (5:30 p.m.) and next Wednesday (7 p.m.), before switching to Brooklyn next Saturday (3 p.m.) and a week from Monday (TBA).
Here’s why I believe the Hawks match-up better against Brooklyn than Indiana:
• The Hawks went 3-0 against the Pacers in the regular season. But Indiana presented potential problems with its front line, led by David West and Roy Hibbert, and had won six straight prior to the loss to Memphis. Paul George (leg) and George Hill (knee) both missed all three games against the Hawks during the season. Their playoff status would’ve been uncertain after injuries in the Memphis game.
• The Hawks went 4-0 against the Nets. Brooklyn has talent with Johnson, Deron Williams and Brook Lopez but the team has been chronic underachievers for three years and looks like anything but a postseason threat. The Kevin Garnett-Paul Pierce experiment blew up and prompted management to sell off pieces.
If you missed it, Pierce openly questioned the attitude of his former teammates, telling ESPN.com’s Jackie MacMullen:
On the Nets’ attitude: “I’m much happier (in Washington). It was a tough situation (in Brooklyn) last year. Horrible, really. … It was just the guys’ attitudes there. It wasn’t like we were surrounded by a bunch of young guys. They were vets who didn’t want to play and didn’t want to practice. I was looking around saying, ‘What’s this?’ Kevin (Garnett) and I had to pick them up every day in practice. … If me and Kevin weren’t there, that team would have folded up. That team would have packed it in. We kept them going each and every day.”
On Williams: “Before I got there, I looked at Deron as an MVP candidate. But I felt once we got there, that’s not what he wanted to be. He just didn’t want that. … I think a lot of the pressure got to him sometimes. This was his first time in the national spotlight. The media in Utah is not the same as the media in New York, so that can wear on some people. I think it really affected him.”
On Johnson: Pierce said veteran Joe Johnson was an affable professional but also a reluctant leader. “Joe is quiet,” Pierce noted. “He doesn’t want much attention. He doesn’t say much.”
I spoke to Johnson during the Nets’ recent visit to Atlanta. He said he understands that the Hawks’ turnaround began when the team traded him, and he’s OK with that. Click here for more.
So how do you feel about this match-up?
I’ll have more in a Hawks’ playoff preview in a fully column Thursday in MyAJC.com.