Originally posted on Fox Sports South  |  Last updated 1/8/12
ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Hawks have to be the most Jekyll-and-Hyde squad in the NBA. The canyon-sized chasm between the Hawks highs and lows is in a class of its own. They are capable of playing like contenders and have frequent bouts when they play like a lottery team -- and they do it often. It can be a little frustrating for us and our fans to see us play this way, said All-Star centerforward Al Horford. The funny thing is that Big Al said this, not after a tough loss, but after Saturdays 109-94 victory over Eastern Conference powerhouse Chicago. How can a win be frustrating? Well, it can be frustrating if, less than a week prior, you give up a 19-point lead in the second half to these same Bulls. Then, a couple days after that, let a misfit Miami Heat squad -- without LeBron James and Dwyane Wade -- come to Philips Arena and take you to triple overtime and send you home with a loss. That team is not supposed to toy with Chicago for most of the game, milking leads ranging in the 20s. Who was that Atlanta Hawks team Saturday night? Was that the real Hawks? Or is the real Hawks the lifeless bunch that couldnt put away Miami or maintain a significant lead in Chicago? Who knows. Last year Atlanta ended its regular season with six straight losses, only to upset the Orlando Magic in the first round of the playoffs and take the Eastern Conference regular-season champ Chicago to six games. But that sixth game was a 20-point blowout where the Bulls laughed the Hawks out of Philips Arena. The Atlanta crowd booed. Atlanta won 53 games in the 2009-2010 season, coming into the postseason on a four-game win streak and then inexplicably allowed a young, inexperienced Bucks team to take them to seven games and the Bucks were without All-NBA center Andrew Bogut. Thats just how it goes for this squad. So who who knows what might happen Monday night when the Hawks play the New Jersey Nets, one of the worst teams in the NBA (7 p.m., SportSouth). Anybody can be beat on any given night and tonight was our night, was how Joe Johnson described the striking contrast between the Hawks' play over the past week. And hes right. Thats the NBA. But Atlanta hits its highs and lows with such flair and they do it so frequently. The Hawks team that hounded Derrick Rose into his worst effort of the season (3-for-10 from the floor, five turnovers) and played with verve and tenacity is not an aberration. Young point guard Jeff Teague said Atlanta needs to bottle it up and put it in a water bottle, like consistency and playing up to ones potential is something both mysterious and elusive. Its not, though. Most good teams are consistent. The Hawks are a good team, but they are wildly inconsistent and it often defies explanation. Thursday, the Hawks were home, playing with a days rest. Miami was shorthanded (to say the least), playing the second of a back-to-back. The Hawks, however, allowed Miami to outlast them. But, dig this: So, Thursday Atlanta plays a triple-OT game and follows that up with another overtime game in Charlotte. You might have expected Atlanta, playing its third game in three days, to struggle with energy against the Bulls. But, of course, in true Jekyll-and-Hyde fashion, they came out flying. Josh Smith, quiet for most of the season, rocketed out the gate and his teammates came with him. If the team that played the Bulls on Saturday played Miami Thursday, theyd have massacred the JamesWade-less Heat by 30 points. After the Hawks win, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau kept harping on how Atlanta is so good. He called Atlanta a quality defensive team, said they played terrific offense and, when rendering the outcome of the game to its essence he said of Atlanta, simply, theyre good. The Hawks are a really good team, said Thibodeau. Theyre good on offense, theyre good on defense. Yeah, they are sometimes. And that sometimes is what frustrates Hawks fans, the coaching staff and many of its players. Vladimir Radmanovich wont hit all five of his three-pointers every game, like he did Saturday, and the team wont force 19 turnovers every game, but the Atlanta squad that humbled the Bulls Saturday doesnt have to be a blue moon. When the Hawks want to, they can be really good. Smith pointed to the teams 32 assists as a major reason why they were so tough. When you share the ball offensively, it makes you want to help your teammate out defensively, he said. That can be duplicated. Its a philosophy -- share the ball -- not something dictated by chance, like a hot-cold shooting hand. And energy. Smith mentioned energy and so did Johnson, Horford and Drew. Watch Atlanta walk back to timeout huddles -- expressionless faces, little to no communication, no pulse. And, during those games, the play on the court isnt much different. The Hawks were so lifeless in their 99-82 loss in Game 3 of last seasons Eastern Conference semifinals that Drew actually wondered aloud what his players were getting into the night before -- the performance was that inexplicable. Of course, they came out rolling in Game 4 for a 100-88 victory. The thing is, energy isnt elusive. You either bring it or you dont. When the Hawks bring it, they can play ball with the elite. The problem is that its not a rarity when they dont bring it. Every time the Hawks step on the court you have to wonder if it will be as Dr. Henry Jekyll or Mr. Edward Hyde. At this point, inconsistency might be this perennial playoff squads most consistent trait.
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