By Shawn Muller–
CHICAGO (CBS) I must confess: I did not see this coming.
I fully expected the Chicago Bulls to be squaring off against the Orlando Magic in the teams’ first game of the Eastern Conference semi-finals tonight…not the Atlanta Hawks.
Don’t think that I am trying to “short change” Atlanta for their disposal of the Magic. In fact, I thought they looked very impressive in that series. I just figured that the Hawks would find a way to play themselves out of the playoffs because of how they closed out the regular season.
I do think that they are a very talented team, they are athletic, and they do have some quality scorers in players like Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford. But anyone who has paid attention to Atlanta this season knows that they are the epitome of inconsistency.
Remember, this was the same Atlanta Hawks team that finished the regular season on a six game losing streak. This was the same Atlanta Hawks team that finished the second half of the regular season with an 11-17 record after the All-Star break…good (for a lack of a better word) for the worst mark out of any Eastern Conference playoff qualifier.
They were a season-high 15 games over .500 back on February 5, but took their aforementioned “nose-dive” towards the end of the season, finishing just six games over .500.
Bottom-line: with a team like the Atlanta Hawks, you either get a group that looks like world-beaters (against Orlando they did look like world-beaters), or you get a team that doesn’t even look like they belong on the same court as an NAIA program.
There is no middle ground with them.
They can score 119 points, like they did in the first game of the year against the Memphis Grizzlies, or they can score a paltry 59 like they did against the New Orleans Hornets back on January 21.
But what I, and I am sure many people who follow the NBA on a regular basis failed to realize, was that the Hawks were 3-1 against the Magic in the regular season, with their only loss to Orlando happening way back on November 8.
So how did Chicago fare against the Hawks during the regular season?
Chicago finished the regular season with a 2-1 record against the Hawks but–as the story has gone for Atlanta all season long–they did their typical Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde impersonation.
In the Bulls only loss to Atlanta, an 83-80 game at Philips Arena back on March 2, Chicago’s 80 points scored was their second lowest output in a game all season (their 78 against Orlando in December was the lowest).
Just looking at the outcome of that game, Hawks fans should be feeling pretty good about Atlanta’s chances in the series, right?
Well, if you ignore the outcomes of the final two matchups, then yes.
Chicago beat Atlanta 94-76 on March 11 at the United Center, and followed that win up with a 114-81 beat down back in “A-town” on March 22…making the average margin of victory for the Bulls over the Hawks a ridiculous 25.5 points per game.
Staying true to form, Atlanta proved they were capable of beating the best of the NBA on any given night and then were laughed out of the gym in the next two contests.
Atlanta has the talent to compete with any team in the NBA, but the downfall for them is going to be their inability to remain consistent for long stretches. I just don’t see how a team like the Hawks will be able to carry the momentum they gained from the Orlando series into the second round against the Bulls.
Chicago in five games is my best bet.
Do you agree with Shawn? Post your comments below.
Shawn Muller has lived in the great city of Chicago for 7 years. He is a 2002 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and, in October of 2010, Shawn received his certificate in radio broadcasting. In his free time, Shawn enjoys spending time with his wife Melissa and 3 year old daughter Ava, catching any live sporting event, and traveling. Check out his radio show, Grab Some Bench with Muller and Bangser” every Thursday night at 8:30 P.M., at www.blogtalkradio.com/spmuller24.