What do you do for an encore if you're the Hawks and you win 30 games before the All-Star break for the first time in over a decade?You keep charging toward a 50-win goal that seemed foolish months ago.
Now that the Hawks have reached this point of this season with a 31-21 record, though, that pipe dream from training camp doesn't looks so silly. In fact, there's nothing keeping the Hawks from doing exactly what they set out to do months ago.
"Most people didn't think we were going to be a team of this caliber but we did," Hawks forward Marvin Williams said. "Going all the way back to that playoff series against Boston, we knew then we had what it takes to compete at this level. It was just a matter of coming out every night and playing like it. And for the most part that's exactly what we've done."
Even without certain starters for long stretches of the season, the Hawks have managed to maintain a consistent level of play. And the Hawks' reserves have shown far better than many expected this season. They've compiled a 17-13 record in games missing at least one of the group of Joe Johnson, Al Horford, Josh Smith and Marvin Williams.
They're 9-1 with backup swingman Mo Evans in the starting lineup. Evans and Flip Murray are the only players on the roster that have played in all 52 games this season.
"A lot of what we've done to this point has been about a group of guys coming together and just playing with a purpose," Evans said. "I don't think we've played as hard as we can all the time and I know we haven't played as smart as we can every night. But we've stuck together through it all.
"Our chemistry is good. And where we go from here is going to be up to us."
And the schedule. The Hawks kick off the stretch run of the season with a brutal five-game Western Conference road trip that begins in Los Angeles Feb. 17 and finishes in Denver Feb. 25.
"We're going to find out what we're made of here during the final run," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. "We've come this far. Where we go now is going to be up to us."
HAWKS 99, PISTONS 95: As far as closing statements go, the Hawks couldn't have made a stronger one Wednesday night.
The Hawks polished off the pre-All-Star break portion of their schedule with a rugged 99-95 win over the Detroit Pistons Wednesday night at the Palace of Auburn Hills. And they can thank Flip Murray for the energy boost. He had a monster night off the bench, finishing with 23 points against his former team.
Joe Johnson led the Hawks with 27 points, including a huge jumper in the final two minutes to stall the Pistons' last-ditch comeback effort. He also drained two free throws with 8.8 seconds left to seal the win.
The Hawks' 31-21 record is the best the franchise has seen before the All-Star break since a 31-15 mark in 1997. It's also the fourth-highest winning percentage before the break in franchise history.
A win over a team the Hawks could very well see in the first round of the playoffs only made it that much sweeter for Hawks coach Mike Woodson, who was an assistant coach on the Pistons' 2004 NBA title team.
Even more important is that the Hawks finally seem to have regained their footing. They go into the break having won four of five games this month. They went 8-10 in January. And with that nasty five-game Western Conference road trip awaiting them next week, they'll need all the cushion they can get in the standings.