Had the Hawks taken care of business a little better earlier in the season, these last three weeks of the season might have provided an opportunity to rest some of the rotation regulars for the playoffs.But injuries and a tighter-than-they-want race for home court advantage won't allow the Hawks to ease up one bit. Not with three back-to-back sets in the final weeks of the regular season, starting with Friday's game in Boston and Saturday night's home game against Orlando.
"We've been grinding all year in terms of being in some tough situations with the injuries and the schedule and our guys have responded all year," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. "They know what's at stake. We have to try and finish up on a positive note. Our main goal is trying to finish strong and put ourselves in a position to lock up that fourth spot."
With locking up that fourth spot being the sole focus, Woodson said he would not play around with his rotation, even with back-to-back sets on the docket.
Woodson scrapped the big lineup of Zaza Pachulia, Al Horford and Josh Smith that he tried in last Friday's home loss to the Celtics, hoping to milk his regular group that included Mo Evans instead of Pachulia.
"It's tough to play that way when you don't really work on it," Pachulia said. "Plus, we need energy off the bench and that's what I've been able to provide all year."
The Celtics made the Hawks pay for that decision early, scoring 10 of their first 13 points in the paint.
"Until you can secure that fourth spot you have to play the way you did to get here," Woodson said. "I don't think it's wise to deviate from that."
CELTICS 104, HAWKS 92: Hawks coach Mike Woodson finally admitted to being "desperate" for a win over the Boston Celtics Friday evening. Seven losses in seven trips to this city, dating back to last season's playoff series, will cause that sort of mea culpa from even the proudest of men.
But it's apparently going to take more than desperation for the Hawks to leave Boston with a win. Because they got roasted once again for No. 8, losing 104-92 this time before yet another sellout TD Banknorth Garden crowd that loves to jeer them.
The Hawks were outworked and outclassed once again by the Celtics, who didn't need All-Star power forward Kevin Garnett (knee) to handle Atlanta for the 11th straight time dating back to the start of the 2007-08 regular season.
Even more alarming than their struggles against the Celtics is the Hawks' current two-game slide. And they have to face an Orlando team Saturday night at Philips Arena that is fresh off of a demolition of league-leading Cleveland and winners of nine of their last 10 games.
Mike Bibby led the Hawks with 20 points and six assists. Joe Johnson added 15 and five assists, Al Horford 14 points and eight rebounds and Josh Smith 13 points and 10 rebounds. Flip Murray chipped in with 21 points off the bench, nine of them after the starters from both teams were pulled from the floor. But the Hawks ran out of gas and composure early in the fourth quarter, succumbing yet again to the Celtics' smothering defensive pressure and relentless execution in the half court offense.