In their blowout of Toronto on Wednesday, the Hawks smelled blood. Specifically, they caught the scent of a Raptors team that was dragging after playing the previous night in Toronto.
"They had a back-to-back, so we wanted to push the tempo early and go from there," guard Jamal Crawford said.
They went from there to a 146-115 win and set a Philips Arena single-game scoring record.
For some of their biggest games in December, though, the Hawks will become the team that gets pushed. It starts with their game in Dallas on Saturday, following a home game tonight against New York.
"Your body reacts a little different, especially if you're playing 40-plus minutes the night before and then come into a back-to-back," guard Joe Johnson said. "It's always tough. We know our hands are going to be full against a great team like Dallas, who gets up and down the floor, and they can score the Basketball as well."
Given coach Mike Woodson's goal to go somewhere from 8-6 to 10-4 in the month, the Hawks' second games in the back-to-backs will make that an estimable challenge.
All four are on the road against teams that won big at home last season. Dallas was 32-9. Chicago, the Hawks' opponent Dec. 19 the night after a home game against Utah, was 28-13. Denver, where the Hawks will play Dec. 23 after an overnight flight from Minnesota, was 33-8. Cleveland, whom the Hawks will play at home Dec. 29 and at Quicken Loans Arena on Dec. 30, was a stunning 39-2.
The games will test the Hawks' ability against the NBA's elite as well as their mettle.
Said Crawford, teams at the end of a back-to-back are "trying to muster up anything to get 'em going, and the other team's trying to run them out of the building to have them throw in the towel early."
Thus far, the Hawks are 4-1 in the second games of back-to-backs. They were 12-10 last season. In the five such games this season, Crawford has scored 20-plus in each, including five of his top seven scoring games.
"For whatever reason, I've been really good on back-to-backs the last few years," he said. "I just try to think of it as a game, just that game. I don't think of it as a back-to-back."
Crawford has a couple of tricks. He says he runs hard in warmups in the second game "to get that wind going, get moving, get loose." He also stretches to stay loose during games.
Forward Joe Smith, in his 15th NBA season, just tries to rest. The Hawks will arrive in the middle of the night in Dallas, after which they'll likely have a breakfast meeting to watch film and go over the game plan. After that, Smith will hole up in his hotel room to nap, watch football and attend to his hobby, writing music.
"If you're going back-to-backs, especially later in the season, you've got to find a way to gut 'em out," he said. "Your legs may not be there. Mentally, you might not be all the way there, but you have to find a way to gut it out as a group, and that's what good teams do."
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