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News » NBA INSIDER: Hawks put up top '08 finish


NBA INSIDER: Hawks put up top '08 finish


NBA INSIDER: Hawks put up top '08 finish
No team finished 2008 like the Hawks, winners of nine of their last 10 games and six straight overall to finish the calendar year.

But the Hawks aren't the only team primed for big things in 2009.

They're not even the only team in their division that appears be poised for big things in the new year. The Hawks and Orlando will face off twice this week with the Magic trying to stain the Hawks' unblemished (6-0) mark in the Southeast.

A closer look at the five hottest teams --- and the only five to win eight or more of their final 10 games of 2008 --- in the league heading into the second phase of the season:

Hawks (21-10 overall)

Last 10 of 2008: 9-1

The buzz: The Hawks turned an eight-game homestand into a potentially season-making homestand by winning seven of the eight games, the only defeat coming to the world champion Boston Celtics in a possession game. But it's hard to ignore what Mike Woodson's team did to finish off 2008, piling up wins over quality foes such as Miami, Cleveland, Detroit and Denver along the way. They also rolled into the new year with a five-game winning streak at home and a two-game winning streak on the road, heady stuff for a Hawks team that only won 12 road games last season. If they can find a way to climb above .500 on the road over the next two grueling months, they'll have another seven-game homestand waiting on them in March.

Cleveland (26-5 overall)

Last 10 of 2008: 8-2

The buzz: When you've got LeBron James on your side, winning eight of every 10 games shouldn't be that big an issue. But no one can dispute the magnitude of what the Cavaliers have done this season on their home floor. They were the only team to make it to the new year without a loss at home (16-0 at Quicken Loans Arena). That they did it with All-Star center Zydrunas Ilgauskas nursing injuries makes it even more impressive. James turned 24 last week and got a present of a loss to Miami, running his birthday-games record in the NBA to 0-4. But other than that, there's not a single complaint anyone can make about King James, who seems poised to claim his first MVP trophy if he keeps up his current pace. The ultimate test for James and his crew, however, won't come until the playoffs.

Orlando (25-7 overall)

Last 10 of 2008: 8-2

The buzz: With the Celtics and Cavaliers on the minds of most folks when the conversation turns to legitimate contenders for the Eastern Conference crown, the Magic find themselves relegated to also-ran status. Don't be fooled, though. If any of the other teams in the East are going to challenge for the top spot, it's likely to be the Magic, whose inside-out combination of All-Star Dwight Howard and sweet-shooting forwards Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis make them as tough a matchup as any in the league. If Jameer Nelson can continue to play at the level he has lately, this might be Stan Van Gundy's best chance to push his team into the top spot.

Detroit (19-11 overall)

Last 10 of 2008: 8-2

The buzz: After they were punished two weeks ago in a loss to the Hawks at Philips Arena, the Pistons appeared to be teetering on the brink of falling back to the Eastern Conference pack. Instead, they finished the year with five straight wins, second in the league to the Hawks' six straight, to reclaim their place among the upper-echelon teams in the conference. Rasheed Wallace has raised his game to compensate for the leadership void left by Chauncey Billups' departure to Denver in the deal for Allen Iverson. And Iverson, while no longer the dominant factor he was earlier in his career, remains one of the league's most dangerous players with the ball in his hands.

LA Lakers (25-5 overall)

Last 10 of 2008: 8-2

The buzz: A huge Christmas Day win over the Celtics at the Staples Center energized the Lakers as they finished the year on a four-game winning streak. Back-to-back losses in Orlando and Miami in the days leading up to the NBA Finals rematch with the Celtics had many people wondering if the Kobe Bryant's Lakers were as good as advertised. But the reigning MVP answered any doubts by leading his team to wins over Memphis, New Orleans, the Celtics and Golden State to finish the calendar year. Just as important during that run was the resurgence of Pau Gasol, whose late-game effort against the Celtics could have a lasting impact on the Lakers' title hopes, were they to find their way back to the finals this summer.


Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website: http://www.foxsports.com
Added: January 4, 2009

 

 
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