Injuries cost Hawks

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ATLANTA - The Atlanta Hawks lost 52 games on their way to another last-place finish and an eighth consecutive season out of the playoffs.

Atlanta coach Mike Woodson (right) had to deal with a slew of injuries this year which left Josh Smith without a lot of support for most of the season. The Hawks finished at 30-52.  Associated Press
Associated Press
Atlanta coach Mike Woodson (right) had to deal with a slew of injuries this year which left Josh Smith without a lot of support for most of the season. The Hawks finished at 30-52.

The team's bigger loss might be not knowing how much better it could have been - and could be next season - with fewer injuries.

Atlanta's projected top five players started together in only four games as coach Mike Woodson had to overcome injuries from training camp through the team's last game.

The team's major off-season addition, point guard Speedy Claxton, suffered a broken hand in a workout before training camp. Just as Claxton was set to return, Marvin Williams suffered the same injury, forcing the No. 2 overall pick of the 2005 draft to miss the first 17 games.

With that, the season's trend was set.

"Just when we'd get a player back, we'd lose somebody else," rookie Shelden Williams said. "We never played with a full team."

The Hawks' projected starting five - Claxton, Williams, Joe Johnson, Josh Smith and Zaza Pachulia - still have little experience playing together.

On most nights, there were more projected starters wearing suits and shiny shoes than shorts and sneakers.

"With the eight to nine core guys, I see guys that have improved across the board," Woodson said. "And unfortunately for our organization, we haven't had a chance to see it over an extended period of time in terms of playing basketball games. That's my hope."

Claxton, signed to a four-year, $25.5 million deal, started only 31 games. He missed 36 games with a sore left knee.

Johnson, 25, was an All-Star, leading the team with his average of 25 points per game before missing the last 21 games with a bruised right calf.

Smith is the team's flashiest player and highlight leader with his 207 blocked shots and steady supply of power jams. He also led the team with 101 steals, and his averages of 16.4 points and 8.6 rebounds support his status as a rising star.

Smith, 21, has improved in each of his three seasons. The Hawks had the youngest NBA roster at the start of the season, and the progress of the team's 25-and-under players is key to Woodson's future.

Johnson, Smith, Pachulia, Josh Childress and Williams set career highs with their scoring averages.

The play of the team's young players was mentioned when Michael Gearon Jr., one of the team's owners, indicated that Woodson will return for a fourth season as coach.

"I don't think it's fair to judge Mike on our record this year," Gearon said after Tuesday night's game. "I think he's done a very good job being patient with young guys.

"He's been patient. He's been a mentor. I think under the circumstances he's done a pretty good job of keeping this team together. It's not fair to judge him when he had half a roster."

One of the team's few veterans, guard Tyronn Lue, said Woodson is the right coach for the young squad.

"He talks to the young guys," Lue said. "I've been on teams, a lot of coaches don't even talk to those guys.

"Oh, man, he's been great to these guys."


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