Hawks appear poised to end playoff drought

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ATLANTA --- It has been 50 years since the Hawks, then based in St. Louis, won their only NBA title.

Boston guard Ray Allen (left) works against Atlanta forward Josh Smith during the first quarter of Saturday night's game.  Associated Press
Associated Press
Boston guard Ray Allen (left) works against Atlanta forward Josh Smith during the first quarter of Saturday night's game.

For Atlanta fans, it may seem like half a century since the Hawks even made the playoffs.

Almost a decade has passed since Atlanta last appeared in the playoffs in 1999. The nine-year postseason drought, the NBA's longest active streak, could end in the next week.

The Hawks, who faced Eastern Conference leader Boston in a possible first-round preview Saturday night, are trying to clinch the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.

The Hawks' long climb has been orchestrated by general manager Billy Knight and coach Mike Woodson.

Knight's trade for Joe Johnson three years ago led to an ownership rift that remains unsolved. Knight put the finishing touch on this year's team with a midseason trade for another guard, Mike Bibby.

In his first season in 2004-05, Woodson saw the roster dismantled and the team win only 13 games when Josh Smith and Josh Childress were rookies. He has faced increasing questions about his job security, including this season, but now is closer to finally coaching a playoff team.

Woodson says he's taken time to reflect on the slow climb through 13-, 26- and 30-win seasons.

"When I took this job four years ago, my goal was to get this team to the playoffs," Woodson said. "This is the closest we've been. I thought last year we were on the right track, but injuries just put us behind the eight ball."

The keys additions have been rookie center Al Horford and Bibby, the point guard acquired from Sacramento on Feb. 16. Horford, who is averaging almost 10 rebounds per game, is being touted for NBA Rookie of the Year honors.

Bibby has averaged almost 14 points and seven assists with Atlanta, but his value is better reflected in the team's improved play.

Before acquiring Bibby, the Hawks were 22-28 and averaging 94.8 points per game. After the trade, the Hawks went 14-14 and averaged 103.7 points per game. The team's shooting accuracy also took a big jump -- from 44.2 to 47.2 percent -- with Bibby.

Smith makes highlights with his dunks and blocked shots, but he also fills stats sheets with his points and steals. Williams adds about 15 points per game.

But the leaders are Johnson and Bibby.

"They've been huge in the stretch run," Woodson said.

NOT JUST A ONE-YEAR WONDER

Michael Gearon Jr. , one of the Hawks' owners, says the team has been built for more than a one-year playoff run.

Though Josh Smith and Josh Childress can be restricted free agents after the season, Gearon says they will be back and that all the other top players are under contract.

"I don't look at this team on an isolated basis as this season is a make-or-break year for us," Gearon said.


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