Hawks flying high as playoffs await

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ATLANTA --- Mike Woodson figures an occasion like this should be marked with an extreme gesture.

Atlanta center Zaza Pachulia (right) drives to the basket over Orlando center Adonal Foyle Tuesday night. Both teams are playoff-bound.  Associated Press
Associated Press
Atlanta center Zaza Pachulia (right) drives to the basket over Orlando center Adonal Foyle Tuesday night. Both teams are playoff-bound.

So, before the Atlanta Hawks take the court for their first playoff appearance since 1999, the coach plans to shave his head.

For Woodson, it's a belated payback on a promise he made a year ago, trying to prod his team to the postseason. The Hawks didn't make it then, but they wrapped up the final spot in the Eastern Conference with two games to spare this year.

"I've never had a bald head," Woodson said before Tuesday night's game against Orlando, sounding a little worried but vowing to stick with his new look even after the playoffs.

The Hawks are feeling downright giddy, and who can blame them? After all, this is a team that endured a nine-year rebuilding job marred by all sorts of embarrassing moments along the way.

Isaiah Rider. A money-back playoff guarantee. A 13-win season. An ugly ownership squabble.

But the Hawks have slowly returned to respectability -- and that's all it is at this point -- by building through the draft (Josh Smith, Josh Childress, Al Horford), spending wisely in free agency (signing All-Star Joe Johnson) and making a key deal just before this year's trade deadline (acquiring a much-needed point guard, Mike Bibby).

"It feels great," said Childress, whose rookie season was a 13-69 debacle in 2004-05. "There's a real sense of accomplishment. But we've still got a job to do."

And what a job it is. The Hawks, who will finish at least four games under .500, open the playoffs against the top-seeded Boston Celtics, who have the league's best record (65-16) and took all three regular-season meetings by at least 10 points.

Most people expect Atlanta to go four and out, but the players vow to make a good showing in the face of overwhelming odds.

"Obviously, they swept us during the regular season," Smith said. "But in the playoffs, anything is possible. Anything. We've got to go out there with a positive mind-set."

The Hawks weren't feeling very good about themselves in early March. Even after acquiring Bibby from Sacramento to run the offense, they went through a 15-game stretch with only three wins and seemed on the verge of a total collapse.

Things got testy in the locker room. Woodson did some yelling. The players yelled back.

The showdown behind closed doors proved to be a catharsis.

The Hawks picked up two wins in one night against woeful Miami, one of them a replay of the final 51 seconds of a protested game that Atlanta thought it had won earlier in the season.

From that night until Tuesday, the Hawks won 13 of 20 games to lock up the playoff berth.

"I had to go off on some guys," Woodson remembered. "After that, we never looked back."

MAGIC 121, HAWKS 105

In Atlanta, Maurice Evans led seven Orlando players in double figures with 27 points, as the Magic defeated the Hawks.

Evans scored 23 points in the second half of a game that saw both playoff-bound teams substitute liberally, knowing the game had no impact on their postseason positioning.

The Hawks led 55-51 at the break, but the Magic controlled after the half.

Marvin Williams and Salim Stoudamire led the Hawks with 16 points apiece.

NEXT: at Miami Heat

WHEN: 7:30 tonight

TV: SportSouth

RECORD: 37-44


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