Looking for a contender that isn't Cleveland, Orlando, Boston or the Lakers? Look no further than Atlanta, because they have likable players, bursts of energy and the ability to transform a city, writes SB Nation's Hawks blog Peachtree Hoops.
The NBA is a superstar league, and the Hawks do not have a superstar. So if you are looking to go anti-LeBron, Wade, Kobe, even Durant, the Hawks offer you the best non-superstar team to root for. Your welcome.
But let me be clear, I love superstars. I wish the Hawks had a superstar. You do not need to adopt the Hawks as a non-violent stand against phantom foul calls for Wade. You can. It is just not necessary because the playoffs turn the Hawks into superstars. Joe Johnson does not have a superstar style even if he actually had superstar talent, but go watch this fourth quarter against Boston two years ago.
This is not nostalgia or homerism: Atlanta is a team that brings out the nastiness from the best teams, and that in turn brings out the best in the Hawks. During almost every nationally televised game the Hawks had, the announcers, at some point, said, "This game has had a playoff atmosphere throughout." Atlanta is an emotional group. This team does not win because of great defense, offense or coaching. They channel supreme talent into one or two plays of brilliance and ride that into a string of emotional runs.
In other words, this is not the boring brilliance of a Detroit Pistons' championship defense or the mundane incredibleness of the Spurs' championship offense. The Hawks are pockets of the best basketball team you will see all year within restful periods of mediocrity. They can beat anyone, and in the regular season, they will lose to anyone. But come playoff time, it is their best shot. Effort truncates the frustrating inconsistencies of those first 82 games, and I will tell you it is pretty dang fun to watch.
I know what you are thinking right now. Atlanta sounds like the underachieving redemption story you wish your team was. But the Hawks overachieved ... for the second year in a row. No one had this team winning 50 plus games and taking the third seed. They are the rare group that has grown naturally better together and remained healthy this year so the team's potential remains intact. Going into the playoffs, the Hawks still have upside.
And that is of course because of the players. When two points mean more than two points, Joe Johnson's boring game oddly becomes mesmerizing in late April. Al Horford is so enjoyable he will become your favorite player on another team when you don't want to name a superstar. Mike Bibby should have made the finals with the Kings so you can root against cheating. Jamal Crawford is a playoff virgin, and because of that, his 50 point games have been the sign of a hucker just getting his, but it would become the stuff of legends (ok maybe not legends, but at least great story lines) if a scoring outburst happened when it mattered.
And Josh Smith. Well Josh Smith was made for the all-star game, but he was born for the playoffs. You could say I am rooting for the Hawks because of Josh Smith, and that might be reason enough. The guy can be maddening. He can shoot jump shot air balls and pout his way through a quarter, but his desire to win trumps that in the playoffs. What you find stripped away is the second best athlete in the NBA. He can turn the game on a block shot. He can win a game on dunk. Actually, it is not a "can" situation; Josh does do that. Within the NBA playoffs, his game is more than just talent on display, it is "actual edge of your seat, what is going to happen next, wait why I am standing, is there someone else clapping right now in this room or am I still alone, yea I am clapping" basketball.
The negative about adopting the Hawks as your team is that it requires a real leap of faith, and that can end rather embarrassingly if you go all in. But for teams that have any chance of making the conference finals (and no, the Hawks do not have a big chance), Atlanta is the only city it would transform. You know the T-shirt stands on the corner, the dad wanting to take his son to see the start of something special, that place where, if you care about the NBA in general, you might have a new, entire city buy in.