Under Weiss, Hawks are a different team

January 09, 1991|By Kanon Simpson | Kanon Simpson,Knight-Ridder News Service

ATLANTA -- It was laughable, scribbled across a page in the note pad.

"They're bad, for reasons too numerous to mention at this point in time. Thank you for asking."

The owner of the note pad was using the prepared statement to answer the question he was being asked, over and over again. The owner of the note pad was a beat writer for the Atlanta Hawks.

Everyone laughed when he held up the note pad -- seven times. Eight times, nine times, then more. Everyone wanted to know what was wrong with the Hawks. Everyone just wanted to laugh at the Hawks.

It was early December, and the Hawks were in the process of losing nine straight games, sinking to 4-10 and the bottom of the Central Division.

Good grief, the Hawks even lost to the expansion Charlotte Hornets -- twice. That's how ugly the situation became. People were laughing at the Hawks in December the way people usually laugh at the Braves in September.

The Hawks are laughing now. They're laughing and smiling and patting each other on the back. They're laughing their way through a six-game winning streak. Good grief, the Hawks have won 14 of their past 17 games.

The amazing turnaround has left them 5 1/2 games out of first place. They're in fourth place, sure, but they are closer to first place in the Central Division than second-place Philadelphia is in the Atlantic or the second-place Lakers are in the Pacific.

The Hawks, losers of nine straight, closer to first place than the Lakers or the Sixers? Believe it. And for all you Atlanta sports fans who have grown weary of being teased by modest winning streaks, let me tell you -- these Hawks are for real.

After the Hawks escaped a close call with the Minnesota Timberwolves Saturday, 117-112, in overtime for their ninth straight win in the Omni, Dominique Wilkins was overheard saying, "Anything to help the team."

Wilkins was saying he didn't take some shots at the end of the game because he wasn't on. This wasn't the first time his shot had departed, and it won't be the last. But the difference was, this time he knew it. He made up for it by fighting for rebounds and scrapping for loose balls.

When one describes Wilkins, the titles "prima donna" and "ball hog" come to mind. Hearing him say "anything to help the team" is just typical of everything that is going right with this team.

A great deal of credit should be showered upon Bob Weiss. Just a month ago, it didn't seem as if the man knew either the talent this team possessed or how to control it.

Credit Weiss with keeping his cool and not allowing the Hawks to quit under the weight of their early mediocrity. After the Hawks beat the Utah Jazz in the Omni a couple of weeks ago, Utah coach Jerry Sloan was asked for an explanation of the Hawks' resurgence.

"Quite simply," he said, "they're not the same team since Bob put Spud [Webb] and [Jon] Koncak in the starting lineup. That was the smartest thing he could have done."

It was a move that Weiss' predecessor, Mike Fratello, refused to make. Webb is clearly best when given plenty of playing time, and Koncak is the type of defensive and transitional player the Hawks lacked with Moses Malone.

Consider also the new attitude on this team, the attitude displayed by the unselfish Wilkins the other night. This has been a team surrounded by turmoil and bad chemistry for too long. Weiss is starting to change that.

Doc Rivers is having one of his finest seasons and also is displaying consistent leadership. Wilkins is trying to do more than just shoot the ball. Seven-foot forward Kevin Willis can be as physical, and possibly as dominating, as anyone in the game.

Credit Weiss with realizing the importance of the Hawks bench, from which John Battle may be developing as the premier sixth man in the National Basketball Association. Battle just might be the shooting guard for whom the Hawks have been searching so diligently. He might also snag even more playing time if he'd learn to play defense occasionally.

Hawks general manager Pete Babcock should be given credit for not altering this team's mix through the losing streak, for it is clearly valuable to have veterans Malone and Sidney Moncrief waiting on the bench. Rumeal Robinson and Duane Ferrell aren't bad, either, when not too much is asked of them.

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