Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Hawks Have Taken Flight

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Hawks Have Taken Flight

Article excerpt

ATLANTA -- Glen Rice scored 33 points for the Charlotte Hornets

yesterday afternoon, suggesting that the defense diagrammed

beneath his name on the chalkboard in the Atlanta Hawks' meeting

room didn't work.

Maybe it didn't. But the Hawks won 106-97, and the King Holiday

special at The Omni really wasn't that close. As guard Steve

Smith noted, Atlanta "stopped the other guys."

Winners of 17 in a row at home and an NBA-best 10 in a row

overall, the Hawks are now good enough to overcome a great

performance by an opposing player or a cold shooting game by one

of their own stars -- or both. This is yet another reason to

think coach Lenny Wilkens' team could make serious noise in the

playoffs.

"Lenny coaches the game as being five on five," said center

Dikembe Mutombo, this year's key addition. "He doesn't want

just one guy being the focal point. He wants everybody to

contribute offensively and defensively."

Wilkens' first Atlanta team (1993-94) equaled a franchise

record with 57 victories and earned the Eastern Conference's No.

1 seeding in the playoffs. This team is better. Wilkens and

General Manager Pete Babcock have concocted a potent blend from

ingredients that spoiled elsewhere.

Mutombo led the league in blocked shots three years in a row

and was the 1994-95 Defensive Player of the Year at Denver.

Because he wasn't a scorer, though, the Nuggets let him leave

via free agency.

Steve Smith was a nice player in Miami, but a centerpiece. The

Hawks don't need a centerpiece.

Christian Laettner was labeled as a malcontent in Minnesota.

Nevermind that he was playing out of position on a bad team with

bad coaching. As a Hawk, Laettner has emerged as an All-Star

caliber power forward.

"What we tried to do was not only bring in talent, but talent

that wouldn't accept losing," Wilkens said. "We wanted players

who wouldn't accept mediocrity. That's what we've got here."

The Hawks play both ends of the floor -- they led the NBA in

field-goal percentage defense going into yesterday's games --

and they move the ball. …

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