News - Jordan blows Hawks away single-handedly

Smoltz talks underway

Toni Kukoc entered the game at 5:49 in the first quarter of the Hawks home opener against the Wizards last Thursday. Standing courtside ready to inbound the ball he flashed a grin at the man who would be guarding him: Michael Jordan.

They were probably thinking, Atlanta? Washington? What are we doing here?

The immediate answer is that Kukoc is coming back from summer-long treatment of his chronic foot inflammation. (More on this later.) Jordan is coming back, period. Because he's a gym rat. How quickly the two former Bulls teammates get it in gear will go a long way toward determining the success of their respective new teams.

Yes, Jordan looks old. He does a lot of standing around, especially when the play is away from the basket. Often, he is standing down at the opposite end of the court. He trails a lot of plays. His arms and upper body are fast. His legs are not; he spends a lot of time with his hands on his knees.

He does, however, focus on the game like nobody's business, so he sees opportunities no one else sees. Mainly, he sees what his teammates need to be doing. He worked harder in the Hawks game than any player I've seen in the last 10 years.

The Wizards are terrible. They have nothing. (You were worried that Jordan wouldn't be in playing shape? You should see what has happened to Christian Laettner, golden boy turned goldbrick.) And yet, Washington beat by 10 points an Atlanta team with more talented personnel. Because Jordan was forcing passes into guys' midsections, waving them to the right spots on the court, fighting for rebounds (which he then passed off to the open man), and generally kneading every possession as though it were yeast dough.

Jordan's postgame remarks were not so veiled references to the Wizards' lack of professionalism and dedication. Hard work is what it's all about, he said, not being on TV and getting tickets for your relatives.

Saturday night's game against the Miami Heat should have been another Hawks' loss. They had been pushed around under the basket in the fourth quarter by the Wizards, and by the Rockets in the season-opener in Houston. What was going to happen when muscular Miami got serious at game's end?

Amazingly, this time the Hawks pushed back. Seems they had not realized what was happening to them until they looked at films of their first two games in the locker room 40 minutes before the Miami game started. Seriously. That's what they all said afterwards.

Since it is so ridiculously early in the season, patience is needed on this and other fronts. (Non-scoring point guards leaps to mind.)

This is what should be worrying Hawks fans now: Kukoc needed more than the usual treatment following the Heat game. In addition to the routine work on his back, head trainer Wally Blase diligently massaged Kukoc's healing right foot for a good hour. That, at least, is both rehab and prevention. More ominous was the huge bag of ice bandaged to Kukoc's right thigh. No doubt that's the reason he scored a pitiful four points on 4-of-7 shooting in 32 minutes.

(Memo to those of you who think this will be Dion Glover's breakout season: He can't even get it together to get his own deodorant. He filched Kukoc's spray while Kukoc was on the training table. Then he helped himself to Kukoc's Contradiction cologne. "His stuff smells better than mine," Glover says.)

Negotiations between the Braves (meaning GM John Schuerholz) and John Smoltz (meaning his agent, Lonnie Cooper) are "going well." Considering that Smoltz was ambivalent about signing as only a reliever but the Braves are not ambivalent about wanting him as only a reliever, this optimistic report means that Smoltz has seen the light. Or that everyone involved is being creative with clauses contingent on the role(s) Smoltz ends up filling next season.??

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