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News - Waiting for Theo

You can come out now. College football is finally over. And what a bust those bowl games were. You'd think that the BCS would take the Series part of its name seriously — as in playoffs — but no. Thankfully, the bogus national championship game is no longer our problem.

Our problem — those of us who would like to see some decent basketball being played on the professional level some time soon — is that too much of the Hawks' hope hinges on the return of Theo Ratliff. Every time the Hawks get pushed around under the basket, which is to say a good deal of the time, the refrain in the locker room is, Theo will clean that up when he gets back.

O.K.

D-day is tentatively scheduled for the Jan. 11 game in Toronto. Ratliff has only recently begun practicing after having missed the entire season so far with torn cartilage in two places in his hip. Even assuming that the Hawks will click when Ratliff plays the way he can, it will be a while before he reaches that stage.

The healthy Hawks aren't wrong; they will be better when Ratliff is playing with them. But this is the kind of thinking that makes me miss former Hawk (current Memphis Grizzly) Grant Long. He wouldn't be waiting around for the cavalry to arrive, that's for sure.

Last Saturday night, the Minnesota Timberwolves put on a rebounding show in their 112-96 win over the Hawks at Philips Arena, going up, up, up for the ball until they had racked up 62 rebounds. Kevin Garnett, not coincidentally the highest paid player in the NBA, had 14 of them, along with 22 points and 8 assists. The Hawks pulled down 36 rebounds, and that, essentially, was the ball game.

Afterwards in the visitors locker room, the soft-spoken Garnett, eyes cast down, talked about the importance of teamwork as he sat in front of his cubicle, balancing a three-eighths-inch-diameter platinum-set diamond earring on his knee. (Really, what else would one wear with wide, crisp — not baggy — indigo jeans and a heathered beige six-ply cashmere turtleneck sweater and matching scarf?) Garnett is no longer the toothpick he was right out of high school, when it appeared that one could snap his little ankles with one hand. Now muscular as well as tall, he is fierce under the basket. And oh by the way, he can shoot, too.

Across the way, the big and burly Wally Szczerbiak (6-8, 244 pounds, 23 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists) was agreeing with a questioner that he deserves consideration for the All-Star game. Szczerbiak isn't obnoxious, but he does have a healthy ego. Robust, in fact.

We all know that rebounding is about tenacity and desire. But over the course of a game, rebounding is also about size. Aside from the eye-popping difference in total rebounds, what was most striking about Saturday's game was how much bigger the T-Wolves were overall than the Hawks. And Minnesota is not huge by NBA standards.

Squawk about poor shooting or lack of speed or lack of savvy at the point or whatever you want, but the Hawks' biggest problem is that they are shorter and lighter than virtually every team they face. I don't see that changing with the return of the 6-10, 230 Ratliff.

But, hey, if the Hawks do, might that be enough???





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