News - Money, money, money

Can the Hawks possibly have a shot at the playoffs?

Jason Terry steps to the free-throw line, 4.4 seconds left in the game. The might-as-well-be-last-place Hawks and the Eastern Conference-leading New Jersey Nets are tied 103-103. And Terry is thinking . . . ?

"Money. Money, money, money," he says immediately, afterwards in the locker room, having just won the game for the Hawks, 105-103. "If I say anything else in between, I miss. If I say just 'money,' I make it."

Nazr Mohammed, toweling off three feet away, perks up. Terry has just saved Mohammed's butt; he missed two free throws at the 38.7 mark.

"What did you say?" Terry asks, smiling broadly.

Mohammed grins sheepishly. "I was thinking: I have a chance to put us up! I have a chance to put us up!"

Clearly, too many words.

Mohammed is still learning; the free-throw routine is another lesson. Although he has been in the NBA for four seasons now, this is the first year he has played significant minutes almost every night. He thinks of himself as a rookie, practically. So should you.

For the few of you out there who still care, the Hawks don't think they're done for the season. Amazing, I know. Possibly delirious. But the East is muddled, and if the Hawks continue to play defense as they have, they could squeak into the eighth and final playoff spot. Stranger things have happened.

Credit for the tougher defense goes to Ira Newble, released by the Hawks in training camp and late of the CBA's Flint Fuze. Ordinarily it would not speak well of a team of multi-million-dollar professionals that a minor-leaguer could come in and instantly lift the tenor of play. But it cannot be stated too often how young the Hawks are.

That includes Shareef Abdur-Rahim, the Hawks' star. This is his sixth season as a pro, but he is only 25. And his previous five seasons were spent with the expansion Vancouver (now Memphis) Grizzlies. The idea that Abdur-Rahim shies away from making the big shot in crunch time, by the way, is ludicrous. How many crunch times were there in Vancouver?

But yes, Abdur-Rahim does have to learn to take over a game. No coincidence that he has started to do so since being named to the All-Star squad as a reserve. For purposes of his development, this is better than having been voted a starter by the fans, since that is due to name recognition nearly as much as it is to actual talent. When the league's coaches vote for you, though, that means something.

Thus validated, Abdur-Rahim digs in. Newble menaces the opposition's leading scorer — he put the clamps on Kobe Bryant when the Hawks beat the Shaq-less Lakers last Friday night in L.A. — which frees Terry to shoot. And when Terry is shooting well, teams can't double Abdur-Rahim.

Too, the Hawks' injured players are beginning to return. Alan Henderson, who's missed the entire season, was activated before the Lakers game and scored seven points in eight minutes. Toni Kukoc expects to return this weekend. Theo Ratliff may be back two weeks from now, but let's not count on that. Better, at this point, to take one thing at a time. u??

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