The Hawks need a healthy Devin Harris.
While the guard is certainly not the be-all and end-all of the offense, there is little doubt that the team plays a different brand of basketball when he is available. Harris, who has been in and out of the lineup with left foot injuries over the past two months, adds a dimension to the up-tempo style the Hawks must play to be successful.
The Hawks are 8-9 in games Harris has missed due to injury – a turf toe, a sprained ankle and a contusion.
“It is frustrating, from my part, just trying to stay in the lineup,” Harris said. “Not being able to be there for the guys is the frustrating part. (Speed is) an important part of our team. All the pieces aren’t together. We have to fit to what we have on the court, make all the pieces fit together, and sometimes you get inconsistencies that way.”
Harris returned, after missing two straight games with a sore foot, in Wednesday’s 103-92 victory over the Grizzlies. The injury was a reoccurrence of the plight that cost Harris 11 straight games from Dec. 19 to Jan. 8. The win over Memphis was just the Hawks’ seventh in the past 18 games, which included a three-game win streak, in a search for consistency.
The Hawks used a bigger lineup to combat the size of the Grizzlies, but Harris came off the bench with eight points and three assists in 17 minutes. He was 2 of 3 from the field and 4 of 5 from the free-throw line and all came on drives to the basket. He teamed with Jeff Teague to give the Hawks a one-two combination of speed at the guard position that was too much for the Grizzlies.
“His speed was very obvious and something we really do miss, having that other guy who can really keep constant pressure on the opposition in pushing the basketball,” coach Larry Drew said.
Harris’ presence in the lineup will be especially important over the second half of the season after the loss of guard Lou Williams to a torn right ACL. The Hawks came into the season wanting to use a three-guard rotation to run past teams in order to counter a height disadvantage.
Harris has taken some of the pressure off Teague, who is the only Hawk to appear in all 48 games.
“He gives us a break more than anything,” center Al Horford said. “I think that Jeff probably thinks, I’m playing hard but I don’t have to keep playing hard because I don’t have anybody to take the torch from me. With Devin, he’s able to do that and that helps us all.”
Harris is averaging 8.6 points, 2.6 assists, 1.9 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 24 minutes in 31 games, including 17 starts. He had a season-high of 24 points, coincidentally coming against a former team in the Jazz.
The All-Star break will be welcomed for Harris – and several other Hawks – for a chance to rest and recover from nagging injuries. Harris said his foot is “good enough” following Wednesday’s victory.
“Hopefully with this break it will give me some time to get closer to 100 percent,” Harris said. “I don’t know how close I can get but we’ll see.”
The Hawks were off Thursday and play their third game in four nights by hosting the Hornets on Friday. A two-game trip to play the Mavericks Monday and Magic Wednesday precedes the All-Star break. The Hawks will have a full week off before hosting the Heat on Feb. 20.