‘No excuses' for experienced, talented Hawks

The list of potential grievances for the Hawks is extensive, starting with the schedule.

They opened their season Tuesday night at New Jersey and return home to Philips Arena to face Washington on Wednesday night. That’s two of their nine games in 12 days, with two games each against Eastern Conference contenders Miami and Chicago.

The Hawks’ bench is a question mark after Jamal Crawford bolted in free agency and was replaced by lesser scorers. The Hawks can’t match Miami’s star power, Chicago’s defense or Boston’s championship pedigree.

Surely there will be other hardships along the way.

The meat-grinder, 66-game schedule might wear down the Hawks. The depth will be tested if a key player is injured. Chances are at some point rival fans will swarm the Hawks’ arena and energize their opponents instead of them.

Whatever the complaints, Hawks coach Larry Drew doesn’t want to hear them. Throughout the team’s training camp Drew delivered a consistent message: No excuses.

“In a nutshell, we play the hand that’s dealt to us,” Drew said. “Whether we are talking about our schedule, our personnel, how we may feel about officiating. It means everything.

“It’s easy to make excuses. It’s easy to point a finger. It’s easy to cop out. ‘No excuses’ means you don’t accept it. You deal with it. You deal with it like a man.”

The Hawks are making what could be one final run with their core group of players. The hope for general manager Rick Sund and the team’s ownership is that these players have reached a nexus of talent and experience and are ready to be true contenders in the East.

Drew thinks they can do it and plans to hold his players to that standard.

“When a coach tells you, ‘No excuses,’ he holds you responsible as a player,” Hawks forward Marvin Williams said. “It shouldn’t be any other way. You know your job.”

The Hawks aren’t particularly deep, but there aren’t many teams in the East that can boast of their talent.

Guard Joe Johnson has been selected to the past five All-Star games and center Al Horford played in the past two. Forward Josh Smith is a force when running, rebounding, and defending. Promising point guard Jeff Teague held his own against Bulls star Derrick Rose in the playoffs last season.

Johnson, Horford and Smith are entering their fifth season as teammates. They’ve been through seven playoffs series together. Losing to the Bulls in last season’s East semifinals gave them a taste of new heights, and they want more.

Smith and Johnson watched Chicago and Miami in the East finals, and now they want to be there.

“The sickness in our stomachs on watching that and knowing how close we were to get to that next step,” Smith said. “I think me and him and a couple other guys, that’s why we had a good offseason and came in in shape, ready to work, ready to play.”

Smith dropped about 20 pounds and is faster and more explosive. Johnson is slimmer, too. Horford spent the offseason working to improve his post game so he can supplement his dead-eye jump shot.

The Hawks, like all teams, have weaknesses, but they believe they have enough strengths to make excuses unnecessary.

“Everybody has got excuses, for whatever reasons,” Johnson said. “We have got to put that [aside] and just make it happen. We can’t worry about what people say and think about us.

“Everybody is talking about, ‘Do we think we have enough to win a championship?’ Yeah, we’ve got enough. We’ve got to believe it, and we can’t keep coming up with excuses.”

Early in camp, Hawks players seemed focused on what the team didn’t have.

They said they wanted the team to re-sign sixth man Crawford or replace him with another explosive scorer. Instead, the Hawks added guards Tracy McGrady, Jannero Pargo and Willie Green, players who should improve the defense, but likely won’t have the same impact on offense as Crawford.

Hawks captains said the team could use another center, one who is a defensive force and a threat to score in the post. The Hawks re-signed Jason Collins, who is an effective defender in a very narrow role, and didn’t add another center.

Eventually, the Hawks stopped talking about the holes in their roster and focused on the players they have. There are some effective pieces beyond Johnson, Smith and Horford.

Teague’s defense and driving ability will add needed elements. Williams finally looks healthy. Reserve center Zaza Pachulia, a rugged defender and rebounder, was in fine form during training camp.

The Hawks say their core, plus the added pieces, are enough.

“No matter who we have on this team, we have to play hard and play together,” Smith said. “We have enough talent to have a successful season.”

No excuses if they don’t.