After 28 games, the Hawks are 20-8 and on pace for one of the best regular seasons in club history. Guard Joe Johnson is on track for his fourth All-Star berth. Forward Josh Smith is challenging to join him, and guard Jamal Crawford is a strong Sixth Man Award candidate.
The Hawks head into their game Saturday night at Indiana following a 124-104 loss at Denver on Wednesday. Johnson, Hawks TV analyst Dominique Wilkins, Hawks radio broadcaster Steve Holman and Drew Ditzel, a longtime fan who runs the respected Hawks blog Peachtree Hoops, gave their takes on the season thus far, and what comes next. (Answers were edited for length.)
Q: What's the biggest difference between this year's team and last year's team?
Joe Johnson: We've got a lot more help. With the additions that we made over the summer in Jamal Crawford, Jeff Teague and Joe Smith, they're a big help for us this year.
Dominique Wilkins: Maturity and a few additions like Jamal Crawford, Jeff Teague and Joe Smith. That's the difference, and another year to mature, another year to play together, build chemistry.
Steve Holman: Most of the guys have been here at least a few years. I think that you talk about chemistry, that's what it is. I think that's the advantage we have over other teams; we haven't changed anybody. To me, we're really good and still learning how to win.
Drew Ditzel: The frontcourt combo of Al Horford and Josh Smith routinely rises to a different level than last year at both ends of the court. When all things seem to be equal in a game, it is hard not to notice two new All-Star caliber players holding down the paint.
Q: Who's the MVP so far?
JJ: I don't really have one. I just think collectively as a team, we've been great. I don't think that there's been one guy who's been so dominant. I think it's been collectively as a group.
DW: Hard to say right now. You can't say one guy is the MVP right now because you have so many guys who are playing well.
SH: Oh, boy, I'd probably say [Mike] Bibby. You just feel good when he's on the floor. Mostly, you'd think Joe [Johnson], but [Bibby] is the glue. Even if he has trouble shooting or whatever, or if he's hobbling around, I just feel good when he's there. To me, maybe he's an MIP -- most important player.
DD: Josh Smith, and I cannot say that strongly enough. Joe Johnson is the alpha dog. Jamal Crawford has been a nice addition, Al Horford certainly improved his game, but Josh Smith's defense, rebounding and effort have already been worth at least four wins.
Q: What concerns do you have looking at the rest of the season?
JJ: Just being more consistent, just coming out in games that we feel like we really, really should win. I would like for us to come out and really take care of business early and that way, guys can get some rest. But for the most part, we've been pretty good.
DW: Just staying healthy. That's the only concern I have.
SH: To be able to stay healthy and keep everybody in one piece, keep the flow that we have. When Joe Smith [out with a dislocated thumb] comes back, I think he's really going to be terrific, because to me, early in the year, he was so important, even though he wasn't playing a lot of minutes.
DD: Focus. Can Josh Smith continue his good attitude? Will Joe Johnson continue to trust his teammates? Does Mike Woodson expand the bench in March? Hopefully so, but it is much harder to play team basketball in game numbers 60-82 than it is that first month of a new season.
Q: What's your prediction on the number of wins the Hawks will have in the regular season?
JJ: No predictions. We're just going to play hard and try to get as many wins as we can get.
DW: I like to think we get 50 to 55.
SH: I looked at it last night (before the Denver game), if we go 30-25 the rest of the year, which doesn't seem like it's going to be that hard to do, we win 50 games. I think 50-plus, I would say.
DD: 54 wins and fourth seed in the playoffs.