When the NBA and TNT met last spring to discuss the regular-season schedule, one topic of discussion was the Thanksgiving Day game.
John Vandegrift, vice president for sports-program planning at Turner Sports, called it one of the “showcase games” of the network’s Thursday night broadcast schedule.
When the NBA came back to TNT with a Hawks-Magic suggestion, Vandegrift said, “We thought, ‘You know what? As far as two up-and-coming teams, the Magic and the Hawks, you’ve got young, athletic guys, [Al] Horford, [Josh] Smith and of course [Dwight] Howard, this would be a really nice matchup.’ “
It’s the Hawks’ only TNT game of the season.
TNT had Horford come in this past Thursday to talk up the Magic game. Additionally, the Hawks will debut their alternate road jerseys (red with “ATL” on the chest) for the 8 p.m. game.
“It’s a great story,” Vandegrift said of the Hawks’ start. “You really kind of want to nudge the country, saying, ‘You don’t want to really miss this. This isn’t smoke and mirrors.’ “
It’s worked out pretty well for TNT, which, entering Friday night’s games, had one team with the top record in the NBA (Hawks) and the other tied for second in the Eastern Conference (Orlando).
It’s a lot better than last year, when TNT had Washington and Orlando, only to have Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas have a surgical procedure on his knee knock him out for most of the season.
“We went into the season thinking, ‘Boy, we got the Wizards. We’ve got Agent Zero,’ “ Vandegrift, referencing Arenas’ nickname. “The only thing that worked there was the word zero.”
By averaging 20 or more points in his four seasons with the Hawks, Joe Johnson’s reputation as a scorer is secure. However, he showed off his considerable defensive chops this past week. Principally assigned to Portland guard Brandon Roy and Miami guard Dwyane Wade, both All-Stars, Johnson held Roy to 17 points (three under his season average going into Friday) and Wade to 15 (12 under his average). Johnson scored 65 in those two games.
“I’ve got to make the catches tough, make the shots tough,” Johnson said. “That’s not easy. And try and come out and score on the offensive end. It is definitely a lot of work, but it’s a challenge I’m willing to take every night.”
Smith not left out
Smith has set as goals for the season to make the All-Star and All-Defensive teams. It’s not quite the same, but ESPN.com named him to its all-lefty team, along with Los Angeles Lakers forward Lamar Odom, Toronto center Chris Bosh and Milwaukee guards Michael Redd and Brandon Jennings.
According to ESPN, 6.7 percent of the players in the NBA are left-handed.
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