Hawks say playoffs are ‘new season'

CHICAGO — Al Horford is hardly outraged that doubts remain about the Hawks even after they’ve won five of their first seven playoff games.

Horford actually understands the skepticism.

“If you looked at us in the regular season, we are a roller coaster,” Horford said. “We come out and play great, the other game we get blown out by 50, and so people are saying, ‘Same Hawks again.’ And I can understand that.

“But I think the guys have come to realize we have an opportunity to do something special. We are just embracing our chance to still be in the playoffs.”

The Bulls are the latest team to realize the postseason Hawks aren’t necessarily like the regular-season version. After playing one good half against the Bulls in three regular-season games, the Hawks delivered a convincing 103-95 victory Monday night in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

The Hawks lost two of three games to Chicago during the season — and had to rally from 19 points down for the lone victory. Chicago had 14 more rebounds per game, and the Hawks couldn’t break 83 points in any of the meetings.

In Game 1 the Hawks had a 38-37 rebounding edge and shot 51 percent from the field.

“The regular season is over,” said Hawks guard Joe Johnson, who scored 34 points. “We’re starting a new season. Collectively, as a team, we’ve been great in the postseason. We’ve approached every game with the same intensity.”

It was another turnabout for the Hawks, who won Game 1 against Orlando in the first round, a year after the Magic swept them in the second round. On Monday, the Hawks ended a 15-game losing streak in the second round.

“A lot of people had written us off in the series before it even began,” Hawks coach Larry Drew said Tuesday. “Now that we have been in these situations a few times, we respond differently. We don’t listen to what’s being said ... and I do believe this team is a little more hungry.”

Do it again

The Hawks now own home-court advantage in the best-of-seven series. They lost Game 2 against the Magic before winning three games at Philips Arena to clinch the series.

The Hawks will play Game 2 at Chicago on Wednesday before returning to Atlanta for games on Friday and Sunday.

“We are not satisfied,” Johnson said. “We know the series isn’t over. But yet still we know we are in the drivers’ seat. It wouldn’t hurt to get another one.”

Roping in Rose

The Hawks adjusted their pick-and-roll defense to deal with Chicago point guard Derrick Rose.

Against Orlando the main concerns for the Hawks were Dwight Howard rolling to the basket and point guard Jameer Nelson passing to 3-point shooters in the corner. Most of the responsibility for slowing Nelson was left to Hawks guards.

Rose is more aggressive going to the basket than Nelson, so in Game 1 Horford and forward Josh Smith helped guard Jeff Teague keep Rose out of the paint.

“We were showing a lot of different looks,” Horford said. “Rose is so fast and explosive.”

Something different

Drew said he wasn’t certain which strategic adjustments the Bulls would make for Game 2. He said Chicago might try to post up forward Carlos Boozer more often and get more shots for forwards Luol Deng and Kyle Korver.

Drew said he expects the Bulls to play with more intensity.

“It is a game where there backs will be against the wall, and they feel it’s a must-win for them,” he said.

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