The Hawks began their first-round playoff series against the Celtics with their mouths.
The Celtics earned the NBA's best regular-season record at 66-16 and are the top seed in the Eastern Conference. No team in the postseason has a worse record than Atlanta (37-45) and it went winless in three contests against Boston. Despite those statistics, the Hawks plan to "shock the world" like eighth-seeded Golden State did by knocking off Dallas in the first round last season.
"We'd be fools to think it's not possible," Hawks forward Josh Smith told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution yesterday. "We'd be bigger fools not to believe in ourselves, especially after the way people have bashed us the past few years. Why shouldn't we think we're going to shock the world? The Warriors showed everybody that it's not impossible."
Hawks forward Josh Childress told the paper, "We feel like it's a great matchup for us. I don't think there's any position where you can say we are severely undermanned against them. We don't feel like it's a situation where you can say it won't be a competitive series, because we've played and played well against some of the best teams in the league."
When told of the Hawks' comments after a 105-94 win over New Jersey, Celtics forward-center P.J. Brown said, "They're some confident young men. It should be interesting."
Rondo the Sixth StarThe biggest question entering the season was whether second-year point guard Rajon Rondo could lead a championship-caliber team with three perennial All-Stars. Considering Rondo is a Most Improved Player award candidate and the winner of the Celtics' Sixth Star award, it's safe to say he has answered the critics.
Rondo won the 21st Sixth Star Award yesterday for perseverance and leadership on and off the court. Rondo received 40 percent of the approximately 5,000 fan votes. Rondo, who averaged 10.6 points, 5.1 assists, and 4.2 rebounds, was given an engraved Tiffany vase at halftime.
"It's an honor to get the award," Rondo said. "It means a lot. The fans picked the award. It's a great award to have, especially being a Celtic."
When asked how concerned he was about Rondo being his starting point guard at the start of the season, coach Doc Rivers said, "I wasn't that concerned about it and he's come a long way."
Rivers gave Rondo and reserve forward James Posey the night off against the Nets. Veteran Sam Cassell started in Rondo's place while guard Eddie House also returned to action after missing three games with a right adductor strain.
"I could use the rest," Rondo said. "I'm cool physically. [Rivers] has been saying he was going to do it. I played the entire second half against New York [Monday]. I guess he knew what he was doing."
Said Rivers: "I wanted it to be a last game [for Rondo to be off]. That gives him a little bit more rest because he is going to have to play with an amazing amount of energy [in the postseason]."
Good step for PollardCeltics center Scot Pollard, who is out for the season after having surgery on his left ankle, said via text message he was told by his doctor in Indianapolis he could take his protective boot off tomorrow. On the Celtics getting 66 wins, the humorous Pollard, who wears No. 66, said: "Don't underestimate the Pollard factor, 66 wins. Now you know why I picked that number." . . . Nets forward Keith Van Horn landed $4.3 million after being involved in a sign and trade from Dallas in the Jason Kidd deal Feb. 19. Van Horn, who was enjoying post-basketball life in Colorado at the time of the trade, did not play one game for the Nets after he was acquired. "He got one [heck] of a deal," Rivers said. "I want to see if I got one of those things somewhere in my deal on someone's salary cap somewhere." . . . Nets center Josh Boone, a former UConn star, did not play because of a right MCL sprain . . . On former Boston College star Sean Williams, a rookie with the Nets this season, coach Lawrence Frank said: "Sean has come a long way. I think there have been bumps in the road from a playing standpoint. Initially, when we drafted him, and obviously not finishing out at Boston College, everyone had 'character concerns' but that has been the least [of our concerns]."
Marc J. Spears can be reached at email@example.com