Archives For Dwight Howard

Ron Turenne/NBAE

Ron Turenne/NBAE

The Atlanta Hawks avenged their 44 point loss that they suffered against the Toronto Raptors — 13 days ago — with a 125-121 victory in Toronto. The Raptors were led by DeMar DeRozan’s 34 points while his running mate, Kyle Lowry, added another 27, including a 6-for-8 performance from three-point range. Impressive.

Avenging the loss

13 days can a long time in this league and the Hawks proved that last night with a full circle-like performance, bouncing back against the Raptors with a big road win following their 44 point loss at the Air Canada Centre 13 days ago. What was the difference this time around? Well, it’s pretty simple, the Hawks just played much, much better than they did last time out.

Let’s start with scoring, last time out, the Hawks only scored 84 points on just under 40% shooting while shooting 25% from three and attempting 14 free throws, making just seven. The starters combined for just 46 points on 41% shooting with only two starters scored in double-digits (Dennis Schröder scoring 15 points, Dwight Howard scoring 10). Last night the staters scored 83 points (one less than the total number of points the Hawks scored in their last meeting with the Raptors) on 52.7% shooting with four starters scoring in double digits.

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Defeating the world champion Cleveland Cavaliers and competing step for step with Steph Curry and company seems like a far cry compared to the Hawks’ performances this season against sub .500 ball clubs. Just last Wednesday, they struggled to put away a Heat team that was missing several of its key contributors, then traveled to Milwaukee and barely gritted out a win after trailing by 20 points at halftime. Tonight, they continued their woes against sub .500 teams by trailing as much as 12 in the first half in a 131-120 loss to the 11-16 Orlando Magic.

“We have to find a way,” Tim Hardaway said. “This is not the first loss we’ve had to an under 500 team. It’s the NBA though — everybody at this level is a pro. Anybody can get 20 or 30 on any given night. We can’t look at the record, you have to instead look at the personnel. They are competing just as much as you are.”

When you trail the New Orleans Pelicans by 35 midway through an eventual 112-94 blowout , there is cause for pause. They’ve struggled against some of the worst defenses — scoring just 94 points against a 24th ranked Knicks defense — and allowing otherwise inadequate offenses to look unstoppable — Orlando averages 95 points a game despite scoring 131 on Atlanta’s defense.

You can point to several reasons as to why this has become an issue, whether it’s the 16.6 turnovers per game, 32 percent three point shooting or Coach Budenholzer’s constant lineup switch in search for reliable offensive production.

Tonight’s 15 turnovers  —resulting in 26 points for the Magic — was the biggest difference in the game and has been in several of their losses to bottom ranked teams. In the Hawks’ loss against the Suns they accumulated 20, they had 18 against the Lakers in Los Angeles and had 15 versus the Pelicans. Every team in the league loves facing a turnover prone bunch like these Hawks, because it buffers their own strengths and hides their weaknesses. Additionally, turnovers will tarnish a team’s best asset — the Hawks defense — by putting it in some tough spots in transition as a result of a lazy pass or a weak dribble-drive..

“Defense is our calling card, but we put so much pressure on our defense when we don’t get a good shot or we turn the ball over,” Kent Bazemore said. “Teams have gotten so much better in transition and it’s underrated how much that can really hurt you, because you have guys then able to get in rhythm, get mismatches, lobs at the rim and it really gets things going. So taking care of the ball is really pivotal.”

The high turnover count was present in Cleveland and the Bay; but it didn’t matter because both units were productive offensively and the defense contested the three-point line better than they have facing teams like the Magic. So who exactly are the Atlanta Hawks? 25 games into the season,Coach Budenholzer and company have yet to figure that out — no team really has frankly — but you would like to start at least begin a building process.

“The turnovers gave them confidence early on, they had some open shots and transition points,” Thabo Sefolosha said. “It definitely affects the way we play and the way they played throughout the whole game.”

For this team, it has been tough to find a balance when the offense is there one night and gone the next, which then places far too much pressure on getting defensive stops. The bench began the year playing as good as any in the league, while the starters were still finding their way. Now that has flipped, and here you have a Hawks group teetering in and out of playoff contention — unfamiliar territory given the past two years.

“This is a very deep team and we have a lot of guys who can play so it’s all about finding that rhythm as a unit”, Bazemore said. “We’ve had glimpses of both units doing well. The bench started off the season doing well, then the starters got going, so it’s a lot going on and not enough consistency. But we are not going to get it back all at once and we are still trying to figure out who we are.”

Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks’ two game winning patch was scuppered by the Orlando Magic on Tuesday night, the Hawks falling 131-120 (no, that’s not a misprint) to their division rivals. Serge Ibaka led the Magic with 29 points while Elfrid Payton recorded career highs in both points (26) and assists (14).

Understanding what on earth happened and why it happened

Heading into last night’s game, the Orlando Magic were averaging just 94.8 points per game, that ranks 29th in the league. Only the Dallas Mavericks — at 93.5 PPG — average less points per game than the Magic. Last night, the Magic scored 131 points, 36 points more than their average. 131 points… without, arguably, their best offensive in Nikola Vucevic who sat this one out. How did this happen? And why?

There’s a number of factors at play here. First of all, it’s an 82 game season. All teams will have at least one game like this where all their previous percentages just seem to fly out the window and they play an absolute stormer. This was that game for the Magic last night. It’s very, very unlikely they will have a better statistical night than they did last night, at least this season. I mean, take a look at their seasonal averages compared to their numbers from last night’s game.

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Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images

Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks knocked off division rivals, the Miami Heat, 103-95 at Philips Arena last night. The Heat were very shorthanded last night, playing without Dion Waiters, Luke Babbitt, Justise Winslow, James Johnson, Josh Richardson and Chris Bosh (as they have done all season) but got a significant contribution from Tyler Johnson, who scored a career high 27 points on the second night of a back-to-back.

Losing streak snapped

It’s over! The Hawks’ seven game losing streak is over, it’s only their second win in their last 12 games. How badly did they need this win?

“As bad as we need air.” — Paul Millsap

“He’s right. That’s all we’ve been thinking about since the last game, how we could come in and get this game. I thought our effort and our energy were in the right place and we got a good win.” — Dwight Howard

The Hawks are still below .500 with an 11-12 record, but it’s a start, something to build on. They actually played a very decent game against the shorthanded Heat, playing well on both sides of the floor. Of course, Coach Bud never settles and knows the Hawks can play much better.

“It’s good. I think we can play a lot better. We can get better. The work the guys put in the last couple days….the ball movement, the 27 assists is better. I think we need to keep building and keep getting better, but it’s good to get a win.” — Coach Mike Budenholzer

Bud briefly mentioned the 27 assists the Hawks registered, some of the ball movement last night was exquisite and the Hawks, having struggled with their ball movement of late, have now dished out 53 assists in their last two games. A very positive trend.

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Coach Budenholzer hasn’t lost more than five straight games since his first season in Atlanta — until Friday’s 104-88 loss to the Detroit Pistons. The Hawks returned home Friday night in search of not only a win, but to find their mojo they had when they started the season 9-2.  One of — if not the biggest — keys to that run was the bench. A bench that ranked 4th in scoring and averaged 45 points a game in October has now slipped to 32 points per game over the last five games. Both units are struggling in a number of areas, but the offensive possessions are the most glaring.  

“I think we are all just in a bit of a rut right now,” Kyle Korver said post-game Friday night. “It’s the first unit, it’s the second unit. We need to get the ball moving again and get everybody involved.”

“I would say a lot of possessions are not good enough,” said a visibly frustrated Mike Budenhozer. “We are not getting the looks that we need to get and then when you do get a good look it puts a lot of pressure to make those good ones. The game gets hard that way; you want to be free flowing. I don’t think we are getting a lot of good possessions to make those good looks feel right.”

During the winning streak, whenever the starters were in a close contest the bench was there to save them. Whenever the starters had a substantial lead, Muscala, Sefolosha and Hardaway stretched it even further. The road trip called for the bench to step up more than ever, as the Hawks played five games in eight days. Those eight days consisted of a starting unit averaging just 25 points a game and shooting 37 percent from the field.  Once again, the starters struggled, shooting just 34 percent from the field tonight and once again contributing 45 points. The reserves simply weren’t enough to gloss over the troubles hindering the 1st unit.

“Some things we have to get better with, our pick and roll actions,” Kyle Korver said. “Dennis and Dwight are still new to each other in a lot of ways and they’re still figuring it out. We have to do whatever we can to help them, give them better spacing, but I think it’s a lot of parts of the offense that’s a problem, not just the pick and roll.”

The losing streak hurts, yes, but even worse is an absence of fear in opponents when they have to try and stifle this offense. An offense that was once able to wear defenses down until a white flag was waved or break out on a 12-2 run in a blink of an eye to shrink a deficit currently looks like a distant relative.

Defenses are making a stronger effort to close the paint off pick and rolls and, by doing so, throwing off an offense that works best when the inside presence is established first. Before the five game winning streak ended, Atlanta was ranked fourth in points in the paint — averaging 47 points a game — however, over the last three games, they’ve been held to just 38 points a game.

“Teams are sending three or four bodies at me as I’m rolling to the basket to make sure I don’t get any easy baskets,” Dwight Howard said. “They are forcing our guards to make plays, so it’s just a little adjustment that we are going to fix.”

The Hawks don’t  have many off days to rest and watch film to recuperate,m as they face the 2nd seed Toronto Raptors on Saturday night on the back end of a back-to-back, and return home Monday where Russell Westbrook awaits them.