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.”