With the benefit of hindsight, Hawks coach Larry Drew could sit back and analyze what went wrong in his team’s last 12 games before the NBA All-Star break.
The way he likes to put it, it’s more a case of what they can do better. What they can improve, he said, is not getting seduced into playing too slow of a style and pace that does not fit their game.
The Hawks lost eight of those 12 before the break and in those losses, they averaged 82.1 points per game. From Jan. 12 to Jan. 31, as they won nine of 11, they averaged 100.9 points in their wins.
Notice a difference? It’s the same team, the same players, but the wrong style. As the Hawks resumed play following the All-Star break on Wednesday, beginning a three-game home stand, they were hopeful to correct what ailed them.
“The last road trip we went on, I don’t think we did a very good job with that at all,” Drew said of the 1-4 trip. “We got seduced into playing a pace that, to me, is not a pace that lets you play against those particular teams. Offensively, going back and looking at our numbers with our transition, we didn’t do a good job.
“We weren’t very efficient in our fast break points. We talked about it as a team, watched film and broke it down.”
The Hawks have a couple of positives as they seek to turn things around. The first is that All-Star guard Joe Johnson, who had to sit out the All-Star Game because of tendinitis in his left knee and missed the last two games before the break, feels much better.
“It’s calmed down a lot,” Johnson said. “That was my main thing. After a week, I didn’t expect to be a hundred percent, but I’m close. I try to take it day by day and see what happens.”
The other is that in their last game before the break, the Hawks came home and in the second night of a back-to-back situation, they defeated Southeast Division rival Orlando 83-78 minus Johnson. The Hawks, sixth in the Eastern Conference, resume play trailing Orlando by 1½ games in the standings.
“It was a great win,” said Zaza Pachulia, who played 39 minutes and pulled down 13 rebounds while going toe-to-toe in that game with Magic All-Star center Dwight Howard. “…That game had a lot of meaning for us. It definitely felt good to get a win and go to the All-Star break. Hopefully, everyone’s rested and recharged. It’s back to business…
“We’re excited. Joe is back, too. We’re going to try and make a push.”
While every team has had to deal with the difficulty of the shortened, compressed schedule this season, the Hawks have vacillated a great deal in how they have dealt with it.
From Jan. 23 to Jan. 31, they went 4-1 on a road trip. Then they came home and lost three straight. They are hoping to break that pattern with the current three-game homestand.
“I think it’s in our favor, us playing here at home for the first three for the start of this second half,” Johnson said. “I think we can definitely get up for a good start. Take one game at a time and let’s try to get all three of them.”
Johnson is taking a positive outlook on the Hawks’ next five-game road trip that follows up this homestand after that 1-4 road trip earlier in February.
“I think we’re looking forward to it,” Johnson said. “It’s our last long trip. We’ll do whatever it takes. We’ll stay on track and get back to playing Hawks basketball.”
It’s hard to assess exactly why the team got away from playing “Hawks basketball.” Drew thinks it could be a combination factors, including mental fatigue from the schedule.
“Every time we go on the road, particularly, I make this speech about us playing at a pace that gives us a better position or puts us in a better position at the end of the game,” Drew said. “We can’t take those early quick shots we may take at home. You probably can’t take them on the road particularly when you’ve gone three or four trips down the floor and you haven’t scored.
“We’ve shown signs of understanding that and getting better in that area, but we still have to grow in that area.”
If the Hawks can build off what they did against Orlando, it could be a turning point. It was a lot more like what Drew wants Hawks basketball to look like.
“I think when we play together, the ball’s moving and we’re getting up and down, we’re a tough team to beat,” Johnson said. “I thought we did a great job defensively on Dwight and obviously got in transition, got a lot of easy buckets. It just fuels our offense and makes us a better team.”