ATLANTA — Here are five things we gleaned from the Hawks’ 111-100 loss to the Hornets on Friday night:
1. Atlanta never found its comfort zone — even when leading by 14 in the first half
In a frenetic first quarter, the Hawks connected on 10 of 21 shots and buried six three-pointers … and yet, only led the Hornets by one. That should have been a strong indicator of how things would shake out after Atlanta’s mojo from beyond the arc subsided.
And things went ice-cold in the second half, with the Hawks getting outscored 29-16 in the third quarter and then failing to hold the Hornets under 30 points in the final stanza.
“Defensively, we did not have a presence,” said Hawks coach Larry Drew, who continually harped on his team’s lack of “energy” and “physicality” during the postgame address. “Our demise was falling flat in the third quarter, and I’ve got to get a pulse on that.”
New Orleans shot 52 percent from the field, assaulting the Atlanta defense with a barrage of three-pointers (Ryan Anderson), mid-range runners (Greivis Vasquez), rebound tap-ins (Robin Lopez) and slashing dribble-drives to the bucket (Eric Gordon). For the night, Gordon led all scorers with 27 points.
The biggest momentum shift likely occurred early in the third quarter, after Hawks shooter Kyle Korver (17 points on 6-of-14 shooting) drove through the paint for a running jumper but was summarily stuffed by rookie Anthony Davis (his lone block). With the Hornets claiming possession of the ball, Gordon then sprinted to the right side of the court before nailing his only three-pointer of the evening — giving the Hornets a 68-66 lead.
After that, it was all New Orleans.
“We need to develop a killer instinct, particularly when we’re playing (with a sizable lead),” lamented Drew.
2. The Hawks’ big-picture status trumps the deflation of one head-scratching defeat
There’s a clear line of demarcation in the Eastern Conference standings, with eight clubs (including the Hawks) cruising with winning records … and the other seven essentially grappling for lottery slots. As such, losing the occasional home game to a Western foe that shoots 52 percent on a random February night probably isn’t a major deal.
But then again, the Hornets (17-33) are a bottom-feeder club in the West, trying to stay afloat with a combination of youth, guile and whatever mojo comes from the Mardi Gras-inspired uniforms of purple, gold and green. And starting Monday, the Hawks will launch a 14-game, 29-day stretch that includes 10 road tilts.
“I thought our bench sustained in the second half. From that standpoint, it was a signature win because we hadn’t had that (in previous games),” said Hornets coach Monty Williams. “But I don’t want to get too crazy, because we started off the last trip with a win, and then we went (0-5) the rest of it.”
If the playoffs began today (a detestable scenario, but play along), Atlanta (27-22) would stand as the East’s No. 6 seed, with a first-round matchup against Central-leading Indiana (31-20). Of equal relevance, the Hawks would be on the opposite bracket of the Heat — the defending NBA champs and No. 1 seed in this hypothetical.
The realistic goal for the next month: Maintain whatever seeding cachet the Hawks are enjoying now, even though they’ve lost two of their last three games at Philips Arena.
3. There’s nothing flashy about Anthony Davis’s game … and that’s OK
The thought hits you immediately after watching Davis (eight points, seven rebounds) glide about the court for four or five minutes of continuous action.
This is what Tim Duncan looked like during his sophomore season at Wake Forest.
The above statement may seem like a put-down on Davis, the NBA’s No. 1 draft pick and subsequent face of the Hornets (soon-to-be Pelicans) franchise. But in reality, it’s a pleasant reminder to 35-and-over hoopheads that long, athletic, graceful and instinctive talents like Duncan and Davis only come around every 10 or 15 years. They are transcendent figures.
Incidentally, Davis turns 20 on March 11. Man, do I feel old.
4. The silly season has begun regarding potential destinations for Josh Smith
With the trade deadline less than two weeks away, the speculation and innuendo involving Smith (23 points, eight assists, six rebounds, two blocks) has already boomed to inane levels.
Yes, it’s entirely plausible that Smith — an unrestricted free agent by season’s end — could be dealt by Feb. 21. But let’s also take the time to dismiss the big-money suitors with a bevy of unattractive expiring contracts — such as Boston, Brooklyn, Dallas, Houston, New York and Phoenix.
If the Hawks enter the playoffs with Smith still on board, they’ll likely renounce his rights after the season and pare $13.2 million off the books. That’s a lot of cap space to clear heading into the summer months. In other words, what’s Atlanta’s motivation for striking a Smith-focused, pre-deadline deal with another club, if it’s not getting substantial assets in return?
Perhaps the Jazz (with Al Jefferson’s expiring deal) or Spurs (Tiago Splitter and draft picks) would fit into Atlanta GM Danny Ferry’s long-range vision. But even these two marks have holes in the rationale.
5. The Hawks are slowly morphing into the long-distance Rockets of the East
Including Friday’s defeat, the Hawks (13 of 24 three-pointers against New Orleans) have attempted at least 19 triples in their last eight games, with an average of 23.5 during that span.
If that doesn’t exemplify the razor-thin depth of Atlanta’s primary frontline (Smith, Al Horford, Zaza Pachulia), nothing else can.
And yet, Josh Smith remains trade bait for a franchise that’s trying to delicately escape the purgatory of being good enough to win … but not realistic contenders for a championship.