Court Vision: Hawks pull past Nets as streak reaches 17; All-Star fates await
ATLANTA — The most surprising thing to come from the Hawks as they ran their winning streak to a 17 straight game with a rout of the Nets had nothing to do with basketball.
Coach Mike Budenholzer, it seems, is a Drake fan.
Point guard Jeff Teague let it slip during an ESPN interview that aired earlier Wednesday that he had seen Budenholzer at a concert with his entire family.
"I wondered what it was going to take to get to Jeff," Budenholzer said, laughing. "Some family secrets are supposed to stay in the family."
On the court, it was more of the same as the Hawks pulled away from struggling Brooklyn 113-102 to extend their franchise-record run and build their lead in the Eastern Conference to seven.
Here are three observations from Atlanta’s 31st win in the last 33 games, which gave them a tie for the 14th longest streak in NBA history:
The Nets came in having lost their last two games by 39 and 35 points and, thanks to the winter storm that’s wrecked havoc on the Northeast, they haven’t played since Saturday. They’re also without Deron Williams and Mirza Teletovic.
With that recipe, the Hawks would have, understandably, not expected much of a challenge from Brooklyn and it could have caught them looking ahead.
For the first nearly six minutes, Atlanta was in danger of having that exact scenario play out, and while there were some defensive hiccups, the Hawks did what they’ve done throughout the last 17 games.
Punctuated by a barrage of 3-pointers — including three by Eastern Conference leader Kyle Korver — the Hawks went on runs of 17-6 and 13-5 en route to an 11-point halftime. Running parallel with the streak, that’s their 17th straight game with a lead of at least 10 points.
"We just wanted to close out the half making a run and we got stops when we needed to," said center Al Horford. "You’ve got to give Brooklyn credit. They came out and they had a great plan."
Brooklyn managed to cut it to four points with a Joe Johnson jumper with 4:22 to play in the third. It never got closer as the Hawks led by as many as 15 in the fourth quarter in making it 32 wins in 34 games.
After dumping reigning MVP Kevin Durant and the Thunder on Friday, the Hawks put away the league’s worst team, the Timberwolves, by 12 Sunday. Now, with the Trail Blazers, which are third in the Western Conference coming to Philips Arena on Friday, looming they responded to the Nets’ early charge.
After Brooklyn shot 65 percent in the first quarter, it was 26 of 67 (38.8) the rest of the way as the Hawks dealt the Nets an 11th loss in 13 games.
Budenholzer is one to say his team respects everyone in this league, and as much as that kind of talk can seem like lip service, with these Hawks it feels like they play their game the same way regardless of the opposition. Against the Nets, they got away from that early on, turning this, at times, into an offensive tit-for-tat that the Hawks coach doesn’t want to see repeated.
"I don’t like it," he said. "It’s good to be able to win different ways. We believe in versatility … but I don’t think we want to morph into an offensive shootout and to a certain degree that’s what happened tonight."
The coaches’ voting for the All-Star reserves — which will be announced Thursday night — is closed, but it doesn’t hurt to make a statement ahead of the release.
The Hawks’ contenders did that, and maybe no one made more noise that Korver.
The shooting guard, who has never been an All-Star, though will be part of the Three-Point Shootout, hit five on seven attempts. That marked his eighth such game of the season, matching the Warriors’ Stephen Curry. Only the Blazers’ Wesley Matthews has more with 11.
There’s a growing sentiment that the Hawks should get multiple reserve picks, which is likely to come from the group that produced three double-doubles in Paul Millsap (28 points, 15 rebounds and two blocks vs. Brooklyn), Al Horford (20 points, 10 rebounds and five assists) and Jeff Teague (13 points and 10 assists), and could include all of them.
But it’s Korver, as colleague Zach Dillard detailed, that’s on pace for an historic 50/50/90 season in shooting 53.1 percent on 3s, 51.6 on field goals and 92.3 on free throws. He’s an unconventional All-Star, seen as a one-trick player, but there’s nobody that’s doing that one thing better, as he was 5 of 8 from distance in scoring 17 points.
"That’s who he is," said Nets coach Lionel Hollins. "He comes off screens, which the last guy who did that was Ray Allen. There are not many guys who come off a pindown and shoot a 3. He’s one of those guys."
At the least, we’ll get to see Korver prove that in a Shootout field that includes Matthews, Curry and his Golden State teammate Klay Thompson and the Clippers’ J.J. Reddick. And at least the Hawks will also be well represented with Korver, Budenholzer coaching the East and Dennis Schroder playing in the Rising Stars Challenge.
The problem with these Hawks is what’s made them so impressive: it’s difficult to signal out one player for their success. To underscore that, Wednesday was the 13th time this season all five Atlanta starters scored in double figures.
An All-Star Game contingent that doesn’t include Korver, however likely, doesn’t seem to be a true representation of the East leaders.
Through six All-Star seasons, Johnson was a centerpiece for the Hawks and in the loss he looked every bit that player, scoring 26 points.
But his being in Philips Arena was also a reminder that the 2012 deal that sent him to the Nets helped pave the way for Atlanta’s ascension — and it’s a move that’s far from done paying dividends.
Two pieces are still to come the Hawks’ way in that trade, the biggest of which, given the state of this Brooklyn team is that Atlanta has the right to swap first-round draft picks this season. There is no lottery protection, meaning the Hawks, who have a comfortable lead atop the East, could be adding another talented piece this summer via a team that’s 1/2 game out of eighth in the playoff hunt.
Oh, and there’s also the second-round selection in 2017 that will complete the compensation for Johnson.
Most mock drafts currently pencil the Hawks at 12th or 13th with Brooklyn’s pick with a 0.7 percent chance of winning the lottery. That puts Atlanta in line to potentially take Texas center Myles Turner or power forwards Frank Kaminsky (Wisconsin) or Montrezl Harrell (Louisville).
But with the Nets likely in fire-sale mode before the trade deadline as they try and rid themselves of the highest payroll in the league, the chances of the Hawks moving up in the lottery will only increase.
38 — With the win, the Hawks equaled their win total form last season when they finished eighth in the East, and did it with 36 games remaining.
2 — Atlanta shot 95.8 percent from the foul line, with Millsap having the only miss in the team’s 24 attempts. That’s the Hawks second game with a FT percentage of 95 or higher on 20 or more attempts. Only Portland can match that.
Follow Cory McCartney on Twitter @coryjmccartney