Court Vision: Hawks bounce Bulls in Chicago, net 12th straight win
Here are three detailed observations from the Hawks’ 107-99 road win over the Bulls, clinching Atlanta’s 12th straight victory — just two shy of the franchise’s all-time mark (established in 1993):
Even without Joakim Noah, inarguably one of the NBA’s top defenders, the Bulls are still formidable on the defensive end. That makes the Hawks’ 48-percent shooting night at United Center even more gratifying, a scintillating outing that included 11 triples and 16 of 21 free throws.
Take your pick from the club’s Big Four: Kyle Korver (24 points, six rebounds), Al Horford (22 points, nine rebounds), Jeff Teague (17 points, 11 assists) and Paul Millsap (16 points, six assists) converted on 29 of 54 shots — for an oh-so-sweet rate of 54 percent.
Digging deeper … it’s hard to recall consecutive missed jumpers from Horford or back-to-back foiled three-pointers from Korver (seven triples).
Yes, it was just another fluid night for the Hawks offense, which has a wonderful knack of scoring in half-court situations with six cumulative dribbles or less. That kind of selfless proficiency puts a real strain on opposing defenses … and that was readily apparent in an emotionally charged outing when Atlanta seldom came close to squandering its varying leads of comfort.
Put it all together, and it’s no wonder thatt Atlanta cracked the century mark in points for the first time against the Bulls — in Chicago — since the 2009-10 season. It was also the Hawks’ first road victory against the Bulls since the second Michael Jordan era (not really) … or something like that.
Counting his 10 outings from the Hawks’ 12-game winning streak (sidelined twice for "rest"), Horford holds supreme averages of 17.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.2 blocks.
Of equal relevance, during this prodigious stretch of unblemished team basketball, Horford has matched or eclipsed his counterparts in the frontcourt — prominent names like Pau Gasol, Jonas Valanciunas, Marcin Gortat, Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe, Marc Gasol, Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge.
On paper, the Hawks — who haven’t lost since Dec. 26 (against the Bucks) — just finished the "brutal" stretch of their January slate, racking up four road wins in five nights (against Philly, Boston, Toronto, Chicago) and knocking off surging clubs like Portland, Detroit, Memphis and the Los Angeles Clippers right after the New Year.
Now, they can look forward to a seven-game homestand (starting Monday), spaced out over 12 days, that includes six teams with sub-.500 records (Pistons, Pacers, Thunder, Timberwolves, Nets, 76ers) and one that’s primed for a long postseason run (Blazers).
That spells "relief" to an Atlanta team that must be overjoyed to sleep in their own beds for the better part of two weeks.
After all, for this 12-game winning streak, nine triumphs occurred in different cities (including Atlanta). That’s a lot of travel at the seasonal midpoint … even if Coach Mike Budenholzer has adopted the nightly practice of resting regulars (like Dennis Schroder on Saturday).
Atlanta might never lead the NBA in "highlight-clips time" on the national news shows — especially when LeBron and Kobe are battling in a high-profile game, featuring two teams with losing records (oh, snap!).
But after 41 outings, nobody in the league has more victories (33) and only the Golden State Warriors (31-6 at the time of this writing) possess a higher winning percentage than the Hawks — who have claimed nine straight road wins (a franchise record) and are on pace for 66 triumphs by season’s end (which would also be a club record).
Which brings us to this: It wouldn’t be a historical precedent for the Hawks to own home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs. But it would be absolutely be something new if they entertained all comers during the postseason — assuming it reached the NBA Finals for the first time in Atlanta history.
Of course, to play devil’s advocate for a second, it’s worth noting the Hawks — a staple of southern sports since 1968 — have never advanced to the conference finals when calling Atlanta home.
The Hawks silenced a boisterous Bulls crowd midway through the third quarter with a single sequence that came in two parts:
Pau Gasol’s mid-range jumper missed its mark and prompted a scrum of big men scrambling to get the ball.
As it trickled near midcourt, Hawks forward DeMarre Carroll (four points, four boards) grabbed the rebound — while bowling over a Bulls player — then lofted a forward pass to Al Horford, who had a layup opportunity on the break, but instead fired a cross-court trailing pass to Korver, who buried the three-pointer.
With Chicago still reeling from the momentum shift, Atlanta stormed after Jimmy Butler at midcourt and forced a quick steal … allowing Jeff Teague (averaging 19.1 points in January) to tally the easiest breakaway dunk of his pro career.
In a flash, the Hawks had transformed a close game into a 15-point deficit for the Bulls, who fought gamely to the end but were never serious contenders for victory.
As such, Chicago (27-15) might have come to realize the following:
The battle for the East’s No. 1 seed during the playoffs may soon be a lost cause. But the Bulls are still sitting pretty with the Central Division, leading the Bucks and Cavaliers by five-plus games.