Hawks aim to spark turnaround by fixing offense
The statistics paint a pretty clear picture of what has ailed the Atlanta Hawks during a slide that, as of Thursday, had them on the outside of the Eastern Conference’s playoff race.
For the season, the Hawks have shot 45.4 percent. During the past few months, they have gradually pulled that percentage down. In February they shot 44.9 percent. That mark fell to 43.7 percent in March, and in their lone April outing they shot 44.4 percent. The first three months of the season, the Hawks did not shoot below 45.7 percent for a month.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence, then, that they have won eight of 29 games during that stretch. Part of the issue has been injuries but, more recently, it also has been a situation of getting back into sync offensively as those injured players re-enter the lineup. For example, Kyle Korver was in the lineup as the Hawks won five straight games. He then suffered back spasms and missed the next six games, all losses. Pero Antic, the starter at center, missed 17 games from Jan. 24 to March 2 because of a broken ankle. In March, Lou Williams, the Hawks’ top scorer off the bench, missed six games because of a benching and another because of the birth of his child. Other key players have missed games here and there. All of that has disrupted the Hawks’ flow on offense.
"I think ever since we went West (March 2 through March 10) on that long road trip, we just weren’t healthy, I think injuries really took a toll on us in a (number) of ways," Korver said. "Even looking back, we had a few games we played well and then I was hurt and then other guys sat out and we need all of our pieces. We need them all. We’ve had these stretches where we’ve been missing guys. We’re a system team and we need the skills that all the different pieces bring to make the whole thing go well and I think we’re missing guys.
"We just haven’t had as good of shots. We’ve had to force some shots and we’ve had just stretches every game where we don’t play very well and in an NBA game most games are decided by a few points and those stretches have really hurt us. So surely we’ve all had shooting slumps or whatever — we haven’t shot as well as we have before — but I think a lot of it is we’re just not getting as good of looks as maybe we were earlier in the years."
Forward Paul Millsap, one of the few Hawks to score on a consistent basis lately, also said that the Hawks have not taken good shots in recent games.
"Not lately," he said. "I could be the first to say that. We’ve taken tough shots. We haven’t moved the basketball like we have previously. We dropped down in assists. We were one of the top teams in assists — maybe the top team in assists — but we’ve dropped down and that’s due to not moving the basketball so we’ve got to get back to playing that way."
The Hawks, in fact, remain second in the NBA at 24.7 assists per game.
With the loss to the Bulls on Wednesday, the Hawks (32-42) dropped behind the New York Knicks (33-43) in the standings by two percentage points. Nonetheless, the schedule remains in the Hawks’ favor. They play five of their remaining eight games at Philips Arena, where they have a 21-15 record. Three of those games come against teams behind them in the standings: Cleveland, Boston and Detroit. A fourth game comes against Charlotte, in seventh place in the East. The Hawks also close on the road at Milwaukee, the league’s worst team.
Meanwhile, the Knicks have three of their six games left on the road and all against teams above them in the standings (Miami, Toronto and Brooklyn). In fact, all of New York’s remaining games come against teams ahead of them in the standings, as they play at home against Washington, Chicago and Toronto.
But the Knicks are hot and the Hawks are not.
Korver said all of the losing is having an impact on the team’s ability to execute.
"The mental toll of all the losses," he said. "You get frustrated. I think (coach Mike Budenholzer) has done good a job of being upbeat and the coaching staff. None of us have fallen into an abyss by any means, but it’s a mental challenge just to stay up and keep playing hard and playing good basketball."
The good news is that the Hawks still have some optimism. Millsap pointed to the fact that the Hawks control their own destiny (because they have one fewer loss than the Knicks) and also because they own the tiebreakers against both the Knicks and the Cavaliers (31-45), Friday’s opponent who is in 10th, two games behind the Hawks.
"That’s what comes down to at the end of the day: us winning," Millsap said.
Korver said he feels that the Hawks have not played well the last few weeks. He wants to turn that around so that if the Hawks do make the playoffs, they’ll be functioning at their best.
"Even if we do go into the playoffs, you don’t want to go in playing bad basketball," he said. "So, from my standpoint, I want to get back to playing good basketball again and whatever happens from there will happen. But let’s build some momentum. If we’re going to make the playoffs, try to go in playing well, you know?"