Hawks fall to Bulls, now trail Knicks for No. 8 seed

Daniel Shirey

Three things stand out from this defeat:

a) Kyle Korver, who owns the NBA record for most consecutive games with at least one made three- pointer, buried three shots from long range early on, spurring the Hawks to a 31-point first quarter.

But after that, the shooting guard would register only one more field goal — a baseline triple that went down long after the Chicago victory had become academic.

b) The Hawks endured an unfortunate stretch without a field goal in the second half. When rookie Dennis Schroder converted a driving layup with roughly 40 seconds left in the third quarter, his team only trailed by four (76-72).

At the time of Atlanta’s next basket — an and-one bucket from DeMarre Carroll with 8:04 remaining — Chicago’s once-tight lead had mushroomed to 12 points.

c) Yes, Atlanta shot a respectable 44 percent against one of the NBA’s premier defenses, but Paul Millsap (22 points, 11 boards) and point guard Jeff Teague (21 points, eight assists) commanded the lion’s share of looks, accounting for 15 of 31 shooting.

The result: During crunch time, the Bulls defenders gave extra-special attention to Teague and Millsap, while the other Hawks struggled to hit open shots.

On a separate note, Schroder (five points, one rebound) looked particularly comfortable during his 13 minutes of court time. He was aggressive in the open floor and cocksure when charging through the paint in half-court sets.

For what it’s worth, Schroder (a No. 1 draft pick last summer) has logged double-digit minutes in 26 consecutive games.

By comparison, Bulls guard D.J. Augustin came off the bench to amass 23 points and five assists — with a 14-point spurt in the second quarter alone. He accounted for four of Chicago’s 12 triples.

In the post-game media scrum, Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer conceded his team occasionally lost track of Augustin. But at the same time, the former Texas star (8 of 15 from the field) still had to knock down shots.

"That’s what (Augustin has) been doing all year — Augustin for 24, Augustin for 28, Augustin for 30. … It’s been that kind of season," said Budenholzer, while also lamenting the Hawks’ 16 turnovers.

Hawks guard Louis Williams (six points, five assists) echoed his coach’s sentiments about Augustin … along with his team’s sloppy tendencies.

"We didn’t play well in the second half," said Williams. "Turnovers killed us."

As for Augustin, Williams was equal parts effusive and dismissive when discussing the Bulls guard’s hot night.

"He just played well, he was able to make a few crowd-pleasing plays, and he kind of fed off that confidence."

The pessimist would then say: The Knicks, who lead the Hawks by percentage points for the No. 8 playoff spot, have won three straight and 12 of their last 15 games.

And with only six regular-season outings on the docket … it’s possible the Bulls (4th in the East), Nets (5th) and Raptors (3rd) would have their respective playoff seeds clinched before facing New York from April 13-16 (three games in four days).

(Note: Since the Hawks and Knicks split their head-to-head series at 2-all … it’s still too early to know the tiebreaker situation.)

No matter how you slice it, though, things have officially gotten hairy for a Hawks team that once peaked at 25-21 on Feb. 1 … only to go 7-21 from that point forward.

Up next for Atlanta: A Friday home date with Cleveland, which trails the Hawks by just two games, in the middling race for the East’s No. 8 playoff seed.

"It’s big because we lost (Wednesday). It’s important for us to get back on track," says Williams.

Chalk it up to delirium of winter — although Atlanta had yet to get bludgeoned by the infamous "Snowmageddon" (eight days away) — or the over-confidence that emanates from slaying the world champs … at their tempo.

But back on Jan. 20, just minutes after Atlanta sprinted past LeBron James and the Miami Heat, 121-114, I boldly speculated the Hawks — one of only three or four Eastern clubs with a winning record at the time — could clinch a playoff spot by March 21 (the first day of spring).

That prediction factored in the hellacious schedule for February (12 games from Feb. 1-26), the extended West Coast trip in March (1-5 overall, including a loss at Boston) and a tightly condensed slate in April — thanks to a make-up game with the Detroit Pistons for April 8 (the result of the aforementioned Snowmageddon on Jan. 28-29).

Of course, the postseason proclamation didn’t assume the Hawks would go 1-14 from Feb. 4 to March 8, or that a six-game slide would immediately follow a five-game winning streak (March 10-18).

As such, we’re now left with a relatively healthy Atlanta squad that must fight for the right to be significant underdogs against the East’s No. 1 seed in the playoffs (Miami or Indiana).