Court Vision: Hawks net 8th straight win, longest streak since '97

BY foxsports • December 10, 2014

ATLANTA -- Here's an inside look at the Hawks' 95-79 home victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday, a somewhat sluggish, but ultimately restful night for a lot of Atlanta regulars. Plus, for history sake, the Hawks collected their eighth consecutive win -- the club's longest streak since the 1997-98 season (11-0 to open that campaign).

THREE-POINT TAKE

1. The Hawks' starters certainly made the most of their limited minutes ... against the overmatched Sixers

Of Wednesday's starting quintet -- Kyle Korver, Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap, Al Horford, DeMarre Carroll (14 points, 11 boards) -- only the All-Star Millsap (17 points, eight rebounds) logged more than 30 minutes against the 76ers (now 2-19).

But don't just assume middling numbers from a group that averaged only 28 minutes Each starter was in the proverbial black with plus/minus ratio, and the cumulative tally was a robust plus-63.

Compare/contrast that to the Philly starting lineup ... which totaled just 37 points and posted a woeful combined ratio of minus-70.

Ugh.

Of course, no one should be surprised the 76ers reside at the bottom of the NBA standings. The franchise remains in the early stages of an absurdly long rebuilding process, where the club might not be truly competitive for two or three more.

(On the positive side, no one stockpiles down-the-road draft picks and salary-cap space like the Philly front office.)

Back to the Hawks (10-2 at home): You wouldn't have believed the number of quality looks Korver (17 points, three assists) had on this night, burying 6 of 11 shots and five triples.

It was almost like the 76ers didn't fully respect the shooting prowess of Korver -- despite owning the NBA all-time record for consecutive games with at least one three-pointer.

The Philly perimeter defenders also didn't do a bang-up job of stopping Atlanta penetration in the second half, perhaps leaning too much on the shot-blocking prowess of second-year project Nerlens Noel (three blocks).

That short-sighted approach to defense helped the Hawks (42 percent from the field) claim the overall battles with rebounds, assists, steals, three-point shooting, points off turnovers and points in the paint (44) -- while methodically pulling away from the woeful Sixers.

"Not the best basketball game for us," said Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer, matter-of-factly, in his postgame address. He then added: "We were good enough to get the win; (but) we have to get better."

Reading between the lines ... Budenholzer (a longtime assistant with the dynastic Spurs before 2013) fully understands that not all games on the NBA schedule are created equal. During a marathon campaign, psychologically, it's tough to get up for every opponent -- especially one that starts a season 0-17.

And just like his coaching mentor with the Spurs, the incomparable Gregg Popovich, Budenholzer fully grasps the concept of resting starters during the dog days of December/January/February.

"We're trying to build a day-to-day approach," says Budenholzer, a second-year head coach (53-50 overall). "We're about building habits ... and not worrying about who we're playing."

2. The Hawks should be commended for taking care of business against lesser-light foes

The optimist would point to Atlanta's eight-game winning streak as the franchise's greatest mini-run of this century.

He/she may also feel emboldened to say Atlanta (15-6) can realistically compete for the Southeast Division title, along with top-seed honors in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

The pessimist, in turn, would explain how all eight comers from the Hawks' recent domination -- Celtics, Heat, Nets, Pacers, Hornets, among others -- currently don't possess a winning record.

They might also choose to wait another month or so to assess Atlanta ... after it takes on Cleveland (twice), Memphis, Dallas, Houston, Portland, Washington, Chicago and the Los Angeles Clippers (twice) over the next 35 days.

Either way, it's encouraging to see the Hawks treat each opponent with relative respect -- even on so-so nights of erratic play (like the first half on Wednesday) or during long road trips.

Budenholzer lamented the high number of jump shots in the first 24 minutes. But the pace and aggression were more to his liking in the latter half.

"At times, you've got to drive more, you've got to attack the basket more."

Bottom line: For the Hawks, the quickest way to national prominence comes in dispatching eminently beatable clubs (the 76ers might be bad for a loooooooong time) ... and toppling the likes of LeBron James, Derrick Rose, LaMarcus Aldridge, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol, Blake Griffin and John Wall during red-letter or statement games.

Here's a good nugget to consider: Through 21 games, Atlanta has only had one indisputable clunker, getting pounded by LeBron's Cavaliers on Nov. 15 (127-94).

And that opportunity for revenge comes in 20 days.

3. It's funny what a few days in the D-League can do for a young prospect's confidence

On the stat sheet, second-year power forward Mike Muscala tallied 12 points (on 6 of 8 shooting), seven boards and three assists against the Sixers.

He also accomplished certain things that don't necessarily appear in the box score -- namely altering the opposition's shots near the rim and warding off point guards during high pick-and-rolls.

Put it all together, and Muscala (NBDL per-game averages: 13.5 points, 9.0 rebounds, 1.5 blocks) might be primed for a noticeable bump in consistent minutes ... when facing quality competition.

But Muscala, 23, isn't one to look ahead. He's simply focused on the task at hand -- taking games day by day -- essentially repeating the mantra of his head coach.

STATS THAT MATTER

2: This represents the number of winnable games left on the Hawks' weekly docket -- a home-and-home series against the last-place Orlando Magic (Southeast) -- before things stiffen up considerably on Monday night (home outing against the Bulls).

29.5: The average age of the Hawks' top six scorers during the 1997-98 season -- the last time the franchise fostered a winning streak of 10 or more games.

15: The average victory margin (points-wise) for Atlanta during this prodigious streak.


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