Larry Drew’s message to his Hawks team is clear.
They must finish strong.
After dropping a disappointing loss to the 76ers in Philadelphia Saturday night – completing a brutal stretch of seven games in nine days – the Hawks coach gave his team two days off. They will report back to practice on Tuesday. In the meantime, they are to use the down time to rest, heal and get ready for the final stretch of the lockout-compacted schedule with an eye toward the playoffs.
“It’s not a situation where we are going to be down on ourselves,” Drew said following the 95-90 loss to the Sixers in a game the Hawks led by six points early in the fourth quarter. “We have two games next week in Atlanta. We are going to take them one at a time. The message is to finish the regular season on a strong note.”
The Hawks (31-23) have 12 games remaining in the regular season, eight of them at Philips Arena. They host the NBA-worst Bobcats (7-43) on Wednesday and the Pistons (19-33) on Friday. They travel to Charlotte for a rematch with the Bobcats on Saturday. Neither team can be taken lightly as the Hawks need victories to secure the best playoff position possible in the Eastern Conference. And they will be tested with games remaining against the Celtics and Magic.
The Bulls and Heat have all but locked up the top two spots in the conference. The Hawks are sixth in the playoff race with their sights set up moving up to possibly host a first-round series. They trail the Magic by 1-1/2 games for the third spot, which would allow them to host a first round series. With the fourth seed currently held by the Celtics and the fifth seed by the Pacers, the Sixers and Knicks are right behind the Hawks. Fall back into one of those final two spots and a date with the elite of the conference awaits.
“Now, we finished a very tough part of our schedule,” Drew said. “We’ve got some days where we can re-group. We’ve got some guys who are banged up. We were short-handed with five of our guys out [against the Sixers]. Hopefully we can get most of them back for the next game.”
The Hawks could get Tracy McGrady (illness) and Jerry Stackhouse (family emergency) back against the Bobcats. Vladimir Radmanovic (back) is questionable after missing nine of the past 10 games. Jannero Pargo (appendectomy) and Al Horford (torn pectoral muscle) continue to be out.
The schedule and injuries aside, Drew wants his team playing at its best once the playoffs arrive. They have been too inconsistent this season with turnovers and poor shot selection being the major culprits.
The loss to the Sixers, who won all three regular-season contests, was a microcosm of what has ailed the Hawks at times this year. The fourth quarter has gotten away from them.
“We played well in stretches but we haven’t been able to put together consistency in any one game,” Drew said. “… We seem to implode against this team. When a team is a good defensive team you have to be prepared to grind it out. All three ball games we were in similar situations where we self destructed at the wrong time.”
It’s a trend they need to change once the postseason arrives.
Despite Saturday’s loss, the Hawks have won seven of the past 11 games. Josh Smith, who scored a game- and season-high 34 points in the loss to the Sixers, understands the issue at hand. There is not room for inconsistency in the playoffs.
“I know we will be ready when the postseason comes,” Smith said.