Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap (4) shoots in front of Oklahoma City Thunder center Enes Kanter in the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Monday, Dec. 19, 2016. Atlanta won 110-108. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Hawks are up and down, up and down and now up again

Think it’s hard to figure out these Hawks?

Just look at their last five games – three road wins and two home losses – as reason enough to scratch your head in wonderment.


* A 114-110 win at the Bucks after trailing by 20 points.

* A 131-120 home loss to the struggling Magic.

* A 125-121 win at the Raptors, who won by 44 points on the same court less than two weeks earlier.

* A 107-99 home loss to the Hornets with first place in the division on the line.

* A 110-108 win at the Thunder, who won in Atlanta earlier in the month, while Dwight Howard a late scratch.

“We’ve got a good team,” Thabo Sefolosha said after Monday’s victory over the Thunder. “We know that. I think there are a lot of positives. We hate losing but at the same time the losses to Orlando and Charlotte, I think there are some positives to take. We want to be able to close out the game and win but if we didn’t we had positive notes.”

Headed into Tuesday’s NBA schedule, the Hawks (14-14) are ninth in the Eastern Conference standings. They are 1-1/2 games behind the third-place Celtics, a game behind the Hornets and ½-game behind the log jam of the Bucks, Knicks, Bulls and Pacers.

There is a need for consistency. The Hawks know it. They are 7-6 at home and 7-8 on the road. They have won four of the past six games after the seven-game losing streak. But has recent history shows, just when you think the ship is headed in the right direction …

The Hawks host the Timberwolves on Wednesday before road games at the Nuggets on Friday and Timberwolves on Monday. The calendar year ends with home games against the Knicks and Pistons.

Just as they hoped to build off the win at the Raptors, the Hawks said there are positives to take from a dramatic victory against the Thunder.

Starting center Dwight Howard was a late scratch due to back tightness. The Hawks scrambled with a new starting lineup and a new game plan. Dennis Schroder, Kent Bazemore, Kyle Korver and Sefolosha joined Paul Millsap as the center. Schroder finished with 31 points and eight assists, his third 30-point effort in the past 10 games. Millsap had 30 points and 11 rebounds and hit the game-winning jumper with 12 seconds remaining.

Without Howard, the Hawks were at a considerable size disadvantage against the Thunder. Millsap held his ground and got lot of collapsing help on defense against Steven Adams and Enes Kanter. The two combined for 14 points and 16 rebounds.

In addition, the Hawks employed a defensive strategy against Thunder star Russell Westbrook to switch all screens to keep the triple-double machine in front of them and limit his passes to open teammates. Westbrook still finished with 42 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. His final shot with under two seconds remaining fell short and the Hawks pulled out a victory.

“Pretty special effort by the guys tonight to come in here, down Dwight, and find a way to compete against a great rebounding team and an individual player who is playing lights-out basketball,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “Very proud of our players. Everybody stepped up by Paul and Dennis were amazing.”

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