Hawks ascend standings with Bazemore in starting lineup

Kent Bazemore downplays his move back into the Hawks starting lineup.

However, the team’s record is hard to ignore.

The Hawks are 15-5 with Bazemore in the starting lineup, including their current six-game win streak. The run began one game after he was re-inserted on Dec. 14 in a home loss to the Heat even as Bazemore scored a season-high 28 points. The Hawks are 13-4 when Bazemore starts at small forward with the regular unit.

“Everything is starting to come together,” Bazemore said Saturday before the Hawks’ 117-98 win over the Knicks. “It’s not anything like just me starting. I think the team is starting to gel. What the coach and front office saw in the summer in putting this team together is starting to come to fruition.”

The Hawks (20-12) have the longest current win streak in the NBA. Their win total is the most in the Eastern Conference as they trail the Cavaliers (19-9) by one game. The Cavaliers have played four fewer games.

The Hawks are tied with the Thunder for the third most wins in the league, trailing only the Warriors (28) and Spurs (26).

The Hawks begin a two-game road trip to play the Pacers Monday and the Rockets Tuesday. They will have a break in the schedule until playing a road-home back-to-back with the Knicks on Jan. 3 and 5. The Hawks will have faced the Knicks three times in a span of five games over 11 days and conclude the four-game season series.

The Hawks endured a bout of inconsistency after a 7-1 start to the season 7-1. The recent win streak has sparked an ascent up the standings. Bazemore has played a key role.

“It seems like it feels a little better,” coach Mike Budenholzer recently said of the new lineup. “I thought Thabo (Sefolosha) has been great off the bench the last couple nights, maybe more. Baze has done well with that group. It seems like that’s in a good place.”

Bazemore is averaging 12.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.4 steals in 28.2 minutes in 27 games. He is shooting .469 from the field, including .398 from 3-point range. His long-range percentage trails only Kyle Korver’s .407 on the team. Bazemore has scored in double-figures 17 times, including four 20-point games.

Bazemore started the season at small forward while Sefolosha returned from surgery for a broken right leg and ligament damage in his ankle. Sefolosha eventually joined the starting unit because of his defense. Budenholzer returned to Bazemore for his offense.

Bazemore doesn’t see the tandem with Sefolosha as a matter of offense versus defense. Each forward is capable of excelling at both ends of the court.

“Me and Thabo have been on the court at the same time,” Bazemore said. “That’s a lineup I love because it really defensively amps everything up and we can really stop teams. That is a lineup when we get in transition there is a lot of slashing. We are up and at it. Either way, if we need defense from either one of us we can get it. I’ve just so happened to make a few shots here and there and people think that’s the outlying reason (he’s starting). It really doesn’t matter because at the end of the day we just want to win.”

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