Hawks' falling behind early is troubling trend

The Hawks have replaced one problem with another.

Early this season, the Atlanta had trouble in third quarters. Coach Larry Drew, on several occasions, lamented his team’s lack of killer instinct as he watched one halftime lead after another disappear. Lately, the Hawks have stumbled in the first two quarters. Drew needed to deliver speeches in an effort to inspire comebacks following intermission.

“It’s getting old,” swingman DeShawn Stevenson said. “We want to come out and starting winning games early. When you play good teams that is not going to work, especially in the playoffs. We have to work on that but at the same time we are winning ball games so that is the goal.”

In seven of the past 10 games, the Hawks have faced double-digit deficits in the second quarter. They are 5-5 in those games. The team is 4-1 over the past five games and in all but one of those contests they have trailed by at least 10 points in the first half.

The Hawks have overcome deficits of 13, 27 and 18 points in victories over the Raptors, Celtics and Timberwolves. They nearly came back to beat the Knicks after trailing by 10 points and trailed the Spurs (12), Bulls (28) and Wizards (12) in losses. Only last week’s win over the Bobcats didn’t require a big comeback.

“He came in and got on us,” Korver said of Drew’s halftime rant in Wednesday’s win over the Raptors. “He doesn’t want to do that. That’s one of the next steps for us as a team is to be able to focus mentally to where we are giving effort for 48 minutes. We didn’t play very well in the first half. He came in and got on us.

“We had a really hard time with third quarters for a while. We’ve talked about it and we’ve changed some things up in how we approach it and how we start the half and the third quarter has been pretty good for us lately.”

The buzzwords around the Hawks all season have been energy and intensity. Considering the makeup of the Hawks, with speed at the guard position and a lack of size, playing an up-tempo game is a necessity.

Josh Smith said he discussed the team’s recent first-half difficulties with teammates.

“It does get a little restless,” Smith said. “We are a unique ball club. We are very versatile and we can play at a high tempo game, every game. I feel like if at the beginning we have it in our minds that we are going to play hard as soon as the ball is jumped we will be successful. For some reason, I don’t know why, we don’t come out like that.”

Much of the onus on starting fast is on point guard Jeff Teague. In the first half against the Raptors, Teague had zero points, three assists, three turnovers and two fouls. Teague would finish with nine points and seven assists as he was clearly more aggressive in the second half, according to Drew.

“I’ve said it, and I know I sound like a tape recorder when I say it, but we feed off Jeff’s energy,” Drew said. “Early in the game I did not think he had a lot of energy. He just didn’t seem like he was really into it. As the game wore on, you could see him picking up a little steam.”

Drew said he will continue “to stay in his ear” about Teague’s early play.

Notes

* The 10-day contract of Jannero Pargo expired Thursday. The Hawks have yet to decide if it will re-sign the guard to another 10-day contract or for the remainder of the season. With their next game Saturday, the team can wait until then to make a decision.

The Hawks signed Pargo after they lost Lou Williams for the season with a torn ACL in his right knee.

* The Hawks did not practice Thursday. Several players reported to receive treatment for injuries. They will return Friday in preparation for Saturday’s home game against the Bulls.

* The Hawks are fourth in the NBA with 23.6 assists per game. They’ve posted at least 20 assists in 39 of their 45 games.

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