Hawks' slide could mean tougher playoff foe

Each time they fade late in road games the Hawks increase their problems twofold.

Not only has their six-game road slide cast serious doubt on the Hawks’ ability to win away from Philips Arena in the postseason, it also could mean a tougher opponent in the first round.

The Hawks’ 90-88 loss at Detroit on Wednesday dropped them into a tie for third place in the Eastern Conference with Boston, which played Washington on Thursday. Finishing third or fourth could mean the difference between drawing the surging Heat or sagging Bucks in the first round.

The Heat, which lost a seven-game series to the Hawks last season, is on a roll. Heat guard Dwyane Wade is the best player of any the Hawks could face in the first round.

Meanwhile the Bucks are without center Andrew Bogut for the rest of the season after he had surgery to repair a broken hand. Milwaukee had been hot but is vulnerable without Bogut, their most accomplished player.

That’s not to suggest the Hawks can worry about other teams as they play out the final four games. They continued a recent trend by blowing a nine-point lead in the fourth quarter at Detroit.

“We’ve got to figure it out,” Hawks guard Jamal Crawford said. “We play good for 3-1/2 quarters on the road and then we fall apart late.”

The Hawks are 5-8 on the road since the All-Star break when they either had a tie or the lead in the fourth quarter. The loss to Detroit was the fifth time the Hawks squandered a lead in the final two minutes of a road game since the break.

After each of their fourth-quarter collapses, the Hawks talk in vague terms about needing to improve on finishing but don’t seem to have specific answers. That's likely because the details of each loss can be filed under the broad categories of lack of focus, execution and poise.

“A lot of things happen that let leads get away from us,” Hawks forward Josh Smith said.

The Hawks were without guard Joe Johnson (thumb) against the Pistons. He’s one of their top finishers late in games but he was on the court for six of the Hawks’ eight road losses since the All-Star break when they had a late tie or lead.

“[Even] when he was here, we had to figure that out,” Crawford said.

The Hawks stand at least six games worse on the road than Cleveland, Orlando and Boston. Those teams are much better at finishing off road victories when they have a tie or lead in the fourth quarter -- they are a combined 23-7 in that situation since the All-Star break.

“The thing about this is the season is 82 games long and you can always make a change and always get better,” Hawks forward Mo Evans said. “You never want to rely on ‘turning it on.' We are still a very good team, though.”

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