The Hawks went 60-22 and reached the Eastern Conference finals for the first time in franchise history. After their latest defeats the Hawks are 30-24 and already have two more losses than all of last season with one game before the all-star break. They slipped from third to fifth in the conference. Entering Tuesday’s NBA schedule they were 1-1/2 games out of third place and three games ahead of out-of-the-playoffs ninth place.
“This is, unfortunately, how our season has been,” coach Mike Budenholzer said. “Tough loss. We can’t seem to put good games back to back. We don’t always respond in a difficult situation.”
After Wednesday’s game at the Bulls, the Hawks are off until Feb. 19, a game against the Heat that starts a five-game, 10-day homestand. Right before the season resumes is the Feb. 18 trade deadline. The roster could be altered.
Hawks players insisted Monday night that they have the roster to make another deep playoff run. There is a mental hurdle that must be cleared. It’s a stumbling block that has tripped the team both in individual games and during stretches of the schedule.
“It’s something we’ve got to get over,” Paul Millsap said. “There is a lot of season for us to figure this out. But at the end of the day, I think it’s good for us. It’s something we need to figure out eventually.
“It’s what we are trying to figure out right now. Once we put our hand on whatever it is that’s blocking us from taking off, I think we’ll be all right. We’ve made a lot of mistakes during the course of the year, during the course of these last few weeks, that I think we can come back from, that we can learn from, that we can get better from.”
Korver said it’s up to the veteran leadership to get the team on the right track.
“It starts with our leaders for sure,” Korver said. “I’m sure we’ll talk about this more. Definitely, as leaders, we need to step up and we need to prepare a little better and stay more focused and lead by example. That’s the way to do it.”
The Hawks remain a strong playoff contender. They are fifth in the NBA in defense efficiency (number of points allowed per 100 possessions) at 100.0. They have slipped to 14th in offensive efficiency (number of points scored per 100 possessions) at 102.9. While there have been good performances through the first half of the season, there have been mounting troublesome losses. They couldn’t hold first-half leads of 17 and 20 points in home losses to the Raptors and Magic, respectively. They lost on last-second shots to the lowly Suns and Magic. They dropped back-to-back games against the Knicks. They have been blown out by the Cavaliers, Hornets and Spurs (twice).
Those losses have stung.
“It’s all about getting hot at the right time,” Kent Bazemore said. “We have a very talented group of guys. The Atlanta Hawks front office management, they have a very good eye for talent. They put this roster together for a reason this summer. They believe. We all believe. All it takes is for us to get hot. We’ve shown stretches where we are a pretty good team. It’s all about timing.”
The clock is ticking.